You may (or may not) remember that Angela and I walked half of the River Ray Parkway last year, from Moulden Hill to John Lewis. This summer (2019) we finally got around to walking the second half, John Lewis to Coate Water in our tour of the River Ray Parkway part 2.
We went out the back of the Mannington Retail Park, looking for the old green signs that show the way. We found the first one on the edge of a field used by dog walkers, pointing us towards the Old Town Rail Path, following Sustrans Route 45.
NB: This stretch of this walk is approx 5 miles
Blagrove Fitness Trail
Lydiard Country Park
Old Town Rail Path
Coate Water Country Park
Blue Route 45 signs – Old Town 2 miles, Wroughton 2 miles
Discovered a new thing already, anyone have a clue what “Blagrove Fitness Trail” is (or was!) ?
The route now follows the road through the Signal Way industrial estate, sneaks out at the end of Berenger Close (which we almost didn’t find), and over the top of Evelyn Street, still following the old Rail Line.
Next to the Piper’s Way roundabout we discovered another sign.
Lydiard Country Park
Coate Water Country Park
Old Town Rail Path
From the sign we headed south along Piper’s Way, crossing over to take the off-road path around the allotments on the east side. Just after the allotments a further sign pointed us off road, onto a track that leads all around the edge of the Broome Manor Golf Complex.
Here we were excited to discover a stone marker, planted in memory of Cassandra Clunies-Ross, carved by Sarah Chanin in 1992. The work is carved in Sarsen stone and was commissioned by Thamesdown Borough Council’s, Great Western Community Forest Team. The stone marks an area of what was then new woodland.
The inscription reads:
Casso’s Wood – planted January 1992 by friends, in fond memory of Cassandra Clunes Rosss, ecologist-forester. 1965-1991. That her work to conserve woodland here and abroad is not forgotten.
The last part of the trail had us squeezing past nettles and wondering if we were going the right way, before suddenly finding Broome Manor Lane, and the familiar sight of the Coate Water Park.
The final Parkway sign stands to the west of the lake, near the miniature golf course.
Like me, he’s on a mission to celebrate Swindon and to demonstrate that the place is not deserving of the negative perceptions of Swindon. Y’know the ones – they come Swindon’s way with monotonous regularity.
Here’s a brief bio bite about him:
‘A recent change in circumstances has caused travel writer and lifestyle journalist Jonathan Broom to relocate from East Anglia (Norfolk, to be precise) to the west of England – where he likes much of what he sees. Swindon he feels has been given a bad rap; so he’s on a bit of a mission: to play some small part in redeeming the town’s undeservedly poor reputation.
Clear-eyed and far from uncritical – but keen (as perhaps only an incomer can be) to celebrate all that’s best about ‘Pig Hill’.
I have to say, his piece did make me smile at times. I enjoyed a brief interlude of wanting to, being able to, enjoy going out and enjoying child-free time. Now, as a great-aunty and a grandma I’m firmly back in family-friendly territory at times. And, although I have a taste for the kitsch and therefore rather like the interior of H&W, I do take his point about the decor – it is a tad busy. Anyway – read on – see what you think …
Fine dining – or a dog’s dinner? Wichelstowe eateries provide food for thought
At the heart of the recently-opened Hall & Woodhouse bar-restaurant on the north bank of the Wilts & Berks Canal, in the as-yet-mostly-unbuilt ‘Canalside’ area of Wichelstowe, South Swindon, sits a barge.
We’ll get to the inside later, but from the outside, its prow pointing proudly to the north, it looks like nothing so much as one of those RNLI collection boxes you used to see in pubs and sub-post offices. You half-expect a celestial hand to emerge from the clouds, clutching a giant 10p piece which, when dropped through a slot in the pub’s roof, will cause the narrowboat to shoot forth, launching itself into the car park.
But sadly the barge is high and dry, and going nowhere. Could the same fate ultimately lie in store for this new venue?
Not for the time being, certainly. Shortly after it opened, my partner and I called in at Hall & Woodhouse for a drink. Like many, we’d watched it going up; weekly shopping trips to Waitrose, on the canal’s south bank, kept us up to speed with progress. So we were curious to see the finished article.
