Thursday, 28 February 2008

The first primroses of Spring

- In dewy glades
The peering primrose, like sudden gladness
Gleams on the soul - yet unregarded fades -
The joy is ours, but all its own the sadness.
H. Coleridge
Seen today - while walking through Radnor Street Cemetery. This little hill-side cemetery has been mentioned several times on this blog as I live close by. It is used by local residents as access between Old Town and the town centre. Now designated as a Local Nature Reserve it is a haven for wild flowers, birds, badgers, foxes, squirrels and other small creatures.

The Primrose
Ask me why I send you here
This sweet Infanta of the year?
Ask me why I send to you
This primrose, thus bepearl'd with dew?
I will whisper to your ears:-
The sweets of love are mixed with tears.
(First verse of a poem by Robert Herrick 1591 - 1674)

Emblematic of early youth and innocence, the primrose in the language of flowers means 'believe me'. It is also known as Easter rose, Lent rose or (my favourite) golden stars.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Teazles - Lydiard Park

Teazles - by the lakes at Lydiard Park

"The Church in the Park" - St Mary's, Lydiard Tregoze

The Yew Tree in the churchyard at St Mary's, Lydiad Tregose
Almost every churchyard has a yew tree - the common name is derived from Old English iw signifying its evergreen character. Both foliage and berries are poisonous though it was thought to protect from evil spirits. The ancients would not sit in the shade of a yew tree or place their bee-hives nearby in case the bees sucked the poison - nor would they drink wine from a bowl carved from the wood.

A snapshot of the "church in the park"
Once part of the village Lydiard Tregoze, the little church is all that remains of a village that disappeared 300 years ago. The Lydiard Manor House stands adjacent to the church and dates from the 1700's (although a house could have been on the site since the middle ages). The name Lydiard occurs in many forms and is a derivation of Anglo-Saxon - Leod (people) and Geard (enclosure).

St Mary's Church is one of England's finest small churches. It is richly packed with monuments to the St John family, including the Golden Cavalier - a life size effigy of Edward St John. There are wall paintings, beautiful stained glass windows and a ceiling that is painted with the sun, moon and stars.
Antedocks-well, Lydiard Tregoze
Aubrey reported in 1862 'At a place in this parish, is a Well, the water whereof, as I am informed, was heretofore famous for curing many diseases and working miracles, in the old time'. I don't know if this well still exists - tracking it down remains for another day.
A gargoyle - a cat ?

The St John family Coat of Arms - dated 1633
Coming upon this mellowed little church is one of the joys of a visit to Lydiard Park - it stands in its own churchyard, complete with ancient yew and lichen covered gravestones, it just belongs totally to its setting. Also reputed to have a healing well nearby (see above).

Monday, 18 February 2008

Dawn - Monday morning

Day breaking - a view from a window in central Swindon early this morning. Another bright, cold, cloudless February day. Monday and sadly work, but time for a lunch-time walk in the sunlight and it was still day-light at the end of the working day. At 5.30pm this evening the sun had just set and the almost full moon had risen and was shining frostily and bright. By the time I reached home the sky in the west had turned the same spectacular colour that appeared at first light . We take the sky with us wherever we go and wherever we live.
Look to this day for it is life;
the very life of life.....
For yesterday is but a memory,
And tomorrow is only a vision
but today well lived makes every yesterday
a memory of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.
(extract from a Sanskrit Hymn)

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Snapshots at Coate Water

The bird table in the wooded walk at Coate

Winter reeds

A lovely ivy covered sarsen at the back (Broome Manor Lane) way into Coate.

Coate Water Country Park - voted Swindon's most popular place to spend leisure time. The beautiful surounding landscape (closely associated with the writer Richard Jefferies) is under threat again. Swindon Council appear to be back-tracking on their promise of 'no university, then no development'. Due to public pressure, Bath University withdrew their proposal to build a campus on the land known as Commonhead (aka Coate), however the Council is now trying to push through a development of 750 houses - "money doesn't talk, it screams!"

