Swindon for the discerningImage: Martin Parry
Swindon: the heritage of a railway town
I would argue that Swindon is THE most important railway town in Britain. The GWR changed the local area, the country and even the world – its tentacles spread that far. And that’s without considering the achievements of the men, the Mechanics’ Institution and the Medical Fund Society. An influence on the NHS model celebrated with a blue plaque on the side of Milton Road Baths. You can read an overview of the relationship between Swindon’s healthcare story and that of the nation here.
In the 1840s, the coming of the Great Western Railway transformed a greenfield site near the small market settlement of Swindon atop a hill. Brunel and Gooch placed their mighty GWR works where they did and everything changed.
The scale of the GWR’s influence was a huge one. It reached its peak in the second quarter of the 20th century. Gradual decline followed and, to cut a long and bitter story short, 1986 saw the Works closed. Before the Works’ hooter blasted for the final time, many important buildings were recorded and added to Historic England’s register for their historical and architectural significance and their wider national significance.
Today, the GWR railway village conservation area stands as one of Britain’s best-preserved and architecturally most ambitious railway settlements. One that is worthy of you wandering around it and visiting its park – the GWR Park. This is most certainly Swindon for the discerning.
The reasons why you should visit Swindon are many and varied. It’s much more than a gateway to the Cotswolds and an easy train ride into central London! Visiting Swindon has much to offer to the discerning visitor.
The Visit Swindon website gives a great overview of all the obvious suspects such as STEAM museum and the wonderful McArthur Glen designer outlet centre housed in what once was the mighty and magnificent GWR Works. Though my post about the outlet centre on this blog tells it in an alternative way.
If you’re looking for things to do with kids in Swindon and its environs, then the Day Out with the Kids website is worth a nose around.
But what I’ve set out to do within the posts on this blog and within the pages of my publications, is to show Swindon in a different way. To tell Swindon stories and to encourage you to open your eyes, your hearts and your minds.
So kick of your shoes, get comfortable and have a good root round this blog to get a Born Again Swindonian’s view of the town and discover how surprising Swindon is. And for stunning photographs of Swindon, and some words by me here and there, I commend you to the We Are Swindon website. Though the site is about much more than photographs – it’s a superb showcase for Swindon businesses and charities and more.
Accommodation in Swindon
At Lydiard Fields, close to M4 junction 16 is the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel – now with an outside dining deck to complement their indoor dining area.
One of the town centre’s offerings is the Thistle Express. This hotel occupies a convenient location close to the town centre and only a short walk from Swindon railway station.
AirBNB Accommodation in Swindon
My guide book
First published in 2020, Swindon: A Born Again Swindonian’s Guide book, aims to encourage its readers to find the interest and the beauty even in things that are unloved. If this isn’t Swindon for the discerning then nothing is!
The book features well-known and well-loved Swindon attractions such as Coate Water with its marvellous miniature railway, Town Gardens in Old Town and Queen’s Park with its terrific Turtle Storm sculpture and a great gorilla! But what it also does is offer less-well known things about those places.
And on top of that, I’ve written in to it a range of trails including two quiz trails to do with the kids, with answers at the back of the book. It’s urban exploration and doorstep discovery if you will. #lookdownlookaroundlookup
Fitting with the remit of my guide book is this short film from Swindon Council showcasing the heritage trails available to the public across Swindon and made for a Feel Good Swindon event in 2021. I appear about 19 mins in talking about the West Swindon Sculpture walk.
One of the trails in the book is a GWR history trail. Below is a fun time-lapse video that whizzes round it, made by a chum for the launch of the book.
While New Swindon and Old Town have much to commend them there’s plenty of interest outside Swindon but still in the borough. Highworth for instance, beloved of Betjeman, is well worth a visit. In this post there’s a small flavour of historic Highworth. Closer still is Wroughton. Wroughton has an active local history society with some great ideas for learning about the place.
Beyond The Borough
Beyond its own charms, Swindon’s excellent transport connections make it an excellent gateway to Bristol, Bath, Cirencester, Cheltenham and the Cotswolds. Not forgetting of course, London – a mere hour away.
Before you start exploring wider Wiltshire make the Visit Wiltshire website your starting point.
But much closer than all of those, but beyond the borough (just) are Purton and Royal Wootton Bassett.
Little more than a stone’s throw from Swindon’s western expansion, Purton first gets a mention in history, in Anglo Saxon writings. Though the Romans left their mark there, as indeed they did in the entire area – notably Circenster – Roman Corinium. You’ll find a potted Purton history here on the Purton Parish Council website. The village boasts a museum, housed in what used to be a Workers’ Institute – more on that on the Purton Museum and Historical Society website.
Bradford on Avon is a market town in West Wiltshire, situated upon one of the many rivers in Britain called the Avon. Avon comes from afon – Welsh for river.
We call it Celtic. Though it’s also Pictish, Viking, or Anglo Saxon. We call it Interlaced though it can be freeform, zoomorphic, spirals or tessellated. What am I talking about? I’m referring to the genre known as Insular art. (Some of which comes from the Mainland…) (Bain 1977).
Wiltshire’s Sarsen Stones
A Canadian friend came to stay and, since they were a Neo-pagan, I decided to show them Avebury stone circle, a favourite place of mine. This didn’t go exactly to plan. For a start they were most upset because some Early Medieval people had decided to build their village on a sacred site.
Jubilee Lake Nature Reserve RWB - Royal Wotton Bassett 3rd June 2023 - update In the period since Lis wrote the post below about Jubilee Lake, my good friend Marilyn Trew has busied herself painting a map and information boards for a nature quiz trail that takes you...