20th June 2016
White Horse Pacified rides again
Well listeners. This is a bit exciting and no mistake. This week I got a message via the blog from a lady called Julie Livsey – the creator of ‘White Horse Pacified’ – part of the West Swindon Sculpture trail.
She said: “It was a lovely surprise to see the image of my sculpture The White Horse Pacified in your article about the Swindon Sculpture Trail. It was constructed in 1987 when I was Artist in Residence for Thamesdown CC. The poet Carol Ann Duffy was Poet in Residence the same year. If you would like any further information about how and why the sculpture was commissioned I would be very happy to answer your questions.
With best wishes
Wasn’t that lovely? She’s also very kindly scanned and sent across the leaflet about the sculpture so hopefully you can see it all okay. So here it is – straight from the horse’s mouth as it were…
The White Horse Pacified
About Julie’s residency
There’s a map and some information about the sculptures on the trail here: https://swindonian.me/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/The-Sculpture-Tour-West-Swindon.pdf
23 July 2015
The kids have broken up from school and that means only one thing: ‘Mum, I’m BORED’.
So here’s a non-definitive list of a five places to go and things to do without leaving Swindon – for kids of all ages – and without spending much money. In straitened times such as we have right now stuff to do for free or very little is what we need.
I’ve called it ‘summer stuff’ but it’s equally applicable to any time of year. Because I’ve been thinking of things that require little or nor money I haven’t included such things as The Oasis, The Link Centre, STEAM and so on – as great as they are.
There are of course many more – these are just the first few that came into my head!
So – in no particular order:
Minis on building – Mike Pringle photo
1) Swindon has a great deal of public art dotted around the town. Much of it is in places that make great walks or cycling and is in proximity to playparks. Here’s a round up of posts about public art in Swindon: https://swindonian.me/category/public-art-sculpture/ so why not go and check them all out? Or -and this is my particular favourite – follow the West Swindon sculpture trail:
‘If one thinks of Swindon at all, most likely to come to mind are the Designer Outlet village, the STEAM museum and, perhaps, Lydiard House and Park. Somewhat surprisingly though this sometimes un-prepossessing town possesses a rich cultural landscape liberally scattered with public art – in particular in the West Swindon development. This extensive and surprisingly green suburban area links the town with the M4 and comprises several distinct ‘villages’, several of which feature a ‘village centre’. Intriguingly punctuating this conurbation is a fascinatingly diverse collection of sculptures that comprise the West Swindon Sculpture trail. Installed between 1982 and 1992 these sculptures are unexplained and mostly unnoticed by the locals. They are also rather neglected but no less interesting for that encompassing as they do a gamut of subject matter ranging from realism to abstract with a film star and a nursery rhyme in the mix ….’ Read more here.
mini train at coate
2) Get some train action and park life all in one hit. The Coate Water miniature railway is 50 years old this year and goes from strength to strength. Work is underway to extend the line so that it stops at the Richard Jefferies museum. Read more about the railway here: https://swindonian.me/2015/07/22/coate-water-miniature-railway/ It’s only £1.20 for a ride and the park makes great walking and cycling plus there’s a play ares for little ones. From now – August 2016 – this train goes to the Richard Jefferies museum. You can get off there, have a walk round the garden and the museum and get back on again.
3) The Richard Jefferies museum: Not just for literature lovers. The Richard Jefferies museum has an absolutely gorgeous garden and they serve cream teas on summer weekends. So why not combine a visit to Coate Water with an hour or two at the Richard Jefferies museum and enjoy a cream tea? There’s all sorts of information about the museum here: https://swindonian.me/2014/05/23/the-richard-jefferies-museum-needs-you/ Entrance to the museum and garden is free. The cream teas aren’t – but they are very reasonable.
4) The Richard Jefferies Old Town walk: Follow some of the haunts of this famous son of Swindon by following this walk around Old Town which takes in places he was associated with.
Combine it with a visit to the Museum and Art gallery and a walk around any of the parks in the Old Town area: Town Gardens, Queens Park and The Lawn.
See this nice post from Swindon in the Past Lane about Queen’s Park: http://swindonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/queens-park.html
There’s plenty of refreshment opportunities in Old Town too. Read about some of Swindon’s coffee shops and cafes here: https://swindonian.me/category/eating-drinking-coffee-etc/
I recently blogged about this walk so you can find more information here:
5) Ride the Hooter Express: – and get some retail therapy too at the Outlet Centre too. The new play area there is absolutely terrific. Being a fan of a miniature train I LOVE the hooter express. Read more about that here: https://swindonian.me/2015/01/31/all-aboard-for-the-hooter-express/ A ride on this costs £2. It goes all the way around the Outlet Centre and is brilliant fun. Waving at passers-by and shoppers is compulsory – so be warned! 🙂
6) The Explorer’s Guide to New Swindon – get the map produced by Swindon Civic Voice (£2 from the central library) and explore ‘New Swindon.’
