Monday, 29 October 2007

End of October - the closing of Nature's year

This little wooded walk is one of Swindon's best kept secrets, known to people who follow their feet, perhaps walking their dogs, it runs parallel with Marlborough Road and feels as though it is a continuation of the wooded part of the Lawns. It probably has a name but I'm afraid I don't know what it is - I prefer to just think of it as a 'nook and cranny' of Hidden Swindon.

The end of October marks the Festival of Samhain. The close of the Nature's old year of growth, the harvest gathered in, fruit, berries and nuts preserved for the winter months. Nature's autumn majesty in gold and russset gives way to to a sense of stillness. A time of quiet reflection and of making haste from the chilly darkness to the warmth and safety of home. Nowhere is this sense of stillness more apparent than when walking silently in a little wood where the only sound is that of the fallen leaves underfoot.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

'The Old House at Coate'

The Blue Doors
"The old house ar Coate, a little hamlet in Wiltshire, was shut off from the road by a solid stone wall, the general entrance being through double doors. They were called the blue doors, as that was the colour of the paint, and were between six and seven feet high.
........ As the cross-bars slowly decayed they became hollow in places, robins and wrens came to them several times in the day for insects. The tiny brown wrens appear to have their regular rounds, visiting the same spot day after day and always singing on the same perches"
[From a series of essays by Richard Jefferies called 'The Old House at Coate']
The double doors no longer exist but the solid stone wall does - the above picture was taken from inside the garden of the Richard Jefferies House - which still stands quietly on the corner of Day House Lane albeit the road mentioned in the above extract is now a duel carriageway and the main route to the M4 and local hospital.

The home of Richard Jefferies, writer and naturalist. Born at Coate Farm on November 6th 1848, Richard Jefferies spent the first 30 years of his life living in the 'Old House at Coate'. The house is now a museum and is one of Swindon's unsung treasures. It is looked after and maintained by a small dedicated group of people who work untiringly to ensure that the legacy Richard Jefferies is kept alive. Richard Jefferies has written much about the beauty of nature and the universe in the then unspoilt Wiltshire country-side. He grew up with Coate Water as his playground and perhaps his most well-known book is Bevis, based on his childhood.
He left Wiltshire in 1877 but, in spite of failing health, he continued to write about his beloved home county, some of his later work becoming soul-searching and mystical. He died in 1887 and is buried in Broadwater Cemetery, Worthing.

The above picture shows the Mulberry Tree in the foreground about which Richard Jefferies wrote a moving poem. Sadly the tree was badly damaged in the severe weather of our summer this year.

Leaving Home

In the previous item I talked about the family of swans at The Lawns, two mature swans and their five cygnets. Just over week ago I watched the parents practising flight with the young ones across the lake. A few days ago, as I made my way to an early appointment near the town centre I saw five swans fly overhead. It was a breath-taking sight to see in an urban setting and at the time I assumed they were wild swans coming in to over-winter. I was mistaken, however, they were as it turned out our very own Lawns cygnets, leaving home. I walked through the Lawns yesterday on another errand and there was Mum and Dad, alone. I stopped for a while with them and to me it seemed they looked rather forlorn - they had done their job for this year and the children had flown the nest.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

The Lawns - my favourite place in Swindon

Holy Rood Church
This fascinating little church is no longer open to the public except on certain days of the year and I understand it was built for the Lords of the Manor. There are several mature yews in the grounds of the church which is an indication that has been the site of worship for many centuries and was probably a sacred site before Christianisation - as is on the site of springs which have always been held as sacred.

The seven swans of the Lawns lakes.

I have been observing with great pleasure this family of swans since the Spring. They have flourished in this tranquil and peaceful setting. Just before this picture was taken the swans had flown across the lake skimming the surface as they came into land. Swans in flight must be one of Nature's most glorious sights - a lone angler told me that the parents are teaching the young ones to fly away and leave the nest ........the world turns, as ever was.

Through the little wood leading down to one of the lakes.

The old beech tree - this is an dear old friend.

The view across the lakes towards the Marlborough Downs. The Lawns is the site of Swindon first dwelling place and evidence of Iron age people has been found - there are underground springs which feed the lakes. In more recent history the Lawns were part of the grounds belonging to the local Lords of the Manor.

'Old' Old Town

King William Street School
Designed by Thomas Lansdown - who has a nearby street named after him.
Built of local Swindon (Purbeck) stone, the school was opened in 1871 and is a direct descendant of the first Free School which opened in 1764. The school's early history is well documented despite having had several name changes and changes of location.