A secret place

The walk to Coate Water from Old Town takes in many of Swindon's hidden places. This is a special little spot - lichen covered sarsons, a willow and a small pond.

In the hollows of quiet places we may meet, the quiet places where there is neither moon nor sun, but only the light of amber and the pale gold that comes from the Hills of the Heart. There, listen at times: there you will call, and I will hear: there will I whisper, and that whisper will come to you as dew is gathered into the grass, at the rising of the moon.

(From: 'The Silence of Amor' by Fiona Macleod)

Shadows and light - Croft Wood

The approach to Croft Wood - a frosty February morning

All Nature Has Feeling (a poem)
All nature has a feeling: woods, fields, brooks
Are life eternal - and in silence they
Speak happiness - beyond the reach of books.
There's nothing mortal in them - their decay
Is the green life of change, to pass away
And come again in blooms revivified.
Its birth was heaven, eternal is its stay,
And the sun and moon shall still abide
Beneath their night and day and heaven wide.
(John Clare 1793 - 1864)

Shadows and Light - Town Gardens

Come, lovely Morning, rich in frost
On iron, wood and glass;
Show all your pains to silver-gild
Each little blade of grass
First verse of WH Davies' poem 'Silver Hours'

Shadows on the bridge over the avenue of beeches

The Old Town Gardens on a bright and frosty morning

Thursday, 14 February 2008

More Amazing Sarsens!

Since coming across some sarsens banking up the river Cole out by the Shaftesbury lakes back in January I been on the trail of 'stray sarsens' (sarsen stones imported from the Marlborough Downs). At first I thought they were just around Coate Water and Hodson - the ones at Coate are very beautiful indeed and have added much to their setting. Since then, I have re-discovered wonderful moss-covered stones in Queen's Park, shining stones at the Lawns (over-looking the lakes) and lots of smaller stones placed by cycle tracks and at the Manor Garden Centre. The stones in this picture are on the corner of the Rodbourne Cheney round-about opposite St Mary's Church. I can truly say I had never noticed them before and yet the stone in the foreground of the photo is probably the largest I have come across so far.

What is the almost magical quality of these amazing stones that they can make themselves so invisible and will survive for thousands (possibly millions) of years? Long after the communities around them have disappeared.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Moredon Tree Collection (and cheese on toast)

The first hint of cherry blossom
Having taken a couple of days off work, I wanted to enjoy the early spring sunshine without going too far afield. Heading in the opposite direction to my usual walks, I set off for what I thought would be a 'town' walk. I was in for a very pleasant surprise; after exploring the grounds of St Mary's Church and the old Rodbourne village, I took a walk along the green belt of land that runs parallel with Moredon. A really lovely, unsung place to walk - the river Ray or Hreod Burna running through this peaceful place - no doubt much busier at weekends but on this beautiful Tuesday in February, I had it all to myself.

The Moredon Tree Collection - found by a sheer fluke, those feet doing their own thing again.

This wonderful pitted sarsen stone stands at the entrance of the Manor Garden Centre (one end of the Moredon Tree Collection walk). I wandered in here for some lunch and had the biggest door-step portion of cheese on toast - EVER! Enormous servings of everything with delicious old fashioned unsliced bread. Superb!!

Old Rodbourne Cheney

Tucked away at the back of a busy road is the remains of the old village of Rodbourne, originally called Reedy-Bourne after Hreod Burna, the stream that runs through it. In 1242 the Manor was held by Ralf Chanu from whom the villagers added the name Cheney to distinguish it from Rodbourne near Malmesbury.

The old Manor House

The stream - Hreod Burna (part of the river Ray)

Swindon is infamous for its many roundabouts - this one on Cheney Manor Road at the cross-roads of Moredon Road and Cheney Manor Road is rather lovely with some sarsen stones and daffodils about to burst into flower.

