IT is early one Sunday morning in November, and the village of Lacock is quiet.

Bursts of bright sunlight illuminate the pale honey stone of the cottages in this picture-perfect village. The setting for numerous period dramas, a Wiltshire jewel and a tourist honeypot, Lacock is not yet busy with the usual crowds of camera-toting admirers.

We are here with a visitor from Canada. Since he is impressed with anything over a hundred years old, Josh is in for a treat with the National Trust’s Lacock Abbey.

The abbey’s winter opening hours are in operation now, so we explore the village first. Lacock has a pleasing variety of architectural styles, with low-doored stone cottages, a sprinkling of red brick, and several half-timbered buildings, like the Sign of the Angel.

The church has a tribe of gargoyles, and if Country Living ever did a Best Bus Stop Award, Lacock’s would surely be in the running with its arched doorway and Cotswold stone walls. The village also has a picturesque shallow ford, perfect for paddling, as well as a huge medieval tithe barn.

Lacock Abbey itself has a long and fascinating history. Founded in the early 13th century, by Ela, Countess of Salisbury, it was an Augustine nunnery and remained so till the Reformation in the 16th century. It was sold off and converted into a home, and while the architecture was altered and extended over the centuries, the Tudor stable courtyard to the north of the house has many original features, including the beautiful old brewery.

In the Victorian era, it was home to Fox Talbot, a key figure in the history of photography and some of the first photographs were images of the abbey and its surroundings.

During the winter months, much of the interior of the house is closed but there is still much to see, both in the abbey, the village and its surroundings. Josh is particularly keen to see the cloisters, in part for their antiquity, but also because they famously featured in the Harry Potter films.

The abbey’s setting, amid parkland with mature oaks, in a bend of the River Avon, is hard to beat. The intermittent sunlight makes the remaining leaves bright gold on the specimen trees leading to the house.

We walk around the ancient cloisters, admiring the quadrangle with its single tree. On the ceiling are numerous intriguing bosses, medieval mermaids and green men, strange beasts and mystical symbols. A section of removed wall reveals a much-faded religious wall painting.

In one room a giant black cauldron rests on a plinth, dating back to 1500. It was in this room that Harry Potter had one of his lessons, when the abbey temporarily became part of Hogwarts. A quiet recording of women singing an old religious song adds to the atmosphere of this quiet, elegant place and reminds us how busy it must once have been, with people living busy, hard-working lives.

We admire the host of statues in the abbey’s great hall, where a log fire is burning, then wander round the old brewery with its tubs and barrels and stairways. Seeing the changing light on the stone and faded plasters, the mysterious beasts and shadowed rooms, I realise that even after many visits this place, with its atmosphere of deep time and hidden histories, always surprises and delights me. Josh seems quite impressed too.

The Fox Talbot Museum is also open, exploring the history of photography and featuring an exhibition by various photographers, including Annemarie Hope Cross, Mike Robinson and Ginger Owen, that runs till January 28. — SARAH SINGLETON