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.
What I love about this post is that Julie has picked a range of aspects that go a long way to highlighting what is so great about this place. And who knew that Swindon is a brilliant place to home educate your children?
So here’s Julie’s 7 reasons to be switched on to Swindon:
‘I didn’t choose Swindon as a place to live. Rather, I chose my ‘husband to be’ and this is where he lived.
When it came to be time for me to settle in England (which I had wanted to do since I was a child) after an 8-month long distance relationship – and it was long distance back then.The Internet didn’t exist and it took a week for mail to reach Switzerland. So Swindon is where it happened to be.
I was told Swindon was the fastest-growing town in England if not Europe. And though that didn’t appeal to me much, what was welcome was it’s proximity to places I needed to travel to: Blackpool, Belgium and later on Brighton and Devon.
Though I did not choose Swindon as such, I’m happy to call it home – something I never felt in my native Belgium. To be honest I can’t think of anywhere else I could live that gives me what I need in my life right now in the way that Swindon does.
Country lover enjoying town life
I’m not keen on cities. I much prefer being out in the countryside. But as I prefer getting around on my pushbike I don’t want to live out in the middle of nowhere either. Swindon enables me to do just that. I can cycle to most of the places I want to go. The town centre, Old Town, to my gym in Greenbridge, as well as the green spaces which I will expand on later. All this is done mostly off the main roads, even if the cycle tracks are not as well signposted as I’d like. This is a good test of my navigation skills and I always get home though sometimes not the way I was expecting!
1. Swindon: Brilliant business support
When I came to Swindon in 1993 and I could finally start my business, Body Mind Coaching, two things were important then and still are.
Fist was the support I got for my business. It started with Great Western Enterprise and the Chamber of Commerce. This support continued with a whole host of networking groups, especially one I joined more recently, despite knowing about it for almost 10 years: Business Village. In addition there’s been lots of mostly free business training along the way.
2. Swindon: a green town
I mentioned above that one of the great things about Swindon is access to green spaces. So evening walks around The Lawns and cycling to Coate Water are things we do regularly.
3. Swindon an accepting town
Thinking about it now, I realise that although I was a foreigner, (and still get asked where my accent is from) I have felt accepted by the people, even if I might be considered a little strange. This was something I hadn’t felt growing up in Belgium as I was considered a foreigner there for being British.
4. Swindon: a town with lots happening
It’s been wonderful to find groups in Swindon that support my interests outside of work:
– A choir,
-Full moon Relaxation and other activities at Lower Shaw Farmwhich I discovered through a lovely health food store Pulse
Swindon has also proved to be a wonderful place to bring up our son.
Thanks to a friend I discovered storytime at many of the libraries, though Central library was the favourite. I got to learn and share some English nursery rhymes with my son as well some stories and other activities. Unbeknown to me at the time, this turned out to be the start my second business, Bilingual Babies ~ Bébés Bilingues.
We make lots of use of all the different play areas and green spaces scattered around the town. The one in Eastern Avenue in Old Walcot and Cambria Bridge along the canal track in town were regular haunts when my son was little. Now that he is able to cycle, Coate water,Lydiard Park, and Angel Ridge are among his favourites.
Last year, we began to consider whether to home educate or not. We were told by a parent in one of the groups that Swindon is one of the best places to home educate as there are loads of activity groups going on where children can socialise and learn all kinds of things depending on their interests. A year on, this has proved to be a great decision and we’re so grateful that Swindon home education has so much to offer.
On this note, from a child’s perspective, I’ve been told to mention that Swindon is one of the best places to be, because the Swindon buses have names and my son is very pleased that the new company has kept that going.’ Good work Thamesdown Transport: you’ve got a fan!
I think it’s fair to say that some people pitch up in Swindon because it turns out to be the only place for miles around where they can afford to buy. This, I think, was the case for Sandra. But don’t quote me on that!
As she describes, she came up against the prejudices about Swindon with which we’re so familiar. But! Sandra has been out and about getting to know Swindon.
She’s discovered Nordic walking on The Lawns – who knew?! Sandra is also a big fan of Fenella Elms’ flow pot. I can’t lie – it gives me the eebie geebies. *Shudders* Though I can appreciate its technical brilliance. You can see the flow pot below in the rather fab image she did for the recent Civic Day ‘I care about where I live campaign’ run by Swindon Civic Voice.
