May 29th 2014 – The Western Flyer
During recent months all sorts of posts about the Western Flyer kept appearing on my social media streams. However, absorbed as I was in the final few months of my degree studies, I had neither time nor energy to engage with it all. Well, the degree is now finished so I find myself with some time to explore some things that have had to go on the back burner. And one of those things was the Western Flyer.
So what is the Western Flyer then? It’s an upgrade of an existing cycle and pedestrian route that goes from West Swindon to the town centre via Barnfield, Bruce Street Bridges and North Star, bringing you into town across from Holbrook House on Station Rd. It incorporates National Cycle Network Route 45 . The National cycle network is a ‘series of safe, traffic-free lanes and quiet on-road routes that connect to every major city and passes within a mile of 55 per cent of UK homes. It now stretches 14,500 miles across the length and breadth of the UK.
Sustrans developed the concept and coordinates the development of the National Cycle Network, working with Local Authorities and partner organisations to identify future routes and, in some cases, providing the funding to build extensions.
Route 45 of the NCN links Chester with Salisbury via Whitchurch, Ironbridge, Bridgnorth, Droitwich Spa, Worcester, Gloucester, Cirencester and Swindon. The full route travels 270 miles from Chester to Salisbury and takes you via Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Worcester, Gloucester, Stroud, Cirencester and Swindon. Read more information about Route 45 here.
I tried it out to see if might be a quicker walk into town than the route I normally take which is, aside from a couple of deviations, the bus route. I’m still not sure if it is or not because I kept stopping to take photographs – see the gallery below – so I really need to do it again just walking from A to B to get a proper measure of that.
Apropos of the gates below: There’s a better photograph of them on this site which says this about them: The cast iron gate posts date back to the years when this area was occupied by the huge Great Western Railway factory developed in the mid 19th century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to manufacture everything needed to run a railway. I don’t know the age of these gate posts but they pre-date the second world war and may be even older. Originally they provided access to 24 Shop which I think was used for carriage and wagon repairs.
On this stream from Swindon Local you can see a picture of the gates as they once were in 1953 with the infamous ‘white stick man’ along with some other great pics.
Other than the gates, and as Swindon Heritage point out in their article, the Western Flyer route has lots of history built into it as it ’emphasises the heritage that’s underfoot (or wheel) wherever you go in Swindon.’ Just one of the things they highlight in their article is the fact that, just a stone’s throw from the Western Flyer, is the workshop where Swindon’s ‘Hammerman’ poet Alfred Williams spent 25 years working for the GWR. Born in South Marston, Williams published six books of poetry, a series of books about the area and is renowned at national level for his contribution to preserving the lyrics of folk songs. I was recently on the top floor of the central library chatting with the lovely peeps in the Swindon Local section where I saw a photograph of Alfred Williams. On a personal level I was surprised and interested to note that his wife’s maiden name was Peck. This interests me because my maiden name too is Peck and it’s just not a name one comes across much. Hardly at all even. Except for in Suffolk, which is where my dad originated, where there seem to be millions of them. In my entire life I have only come across two other Pecks – aside from relatives in Suffolk – with Alfred Williams’ wife making three. So are there still Peck’s in Swindon? I’d be interested to know.
Yet again, while I was meandering along the Western Flyer, I was struck by the astonishing amount of greenery, natural habitats, bridle paths, play parks and open spaces there are seemingly everywhere one goes in Swindon. Fabulous.