The GWR Park, in the centre of Swindon’s award-winning GWR Railway Village conservation areabegan life in 1844 as a cricket ground. In that year, the GWR bought land from Lt.Col.Vilett, a local landowner. That land, to the west of the new Railway Village, between Faringdon Road and St Mark’s Church became first a cricket ground and later the GWR Park – known also to some as The Plantation or Victoria Park.
Aside from cricket, the park played – and still does play – a big role in the social life of the the railway village residents and wider Swindon. As such it occupies a special place in Swindon’s history.
The Children’s Fete is Swindon’s oldest summer event – dating back to 1866. Organised by the Mechanics’ Institution, it ran until 1939 (except during the Great War) and was only halted by the outbreak of WWII. In 2003, the Mechanic’s Institution Trustrevived the tradition and have run it most year’s since.
The Trust maintains the tradition of providing a free piece of cake to all the children attending. Thus, the event has once again become a popular and recognisable part of Swindon’s social calendar.
Sadly, the ornamental, formal gardens, along with the cricket pavilion, the bandstand and glasshouses are long gone. There’s a lovely archive photo of the park here on the Historic England website.
What makes this park stand out is what you can see from it. As you walk around the park you can see several of Swindon’s land marks. There’s the water tower and UTC, St Mark’s Church of course. Then there’s Park House and – towering over everything, the David Murray John Tower. Not forgetting the view up to Radnor Street cemetery.
And besides all that, and despite the fact that the glasshouses and ornamental gardens are long on, it’s a lovely park. As soon as you’re a few steps inside it the traffic noise of Faringdon Road recedes and it’s all tranquil greenery.
This article from Swindon Web. ‘Faringdon Park was also the venue for one of cricketing most unusual moments, when in 1870 the great W.G.Grace (world renowned as one of the greatest players ever to pick up a bat and ball) was dismissed for a duck in both innings when playing for Bedminster against the New Swindon side.’ And that’s not cricket!!
The memorial commemorates the centenary of the cessation of WWI hostilities. Designed by Dr Mike Pringle (of the Richard Jefferies Museum), it depicts different aspects of the First World War.
The location in the northwest corner of the GWR Park was selected because that’s where the sun goes down.
Made from five steel panels, GWR Park first world war memorial sculpture features cut out designs of: a horse’s head, a Lee Enfield rifle, a gun carriage wheel and the red cross of the Swindon Royal Army Medical Corps.
Artist Mike Pringle said ‘the pointed steel panels would be redolent of the sharp rooftops of the GWR works, described by soldier and Swindon author Alfred Williams as looking like the teeth of a giant saw blade.’
Aside from this sculpture in an agreeable green space, there are other good reasons to visit the railway village. The Mechanics’ Institution trust, run regular volunteer-led tours around the village. They usually post the dates and times etc on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/mechanicstrust/
They also manage the Baker’s Cafe, central community centre and the railway cottage museum. For opening times for that see their Facebook page above.
The Glue Pot pub in the village is always worth a visit for their real ales. And now there’s the Baker’s Community cafe too, formed from the old Baker’s Arms public house.
We’ve also done the Richard Jefferies Old Town Trail. I’ll link to that at the bottom. This time though it was the River Ray Parkway trail we decided to explore.
I’ve always known that Swindon, and West Swindon is green. Very. But doing this walk demonstrated it even more.
So here we go: discovering the River Ray Parkway:’
‘Continuing our occasional series, “Jess and Angela wander interesting parts of Swindon”, we ventured out on a sunny day to discover what the River Ray Parkway was all about.
If you live or have wandered in the south-west/south-east parts of Swindon you may have come across the odd dark green metal signpost, some of them still contain actual signage – as in the image below.
This one is at the Kingshill end of the canal towpath. It reads:
Coate Water Country Park Lydiard Country Park Old Town Rail Path Wroughton Kingshill Canal
NB: The direction in which they point isn’t reliable. Many of them have been turned around by mischief makers.
They’re labelled,where they’re readable: River Ray Parkway.
The River Ray Parkway is a green walking and cycling route, introduced in 1991 as part of the Great Western Community Forest scheme, it ran for 8 miles from Coate Water to Moulden Hill.
It was expanded from the original effort to create the Swindon Old Town Rail Path, developed with the help of Sustrans, then a small Bristol group formed to create better walking and cycling routes.
We started out at the Moulden Hill end, and wandered along the route of NCN45, looking for the first sign. The purpose built NCN signs are quite obvious in the landscape …
National Cycle Network 45 sign The sign shows a person and bicycle icon, with the letters “45” underneath.
The direction shown reads: Swindon Station 3 Chiseldon 8 Avebury 18
But the green Parkway signs tend to blend into the trees so it took a while to find one.
After leaving the roads we walked through a long leafy corridor, spotting our first Parkway sign as we were almost at Shaw Forest Park (Shaw Tip on the River Ray Parkway map!).
The route from here follows the edge of the Shaw Forest Park (pop in for a wander across the hill), past the Swindon Lagoons which have signs describing the habitat readable through the fence.
Continuing south east, we catch up with a tributary of the actual River Ray, and follow it underneath the Great Western Way dual carriageway, around the giant Mannington Rec sports ground + park and into Bridgemead retail park.
From the map, you will notice that the River Ray Parkway follows two routes from Wootton Bassett Road to Rivermead, we followed the eastern route.
The western route follows the western tributary of the River Ray, via Westlea Park and alongside Westlea Primary school. It follows the current NCN route 45, and the Western Flyer, a newer route created recently to provide a cycling-commuter route into the town centre.
On the embedded map you can see our route, follow the green markers from the north west corner (darker green marker), clicking on the markers will show images of the signs we found. The blue markers are the signs on the western route, as found by Jess the previous week.]
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: