These boots are made for walking: Swindon Health Walks, Ramblers – Get walking – Keep walking

These boots are made for walking: Swindon Health Walks, Ramblers – Get walking – Keep walking

You know, Swindon is not a bad place to be if you want to get yourself off the sofa and get into the great outdoors. I’ve written at length here about the West Swindon sculpture walk  and the walk along the old town railway path where the wheel sculptures are. But there are dozens more walks and cycle paths to be explored. Swindon is on the Sustrans cycle network for a start. Swindon benefits too from being flat in many areas so if, like me, you aren’t that keen on hills, you are in the right place.

There are certainly numerous walks in Swindon that can be done in less than an hour – take a look here  at ‘Get Walking- Keep Walking’ for some ideas.  For a start there’s an easy 40 minute walk from Windmill Hill, along Hay Lane, through Freshbrook and back.

Map of a walk

Map of walk from Windmill Hill

However, if you fancy doing some organized walks you might consider the Swindon Health Walks.  As the website says:

‘Swindon Health Walks are weekly group walks that encourage the use of our local parks and open spaces. Usually they last 40 – 60 minutes with refreshments offered at the end.’

There are currently eight different Swindon Health Walks available across the borough, all offering the opportunity to explore local green areas and communities.  The groups are friendly and welcome new walkers. Some walks offer occasional ‘away day’ specials.’

All the information you need is on the Health Walks website so do check it out. Alternatively you can find them on Facebook.

If you are up to something more strenuous consider joining the Ramblers Society – they have walks mapped out up and down the county and have groups in both Swindon and Highworth.

So … all together now … ‘I love to go a wandering along the mountain track, I love to go a wandering with a knapsack on my back …’


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West Swindon sculpture walk – Summary

West Swindon sculpture walk – Summary

At the end of part five of this series, Kim and I had reached Nexus at Freshbrook, at which point we called it a day as we were ready for dinner. We’d been out for hours and had a great time but had still only visited five out of the seven sculptures itemised on the tour.

Sculpture of family

The Watchers – Toothill

Next up on the list after ‘Nexus’ is ‘The Watchers’ at Toothill:  ‘Artist: Carleton Attwood. Material: Cement Fondue. Project details: Funded by R.S. McColl and E.H.Bradley Building Projects Ltd. The sculpture represents guardian figures looking over the community.’  And, as you can see in the picture, they are still there, still quietly watching.

Leaving Toothill, the tour takes you to ‘Looking to the Future’ near Ashingotn House and the West Swindon Centre. I’ve written about that one elsewhere in this blog so will leave that one behind and move on.

The document and map my friend and I used actually starts and ends at the Link Cente and has this to say: ‘…. you may care to look up at the murals. And what can you find out about Cassandra – an eighth sculpture – standing on her head above The Mall?

Find the map here: The Sculpture Tour West Swindon

Now I’m assuming this means the actual sports centre rather than the West Swindon centre itself. I went in there and saw a mural – see picture – but have no idea if it’s the one to which the tour guide refers. Moreover, I’m not the most observant of people but I haven’t seen any Cassandra.  For info, in Greek mythology Cassandra is the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy whose beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. So what happened to Cassandra I wonder? Perhaps she got fed up of being up-side down. I think I might.

mural on wall of sports centre

Mural in Swindon Link Centre

Anyway dear readers, that concludes the West Swindon sculpture tour/walk. It’s a wonderfully diverse collection of public art encompassing film stars, nursery rhymes and 21st century archeological artefacts.  As I mentioned in the first post, the tour blurb says this 5 mile walk can be done in two hours. And I’m sure it can. But this is a walk that you can make as much or as little of as you want. It’s a good activity with a family as there are play parks along the way – these are partly responsible for Kim and I taking so long about it. That and the outdoor gym behind Shaw Ridge – see ‘How the Mighty Fall’. Shaw Village Centre is approximately half-way so lunch at the Village Inn could be incorporated – or a pint at the very least!

For the cyclists out there, incorporate it into a bike ride – I haven’t looked at this in detail but I daresay the Sustrans cycle routes in the town would cover some or even all of this tour. Ditto with the Ramblers mapped walks.  Swindon has some amazing walking and cycle paths – it’s on  Sustrans Route 45 which goes from Salisbury right up to Chester – and these and other sculptures around the town must surely add another dimension?

