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.
Apropos of the gates below: 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 pointed out, 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 highlighted 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 and 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 Alfred’s wife’s maiden name was Peck – because my maiden name too is Peck and it’s 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.
Whenever I go meandering along the Western Flyer, I am struck by the astonishing amount of greenery, natural habitats, bridle paths, play parks and open spaces there are most everywhere one goes in Swindon.
I’m lost for words. Well okay, that’s never going to actually happen. But the expression gives an indication of my surprise at finding out about this delight tucked away behind a busy main road, an industrial estate and the Holiday Inn Express. Well, I’ve only lived here the twenty years so how could I possibly be expected to know eh? Even worse, Hagbourne Copse West Swindon is only 15 minutes walk from my home in Grange Park.
Planted sometime before 1766, the copse once belonged to the Lydiard Estate. It’s now managed by Wiltshire Wildlife who bought the copse in 1999.
In April and May the copse offers a stunning display of native bluebells. Also in springtime you’ll find wood anemones, primroses, early purple orchids and Goldilocks buttercups. All indicate ancient woodland.
Autumn in Hagbourne Copse is good for seeing fungi. Twenty-two species, including the common puffball, sprout from the ground and from tree trunks and branches.
Once more, as with several other instances that have triggered blog posts, it was social media that alerted me to its existence. In this instance a photograph of a friend of mine in the aforesaid copse. Then, as is so often the case, no sooner had I seen that, then photographs of the same copse appeared on Instagram. So clearly I thought, in the manner of Winnie the Pooh, an EXPOTITION was in order.
And what a charming little spot it is. Tranquil isn’t quite the word with the busy road just beyond it. But a haven of nature it most certainly is. When carpeted with a bevy of beautiful bluebells, this little piece of ancient woodland is an absolute delight and makes for a lovely little stroll.
I grew up in Derbyshire. Close to my home there lay an appropriately called Bluebell Wood which, as children, we frequently visited at Bluebell time. More years than I care to remember have passed by since I last saw Bluebells like this. Just stunning.
‘Bluebell woods are a predominantly British phenomenon as three-quarters of the world’s bluebells are found in these islands.
They occur all over Britain, but whereas most people head for the countryside to enjoy this once-a-year spectacle, Swindon folk don’t need to travel so far… The vast majority of bluebell woods are relics from ancient woodlands, often dating back to the 17th century – and Hagbourne Copse is no exception.‘
I just love social media! One of my Twitter and blog followers sent me the photo of the Portrait Bench South Marston Cycle Path that you see at the bottom of this post. And that’s fab. Being a non-driver and bogged down in studies I don’t get to all four corners of our town.
What you are looking at is piece of public art that is also a handy bench: a perfect marriage of form and function indeed! But not just any old bench.
This here is a Portrait Bench. So now, not only do I know about this lovely bench, I also know about the concept of portrait benches and a little bit more about Swindon’s history. And it started with a Tweet!
“The Portrait Bench is a new and unique national collection of local portraits.
The figures are inspired and chosen for their individual contribution to the life of the community.
Creating portraits is an old custom. Portraits honour individuals for their philanthropy, political prowess or acts of heroism. And, most commonly, for the love of family members.
All major public spaces are graced by statues or portraits of eminent individuals. And family photos are treasured across the world.
Each Portrait Bench is a collection of three distinctive, life-size local figures cut from sheet steel and installed by a simple bench. They invite you to sit or step up into the space and become a part of the portrait group. The features of each character have been simplified while retaining their essential characteristics.
The characters reflect those things that are important to the community. Each is inspired by the local heritage, culture and aspirations of the area. Some we’ll know and some we won’t. Together they will represent around 230 characters chosen by thousands of people from across the UK”
The Three Figures
The three figures you see here are representatives of some aspects of Swindon’s rich heritage. The chap with a barrel on his shoulder is representing Arkell’s Brewery, established in 1843 and still going strong.
The man in the centre serves as a homage to Swindon’s rich railway heritage, glimpses of which you can see in a couple of my other posts:
The third figure is a WWII airman. He’s there in tribute to the part that Swindon played in producing the Spitfire – arguably the nation’s most famous aircraft.
The factory that contributed to the Spitfire production was located in South Marston. Hence the fitting inclusion of an airman on this portrait bench.
The creation of this portrait bench and the cycle path on which it’s located is part of the Sustrans Connect2 project.
“Sustrans’ Connect2 project has transformed everyday travel for communities across the UK by helping them to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys.
The project has created new bridges and crossings that overcome busy roads, rivers and railways. It’s made a link to networks of walking and cycling routes, making it easier for millions of people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys‘.
Well, you learn something new every day don’t you? And it’s amazing what you can discover in the Twittersphere. Until some interactions on Twitter yesterday I had no idea of the existence of Swindon Travel Choices. Well, actually that’s not strictly true – I had seen persons on the bus wearing polo-shirts emblazoned with the company name but I assumed it referred to a bucket holiday-shop. Not so.
Swindon Travel Choices is a project to support the regeneration of Swindon Town Centre by promoting different travel choices to the people who work in the town centre and live in the borough.
So whether you walk, cycle, drive, use the bus or possibly even if you jet-pack from place to place, Swindon Travel choices is the site to go to. There’s maps and journey planners and all manner of useful stuff on the website – best thing to do is go and have a look. For instance in the ‘walking’ section of the site you can download a copy of a magazine or request a copy to be sent to you in the post. The current issue has a feature on the West Swindon sculpture tour about which I’ve been banging on ad nauseum. Hurrah! It’s lovely to see that featured.
So, dust down your walking shoes or dig out your cycle clips and visit this site for all sorts of inspiration.