‘We moved to Swindon back in 2014. We had lots of comments about why were moving here, there is nothing in Swindon except the Swindon Outlet Centre, so what were we going to do with ourselves. How wrong were these detractors!
We settled in and went through the painful renovation process. Oh the dust and dirt and many many trips to the local DIY shops. One consequence of being a frequent visitor to any establishment is that they get to know you. Because of this we were able to get help with a multitude of issues we faced in our new job as “excited fixer-uppers” Thankfully it’s over now and we can now get time to explore Swindon and its localities.
I love Yoga and have found a fab class located in the Dojo Café. The class is run by Eunice, a really caring teacher who can make my joints and limbs think and do wonderful things
At the launch of one of the Swindon Open Studios I discovered the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery and was transfixed when I saw the display cabinet containing a piece by Fenella Elms. I could stand and stare at her flow pot for hours, following the ebb and flow of the lines and images and forms the pot creates. My imagination runs riot as I stand and explore the forms of this pot. It’s totally beautiful and I’m so glad the Swindon museum and art gallery has acquired it. Pop along to the museum and have a look. See if it floats your boat.
I’m amazed that I can just walk into someone’s garden and find street art. And this is in fact what you can do. In West Swindon, part of the West Swindon Sculpture Trail, there’s a front garden with a stone carving of ‘Hey Diddle Diddle” on show. You can drive or walk past and admire it. I’m told you can go right into the garden to get a closer look. I haven’t done that yet, but one day!
The countryside in and around Swindon is amazing. I love driving around and not being surrounded by concrete. I drove from Swindon to Pewsey recently and discovered some fabulous countryside out there. We’ve also discovered the Cotswold water park and took a long leisurely Sunday afternoon walk along the towpath and getting sort of lost.
There’s some excitement in not knowing where you are going to end up. Then finding your way and joining the dots to link one place to another and realizing you weren’t lost after all. I hope I never become de-sensitised to the beauty around me.
Talking of the outdoors and countryside, I’ve also discovered that Swindon has a Nordic Walking group that meets on a Saturday morning and also twice in the week. I first heard about this sort of walking exercise about 10 years ago but only just had the opportunity to take it up. I’ve met some lovely people in the group and discovered The Lawns – a fabulous green space right in the middle of Swindon. It has hills and valleys and lakes, woodlands and wildlife right here in the middle of town. So I Nordic walk up and down and around on a Saturday morning and then retire with the rest of the group for a very restorative coffee/tea/hot chocolate. We sit outside a coffee shop at the top of Wood Street in Old Town, enjoying our drinks and spend the next five minutes putting the world to rights.
It’s a great way to start a Saturday and leaves me energised for the rest of the day. The people I’ve met have been open and welcoming and have amazed and delighted me with their kindness and generosity. From my neighbours who welcomed us to the area to total strangers. There was the lady who bought a teddy for a little girl in the queue behind her and the young man who gave me his phone charger because he had just bought a new phone – I needed a charger and he had one spare.
I have lots more to discover about Swindon and am looking forward to it.’
Here’s some super pictures from Sandra of her yoga class and her comrades in the Nordic walking:
Hello readers. Here’s another guest post from a friend of my alter ego, AA Editorial Services. It’s written by Jo who is one half of 4Points Leisure. They’re a super, family run Swindon-based business mad for camping, glamping and festivals. I KNOW – there’s no accounting for some folk eh?! 😉
I have to say it sounds like super fun. And gambling with ice-creams surely gives it an edge? And I’d no idea it had such a rich history. Interesting stuff. Thanks Jo for this – fascinating.
Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Racing was entirely new to our family, you can call us very sheltered! We saw the event advertised in Swindon, so we thought we’d pop along. This was part of our tech free Sundays – all in the name really! Every Sunday we now endeavour to find something to do that doesn’t involve tech. Dragon Boat Racing achieved this small aim!
First a lil history
As you would imagine, it is Chinese in origins, what with the dragons and all, and dates back more than 2000 years. Superstitious Chinese villagers celebrated the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, by racing. Racing was seen to avert misfortune and encourage the rains, which were needed for prosperity.