As was most of the rest of Swindon it seemed, that Saturday afternoon the joint was rammed. No matter – we found a space at the bar, ordered a couple of beers, and I struck up a conversation with the barman that went something like this:
Me: “Congratulations – you must be delighted! Place is heaving…”
Barman: “Thanks. We haven’t stopped for a minute – but hey. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Me: “I know it’s early days, but word is the food here’s great…”
Barman: “Yeah – better than the bloody Bayberry.” This with something between a smile and a sneer. A snile? A smeer?
Me: “That so? Apples and oranges, surely?”
Barman (smeer now more of a snarl. Smarl. Whatever): “Yeah – we’re gonna wipe the floor with that dump. We’re great, the Bayberry’s rubbish. Fact.”
As I say, something like that.
As we leaned against another bit of bar – the seating all very much taken – I pondered the barman’s words. I couldn’t – and still can’t – see the comparison. But since he insisted on making one, I thought: let’s give him a hand.
Built to slake the thirst and fill the tummies of the denizens of the then newly-built East Wichel, the Bayberry boasts all the atmosphere and olde-worlde charm of an airport departure lounge: nondescript pine furniture atop a swirly maroon carpet, in a pub that’s probably too big for the constituency it was built to serve.
As you enter, leading away to your left towards the far-distant loos is arrayed a mixture of benches, booths and traditional table-and-chair configurations; some or all of which, depending on the time of day, are apparently the playground of choice for a kind-of rolling parent-and-toddler group. Personally, my window of tolerance for little ones clanged shut when my own ones were no longer little, but then I’m not a very nice or tolerant person. For the Bayberry, I guess it’s a customer base of sorts – though I can’t imagine a very lucrative one.
Immediately ahead and to the right is a lounge-y drinking-and-eating area, while beyond a rather half-hearted partition lies a more restaurant-like zone. Parking is ample, and there is a small garden, though no pretty planting, nor views to speak of.
Not exactly a place of pilgrimage, then. And yet…and yet… and yet… the Bayberry has found what H&W hasn’t: a niche.
As well as being child-friendly, it has earned a place in its community. Short on character it may be; but the pub is not trying to be anything it isn’t. The staff are smiley and welcoming, the range of drinks is as extensive as you’d expect, the beer is well kept and reasonably priced. And while I don’t suppose the good folks of East Wichel love the Bayberry – it’s not been there long enough to love – I’ll wager they’d rather have it there than not.
And then there’s the food – and this is where mine host at Hall & Woodhouse got it wrong. The food at the Bayberry is not haute cuisine, not ‘fayn dayning’, because it doesn’t have to be. What it is, is decent, and cheap. H&W might be on a mission to take pub gastronomy to a new level, and good luck with that; but the Bayberry is where Wichelstowers, South Swindonites and Wroughtonistas go to feed their faces when they can’t be bothered to cook. A couple dining at the Bayberry can get on the outside of dinner and drinks, and walk away with change from £20.
Which won’t get you far at Hall & Woodhouse. But this is not – or not only – about price. It’s just as much about a venue attempting to forge an identity. A new venue. A parvenu venue. (Sorry.) (NB: parvenu: upstart, social climber etc.)
And, at first glance, failing. Propping up my bit of bar that Saturday, eyes smarting slightly from the frantically overdecorated interior of this brave new boozer, I donned my Wayfarers and looked about me.
Lordy – if ever somewhere is trying too hard, this is surely it. It’s as though the board of H&W have hired an interior design company, said “fill your boots,” and the designers have done just that. Nowhere, but nowhere, have they held back. According to H&W’s own website, this venue is “designed around the Woodhouse family and their interests and passions” – in which case, the clan’s interests and passions are eclectic, eccentric, extensive and in no way suited to being confined to a space such as this. The place is a migraine-inducing riot.
Then there’s that barge, the middle and stern-end of which invade H&W’s interior.
The side is cut away in a manner which brings to mind a Haynes Motoring Manual. But instead of the inner workings of a 1978 Ford Granada, observers can instead feast their eyes on Hall & Woodhouse’s ‘party space’, a pub-within-a-pub with (worryingly) its own beer taps and optics. In here H&W patrons can host their own 21st-birthday celebrations, wedding receptions, wakes, bar mitzvahs and so on.
