So this Beat the Street Swindon challenge sounds like fantastic family fun. Read more about it all below.
Swindon is set to be transformed into a giant game this autumn as thousands of residents compete to see if their school, community or business can walk, run or cycle the furthest.
Running from 12 September to 24 October, Beat the Street is a free, fun challenge where people are rewarded with points and prizes for exploring their town on foot or bicycle.
More than 160 special sensors called ‘Beat Boxes’ will appear across Swindon. Players tap the Beat Boxes with cards and fobs to track their journey and earn points for themselves and their team – the more Beat Boxes people swipe the more points they earn.
Schools and community groups across Swindon will be competing against each other to see if they can travel the furthest, climb the leaderboards and win hundreds of pounds worth of sport and fitness equipment.
Families are encouraged to play for their local school. While the wider community can create their own teams by firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sam Allen: ‘Swindon Town manager and football pioneer Sam Allen (the sixth-most longest-serving manager in Football League history), and was unveiled on May 19, 2018, by former Swindon Town footballer John Trollope MBE, and Sam’s granddaughter-in-law, Pat Chapman.
‘In 1764 a free school for the working classes was provided in a cottage Newport Street, to educate 20 boys and 5 girls on land owned by the Goddard family, but very soon the number of pupils outgrew the accommodation and a two storey stone-built National School was built on the same site in 1835. Among its pupils in the 1860s was future author, Richard Jefferies, mentioned in my Blip about Jefferies Avenue a few weeks ago.’
‘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
They’re labelled,where they’re readable: River Ray Parkway.
stump of river ray parkway sign
The 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. Today the route is mostly maintained as National Cycle Network route 45, started by Sustrans with a National Lottery grant in 1995.
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
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
But the green Parkway signs tend to blend into the trees, 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.
River Ray Brochure (map side) Brochure copy scan courtesy of Swindon Local Studies, Swindon Library
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.
We ended up this first half of the route with a cuppa at John Lewis, which is on the western part of the route. 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.
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.
Oh listeners, I do love a bit of urban discovery as evidenced with my travelogue on the West Swindon sculpture trail and the subject of this post turned out to offer some nuggets of urban discovery.
When I say ‘discovery’ I do of course mean new to or previously unnoticed by me – not that they’ve been seen by no-one before ever. I’m referring to the Richard Jefferies Old Town walk which is a trip round the eponymous area of Swindon taking in buildings and spots that were known to him. I did this walk last week with @swindondriver AKA Jess Robinson who took the photographs.
I’m going to break the walk up into two separate posts as there’s a lot of it and it would be a VERY long post otherwise.
Richard Jefferies – Born at Coate, Swindon, Wiltshire in 1848 – Died in Sussex in 1887
I’ve written a couple of times on this blog about RJ but before I talk about the walk here’s a bit of information about who RJ was. From the website of the Richard Jefferies society:
“(John) Richard Jefferies (6 November 1848 – 14 August 1887) is best known for his writings about nature and the countryside. His birthplace and home at Coate, now on the out-skirts of Swindon, provide the background to all his major works of fiction and for many of his essays.”
Wikipedia: “His childhood on a small Wiltshire farm had a great influence on him and provides the background to all his major works of fiction. For all that, these show a remarkable diversity, including Bevis (1882), a classic children’s book, and After London (1885), an early work of science fiction. “
Now – onto the walk. This is a circular walk that begins and more or less ends at The Square in Old Town. Despite the fact that the leaflet I found about it was a few years old the walk remains pretty much as described. Here’s a link to a plain text web page of the walk and a numbered map which corresponds now to each paragraph in the post: http://writersgate.co.uk/map/rjwalk.htm
1) The bakehouse and shop belonging to Richard Jefferies’ grandfather, John Jefferies (1784-1868), stood to the right of the Corn Exchange building, fronting the road. The shop has long since been demolished. Richard went there frequently, as a child, and would have found there, also, his aunts Eliza (Sewell), Mary and Sarah. Now Jess and I weren’t entirely sure where the bakehouse and shop mentioned would have been as the description isn’t particularly clear from which angle of the Corn Exchange (the Locarno) it referred to.
2) Take the lane leading out of The Square along The Weavers and continue left into Old Mill Lane. On your right is an old ‘squeeze-belly’ stile. The path beyond it leads to Coate and would have been used by Richard to come and go, on foot. Continue along Old Mill Lane and note the buttresses in the churchyard wall. Close to this spot stood the mill, once in the charge of Richard’s great uncle James. The Goddard family mansion, ‘The Lawn’, now demolished, stood a few yards farther on. NB: the squeeze belly stile is still there – that was a new ‘discovery’ for me.