The Dragon, in China is traditionally a symbol of water, ruling the rivers, seas and clouds. In the 19th century European nations such as Britain and France used military power to control territory and economic privileges, in China. Of course they saw Dragon boat racing as corruptive, leading to gambling and fighting. They sought to suppress it, but dragon boat racing continued to be widely practiced.
Reformers looked to grow Dragon Boat racing, with a view to making it a national sport, and real progress was made from the 1920s to 50s. Then communism hit, and the government decided it represented old feudal customs and banned it in the early 1960s.
Dragon Boat Racing Today
Around 1976, British controlled Hong Kong, began to develop dragon boat racing as a sport. Used primarily to encourage tourism, over the next 10 years, other locations around the world began holding specific festivals in the Hong Kong style.
As the races grew in popularity, several national associations developed, and in 1991 the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF)was established in Hong Kong. The IDBF has since published by-laws, rules & regulations with full technical specifications for the sport, which is now practiced in over 60 countries worldwide.
Dragon boat racing is one of the world’s fastest growing water sports, and is used extensively as a way of raising funds for charity organisations in the UK. Hence the Rotary Club of Swindon Phoenix Dragon Boat Racing Day held in June each year.
Dragon Boat Racing in Swindon
This one day charity event is now in its fifth year, held at Coate Water Country Park in Swindon, the day involves 15 teams. Every team has 16 members paddling and 1 drummer – ehh drumming! The team choose a charity to sponsor, having raised £25 to enter the race.
The first heats involve two teams against one another, and so they race through three heats until the finals. The winner receives a very funky dragon trophy. However we felt that the trophy was just a sideline to the fun and mayhem of the day.
Once the team are in the narrow boat (they’re about 12m long) and settled, it’s down to the co-ordination of paddling. The better co-ordinated you are with each other the faster you’ll go. You would think that was obvious, but when there are 16 of you, and insome cases the drummer thinks he’s Dave Grohl, you get the picture.
As the team Disney Wannabees (dressed as Disney characters) demonstrated. We were treated to the Mad Hatter drumming, and Alice in Wonderland with a beard rowing. We could be scarred for life!!
How do they race?
Both boats row to the end of the lake, nearest the diving platform (long since closed). They turn, as best they can without hitting one another, to face the finish line. As we say, always a good start.
Our starter chap, is balancing in a dingy, which is anchored by a sledgehammer! When he’s happy both boats are facing the right direction, and are level, he’ll sound the horn and off they go.
Paddling like the clappers, drumming like Iron Maiden, steering down the lake towards the chequered flag, the teams are massively competitive. Racing started at 10am and the finals were held at 3.30. It’s a good full day out if you find a team you want to follow from start to end, or even if you just pitch up with a picnic.
We as a sad gambling family (such bad examples, I know) made it more interesting by betting ice creams on either the green or red dragon boat would win, and hubcap and I currently owe darling daughter several ice creams! Mmmm…
To give you a further feel for the day, here’s a YouTube video made by Richard Symonds, of the 2014 Swindon Dragon Boat Race.
What else is going on?
The Rotary Club of Swindon Phoenix, had opened up the other side of the lake (the side with the miniature railway and play park) to additional entertainment. Here they had several charity stalls, tombolas, obligatory tea cup ride and several food outlets, including Arkells Beer wagon (perhaps not at 11am?!). We felt for them in the mizzly rain, after the previous scorcher of a weekend. Yet there were plenty of people about – we even queued for the hook a duck.
Having spent most of our coppers, we headed to the Coate Water Miniature Railway, which I had never, in my 20 years here, ridden. Head over to Born Again Swindonians’ blog about Coate Water here to find out more about this beautiful railway. (She’s right – it IS fabulous.)
It’s wonderful. I can be sitting in my conservatory and what should appear but a fox taking a little stroll round my garden. I see it often. Where I live, the side of the hill is a woodland. I am visited by all manner of wildlife. Sometimes deer can be seen wondering along the roads. They are quite at home. At dusk, it is not uncommon to enjoy a badger nuzzling the ground in search of bugs. (Luckily it hasn’t decided to dig any big holes in my garden.)
Blue tits, long-tailed tits, coal tits, goldfinches, bull finches, firecrests are among an array of feathered visitors.