No problem with that – but when I host a party, I prefer to do so without onlookers peering in through my windows. Which perhaps says more about me and my soirees than I would wish. But partying for an audience? Not for me.
And then there’s the food. I’ve not eaten at H&W, but my partner has, following that first visit. Her verdict? Fine, but not great. Not as great as it wants to be, anyway – and not great enough to justify the slightly-too-high prices. To be clear, nothing is a rip-off; but everything is a couple of quid more than it should be.
And it’s all ever-so-slightly desperate. Hall & Woodhouse have apparently spent £5m on this place – but it fronts onto a canal that, unless and until it gets renovated, is currently just a long pond, leading nowhere. Mooring posts await pleasure craft that can’t get there, never mind tie up.
Meanwhile, of the 4,000 Canalside homes for which H&W is supposed to be a centrepiece, there is little sign as yet. Diggers are digging, certainly; but surely that whole project must be in some doubt (or at least undergoing revision) now that both Honda and BMW are packing their bags and leaving town. So there it sits in splendid isolation, surrounded by unsightly earthworks and stockpiled building materials.
At the moment, the shiny new H&W remains busy, and tables for dinner are booked weeks or months ahead. I hope it stays that way – and that the dust is allowed to settle, that the canal gets redug, that the promised new homes get constructed, and that Hall & Woodhouse matures into the kind of convivial yet upmarket pub-cum-eatery that Swindon deserves. A destination gastropub, drawing punters from the locale (once it’s built) but also from further afield – by road, or waterway. But whatever happens, H&W and its people need to relax.
And stop worrying about competition where it doesn’t exist.
Sing Something Swindon: a round up of some of Swindon's choirs
A lovely guest blog post focusing on Swindon’s singing opportunities
Thanks to Jo Garton for this lovely guest blog post focusing on Swindon’s singing opportunities. Which are many and various. This is your note – sing it! Swindon’s lungs are bursting with singing opportunities.
Sing Something Swindon
The Big Sing Thing
Swindon is a city of choirs. Well – ok, it’s a town, but it feels like a city to many of us.
There have been many health and psychology studies which show that singing is good for your health. this easy form of self-expression helps maintain sound (pun intended) mental health. Swindon is the place to be if you want to sing, because thousands of people sing here every week and not just in the shower!
Nowadays we have highbrow, lowbrow and everything in between.
Probably Swindon’s longest established choir is the Swindon Male Voice Choir, founded in 1919. They meet weekly in Gorse Hill and have about fifty members. Over the years they have toured internationally and won many competitions and Eisteddfods.
Like many of the choirs in Swindon they have raised a lot of money for charity – over the fifty-three years of their existence over £1 million. Their president is the internationally renown jazz singer Dame Cleo Laine. Their thirty-five women members have sung on national television and abroad.
Newer kids on the blog are The Magnificent AK47s formed in 2008. They meet in Ashton Keynes, but many of their members are from Swindon, some are not even members of the Spooner family! They have enjoyed success at the Derry International Choral Festival and the Cork International Festival. The AK47s are an all male choir who, for reasons not entirely clear, sing quite a lot about beards!
Swindon Community Choir started in 2000as the Scratch Choir but over the years have changed their name. They favour a ‘natural voice technique’ which believes that singing is everyone’s birthright. They meet in the Central Community Centre in the railway village (what was the medical fund society hospital) on a Monday evening. This is a mixed choir, which welcomes new members without an audition. They have a wide ranging taste, singing folk, pop and international songs.
Running for twenty-five years and also raising money for good causes is the Thamesdown Ladies choir. The choir has around fifty members and a wide-ranging repertoire.
Finally, the BigSingThing has been running for seven years and meets in West Swindon on a Monday evening. Roughly ninety men and women sing each week. They perform concerts locally and have raised over £10,000 for charity. BigSing claims to be Swindon’s friendliest choir and sings pop songs old and new as well as some songs from musicals.
If you want to sing in Swindon there is plenty of choice!