St Mary's Church - Rodbourne Cheney (an old Saxon Cross)

" There is no written record of a church on this site in the 13th century but two carved stones believed to be Saxon which have been incorporated into the present building may well have come from a Saxon Preaching Cross, possibly formed in the pattern known as "The Tree of Spiritual Life and Knowledge" - which would indicate the presence of an earlier place of worship on this site. The larger of the two stones, semi-circular in shape, can be seen below the ringing chamber window, some 29 feet from the ground on the north face of the tower. It appears to be the top of a cross - each point of the carving ends in seven branches , three on each side of the main cross beams. These branches end in knots, thought to represent fruit or leaves.
The other stone, rectangular, is built into the West wall of the North aisle and may be part of the cross - if theses stones are correctly identified they are very rare as only a few Saxon crosses have survived in this country". The church was much restored in 1848 - to such an extent that John Betjeman wrote of the church "so greatly restored in 1848, as practically to be a new building".
(Taken from the booklet 'History of St. Mary's Church' kindly provided by Jenny Bayliss who is a parishioner)

St Mary's Church - Rodbourne Cheney

I have been past this church many times on buses and by car and only really saw it for the first time quite recently. It is the parish church for Rodbourne Cheney which was originally a village called Hreod Burna after the stream which runs through it but later listed in the Domesday Book as Redbourne. John Aubrey wrote in 1666 "In the reign of Edward the advowson was in possession of Ralf Le Chanu, he being the posessessor of the manor, under Richard, Earl of Cornwall".

The old beech tree and museum

This splendid old beech tree was one of a pair that has stood outside the museum on Bath Road for probably more than 150 years - sadly the other tree became hazardous (as very close to a busy traffic route) and was felled. A new beech tree was planted (out of sight in this picture) and appears to be thriving. The roots of the felled beech tree still support some astonishing fungi which appear from time to time.

Swindon Museum and Art Gallery on Bath Road, Old Town

A superb resorce of archaeology, geology and social history of Swindon and North Wiltshire. Also a very fine collection of modern 20thC and 21stC British art and ceramic collection. Among the paintings currently on display is a favourite of mine by LS Lowry. The house was built in the 1830's and was originally called Apsley House - before becoming the museum in the 1930's it belonged to Mr John Toomer (and family) a local coal-merchant. [Admission Free]

Saturday, 9 February 2008

The resident pair of swans at The Lawns

"As wheresoever we went, like Juno's swans,
Still we went coupled and inseparable"
(As You Like It 1.3. 73-4) Shakespeare

The much loved (by local people) resident swan couple at The Lawns - I understand they mate for life. Last year they had five cygnets born around April and flew away in October. I watched their parents teach them to fly and then one morning saw five young swans flying low together across the the town heading who knows where ..........

Sarsens at the Lawns

This large sarsen is by the Queen's Drive (or lower) entrance to the Lawns woods. There are some unusual naturally ocurring circles on the rock which are sometimes known as cup marks.

Some sarsens used to reinforce one of the banks - this is a spot used by anglers.
The duck clearly didn't want her picture taken.

More examples of magnificent sarsen stones imported from the Marlborough Downs - they have settled very well in the beautiful location of the Lawns and overlook the lakes. Sit here in the sunshine for a few moments of reflection when out for a walk.
Thank you to Graham Carter for the very interesting comment. I understand that there was bronze age settlement on the site of the Lawns so it is quite feasible there were original standing stones as well. There are the remains of a stone circle on Dayhouse Lane by Coate Water which appears to be aligned (in a sight-line) with Barbury Castle and Avebury.