For exercise, I love going for a cycle. I’ve never been keen though on tackling busy roads. Here in Swindon the cycle path network comes to the rescue. I can potter along the canal and up on to the railway cutting. My mother lives in Wroughton so I often cycle over to see her. I’ve worked out that by the time I get my car out and drive there, it’s no quicker than pedal power.
It’s a great opportunity to see more of nature. Herons, woodpeckers, swans, water voles. You can even take a leisurely trip in a canal boat if you fancy.
As I leave my house on my bike, I immediately turn down one of the little lanes that run to the canal. From there it’s very easy to get on to the old railway cutting towards Old Town. I branch off and head for Wichelstowe if I’m visiting my mum. Sometimes though, I’ll continue right through to where the old cattle market used to be and head out to Coate Water. The whole journey doesn’t touch a major road.
I can also do the same in the other direction. I can get to Waitrose by using the canal. It’s a very pleasurable way of getting the groceries.
I’ve met loads of people when business networking in my AA Editorial Services hat. Some of them have become clients and/or friends. So I decided to ask them what their favourite things in and around Swindon are.
First up we’ve got Tim Perkins. Being a sucker for punishment Tim has not one but two businesses. I mean really? Why WOULD you?!
One of them is TMP planning – and you can find out more about that by clicking the hyperlink.
The other is Wild Goose Gear and that one concerns itself with all things outdoorsy! ‘We love outdoor exercise and will find any excuse to be out about exploring the countryside on foot, by bike or in the water. From walking the dog, to hiking, running, cycling and open water swimming there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors.’
So it’s not surprising then that Tim has chosen to talk about the countryside around Swindon. TBH this blog is meant to be concerned with stuff INSIDE Swindon (that comes under SBC) but I’ll stretch the point. Wroughton is close enough for government work. So now over to Tim:
‘One of the great things about Swindon is the fantastic countryside right on the door step of the town. Unless you live nearby you may not know about Kings Farm Wood in Wroughton. Yet it’s a fine example of a walk that’s close to the town and easy to access.
Woodpeckers and Wildflowers on the edge of Wroughton in King’s Wood Walk
Kings Farm Wood is the most accessible of a series of linked nature reserves. They include Clouts Wood, Markham Banks and the Diocese Meadows on the southern edge of Wroughton. They’e all managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust and include contrasting landscapes of meadows, combes and woodland on slopes leading up towards the Marlborough Downs.
Here’s a brief description of the Kings Farm Wood walks which can also be extended to take in the other areas I mentioned.
Start From the Ellendune Centre in Wroughton (by Tesco). There’s a large free car park here if you are driving. Walk out past the library and the War Memorial and turn left.
In a few yards you’ll reach traffic light where you go straight across (past the Co-op on your right). Keep straight on for a few hundred yards until you get to the end of this road. There you’ll see a street sign for Nursery Close pointing right. Follow this road for a few yards and you take a tarmacked footpath on your left between hedges.
At the end of this cross a road (Badgers Brook) and a small stream and go through the metal gate where you’ll see the information boards for Kings Farm Wood on your right.
Now there are three waymarked routes shown on the board on the left. These are well signposted and easy to follow:
Yellow (0.6 miles) – This is out and back route on a good quality gravel track which is suitable for pushchairs and mobility scooter.
Red (0.6 miles) – Again this is a short route on more undulating paths.
Blue (1 mile) – The longest route takes you along the gravel path to a metal gate into a field. If you have a dog, note that there may be cattle in this field so keep your dog on a lead.
Across the field you then turn left up a fairly steep slope to the top of the bank and back along a path with some fantastic views of Swindon through meadows and young planted woodland. Weather permitting you will see the distinctive white Nationwide HQ, Christchurch in Old Town and a glimpse of the top of the Murray John Tower. Follow the waymarks and you will eventually come back down the hill to the start.
These three walks are all short and the yellow one in particular is very accessible.
For the more adventurous the walks can easily be extended as there are a network of paths in this area. These link the four areas of Clouts Wood, Diocese Meadows and Markham Banks which can all be explored on a longer walk.
To get to Clouts Wood simply go through the gate at the end of the gravel path straight across the field and then through the gate opposite. There are several options of paths to the left up the hill and when you get to the top you simply turn right to reach Clouts Wood. If in doubt climb until you reach the fence that marks the boundary with the Science Museum land (old RAF Wroughton) and turn right.