Catherine makes lovely jewellery, which to some extent she can tailor to you – your wrist size, the type of fastener you prefer – that sort of thing. Her contact details are on her Facebook page – link above. These plaited bracelets are among my faves of her work:
Anyway, like so, so many people, Catherine pitched up in Swindon for economic reasons.
Finding self and community in Swindon – and a business to boot!
Like so many others before and after me, I came to Swindon for economic reasons.
At the end of 2000 I left my home town of Northampton to relocate to Swindon as my partner had got a promotion here.
There was some trepidation in this move as I can’t say Swindon as a town had received great recommendations from colleagues. Indeed, they were pretty negative about it.
I remember the first time I took a wander in the town centre and felt that I definitely didn’t want to move here. Yet somehow when the job offer came in and I found myself saying “yes”. Within a month or two we were selecting a new home on the Taw Hill estate. This was in the days before the opening of the Orbital Centre and the Thamesdown Avenue road.
In the main those days revolved around my workplace. I made friends, including some native Swindonians all of whom proved welcoming and friendly.
After a while we moved to Devizes for a couple of years. But then found that we were travelling back to Swindon so much for shopping and socialising that it made sense to return. After doing the rounds of showhomes we plumped for a house in Haydon End. We were the first people on the building site to move in.
We had children and it was when they were small that I became more aware of my need for local community. So I joined a baby and mum music group at Bath Methodist Church in Old Town.
A positive recollection I have of Swindon’s people revolves around an incident in Boswell’s café with my baby girl. She was sick, not only all over the floor but all over herself as well. Not being the most organised of mums I hadn’t got a change of clothes for her. To cut a long story short a fellow diner disappeared and returned with a new top for my baby. She refused payment from me. What a wonderful act of random kindness that was.
Lydiard Park is a fantastic place to go with children. I have loads of happy memories of times there. In particular, my daughter’s 1st birthday when a group of us mums and my mum had a wonderful afternoon playing with the kids on in front of house.
Around this time, the friend I’d met at the music club asked me to be God Mother to her little boy. Being asked was such an honour. Although I did feel a little coy about the fact that outside of Midnight Services, I hadn’t been to church in years. The Christening was at St Saviour’s in Old Town. It’s s a beautiful church with an interesting history to it.
John Betjeman, once said of it: “I would sooner be on my knees within the wooden walls of St Saviour’s than leaning elegantly forward in a cushioned pew in an Oxford college Chapel.”
This event proved to be turning point for me. I felt something spiritual – or at least felt I’d come home. I knew then that I wanted the church to be part of my life.
Twist and turns
Life took a further twist when I left my banking career in 2013. I’d worked for the company for seventeen years. But now, with two small children, I craved a meaningful way of life with a more equal work/life balance.
I felt a drive to do something more meaningful to me – that meant something creative.
The great thing about being in Swindon is the community of like-minded businesses women I’ve been able to connect with.
I’m a regular attender at ‘Ladies who Latte’ – a free and supportive networking group. The friendships formed at this and other groups have been invaluable.
In 2013, life took another turn with the unexpected death of my mum.
Around this time, getting to St Saviour’s to worship proved too much with two small children and I’d decided on a move to St John’s in Haydon End. The homegroup and Sunday school were super welcoming and gave much-needed succour at a difficult time.
What I like about St John’s is its community involvement. It offers practical services such as the rock café on Fridays and a pram club on Mondays. There’s a craft club to that I run together with another lady.
For me the church is more than a building and a place of worship. It’s a community and it’s important that it’s open to people.
I have over the last few years developed my passion for beaded jewellery. I’m still in the process of working out which way to take my business, but one regular feature of my calendar is a jewellery evening at Stanton House Hotel held in November. I have a collection of jewellery for sale, but the evening is as much about being social as it is about shopping.
Yes listeners. We DO have our very own symphony orchestra! Who knew?! Not me until relatively recently. Yet it’s been here for twenty-eight years! We also have people performing chamber music recitals in Swindon too. Who knew that?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: WHAT are people looking for when they say there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go, nothing to see and no culture in Swindon? Aside from big West End plays and musicals – and get real this is a town not a city – what is out there that’s not here? I truly don’t understand it.
