Susie Brew from Pewsey

Hello Great West Way Ambassador! Please introduce yourself.

My name is Susie Brew and I am coordinator at the Pewsey Vale Tourism Partnership.  We are a not for profit, community organisation which works with our local businesses to promote the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire.  The Vale of Pewsey runs from just east of Devizes through to the county border with West Berkshire, about 25 miles from east to west with 28 parishes and more than 100 villages and hamlets.  The Vale has the Kennet & Avon Canal running through its centre and makes up a large part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – it is glorious.

Tell us a little more about what you do on the Great West Way.

I think that I have one of the best jobs in the world because I get to promote one of the most beautiful and unspoilt areas in England.  It’s a varied role to say the least and includes signing up new members, communications with our members, creating social media content, running the website, running campaigns, managing projects, applying for grant funding, delivering leaflets, managing our Tourist Information Kiosks (converted phone boxes) and lots of other stuff!  You never quite know what each day might bring and so I have also found myself working with ITV, re-chalking a white horse and writing articles for regional press.

What do you love most about your job?

Hard to choose as I absolutely adore being out there, exploring the Vale for new walks and cycle routes, finding new images for our social media and website, getting to know the area more intimately. I really enjoy working with our members – they are all small or micro businesses and so you get to know them and their business quite well.  Seeing them all temporarily close for Covid-19 lockdown was heart-breaking – you know the families and the employees who were directly affected, all their plans and dreams for 2020 were gone in the blink of an eye.

However, seeing them all reopening after lockdown has been an absolute joy!  I never cease to be amazed by the positivity, adaptability and tenacity of our small business community and seeing them all working so hard to make post-lockdown a success has been awe-inspiring.

What do you find inspiring day-to-day? What keeps the enthusiasm going?

My enthusiasm is generated by a love of our community and a love of the countryside.  It is so important that we have a thriving economy, particularly in such a rural area where jobs can be difficult to come by.  If the economy is doing well, then it has a positive effect on the community - providing better prospects, keeping younger people in the community, generating a sense of civic pride.  Seeing how every single village pulled together in the Covid-19 lockdown was incredible.

The love of countryside has always been with me – I grew up in a small village in Gloucestershire and although I spent many years in London, the west country is where I really wanted to come back to.  The Vale of Pewsey is really special – it is very unspoilt, really ‘earthy’.  There is so much space, it really is tranquil and the history and heritage around us is fascinating.

What’s a typical day like for you?

There isn’t really a typical day!  I work from home, so whatever I might be doing work-wise, I have to make sure that there is an hour or so dedicated to walking our three cocker spaniels.  We live in a wonderful little village with walks on the downland from our back door.

How did you get started? Has it been a long journey, getting to where you are today? What achievements are you most proud of?

The Pewsey Vale Tourism Partnership started in 2015 after we ran a drop-in session for businesses to find out whether they would support a Tourism Partnership and if so, what they would want from it.  This was such a useful exercise – we have used the wishlist as the basis for many of our projects, such as our collection of 20 walking and cycling leaflets.

One of our greatest achievements has been the production of TV-quality film of the Vale on a shoestring!  We were lucky enough to find an excellent camera man (Phil) and with the help of volunteer Trev, the three of us spent many, many days at numerous locations across the Vale with volunteer actors and businesses providing the sets.  I took the role of producer and director but couldn’t have done it without the expert eye of Phil.  We had hours and hours of film, which we then had to whittle down to 3 minutes or thereabouts, to which narration and music from The Crofton Stokers (a local folk band) were added. 

Do you work with a wider team? If so, tell us a bit about them:

The team at the Pewsey Vale Tourism Partnership is very small – me plus Dawn Wilson who is our Chair and Frank Knight who is our Honorary Treasurer.  We also have people with whom we do project work from time to time – Kerry, Steve, Trev, Sylvie to name a few.

What does slow travel mean to you?

The poem by William Henry Davies, which questions ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” epitomises slow travel.  It means taking time to explore and get off the beaten track - wander along the towpath of the Kennet & Avon Canal, ramble through West Woods, hike across the Pewsey Downs, stroll through sleepy villages, stop for a pint and something to eat at a country pub, or take time for afternoon tea at one of our country cafes.  It’s about finding those simple, quirky places – the hanging stone near Honeystreet, Jack Spratt’s Clock in Wootton Rivers, Swanborough Tump in Woodborough, white horses at Pewsey and Alton Barnes or any of our fabulous, ancient churches dotted across the Vale – all with a story to tell.  It’s about leaving the hustle and bustle of modern life and taking time to really relax.

Do you have any insider tips or advice for travelers who want to experience the touring route ‘like a local’?

Visit the small shops in the villages, go to the pubs and cafes and most of all speak to people.  We love nothing more than having a chat with a visitor, telling them the local things to see and do.  The best place to practise speaking to strangers is the Kennet & Avon Canal, where it would be strange not to speak to people!

Talking of locals... are there any English stereotypes or traditions you’d like to set straight?

Most of the English stereoptypes are indeed true...

  • Making a cup of tea in a crisis – absolutely (possibly with cake).
  • Talking about the weather – multiple times every day and nowadays the weather app is checked just as often.
  • Forming a queue – definitely, we have perfected this through lockdown.
  • Apologising automatically – I’m sorry but we do this all the time too!

What’s your favourite thing to eat or drink along the Great West Way?

You are spoilt for choice in the Vale of Pewsey – we have so many really fabulous country pubs that do delicious food and local beers and ciders, as well as cafes that offer incredible cakes and locally sourced food.  However, if you come to the Vale, you have to go to Marshall’s Bakery in Pewsey and try the lardy cake – absolutely delicious.

If you could choose one must-visit attraction along the Great West Way, what would it be and why?

Actually I’ve picked two!  Wilton Windmill and Crofton Beam Engines – these two heritage sites are close to one another and there is a walk on our website that takes you to both of them.  It is amazing that both sites still perform the job they were built to do 200 years ago!  The guides at both sites are so interesting as well so the guided tours are a must.  Highly recommended with a stop at The Swan Inn for a local pint of beer or cider or a glass of wine.

What do you think will surprise first-time visitors about the Great West Way? Any secret, lesser-visited spots you’d like to recommend?

The Vale of Pewsey of course – it’s one of England’s best kept secrets!  It’s also the home to the Crop Circle Exhibition at Honeystreet which is renowned as a world leader in crop circle information and is absolutely fascinating.  If you are visiting in June or July, then you may get to see a real crop circle and the Exhibition Centre will be able to direct you.

What’s your preferred mode of transport: train, car, bus or boat? Why?

I think that if I were travelling the Great West Way, I would definitely include the train as Paddington is an iconic station and you get see some fabulous countryside once you are out of London as well as a boat trip on the Kennet & Avon Canal.  I would add walking and cycling (you can hire a bike) to the mix as well.

Finally, what would be your perfect adventure on the Great West Way?

Armed with a walking leaflet and at least one dog, setting off with a few snacks for the route, making sure I make time for a stop at a pub or café and speaking to people should you meet anyone – you often hear the most interesting stories.

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