15th June 2014
As I’ve mentioned on this blog more than once it’s often the way that we don’t necessarily take notice of what we see around us all the time. And so it is with Canal Walk in Swindon town centre. My daughter was visiting me a while back, it happened to be the weekend of the fabulous vintage and retro fest that the Brunel management staged, and so we went to town. Not only was she, like me, hugely impressed with everything about the retro weekend but she happened to pass comment on how nice she thought Canal Walk looks now since the paving was re-done with facts about the canal embedded into it, lights installed in it and the trees and the living/green/eco wall. And she’s right y’know. It does look very nice.
And now I’ve come to think about it, the green walls in Swindon are not just really rather attractive but also quite interesting. They cover the south side of the connecting bridge between the Brunel Plaza and the Brunel Arcade and the north side of the vehicle bridge.
In case you are wondering what a green wall is exactly, they are living, organic structures that alter and evolve as the plants mature within them. Thus large vertical faces on the sides of structures are transformed into a tapestry of plant communities that make for lush green facades. However, these urban green walls don’t just offer aesthetic appeal. As Swindon Web explains, the walls also offer the benefits of sound absorption and carbon reduction making them a useful ecological counterpoint to so much modern construction and pollution.
Among the 25 varieties of plants that the green wall features are: tall plants such as Dryopteris, medium height Hosta Hallton, low growing Vinca Minor ACBA, red and purple flowered Cyrtomium fotunei, medium height, blue and purple flowered Viola Queen Charlotte.
Further adding to the attractiveness of Canal Walk are the trees down there. And some of them I’m told are really rather interesting being Ginkgo Biloba, otherwise known as the Maidenhair tree. It seems this is a unique species with no living relatives. Hence the tree is a living fossil that is recognizably similar to fossils dating back 270 million years.
So not only does Canal Walk have lovely green walls and trees and paving that is both decorative and informative, but there are little bits of history here and there too. The picture at the top of this post is of an old canal milestone still marking the way as it has done for eons. It marks the distance to Semington, 26 miles. Semington, nr Melksham in West Wiltshire, is the point where the Wilts and Berks canal joined the Kennet and Avon canal. Such points of interest as these are marked in the curved paving pattern that meanders along Canal Walk.
As the name Canal Walk implies this was once part of the route that the canal, sadly now long gone, took. I once had an opportunity to go to the top of the marvellous modernist style David Murray John Tower which was a really quite incredible experience. From up there one could clearly see the mark on the landscape from the canal. If you keep walking to the very end of Canal Walk, past the big screen, through the underpass and across the road you come to an old canal bridge. It still bears remnants of decorative friezes sadly now going to rack and ruin. For God’s sake SBC get yer finger out and do something about it!
The Golden Lion statue in Canal Walk commemorates the approximate site of the Victorian pub of that name. As Frances Bevan explains on her Swindon history blog: ‘Brought down to the forecourt of the pub, the original once stood on a parapet on the roof. During the 1960s development of the town centre the lion was removed to a Council yard and stored beneath tarpaulins for safekeeping. Ironically, the statue that had weathered the elements for so many years became damp and cracked into pieces. Sculptor Carleton Attwood was commissioned to create a replacement, unveiled during the Queen’s Jubilee Year in 1977’. On that same blog post there’s lots of great photographs of the area in times past so do check it out.
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