Sunday, 30 March 2008


One of the rockeries in the Town Gardens was bright with heather today. Heather is a very special little shrub and was held as a sacred plant in ancient times. Today the spring sunshine in the Town Gardens brought families and children out and about - although I often have this beautiful little park to myself, it was a joy to see lots of smiling people wandering around.

Lesser celandine

A couple of weeks ago whilst out at Avebury on a chilly, cloudy day, I tried unsuccessfully to capture this little flower. Today it was out in profusion.
Reputed to be the favourite flower of William Wordsworth, these lines are from his reflective poem "The Lesson".

There is a flower, the Lesser Celandine
That shrinks like many more from cold and rain,
And the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!

In the language of flowers it means 'Joy to come'

Daisies in the grass

There is an old superstition that says Spring has come when you can place you can place your foot on three daisies - here they are.
These little daisies seen in the grass, caught my eye, as I walked through the old cemetery today. The name derives from the Saxon word meaning day's eye which was probably given as the daisy opens at daybreak and closes at sunset. In the language of flowers, it represents innocence.
Here is the first verse of a rather long poem by Wordsworth - to the daisy.

In youth from rock to rock I went,
From hill to hill in discontent,
Of pleasure high and turbulent,
Most pleased when most uneasy;
But now my own delights I make -
My thirst at every rill can slake,
And gladly Nature's love partake
Of thee, sweet daisy.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The ruins of Blunsdon Abbey

The ruins of Blunsdon Abbey

Situated on Tadpole Lane next to St Andrew's Church, Blunsdon Abbey inspired the names of two large housing developments in north Swindon, namely Priory Vale and Abbey Meads which now occupy what was, until recent times, farmland and meadows. The nearby village of Blunsdon dates back to the Iron Age.
Local tradition claims that Blunsdon Abbey was originally an outpost of Godstow Nunnery near Oxford. Apparently the land was granted to the Brydges family during the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.
Oddly, these historic old ruins are now used as a site for the sale of motor homes.

Another medieval church - St Andrew's, Blunsdon

Medieval St Andrew's church showing the hand-made roof tiles, now in urgent need of repair.

Side view of St Andrew's showing the yews towards the back of the churchyard

Situated on Tadpole Lane in the Blunsdon St Andrew Conservation Area, this unique little medieval church dates back to the 13th century, a record dated 1281 lists it as Bluntesdon Seynt Andreu. Blunsdon apparently means Blunt's Hill (from early English 'dun') and refers to an early Lord of the Manor.
There are two mature yews in the churchyard and I sensed a spring or stream nearby but didn't find it on this occasion.
The little church has recently been awarded a £100,000 grant from English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund to repair and replace the hand-made roof tiles which were designed by architect William Butterfield in the 1860s.
Thank you to Caroline (and Millie, the dog) for showing me this atmospheric and hidden little corner of Swindon's history.

Wild violets

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

Wild violets found in the churchyard of St Andrews' Church, Blunsdon

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Magnolia in March

The Bandstand in the Town Gardens with Magnolia blossom

I remember the smell of the wind through the sweet
And I know she's out there
Somewhere in the world
She's forgotten me but I remember her
(Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers)

The small magnolia trees around the bandstand at the Town Gardens are a sight to behold on a sunny spring day when in full blossom. Today, however, the Thursday before a very early, chilly Easter weekend, they have not yet come into full splendour - though still delicately lovely.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Chimneypots in silhouette

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all
(Joni Mitchell)

Chimneypots against the darkening sky - looking towards Westcott
Crepuscular: is one of my favourite words (although not one that often crops up in conversation). Crepuscular means pertaining to twilight and is also used to describe the rays of sunlight that appear to radiate from a single point in the sky and which stream through the clouds (this most frequently occurs during twilight when the contrast between light and dark is most obvious).
"Here we are all, by day; by night we're hurled
By dreams, each one, into a several world."
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Saturday, 15 March 2008

