The partnership that's giving a boost to tourism in the Vale of Pewsey
The history of the Vale of Pewsey remains a largely untold story as so much of it still lies buried beneath the rich farmlands. But there is also a fine collection of living remains and newer enterprises to attract visitors - so long as they know about them.
With the new tourist season beginning, the Pewsey Vale Tourism Partnership (PVTP) is starting its second year promoting tourism in the Vale. It is a not-for-profit organisation initiated by the very proactive Pewsey Community Area Partnership (PCAP) - which was mainly responsible for getting new bus routes around the Vale and between Pewsey and Devizes.
Apart from its amazing landscape, the Pewsey Vale contains such living remains as Crofton's internationally famous Beam Engines, the Wilton Windmill, the Pewsey Heritage centre and, of course, a key stretch of the Kennet and Avon Canal with its wildlife, bridges, tunnel, towpaths - and history.
The Partnership's aim is to publicise not only these, but other places for tourists to visit, walks they can take, where they can stay, where they can eat and drink, and where they can shop.
The main achievement of its first year has been the Tourism Partnership's website - built with funding from the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This includes blogs about special occasions such as Mothers' Day and tackling essential tourist questions: 'Can you play Pooh Sticks on the canal'?
Their other main claim to fame in their first year was joining with Sam Bertram from LocalUncovered to organise the Pewsey Vale's Small Business Saturday last December - this aims to become Pewsey's annual small business answer to 'Black Friday's' shopping splurge.
Having checked to make sure there was an appetite for a tourism partnership, the volunteers of the PVTP have been busy signing up members - businesses and organisations based in and around the Vale. These are not just the tourist attractions themselves, but businesses that can benefit from visitors like B&Bs and cafés. They have 30 businesses signed up and want to reach 50 by the end of the year.
The PVTP's coordinator, Susie Brew, has an even more ambitious target in mind: "We've identified more than 200 businesses in Pewsey Vale that could benefit from a boost to the visitor economy."
Each member pays £40 a year and gets, among other benefits, free delivery of leaflets about local tourist attractions, enhanced promotion of their business on the Partnership's website, blogs and social media, and business newsletters. The latest newsletter has drawn members' attention to GWR's offer of free publicity for tourist attractions.
There is also a Pewsey Vale page on the popular VisitWiltshire website - for which the PVTP pays. And they have had help and advice from VisitWiltshire staff.
The Tourism Partnership has worked with Crofton, Wilton Windmill and the Pewsey Heritage Centre to create The Vale Trail - a walk that connects three of the most interesting social and industrial heritage sites - and along the way finds time for Jack Spratt's Clock, Bamberg Man and the Bruce Tunnel. The leaflet detailing the Trail has an intriguing illustrative map drawn by East Grafton artist June Pearson MBE.
Next on the PVTP agenda is developing more up-to-date information about local walks - including an App. Before they can get that underway they will need to secure some new funding.
And what of all that history still buried under the vale? The excavations last summer by Dr Jim Leary and his Reading University team at the Marden Henge (built in 2,400 BC and now reduced to a slight ridge across a field) became a tourist attraction in their own right. And after they discovered the Early Bronze Age burial of an adolescent at the nearby Wilsford Henge, Dr Leary is determined to continue unearthing the Vale's ancient remains.
If anyone doubted the occupation of the Vale through history, the find of a beautifully preserved Saxon gold coin - now in the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes - should reassure them and give a boost to this year's tourist numbers. You never know what historic left overs are lying around this area. Visitors to the Vale take note.