These, and all the public art we have here in Swindon, are a wonderful thing – just amazing – and I can’t help but feel that they are under-valued, under-promoted and un-loved. Is this sculpture tour not a tourism resource being badly and sadly wasted? It’s got parks, play areas, big open spaces, pubs and even hotels along its route.  The ONLY information I could find about these sculptures as an entity was the plain pdf document which was probably put on the internet when it was invented. Why aren’t there postcards, leaflets with a map inside and some info about each sculpture and other things nearby? SBC what are you playing at?  Think of Swindon and tourism and what comes to mind? STEAM, the Outlet Village and Lydiard Park. Oh and maybe the Oasis. And that’s probably about it. But there’s all this and so few people know about it. Shame on you!

Someone put a comment on the post about ‘White Horse Pacified’ saying she’d been wanting to see that sculpture but had no idea where to look for it, but now – thanks to my blog post – she does. I rest my case.

Tuesday 13th August – Update: 

I’ve just today, found out about these interesting articles – see below – relating to the West Swindon sculpture walk with some really great pictures and other bits I didn’t know about, which is all really cool.

When I started doing a web search to look for info for this blog regarding Swindon’s public art I couldn’t find these – just the old PDF file that I’ve been referring to.  Never mind – I know about them now which is all that matters. It’s just great to know that there is stuff out there about it all.

Find a map of the walk here: The Sculpture Tour West Swindon

Here’s a link to a picture on the Swindon Local collection Flickr site. It’s of the poster designed by Ken White for the statue’s unveiling event.

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West Swindon sculpture walk – part 5 – Nexus

West Swindon sculpture walk – part 5 – Nexus

Sculpture of limestone on railway sleepers

Kim at ‘Nexus’ Freshbrook village centre

Limestone sculpture on railway sleepers

A view of ‘Nexus’, sculpture at Freshbrook village centre

Here’s a link to a map of this sculpture trail.

In part 4 of this series my companion and myself visited ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ which is in The Prinnels, West Swindon. I explained about spending the last twenty years seeing but not really ‘noticing’ that sculpture from the bus and never realising the significance of it – which is a bit shameful when you think of it.  Well I’m sorry to say that my chagrin doesn’t end there. Oh dear me no! The situation with this next one is very similar I’m sorry to say.  Even as my friend and I were reading the ‘bumph’ about this sculpture I still wasn’t making the connection – and ‘connection’ is actually very apposite indeed. It was only as we approached Freshbrook that I realized what we were going to. Doh!

The blurb has this to say about this art work: ‘Nexus 1986. Artist Hideo Furuta. Material: Blue Pennant stone. Project details: Nexus was carved by the artist, using hand-made tools, in public and in situ. The residency was funded by Thamesdown Borough Council and Southern Arts.’

Now, much like glimpsing ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ several times a week from the bus and it never registering, the same applies here. I walk to Freshbrook several times a week: to the Dr, the pharmacy and to Tesco, and every time I have walked past this thing and never really given it any thought. Well that’s no longer the case. I’m still not sure that I like this piece of art but having read about it and pondered on it some, it’s actually very interesting.

The name of it for a start. The word ‘Nexus’ ( I did actually know this) comes from the Latin of ‘‘a binding together’, from nex- ‘bound’, from the verb nectere . It also has the connotation of meaning  a connection or series of connections linking two or more things: the nexus between industry and political power.• a connected group or series: a nexus of ideas.2 a central or focal point: the nexus of any government in this country is No. 10.

So, to my mind, the ‘meaning’ of this sculpture works on a couple of levels – especially when you consider that it rests on railway sleepers. So in the first instance,  in the macro or the big picture if you will, the railway undoubtedly made it possible for  Swindon to become the town that it is today and links Swindon with the rest of the south-west and with the south-east. But on a micro or more local level, I think what is key, is the fact that Freshbrook village centre is:

a) a focal point for Freshbrook itself being the home of a community centre, a Drs surgery, a dentist, a pharmacy, a supermarket, a hairdresser, a takeaway, a school, a pub and a church – all needs catered for there I think. But also:

b) It’s sort of at the centre of Grange Park, Westlea, Freshbrook itself and, to some degree Toothill – although that has its own village centre – well in so much as it forms a link – a Nexus – between them all – it’s central to them.