7,000 year old enigma - The Lawn

The Lawn - where Swindon was born
My favourite place in Swindon, mystical and mysterious. Man has occupied this area since 5000BC. There was originally a natural spring that flowed from the top of the hill making this site perfect for settlement - and Stone Age, Bronze Age, Roman and Saxon remains have been found as evidence of its ancient history.
The name 'The Lawn' came into use when the early fifteenth century manor house was replaced with a mansion house by the Goddard family in the eighteenth century and they changed the name from Swindon House to the The Lawn in 1830.
I knew I would have to come back to this very special little place in old Swindon. I posted something on 9th February under 'Spooky Little Church' and received some very interesting background information from Graham Carter. To say the place is haunting would not be an exaggeration. I have known the Lawns (or The Lawn as it is now called) since I was 8 years old - having come to Swindon with my parents as part of the first influx of 'outsiders' to the town. In those days there was a farm at the foot of the wood with an orchard. We were allowed to pick damsons one year which we took to our Harvest Festival. I left Swindon as a much younger person and then later, my beloved parents moved away to spend their retirement years in another part of the country. I was therefore quite astonished nearly nine years ago to find myself living back in Swindon. The first place I headed for was the Lawns, one little bit of Swindon that had not changed much.
I have recently been reading a booklet produced by Denis Bird called 'The Story of Holy Rood' available at the Museum on Bath Road and I thoroughly recommend this little publication as a source of historical information. It is full of fascinating facts about the little church which appears to stand on its own small hill on the larger hill.
To quote Denis Bird "The geological structure of Swindon Hill results in many springs rising not far below the summit all around the eastern end. The spring near Holy Rood must once have been the most vigorous of them all, for the combe which the stream has cut into the hillside is evidence of its continued activity through ages long before human history". He goes on to say "Seen from the direction of the lakes, the church appears to stand on its own small hill, a beautiful and rather mysterious site such as might have been chosen, before Christianity, for the alter of some ancient god". The stream he refers to feeds into two lakes in the valley of the hill and then is lost to sight in culverts under housing estates but eventually joins the River Cole, itself a tributary of the Thames.
Here's a thing - back in February when we were having a burst of bright sunlight, I was walking through the Lawns one afternoon, just by the main gate into the church - with a friend (who is a committed sceptic) - when we saw a mist by some bushes. As we walked towards it, it moved behind a bush. We went to investigate as my friend thought it might some kids fooling around - there was nothing there. In the bright sunlight with plenty of other people wandering about we were both left with an eerie sense of haunting.........
To continue to quote Denis Bird: "To say that ten thousand people may have been buried here may be no exaggeration, for although the population of early Swindon may have numbered no more than a few hundred souls at any one time, it was here that nearly all found their last resting place, generation after generation, for perhaps more than 700 years."
The steep incline towards the site of the old water mill (photo taken in February)

The site of the water mill which until 1850 stood in the hollow below the south-west corner of the churchyard (photo taken 1st March)

"Old Mill Lane, as the name implies, led from Marlborough Road directly to it. In the course of time, the flow of water to the mill was regulated by building an earth dam across the upper end of the combe to form a mill-pond which was still there in 1850. It has since been drained and filled in, but the dam is still visible as a slight undulation extending across the combe from the nearest of the five large buttresses of the churchyard wall, and below which the ground falls steeply towards the site of the mill." (Denis Bird)

The Planks and The Vicarage Wall
"The raised causeway down The Planks was for the convenience of church-goers, for this was a muddy unsurfaced road which also led to the pond. The high stone walls on one side of the causeway belonged to the Vicarage garden, and there was a Vicarage here from the 14th century." (Denis Bird)
Today, behind the wall there is a small secluded little development called The Hermitage.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Wild flowers and wall at Avebury

One of the many stone walls in Avebury - probably built from the sarsens that had been broken up in recent centuries.
Slender speedwell growing at the base of a stone wall.