‘Did you know Swindon has it’s very own Symphony Orchestra? Described by the organisers of Swindon175 last year as “Swindon’s best kept secret”, the orchestra has been performing in the town for twenty-eight years!
A brief History
The Swindon Symphony Orchestra performs two concerts each year, with members who are talented musicians from Swindon and surrounding areas. They play because of their shared love of music, their desire to be something bigger than just a lone person practising at home and because they want to do some good for local and national charities whilst providing entertainment for people in and around Swindon.
This is how it all began . . .
The orchestra was the brain-child of late, enthusiastic local musician John Birkin. His original plan was simply to bring high-quality musicians together for a one-off concert at the Wyvern Theatre in 1989, to raise funds for what was then the Wiltshire Youth Orchestra. However, the music-making was so popular, with audience and musicians alike, that John was persuaded to continue running the orchestra. The initial concert had been a huge undertaking, organised solely by John, so a committee of willing volunteers was formed to spread the workload, and that is how the orchestra still functions today.
Despite its roots reaching back to the 1980s, there have been surprisingly few conductors of the orchestra over the years. Malcolm, our current conductor, has done much to increase the range of music and composers that the orchestra tackles, helping to increase and retain membership in addition to stretching the abilities of the orchestral members and occasionally filling the hearts of the players with fear owing to the sheer number of notes on the page!
There have been many memorable concerts over the years (very often because the previous concert venue, a church, was so cold!). On one occasion a brave, local conductor Jonathan Trim had to be enlisted to conduct the orchestra with only a few hours’ notice on the day of the concert without prior sight of the programme, as Malcolm had put his back out. One sell-out occasion was a concert at Bath Road Methodist Church when the orchestra performed Peter and the Wolf with the very entertaining and greatly missed Jonny Morris, of Animal Magic fame. On the basis that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ the orchestra invited him along, cheekily adding that it had no money to pay him a fee but hoped he would perform anyway as the concert was to raise money for charity. Sometimes, being cheeky pays off!
Concerto soloists are often regular members of the orchestra, with flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello and violin works performed in recent years. Other recent guest instrumentalists have added trumpet, oboe and piano works into the mix.
The orchestra’s repertoire not only includes the standard classical and romantic composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, but also lesser known works by Suk, Rautavaara, Khachaturian, Reinecke, Horowitz, Arutiunian and Kodaly.
In Autumn 2016 the Orchestra were proud to performed to a sell-out audience in the Great Western Hall at STEAM, Museum of the Great Western Railway, as part of the Swindon 175 celebrations, with the very talented soloist, Daniel Lebhart, delighting us with his skilful performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
Although he is no longer with us, hopefully John Birkin would have been proud of the progress and development made by the Swindon Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestra members are grateful for his insight and unrelenting hard work in founding the Orchestra all those years ago.
Our next concert
Our next concert is this coming Sunday, 5th November 2017, 7:30pm at St Joseph’s Catholic College where you will be able to hear two of our members, Nikki Young (viola) and Ruth Foxman (clarinet) play Bruch’s Double Concerto for Viola and Clarinet. Other works in the programme are Johann Strauss Jr’s Die Fledermaus Overture, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Serenade No. 2, Sibelius’s Finlandia Op. 26. and Shostakovich’s – Symphony No 9.
Join the orchestra or follow us
We are always very interested to hear from musicians who would like to play with the orchestra, especially advanced string and brass players.
Gosh, September is here and autumn is now fast approaching. So here’s a nice opportunity to share a few lines and photographs from Odile Motte that are a perfect evocation of long, sultry summer evenings from earlier this year. Particularly on days like today when it’s raining cats and dogs out there.
‘It is 9 pm on Sunday. Such a lovely warm evening, following a lovely warm sunny day. Far too nice to be inside. Time for a walk around Old Town.
Two minutes from my front door and I am in The Lawn. So pleasant and quiet at this time of night. The birds are still singing. The outline of North Swindon and Stratton in the distance on one side, the silhouette of Christ Church standing peacefully on the other side as night falls.
Walking back I enjoyed the contrast of Wood Street where drinkers also enjoy the warm weather or the band playing in one of the pubs.