Summer stuff to do in Swindon on the cheap

Summer stuff to do in Swindon on the cheap

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 climbing a building

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: 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

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: 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: 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:

There’s plenty of refreshment opportunities in Old Town too.  Read about some of Swindon’s coffee shops and cafes here:

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:  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 Dragonflyread 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 Lawns

Town Gardens


A rough guide to Swindon: The Magic Roundabout

A rough guide to Swindon: The Magic Roundabout


The Magic Roundabout Swindon

Dare you navigate yourself across the infamous & world-famous counter-flow ‘Magic-Roundabout’ – the ‘white-knuckle’ ride of traffic?

Swindon magic roundabout road sign

The Magic Roundabout Swindon signage

Postcard picture of the road roundabout system

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.’




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