7) Take a canal trip on Dragonfly – read more here.
8) Pack up a picnic and visit a park:
Queen’s Park and the Secret Garden
Lydiard Park and House
Faringdon Road Park
The Wish Hounds
“And then he sought the dark-green lane,
Whose willows mourn’d the faded year,
Sighing (I heard the love-lorn swain),
‘Wishness! oh, wishness! walketh here.'”
— The Wishful Swain of Devon. By POLWHELE.
THE tradition of the Midnight Hunter and his headless hounds–always, in Cornwall, associated with Tregeagle–prevails everywhere. Whether this slice of mythology and folklore is the inspiration for Swindon’s fantastical Wish Hounds sculpture I’ve no idea but I’ve certainly always been intrigued by them.
The hounds, created in 1994 by Lou Hamilton, have a menacing air about them even on a pleasant May Bank Holiday. It doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to hear them howling Baskerville-like in the dusk and making mere mortals quake. Perhaps dusk is a better time to see them, to feel their hot breath, see their jowls heavy with saliva…
Location Location Location
I found this information – and you can get the location of them here too on Geograph.org: ‘Wish-hounds also have other many other names, such as Yeth. It seems the word wish is from a Sussex word meaning marsh. Ghostly black dogs, usually with glowing red eyes, have been reported for hundreds of years, and probably date back to the mists of time. It is generally reckoned not to be a good thing to meet one. When this sculpture was first mooted, there were protests from some local Christians who objected to what they felt was pagan imagery and therefore, in their view, undesirable.’
The sculptor wrote a poem about them: the last two lines of which read: ‘They are the Guardians of the Earth’s secret; Wish-hounds of the Old Land.’ See the whole thing on this photo in the Swindon Flickr collection: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swindonlocal/6103658812/
The Wish Hounds is a sculpture in three parts – concrete cast lettering, powder coated scrap metal and earthworks in a circle of trees. As you can see from the pictures the lettering is becoming a bit grown over in places and the floodlighting that was illuminated the hounds is now broken.
Swindon’s erstwhile Thamesdown council was the first in the country to adopt a percent for art policy which encouraged developers, once their scheme was completed, to fund a piece of public art. This forward thinking and innovative scheme resulted in Swindon acquiring an unusual, if not unique, cultural landscape with public art being scattered the length and breadth of the town – amongst my personal favourites are The Great Blondinis, the West Swindon Sculpture Trail, and the lonely cow chewing the cud up at the hospital. Though really I love them all.
Though some of the original ones have disappeared new ones have sprung up and even though some of them are now somewhat unloved they are no less interesting for all that. Before I started blogging about it all I’d never heard of the term ‘public art’ and really the closest I got to it was an old village pump, the Cenotaph and a redundant pit winding wheel..
The Wish Hounds
The Wish Hounds
The Wish Hounds
The Wish Hounds
Croft wood bike trail
May 26th – comment left by a listener:
“If I remember correctly, the Wish Hounds are on their long legs because they were designed to appear above the tree line for drivers on the M4 – and they used to look magnificent, leaping over the trees.
However, I’m not sure whether it was because of budgetary constraints or simply forgetting that trees grow but, they were gradually hidden by the ever growing trees – which is a shame.
They used to provide a great introduction to Swindon art to drivers between J15 and J16″
They must have been a magnificent sight before becoming obscured by all the trees – as lovely as they are.
The Magic Roundabout Swindon
Dare you navigate yourself across the infamous & world-famous counter-flow ‘Magic-Roundabout’ – the ‘white-knuckle’ ride of traffic?
The Magic Roundabout Swindon signage
The Magic Roundabout
You’d be forgiven for being perplexed at the notion of a traffic roundabout being of any interest to anyone other than traffic-system aficionados. But you couldn’t be more wrong. This fabled entity is known the world over.
Created in 1972, Swindon’s Magic Roundabout was originally named the County Islands roundabout due to its location in close proximity to the town’s County Ground football stadium, home of Swindon Town FC. But the locals were not long in bestowing upon it the nickname ‘The Magic Roundabout’ after the TV programme of that name. Eventually the local authority submitted to the popular consensus and officially re-named the roundabout and gave it appropriate signage.
Swindon is famous, even infamous, for its roundabouts. But this legendary one surely has to be the jewel in the town’s roundabout crown? Situated on a junction where five roads meet, the traffic-consuming monster vexes native visitors and utterly baffles those from across the pond. For all this though Swindonians love it and generally find their passage across it to be smooth and fluid, even at peak times.