Lesser Celandines on a bank near the National Trust shop.
This little flower struggled to show itself today as closes up when there is no sunlight - today started cloudy but hopeful. Alas, the rain was soon to blow in from the west.
"There's a little flower that shall be mine
'Tis the little celandine" (Wordsworth)

St James' Church - Avebury

A very pretty little lichen covered church, now very much part of the charm of Avebury. The oldest part of the building is Anglo-Saxon and dated around 1000AD. The Avebury Circle, however, is thought to be 4500 years old making the setting for this particular church unique. The churchyard is surrounded by a rookery, which on a still, quiet morning gives a slightly eerie atmosphere to the place.

Avebury Stones - NE Quadrant, Kennet Avenue and SW Quadrant

NE Quadrant - on route to the National Trust Restaurant and a pot of Earl Grey

Just some of the many wonderful stones at Avebury - this picture of the Kennet was taken just after I had walked up Waden Hill. The rain started to blow in from the west while I was up there but the sight of a hare speeding across the hill made the it worth the effort.
A solitary stone by the side of the road, though part of the Avenue.

A view of the south west quadrant with the Red Lion in the background.

The south west quadrant showing the steps that have been cut into the chalk bank (for access)

Faces in the Stones

Sad stone - one of the stones on the West Kennet Avenue (my personal interpretation)
Smiling stone - in the North East Quadrant in the Avebury Circle
For a more fascinating insight of the Stones at Avebury I recommend "The Secrets of the Avebury Stones" by Terence Meaden ISBN 0-285-63501-8

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Lament to the Linden - high winds

Sunday evening was still and calm, however, there was a severe overnight weather warning. Sure enough the storms came in the early hours of Monday morning and continued today with a biting, cold wind. I couldn't help recalling an old lime tree that stood on a bank just inside the boundary wall of the old cemetery and which leaned somewhat precariously in the direction of the terraced houses nearby. This tree over-hung my garden and I grew to love it, as it seemed to sing in the wind - in fact, it was one of the reasons I moved to the house I now live in. However, if I am honest, in high winds like those of today I worried a little - if the tree came down it would have taken several houses with it, including my own.

One cold, January day a couple of years ago I heard an almighty noise outside - to my horror I saw that my tree was in the process of being cut down, with great skill I must add, to it direct away from the houses. I was heartbroken, it was almost like losing a friend. Two years on, the stump of the tree is no longer visible having long since been reclaimed by the earth and covered with brambles and ivy. However, metre or so away on higher ground, there is now a sapling lime-tree growing - seeded by the original old tree, which serves as an illustration that life (nature) goes on, renewing itself.

In an attempt to articulate my sense of loss at the time I wrote this prose-poem, it does not in any way follow accepted rules of rhyme or rhythm but it was from the heart.
(Lime trees are sometimes also known as Linden trees).

Lament to the Linden
You scattered blossom on us
As springtime came and went,
The summer evening sunlight
Reflecting gold on green,
Your graceful limbs
And shimmering leaves
Whispering in the breeze.
Then as the darkness lengthened
Your leaves profusely drifting ...
Beauty filigree, silhouetted
Magical and eerie,
Against the winter moon.

The Linden Tree has been cut down
Guardian no more at the cemetery wall
It breaks my heart to see her
Lying forlorn, shorn, dismembered.
Her might trunk - felled monolith,
Oh, Linden Tree forsaken.

Pigeons congregate, fluster, fly on
A magpie circles lonely,
Calling its confusion
Oh, Linden Tree forsaken
Save for the smallest bird, a wren
Comes secretly, as ever,
To say a last farewell.

And me mere mortal
Who gazed upon you daily
And saw you as a friend
I take it as an honour
Witness, at your end.