Spooky little church - Holy Rood at the Lawns

This little church is a constant source of fascination - it stands within a walled churchyard in the grounds of the Lawns. Thick hedges and old yew trees obscure it even further, giving it an air of secrecy. It was once the parish church for Old Town, Swindon - when it was just another little country town, before the expansion that Brunel brought with the Great Western Railway.
Thank you to Graham Carter for the historical information in the comment box. I knew some of the gravestones date back to the 1600s but didn't realise the little church was quite that old. Linking this with the sarsen stone item, I wonder whether the Lawns is an ancient 'sacred site'. Going back a few hundred years, I understand that there was a water mill on the slope leading down to the lakes - there is definitely a spring (now underground) that feeds the lakes. I have a very interesting little booklet by T. Elwyn Jones called the Celtic Triangle where he says that Swyn means 'enchanted, holy, charm, magic or blessed' - Swyndon could therefore mean Enchanted Hill. Wandering around there in the February sunshine with the profusion of snow-drops it would be easy to think so.
English Heritage has scheduled this site as an Ancient Monument.

Snowdropmania morning at The Lawns

The national press is reporting that the country is in the grip of Snowdropmania - I can relate to that as this lovely little woodland flower has come with light and joy over the past two weeks.

The Peace of Daybreak Skies
A flower has opened in my heart .....
What flower is this, what flower of spring,
What simple, secret thing?
It is the peace that shines apart,
The peace of daybreak skies that bring
Clear song and wild swift wing.

Heart's miracle of inward light,
What powers unknown have sown your seed
And your perfection freed? .....
O flower within me wondrous white,
I know you only as my need
And my unsealed sight.

Siegfried Sassoon - 1886 - 1967

A different view - crocuses on Queen's Drive

Everyone who comes to Swindon from Junction 15 of the M4 knows Queen's Drive - it is the dual carriageway into the the town centre. In Spring it is also rather beautiful - this is one of the green spaces near the Windsor Road area.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Good Samaritans

There aren't many people on this blog as it is primarily about the everyday wonder of nature and the seasons around Swindon and the surrounding area (along with a little bit of Swindon's history and the occasional old building).

These lovely trio of 'girls' and their owner deserve a mention though. Yesterday, I strode out into the Wiltshire countryside with the objective of finding East Kennett Long Barrow, which I understood is covered with trees and easier to find in the winter. I reached a point near East Kennett village when I experienced a moment of disorientation. I was standing still, not sure of which path to take, when this man and his three beautiful long haired retrievers came bounding along. Together they led me to the place I wanted to be (opposite the the Ridgeway) and the dogs were an absolute joy - a mother and two daughters, they seemed such happy animals.

It struck me how courteous 'walkers' are, they always greet each other and help if needed.

It was quite muddy and puddly around this little valley near the river Kennett, so I didn't reach East Kennett Long Barrow on this occasion but am looking forward to having another attempt in the near future.

Saturday, 2 February 2008

The Swindon Stone and Swindon Connection

The number 49 trans-Wilts bus arriving outside the Red Lion in Avebury en route to Swindon. I was very muddy and quite cold when I took this picture so have to admit to being glad to climb aboard and clamber upstairs to watch the Wiltshire landscape drift by.

Although this is probably the only post I will make on Avebury to 'Hidden Swindon' (I have taken blogger's licence) I will be back soon on the 49 to wander about this mystical landscape which is just a half an hour's bus ride from the Swindon.

The Swindon Stone - so called because it stands very close to the Swindon road
(also known as the Diamond Stone)
(This picture is for PW)

I am deliberately not going to say very much about the wonderful World Heritage Site of Avebury and its surrounding landscape as much is written and photographed on other web-sites. Today it was quite chilly but so peaceful to arrive early ahead of the weekend visitors - there is restricted access to part of the henge as erosion work has just been completed with renewal of the chalk paths. I head out to Waden Hill and the Whitehorse Trail to return back to Avebury along the Ridgeway and Green Street (also known as Hare Street).

For more information on Avebury go to

The Ridgeway near Overton Down

A winter view of a round barrow with beech trees

The familar landscape of the the Downs - round barrows or tumuli with beech trees

The Ridgeway - Britain's ancient trackway, passes close to Swindon at Barbury Castle and Chiseldon.
For more infromation on The Ridgeway go to