Unusually we only had a short train journey across the county of Wiltshire to arrive at the next house sit in the diary. This time it was on the outskirts of Warminster.
A House-sitting First
Even though we have a fair few house-sits under our belts there is always something new that we come across. This time it was an evening arrival at a house-sit where the owners had already left. Sounds a bit tricky doesn’t it but a last minute flight change and a lot of emails confirming details resulted in us being met at the station by the homeowner’s friend Andy. It would be the first time that the pet, an elderly Jack Russell called Indy, had not had the reassurance of seeing us with the owners, going for a walk together, etc. All things which help reduce the anxiety for Indy and is an information gathering exercise for us.
Andy kindly drove us around the town so we could get our bearings. Shops, post office, pubs, vets were all pointed out and then we took a detour on the way to the house to see the local dog walking spots. All really useful, as was a tour of the house, Indy’s food, leads and so on and little tips on those incidental household quirks.
Originally a small cottage, the house has been extended in a couple of directions to make a spacious 4 bedroom home. It has a rustic charm and is so quiet considering it is only steps from quite a major road and only 10 minutes walk to the centre of town. All this took about 20 minutes and it was over to us. It did all feel a bit strange at first but having stayed in so many homes it wasn’t long before we had rustled up something to eat from the fresh left over bits and bobs in the fridge, unpacked and got to know Indy.
Heading into town on foot the next day to get food shopping, we got a chance to take a proper look at the town. From the amount of Georgian shop and house fronts we could tell that it had once been a thriving town but unfortunately today it all looks a little tired. It is interesting that we travel to places that on paper seem fairly similar but in reality are so different. Some towns definitely have not made the transition from one time thriving town of industry to somewhere that takes advantage of it’s history with shops to attract both locals and those from further afield.
We had seen posters for the Farmers Market (1st and 3rd Friday of the month) and the Country Market (every Friday). Perfect, we could make it a double market day. The Country Market, despite being advertised as crafts, cooking etc, had the sum of two stalls of fruit and the Farmers Market was about four stalls (the local fishmonger, butcher and Wiltshire cheese looked particularly good). Maybe we had missed the market season and it was winding down for autumn?
From the town we took a walk up to Copheap Wood. We entered through the Memorial Lynch Gate which was erected as a memorial to those lost in WWI and WWII. A fairly steep climb took us to the top where we had views of the town below and east onto Salisbury Plain. It felt very open considering how close we were to the town.
Maybe some of Warminster’s demise is from the fact that it was once a larger garrison town, or maybe that is what made it what it is, but the army presence now is dwindling which will leave it’s mark. From the mid 60s, Battlesbury has been located in Warminster and it is currently home to the 1st Battalion Yorkshire Regiment.
To be honest, the only places that looked busy in town were Waitrose, Costa and one other coffee shop – a shame because the potential is certainly there. With Longleat House and Safari Park and Center Parcs just a few miles away, not to mention Stonehenge, which all draw in the tourists, why not try and make Warminster a go to place for an afternoon out? Don’t get me wrong there were a couple of nice look gift/homeware shops and a deli but it wasn’t enough to like the feel of the town.
For me, Longleat Safari Park stirs up turbulent memories. It opened in 1966 and way back in the 70s my parents took us to experience the excitement of driving through the monkeys and giraffes in our own car. How my Mum ever persuaded my Dad to do this I shall never know as we had a shiny new, very expensive, Volvo estate? One hour later, minus windscreen wipers and with a monkey on each wing mirror my Dad was a very strange shade of crimson. No one dared speak on the long ride home. A day out remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Indy, Mr Russell or Grommit
Indy is a lovely little chap. Jonno insisted on calling him Mr Russell for the first few days but then twigged that his eyes were full of expression so christened him Grommit. Even at 13 years old he is fairly excitable and can jump with ease onto the dining room table. Not something we allow or encourage but he can do it, particularly if he wants a better view out of the window.
Another first for us on this sit is the fact that Mr Russell needs to wear a muzzle when he is out on walks. We are not sure if there has ever been “an incident“. There doesn’t appear to be an aggressive bone in his body but it may be that his excitement/nerves get the better of him around other dogs and children. To be honest, we would rather not take any chances and he seemed happy to have it put on.
It is interesting to see people’s reactions when you have a muzzled dog. The interpretation, understandable I suppose, is that it is a dangerous animal but in Indy’s case I think he can get stressed interacting, and who knows maybe even snappy, with strangers and other dogs so this is his safe place. There is a whole load of psychology written about the use of muzzles but the bottom line is if it is right for your dog for short periods of time then cope with the “looks” from others and hold your head up as a responsible dog owner.
Jonno has particularly taken to Mr Russell and vice versa. They are like Dick Dastardly and Mutley. It is only a matter of time before I hear him saying “Indy, do something!“.
Smallbrook Meadows Nature Reserve
One of the places Andy had shown us for a walk was this nature reserve just a few minutes walk from the house. It is a combination of small water meadows which provide a habitat for wildlife, wild grasses and flowers. Once again, it is a peaceful walk considering how close it is to the town and main roads. The only shame is that dog owners appear not to be able to read the signs which clearly show that dogs need to be on a short lead. This is to protect the wildlife and stop them fouling anywhere and everywhere.
On one of our walks we met a Wildlife Trust Volunteer and he expanded on the problem and said that if the amount of free roaming dogs continues it was only a matter of time before they are banned altogether from the meadows. Tricky to police this problem but the wildlife must come first.
We had noticed some flags on the lamp posts in the town advertising the Carnival in the town park. So on a sunny Sunday afternoon we headed down through the Smallbrook Meadows to the park. The park is centred around a large boating lake, tennis courts, putting green and pavilion cafe. For a relatively large town, we were surprised to see so few people and stalls. Evidently, according to Jonno’s new friend, the Warminster barber, this is only the second year that it has been run under the current organisers so it is early days for the revamped carnival.
There was a bouncy castle, children’s rides, a fun bus, some charity and independent stalls, a BBQ, a baby contest, dog show and displays from a couple of clubs. We loved the model boats – well not just boats – there was a crocodile complete with severed arm and a swan but best of all some little boats that children could operate via the remote controls. A real hands-on experience.
Maybe it will grow but with Longleat being so close, the wildlife reserve just next door and the number of clubs and organisations like scouts, bowls, etc, not to mention the abundance of charity shops in the town, the potential is for stallholders or participants is so much more.
I think that about sums up Warminster really. The potential is so much more but then we can’t love everywhere we go. Nearby, Bath, Bristol and Salisbury are probably hard to compete with or maybe just a few dynamic people on the town council would help it on it’s way. Waitrose and Costa obviously saw a reason to be here. Maybe it was a case of “Build it and they will come!“.
02/09 – 17/09/2019