3) On the right stands what is left of Holy Rood Church. The gates are locked but if the key is obtained you may see the box tomb of Richard’s great grandfather Richard (1738-1825). Richard was baptised here. Not that I have any idea from whom or where the key is obtained – one assumes it still can be.
4) Return via The Planks (an ancient and raised walkway) to The Square and go into High Street. Notice the Bell Inn, (no longer an inn but the building and bell are still there) occasionally visited by Richard where, as a young reporter, he would talk with Sir Daniel Gooch* and other leading citizens. Cross High Street and walk to Newport Street. The National School, now pulled down, stood in Newport Street; it was run by a Mr Jenkins, and Richard attended in the evenings in his teens.
Sir Daniel Gooch now has a Wetherspoons in his name – there’s lots of interesting information and pictures on the stairwell in there.
During recent months all sorts of posts about the Western Flyer kept appearing on my social media streams. However, absorbed as I was in the final few months of my degree studies, I had neither time nor energy to engage with it all. Well, the degree is now finished so I find myself with some time to explore some things that have had to go on the back burner. And one of those things was the Western Flyer.
So what is the Western Flyer then? It’s an upgrade of an existing cycle and pedestrian route that goes from West Swindon to the town centre via Barnfield, Bruce Street Bridges and North Star, bringing you into town across from Holbrook House on Station Rd. It incorporates National Cycle Network Route 45 .The National cycle network is a ‘series of safe, traffic-free lanes and quiet on-road routes that connect to every major city and passes within a mile of 55 per cent of UK homes. It now stretches 14,500 miles across the length and breadth of the UK.
Sustrans developed the concept and coordinates the development of the National Cycle Network, working with Local Authorities and partner organisations to identify future routes and, in some cases, providing the funding to build extensions.
Route 45 of the NCN links Chester with Salisbury via Whitchurch, Ironbridge, Bridgnorth, Droitwich Spa, Worcester, Gloucester, Cirencester and Swindon. The full route travels 270 miles from Chester to Salisbury and takes you via Shrewsbury, Bridgnorth, Worcester, Gloucester, Stroud, Cirencester and Swindon. Read more information about Route 45 here.
I tried it out to see if might be a quicker walk into town than the route I normally take which is, aside from a couple of deviations, the bus route. I’m still not sure if it is or not because I kept stopping to take photographs – see the gallery below – so I really need to do it again just walking from A to B to get a proper measure of that.
Swindon Travel choices have some information about it on their website and Swindon Heritage featured it in their winter 2013 edition.
One of the pictures in my gallery is of a set of old wrought iron gates. There’s a better photograph of them on this site which says this about them: The cast iron gate posts date back to the years when this area was occupied by the huge Great Western Railway factory developed in the mid 19th century by Isambard Kingdom Brunel to manufacture everything needed to run a railway. I don’t know the age of these gate posts but they pre-date the second world war and may be even older. Originally they provided access to 24 Shop which I think was used for carriage and wagon repairs.
Other than the gates, and as Swindon Heritage point out in their article, the Western Flyer route has lots of history built into it as it ’emphasises the heritage that’s underfoot (or wheel) wherever you go in Swindon.’ Just one of the things they highlight in their article is the fact that, just a stone’s throw from the Western Flyer, is the workshop where Swindon’s ‘Hammerman’ poet Alfred Williams spent 25 years working for the GWR. Born in South Marston, Williams published six books of poetry, a series of books about the area and is renowned at national level for his contribution to preserving the lyrics of folk songs. I was recently on the top floor of the central library chatting with the lovely peeps in the Swindon Local section where I saw a photograph of Alfred Williams. On a personal level I was surprised and interested to note that his wife’s maiden name was Peck. This interests me because my maiden name too is Peck and it’s just not a name one comes across much. Hardly at all even. Except for in Suffolk, which is where my dad originated, where there seem to be millions of them. In my entire life I have only come across two other Pecks – aside from relatives in Suffolk – with Alfred Williams’ wife making three. So are there still Peck’s in Swindon? I’d be interested to know.
Yet again, while I was meandering along the Western Flyer, I was struck by the astonishing amount of greenery, natural habitats, bridle paths, play parks and open spaces there are seemingly everywhere one goes in Swindon. Fabulous.