The Goddard Arms
This is probably the most historically important hotel or inn in old Swindon and was previously called the Crown. Sited near to Swindon's original Town Hall and Market Place it was bought by the Thomas Goddard in 1621 but its name not changed until 1810 - which was of course a tribute to the Lords of the Manor (Goddard Family). It is now at risk of redevelopment into apartments which I'm sure all would agree would be a great loss.

A row of houses build of locally quarried Purbeck (Swindon) stone at Prospect Place - the heart of Old Town.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

A car-park at Greenbridge - from a different perspective

Even skirting the edge of a car park by foot, in lunch-time pursuit of a sandwich, can be a small joy - this little group of trees decked in their autumn finery bring colour and light to an otherwise pedestrian errand.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Purbeck stone - once quarried in Swindon

A rather beautiful wall on Quarry Road leading to the the Town Gardens.

Fine examples of Purbeck stone used to make the walled flower-bed.
These are resplendent with flowers in the spring and summer.

The Town Gardens is the former site of one of the main quarries in Swindon from the mid-17th century until the end of the 18th century. Swindon stone had, however, been used from the times of the Roman occuaption and has been found in the Roman villas around the area. The other site is Queen's Park - another, more recently created, lovely park for the towns-folk to enjoy.

An autumn afternoon in the Town Gardens

The rose garden

The Victorian pavilion - on summer Sunday afternoons a brass band can be heard while people of all ages sit around enjoying a quintessential English Sunday afternoon in the park.

View of the magnificent beeches from the little bridge.

The Town Gardens in Old Town is always a tranquil place to wander at any time of day. This particular autumn afternoon was still and peaceful with just a few people wandering quietly about.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Maple Trees by Theatre Square

The foot bridge linking Theatre Square with the Council buildings looks down over a busy main road of fast moving taffic. This section, however, can be seen filtered through some rather magnificent London maples.

Wat Tyler House (the hub of Swindon Council)

The original 1930's Civic Offices council building can be seen in the background here behind the rather lovely arbour-like walk that links it to Wat Tyler House. Wat Tyler House stands in the foreground of this little garden and is used by the citizens of Swindon to undertake any transactions they may have with the council. Its name evokes an important episode of the England's often forgotten history of the common people (see below).

This engraved stone is outside one of the entrances to Swindon's main council building, Wat Tyler House. When I first saw it, having moved back to Swindon after many years away, I was very moved. In my absence a rather attractive council building had appeared and it had been named not after some local dignitary or benefactor, but after the leaders of the Peasants Revolt of 1381. Wat Tyler and John Ball led a revolt into London against the first poll tax and the hierarchical system of feudalism and serfdom. Although the revolt initially met with success and the poll tax was withdrawn, the peasants were eventually forced back into the old system of serfdom under the Lords and Bishops of the day and Wat Tyler killed.
(The folk band Fairport Convention have composed a ballad telling his story).

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Abandoned apple tree in the town centre

This is a very a mature apple tree, it delights in the Spring with its blossom and produces an abundance of apples in the Autumn. No-one wants them, however, as the tree stands alone in a small patch of 'no man's land' surrounded by blackberry brambles. The land is on Radnor Street quite close to the town centre and is prime location for property development. Many of the local residents would like to see the land cleared and used for car parking as there are never enough parking spaces. At present, however, no-one can touch the land because nobody knows where the owner is - rumour has it, he lives in Australia. It is only a matter of time before the 'magic' apple-tree gets felled and the blackberry bushes cleared - until then, it continues to flourish - untended but not unloved.

Sun going down by Swindon Football Ground

My walk home from work takes me past the illustrious Swindon Town Football Club. Unless you are a Swindon Town football supporter not much to appreciate one might think, but even STFC has its magic. At this time of year the starlings are gathering on the floodlight towers - as the nights draw in they gather together in large flocks to roost in urban areas on buildings, in groups of trees or, as in this case, on the floodlight towers of the football ground. Their numbers are also boosted by northern European starlings who migrate to this country to over-winter. In just a few weeks I will be making my journey home in the darkness and will miss the urgent twilight chattering of the starlings preparing to roost for the night

The breath-taking beauty of our cosmos is all around us - tonight it was in the sun sinking between a football stadium and a line of poplars.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Whispering Willows

This part of the 'used to be a canal' walk is by the river Cole (which surfaces from underground near this point) and is usually a place of great tranquility.
A place that I frequently walk in my lunch-beak to clear my head and make contact with the elements. Butterflies,bees, dragonflies and birds (particularly blackbirds) are often spotted. Nature will survive in the most unlikely of places - this peaceful spot has a Car-Mart on one side and a recycling yard on the other. The river runs under a little bridge and for some unfathomable reason some odd people choose to throw shopping trolleys into the water. This is particularly strange as there are no supermarkets nearby so it must take considerable effort to dispose of a shopping trolley in such a fashion.