The roundabout was created by the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) to deal with an area that was a motorist’s nightmare, being routinely unable to handle the sheer volume of traffic converging on it from five directions. Like many of the best ideas their solution was stunning in its simplicity. They simply combined two roundabouts in one. The first being of the conventional clockwise type and the second, revolving inside the first, sending traffic anti-clockwise. This counter-flow roundabout solved the congestion problems back in the 1970s and is still, despite the ensuing increase in traffic volume over the last 40 years, processing it all as quickly and as smoothly as a giant Magimix.
Traffic keeps moving almost all the time, waiting only a few seconds to join each mini-roundabout and thus steadily travelling at low speed across the junction. A normal roundabout would involve long waits to join; signals would involve bursts of movement and long enforced stoppages. As a result, it has been calculated that the Magic Roundabout has a greater throughput of traffic than anything else that it would be possible to install in the same space. Magic indeed! Moreover, it has an excellent safety record.
Although voted the seventh worst junction in the UK, the roundabout’s bark is worse than its bite. Though appearing difficult to negotiate, all it asks of the driver is to be observant and to always give priority to traffic coming from the right.
One approach to the roundabout is to drive down Drove Road from Swindon’s Old Town. If you don’t fancy manoeuvring it in a car it’s possible to stand and observe the carefully controlled mayhem from the safety of the pavement – you can even consume fish and chips from the chippy on the corner while you do.
Swindonians are very proud of their Magic Roundabout and the tourist information desk, situated in the town’s central library on Regent Circus, sells a wide range of Magic Roundabout memorabilia that runs the range from key-rings to mugs to tea-towels and even T-shirts. So, if you’ve braved this colossal contraption of a road system you can celebrate your feat of derring-do with a suitable souvenir or two.
Whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent to it one thing is for sure: visit Swindon and you can’t ignore it. Swindon-grown band XTC effectively and poetically, whether directly intentionally or not, capture the dizzying assault on the senses this behemoth can induce in their 1981 song: ‘English Roundabout’:
‘ … all the horns go ‘beep! beep!’
All the people follow like sheep,
I’m full of light and sound,
Making my head go round, round.’
#swindon #wiltshire #magicroundabout #swindonmagicroundabout #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #xtc #magicroundabout #swindonmagicroundabout #contraflowroundabout #travel #writing #travelwriting #guidebook
The West Swindon Sculpture Trail
Take the sculpture challenge: follow the map and go in search of the sculptures
A map pf the walk is here: The Sculpture Tour West Swindon
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps this sometimes un-prepossessing town possesses a rich cultural landscape liberally scattered with public art – in particular in the West Swindon development. This extensive and extremely green suburban area links the town with the M4 and comprises several distinct ‘villages’, several of which feature a ‘village centre’. Punctuating this conurbation is a fascinatingly diverse collection of sculptures that comprise the West Swindon Sculpture trail. Installed between 1982 and 1992 these sculptures are unexplained and mostly unnoticed by the locals. They are also rather neglected but no less interesting for that encompassing as they do a gamut of subject matter ranging from realism to abstract with a film star and a nursery rhyme in the mix.
A circular walk, approximately five miles long, will take you around all seven of them. The terrain is largely flat so is therefore family friendly and suitable for those not inclined to inclines. Swindon is astonishingly rich in parks and green spaces and the trail traverses some of them. There are children’s play parks and an outdoor gym en route giving plenty of added interest and making it dog-friendly and picnic-suitable. And it would add a new element to a bike ride too.
A good starting point for the trail is the West Swindon Centre: home to a supermarket, a coffee and fast-food chain and the Link Centre – a sports centre housing an ice-rink, swimming pool and sports hall. It additionally offers a café and a play area for tots. There is ample free parking here and the centre is additionally well served by buses from the town centre making the start of this trail easily accessible.
Appropriately located outside a multiplex cinema on Shaw Ridge leisure park (across the road from the West Swindon Centre) the first sculpture encountered is a flamboyant bronze portrait of the late film star Diana Dors, a daughter of Swindon. Unveiled by David Putnam this piece is a larger-than-life homage to the woman billed as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Also home to a bowling alley, a De Vere Village hotel, two Indian restaurants and a pizza restaurant this leisure complex also offers ample free parking.
A few minutes walk up a slight incline from the cinema brings you to the Shaw Ridge open space. Take a few paces more and you reach number two on the trail ‘How the Mighty Fall’ (1989). This cast iron and cast aluminium sculpture was envisioned by its creator to be imagined as an archeological artefact from the 20th Century requiring viewers to transport themselves into the future. A future that is now our reality. Here too you will find the outdoor gym and a children’s playpark.
A walk along the ridge and across the somewhat Stepford-like Bramptons housing estate and you arrive at the third sculpture on the trail: ‘White Horse Pacified’ (1987). Created in conjunction with the Portguese Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation this large blue and white work is an interpretation of the chalk-cut white horses surrounding Swindon.
