When I stepped out from the cool of Westbury station’s ticket hall into the blazing sunlight I could feel that familiar suburban heat of my childhood rising up from the black tarmac. The pavements seemed to melt underfoot. My brow was damp and my back ached before I’d even finished the mile or so walk into the town centre.
I arrived at the first row of shops at a couple of minutes to four on a Sunday. I was desperate for some sort of sustenance having left Swindon without lunch and was immediately disappointed to see all the shops in this post-war arcade closed and the Morrisons supermarket shutters clanking down as I walked round into the car park.
There’s not much to Westbury to be completely frank. A pleasing honeycomb-coloured town hall, a very pretty church set back from the town centre and a few Georgian and neo-Georgian houses and pubs. The main feature of Westbury seemed to be the gaggles of bored school-age children who were hanging around in the park, the churchyard and Morrisons car park. None of them were threatening, none of them even seemed to be drinking or smoking, they were just bored and hot and desperate for the type of stimulation small-town Wiltshire just can’t offer them.
I’ve never felt the relief of an air conditioned Tesco Express more than when one appeared as I headed back a different way to the station. Suddenly life didn’t seem so bad when I was laden with a sandwich and a huge bottle of water. The walk back this time took in one of the private ponds that sit between the town and the railway lines and a new housing estate that was an uneasy mix of ongoing construction of newly arrived residents. Signs on lawns proclaimed “this unit is occupied, please respect the resident’s privacy” and there was plenty of “no contractor parking”. It will surely be blessed relief when all of this is quiet, double-parked suburbia.