Ergo I reckon, the idea of this sculpture is that represents the function of Freshbrook as a pivot for the above. I stress though that this is only my interpretation. It could have been meant as something else entirely. But then isn’t art a bit like literature – we can each get a different meaning from it?

So, there you have it. Like I say, I’m not sure that I’d go so far as to say that I ‘like’ this one, in so much as it doesn’t trigger those indefinable pleasure receptors in me, in the way some of the others on this walk do. But now I’ve studied it and thought about it properly – for the first time in 20 years of looking at it but not ‘seeing’ it – I definitely find it interesting. And maybe that’s the thing with art? I dunno – I’m not Charles Saatchi or Brian Sewell – but maybe the thing with art is just to engage with it and work out what your own responses are..

And I think if there’s a message I want to convey in writing about these sculptures it’s this: right here on your doorstep you have this wonderful entity, this West Swindon Sculpture walk, but don’t just take my word for it all. Get out there, look at them, think about them and even if – like me with this particular one – you don’t necessarily like one or more of them (there are 8 altogether) – just appreciate how very lucky we are to have them. Because I really think we are. Here endeth the lesson!

Anyway, at this point my friend Kim and myself concluded the walk as we’d been out for hours and were ready for dinner. So we had a swift pint in the Windmill and went back to mine for spaghetti bolognaise and a bit too much Chianti. As you do.

As for the rest of the sculptures on the walk, I’ll do a round-up in another post – so keep an eye out for that. Bye for now!

Sunday 27th March 2014

Freshbrook village centre is currently being regenerated and, as part of which, Nexus has also had a revamp. It has some nice new red tarmac round it and some signage. Hurrah!!


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Wheel sculptures Old Town Cycle path

Wheel sculptures Old Town Cycle path

Old Town to West Swindon cycle path

In July 213 I first posted about the wheel sculptures that can be seen on the Old town to West Swindon cycle path:

There are five wheels, from the Old Town direction towards the railway and Wootton Bassett Road they are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive. Each wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the Element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry. In addition, there is a sleeper crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs. Each of these lengths of wood has two words written on them’. 

Air - Old town to West Swindon cycle path

Old town to West Swindon cycle path

Well, I’m pleased to inform you that, thanks to the power of social media, I have now learnt a lot more about them. A follower of this blog kindly sent me some newsletters about the project which I am able to share on here. Thank you so very, very much for that. I’m really thrilled to see all this – and just think –  only 5 days ago I had no idea of their existence….it’s a funny old world is it not?

It was back in 1980 that the disused railway line running along the southern flank of Swindon was saved from development by Swindon bike group who offered to construct a path for walking and cycling. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the bike group got an opportunity to get creative with the path -but the documents can explain it all better than me. They were large documents which I’ve had to break down into segments so you’ll have to ‘piece’ it together I fear. But you get the idea.

The poet, Fiona Sampson, who wrote the words for the wheels said this: ‘The mix of the industrial and the natural and cyclic in Alec’s design made me think hard about the ideas my poems needed to bridge; but it also inspired me to think about words as solid, powerful’.

EARTH: Our wheels relinquish and seize, relinquish and seize – curious tenderness. 

I have only seen two of them as the walk I was doing didn’t take in the whole of this path. But of the ones I did see…yep powerful would do it for me. And haunting too.

Oh – incidentally – the newsletter page with the magic roundabout logo on it speaks of a mural on Signal Way. Is that still in existence?

Saturday the 1st of Feb 2014: Fantastic update!

 Swindon local collection, who are slowly digitising all manner of photos and documents have today added photographs to their Flickr photostream of these sculptures being created and installed. Just wonderful!

West Swindon sculpture walk – Part 4 – ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’

West Swindon sculpture walk – Part 4 – ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’

Front view of Hey Diddle Diddle sculpture showing the cat and the fiddle

Roadside view showing cat and fiddle

Below is a link a map and some descriptions of the sculptures:

The Sculpture Tour West Swindon

In part 3 of this series I wrote about ‘White Horse Pacified’ a 1987 sculpture by Julie Livesey and created during an international artists exchange between Swindon and Lisbon, Portugal, funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Southern Arts and Wiltshire County council and the then Thamesdown Borough council.