The walk to the fourth sculpture ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ (1982), passes through Shaw Village Centre which marks an approximate half-way point. Here you can stop for an ice-cream or even a meal in the Village Inn. This is a chain pub so be under no illusions about the fare on offer but it’s a convenient and comfortable pit-stop. Surprisingly set in a front garden in The Prinnels this charming sculpture is carved in Portland stone and depicts the popular nursery rhyme in a domestic setting.
You now have a lengthy but level walk to sculpture number five in Freshbrook village centre: ‘Nexus’ (1986). Comprised of Blue Pennant stone and railway sleepers this piece was carved with hand-made tools, in public and in situ by the late Japanese sculptor Hideo Furtura.
The walk from Freshbrook to Toothill Village centre, the home of the sixth sculpture ‘The Watchers’ (1982) gives a panoramic view over the Marlborough Downs. As the name suggests, this sculpture cast in ferro-concrete and featuring a mother, father, child and dog represent guardian figures looking over the then new community.
On leaving Toothill a downhill path and a short walk by a stream eventually takes you to the seventh and final sculpture ‘Looking to the Future’ (1985). Completed by the first artist in residence during the development of West Swindon, this glass-fibre resin sculpture depicts three life-sized sunbathing figures relaxing at the edge of the pond. Cross the road from here to return to the starting point.
This is an activity of which you can make as much or as little as you wish. At a steady walk, and with only a passing examination of each sculpture, it could be completed in a couple of hours. But you could really take your time about it and make a day of it.
NB: Both Freshbrook and Toothill village centres have shops and pubs so there’s further refreshment opportunities there before the walk returns you to the start point.
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This section of the blog is going to be rather different from my other posts. Where they are written in my own voice, these are going to be written as if for a rough guide to Swindon so, therefore, from a neutral viewpoint describing things as they are and the merits or otherwise of visiting them.
The inspiration for this stems from a travel writing module I undertook in my 3rd and final year of a BA Hons degree in English and English language. The pieces on the Magic Roundabout and the West Swindon sculpture trail were written for my coursework portfolio for that module. So this new section of the blog is dedicated to Professor Robin Jarvis and Dr Melanie Ord of UWE’s English department for their support and guidance. Thank you both.
So to get it started here’s a draft of what could serve as an introduction to just such a book. It’s most definitely not a ‘finished’ piece but a serving suggestion as it were.
Swindon is a large town within the Borough of Swindon and the county of Wiltshire in South West England.
The home of the Great Western Railway, Swindon has excellent rail links to Bristol, 64 km to the west, Reading 64 km to the east and London, 130 km to the east and also to Bath. Additionally there are good road links to Cheltenham, Cirencester, Oxford and the Cotswolds. Featuring a number of decent hotels: The Marriott, the Hilton, a Jury’s Inn and a selection of budget hotels these combined factors certainly make Swindon an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area. However, Swindon itself has many attractions that are well worth seeking out. Despite being the butt of many comedians’ jokes and having a dispiriting skin in places this is a many faceted town worthy of closer examination.
Swindon is a town of two halves. The original Swindon, Old Town as it is referred to, sits atop a hill. This is an attractive area with many coffee shops, bars and pubs. Old Town is home to Swindon’s museum and art gallery which houses a decent art collection – the displays of which vary periodically. There is also an art’s centre, the town gardens – a Victorian park complete with aviary and bandstand – and The Lawns, once the Goddard family estate but now another public park with spectacular views across the town towards Highworth.
Down the hill is the new Swindon born of Brunel’s railway and later the car industry. Neither particularly ugly nor particularly attractive the new town merits visiting if only for the vestiges of history to be found, notably the Railway Village – the housing built by Brunel for occupation by the men and women who toiled in his mighty GWR workshops. Paying homage to them is the renowned STEAM – the museum of the Great Western Railway. It has some decent shopping in the form of the Designer Outlet Village. Formed from the ashes of the great GWR works the outlet centre makes a historic supplement to the town centre, all of which is pleasantly pedestrianised.
Two other interesting museums in Swindon are the Museum of Computing and the Richard Jefferies museum. Though small-scale they are worth getting to if their subject matter is of interest to you. The former is located near the central library where you will find the tourist information centre. Unfortunately by dint of being situated in the library the tourist information desk is not open on Bank Holidays – the very time when a visitor may well venture to Swindon. The latter is right by Coate Water, another large park area that has a pitch and putt facility, lovely walks, a children’s play area and a miniature railway. At the time of writing the mini railway is being extended and will include a halt right by the Richard Jefferies museum.
To the west of the town centre is Lydiard Park and house, once the ancestral home of the Viscounts Bolingbroke. The town further boasts a range of leisure facilities and, spread across the town, an interesting collection of public art much of it on walking and cycle paths of which Swindon also has many.
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