The 'used to be a canal' walk

This is one of my favourite little walks - starting at Queen's Drive it can take you to either Stratton Road or Greenbridge. It was the route of the old canal which at one point ran parallel with the River Cole. It is the most peaceful of walks, lined with ancient hedgerows of hawthorn and crab-apple trees and just the sound of bird-song for company. I always do a little Oooooh when going under the old stone bridge and imagine what it must have felt like to travel from the centre of Swindon by barge.

Christchurch - a landmark

Christchurch is just around the corner from the Roaring Donkey. It is Swindon's most famous landmark as it is build on the top of a hill whereas most of modern Swindon is build on the plain below. The church can be seen from most places around the town and is clearly visible from the train when approaching the town. Swindon is has become known for its less than attrative town centre that has some functionally soulless late 20th century buildings. Christchurch will remain standing as Swindon's landmark when those buildings are demolished and rebuilt.

The Roaring Donkey

This is one of Old Town's little gems, a tiny pub hidden away on the very narrow Albert Street at the back of the Swindon Advertiser building. Built probably in the 1800's of locally quarried Purbeck stone, it was previously called the 'Rising Sun' but always known locally as the 'Donkey'.
There are a couple of local stories as to how this name came about - the most plausible one being that the pub was used by the print workers from the Advertiser and when the iron print presses started up they made a noise like a roaring donkey - calling them back to work.
Another is that an old woman who used to own the pub kept a donkey out the back .......

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A walk through time

The old railway walk runs from the Wootton Bassett Road up to the site of the old station in Old Town. Nothing of the station remains except the name of the road it was on. At one point it cuts through some limestone rock where fossils can been found. (I will go into that section of the walk in greater depth later).

The old railway walk overlooks the rolling Wiltshire Downs and farmland known as the Front Garden, where deer can often be spotted. The river Ray runs through this land which is essentially a flood plain. The Front Garden has always been a green belt and buffer zone between Swindon and the M4. Sadly this land is now being developed for housing - the old Westlecott Farm House stands derelict waiting to be demolished. Another part of the old Swindon, which only half a century ago a small town surrounded by farmland, now disappearing under the bulldozers - in spite of the vociferous protests from local people.

The canal from the Old Railway Walk

The Old Railway Walk

Sparrows by the old canal

In the early daylight hours
By the bridge of the old canal
Sparrows in the hawthorns
Herald in the morning new
In this town, once small
But thriving, bustling busy ......
Pursuing its daily living
The way that small towns do
Now the old canal, long since filled in
Its path leads only to the subway
Which takes you to the centre of a town
The soul of which has long been sold.
Gone to the highest bidder -
Small town no more, mocked and ridiculed
For its multitudinous roundabouts
On route to retail parks
But the sparrows still remain
To remind us yet again
That the ordinary around us
Can be seen for what its worth
Only when the disappearing barges
Carrying what we've long discarded
Have slipped stealthily and silently
Under the shadowy bridge of time
And will the sparrows follow -
Flying to the echoes of the old Swindon canal
By: Thelma June Simpson (written for the Swindon Spirit poetry competition - 2004)
The Kingshill canal is the only section of the old Swindon canal that remains. Walking along the tow-path is a tranquil experience. Today, I encountered many contented ducks and other wild-fowl including a family of swans. There have been sightings of water vole and kingfishers but I afraid I have never been lucky enough to see either of these. From the tow-path you can get onto the Old Railway Walk along which the Wooton Bassett-Old Town-Chiseldon-Marlborough line used to run.

October Morning - Radnor Street Cemetery

Radnor Street Cemetery is one of Swindon's old hidden places. A Victorian cemetery on the side of Swindon Hill overlooking the busy modern town. In common with most old cemeteries the history of the town and its people can be pieced together from the gravestones. Today, however, the cemetery is only very rarely used for burials and has been designated as a nature reserve.

It the home of many varieties of birds (a green woodpecker spotted today) from crows and magpies down to wrens - who nest in the shrubbery and ivy.

Bats, badgers, squirrels and foxes find a safe haven there. As do the many cats who live in the neighbourhood - a veritable cats playground. There is a rumour that there is a deer up there but I find that hard to belief and it is yet to be seen.