Leaving that sculpture to move onto the next one took Kim and I walked round some bits of what I term ‘proper’ places. By that I mean houses and areas that have clearly been here much longer than all this ‘new’ (70s, 80s 90s) development of Swindon. The walk takes you down Old Shaw Lane and right past Lower Shaw Farm – home of Swindon’s Literature festival amongst other things and close to the Nine Elms pub. It also took us via Shaw Village centre where, as it was a warm sunny evening, we stopped for ice-cream. Yet another reason why this walk took us hours! Of course, should the fancy take you to do this walk during the day-time, The Village Inn at Shaw would make a good stopping point for lunch and/or a pint being approximately on the mid-way point of this walk.

So anyway, suitably refreshed with ice-cream and a sit-down we ventured on to the next sculpture on the list which is ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ and is described thus: ‘1992 – Artist: Vega Bermejo. Material: Portland Stone. Project details: Commissioned by Thamesdown Borough Council through the Percent for Art Policy and sponsored by Clarke Holmes Ltd. This charming sculpture in a domestic setting depicts the popular nursery rhyme.’

Well, by this time we are getting closer to where I live but I still wasn’t making the connection. Talk about not really ‘seeing’ or knowing what is under your nose. It’s shameful. For twenty years I’ve been passing this thing on the 1A bus home from town and never realized. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had the thought ‘well, fancy having a huge stone cat in your front garden’ and similar – because it is quite literally in a front garden in The Prinnells (between Shaw/Middleaze and Grange Park) Oh dear. Though to be fair, as the bus swings by, the only bit of the sculpture you can see is the cat. But readers, this is so much more then a giant cat. Stop and take the time to examine it and you will see.

As the descriptions says and the name implies, this sculpture is all about the well known nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle the cat and the fiddle…’   The roadside end of it is indeed the cat’s face but it’s only on closer inspection that you can see the fiddle. The other end has the cow’s face on it and the two sides depict the dish and the spoon, the moon and the little dog laughing to see such fun. I rather suspect he was laughing at me for not knowing what was under my nose. And quite right too.

So anyway Kim and I thoroughly examined it and took photographs, of which there are more on the blog’s facebook page.  Like so many of these sculptures it’s in need of a bit of TLC. Just a brush and some warm water would piff it up no end. If it was in my front garden I think I might be doing that. And perhaps encouraging visitors and offering cream teas!  🙂 Though before I get too judgemental I ought to consider that there might be some sort of clause prohibiting that.

As with all the others so far, this is a really interesting and intriguing sculpture. I love the idea of it – representing a nursery rhyme in this sort of setting – as of course nursery rhymes and domesticity go together. But hey – don’t take my word for it – go and see it for yourself.

Next on the list is ‘Nexus’ and this was another surprise. Until then folks…

The mysterious world of the strange – more unknown public art…

….to me at any rate.

Yesterday (Sunday 21st June 2013)myself and couple of friends went out on an EXPOTITION: we set out on a walk – this walk to be exact – a circular route beginning and ending at Croft Leisure centre and taking in Croft Wood, Wichelstowe Canal and Town Gardens.

It’s a lovely walk and I hope to write more about it in a separate post but for now I’m hoping you people out there can tell me something about the art works we came across on the old railway path and I’m guessing there’s a clue there.  Suffice it to say that the blurb on the walk makes no mention of the art to be seen on the route, which seems a pity. Anyway…we only saw two of them – there’s a picture of part of one of them on the blog’s Facebook page  I have  managed to find this much – but yep – essentially: who? – what? – why? and when?  I find them strangely haunting I must say.

There are five wheels, from the Old Town direction towards the railway and Wootton Bassett Road they are Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive. Each wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the Element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry. In addition, there is a length of wood crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs. Each of these lengths of wood has two words written on them.

AIR: On hot places behind your knees On high downs a ghost is growing. Depth & disquiet.

EARTH: Our wheels relinquish and seize, relinquish and seize….Curious tenderness..second word obscured

Fire: Pistons swell and shine, days are like face, Steam pumps the sky, this one this…Extinguished – the second word is hidden

WATER:  The stream fills a cut, Swills and wave, A new start, gravel and laughter, tick tock on the rim – the two words on the sleeper are not visible

CONCEIVE:  Stepping out, out of character, You interrogate, A chaos of bearings, Where is the unknown journeyman with his bag of fives, his measuring rod and chisel?  Hand & Eye