TJS (written February 2nd 2006)

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Evening Blossom - before the storm

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
A.E. Housman

Blossom against the evening sky - just before twilight
This evening there are storm warnings - overnight winds of 70-80 miles an hour are forecast.
I recall the storms of 1987 when the south of England woke to large mature trees strewn across roads like matchwood, much structural damage, and some loss of life. It is hard to imagine on this still calm but chilly Spring evening - let us see what tomorrow brings.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Early Spring flowers in the Town Gardens

These delicate little star-shaped flowers were growing under the beech trees in the Town Gardens - at first I thought they were wood anemones but the leaves are different. If anyone can tell me what they are I would be grateful - very small, very fragile, similar to snowdrops in size.
Blue-star anemones

Along the blushing Borders, bright with Dew,
And in yon mingled Wilderness of Flowers,
Fair-handed Spring unbosoms every Grace:
Throws out the Snow-drop, and the Crocus first;
The Daisy, Primrose, Violet darkly blue ........
James Thomson (1700 - 1748)

Primula beds around the Victorian band-stand

A bed of cultivated primula

Blue star anemones - mixed in with daffodils. Also known as Grecian wind flower - delicate in the March breeze.

From land to land; and in my breast
Spring wakens too; and my regret
Becomes an April violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest.
Tennyson - from April (1809 - 1892)

Along with daffodils, the Forsythia heralds Spring with a blaze of yellow.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Sunset at the County Ground

5.45pm this evening: On route home from work, I just managed to catch the sun going behind the cricket ground at the County Ground. As I continued my homeward walk, I passed by Swindon Town Football Club, quite a bit of activity this evening. The players were arriving for an evening match (with Huddersfield, I later discovered) and there were a few eager looking young lads hovering around asking for autographs.
Note: Swindon won 3 goals to 2

The first haze of green - on a March morning

This mature willow in Queen's Park showing the hazy green of the new leaves of Spring.
The Trees
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full-grown thickness every May
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.
(Philip Larkin)

A Memorial Garden - a sad recent history of Swindon

This little Memorial Garden was created in a shady corner of Queen's Park in memory of the many people who have died of what became known as 'Swindon Disease' - mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos which was used to build locomotives in the Swindon Railway Works during the first half of the 20th Century. The garden was opened on 8th April 2003 by Stan Pajak, the then mayor. In spite of its sad association it is a peaceful little place to sit for a few moments and reflect.

"But if the while I think of thee, dear friend
All losses are restored, and sorrows end"
William Shakespeare

The words on the plaque which is fixed to a sarsen stone in the Mesothelioma Memorial Garden.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Danger at the bird-table

A partial view of the poplar and the apple-tree that provide a sanctuary to many species of garden and hedge birds - outside my place of work.

One of the family of grey squirrels who do very well out of the bird-table

A collared dove
I work in a ground level building near Stratton. The large window looks out onto a driveway which has a wooden fence to a residential garden and a small copse along side it. The garden has an old apple tree at the end of it. On the other side of the bottom of the garden is a small copse which consists of brambles and an ivy covered poplar tree - the people who own the garden have hung a bird feeder on the apple tree whilst Vanessa, my friend and colleague, fixed a bird feeder to our side of the fence plus made a feeding platform by nailing a square of wood to the fence post.

This has so much improved the quality of my working life (thank you Vanessa) as I am obliged to look out of the window whilst speaking on the phone. Throughout winter we have been entertained by the aerobatics of squirrels and thrilled by the various species of visiting birds. It has turned into something of a bird sanctuary and, with the window serving as a 'hide', myself and my colleague have been privileged to see quite an amazing array of birds. We have had all the usual small birds, robins, blue-tits, cole-tits, great-tits, a pair of bull-finches, chaffinches, a few sparrows. Blackbirds and starlings have also been taking their turn at the table. I love watching them all though my favourites are a gentle pair of collared doves that always visit together (though nesting now, I think). Of the larger birds there are common pigeons, magpies and the star of the show is definitely a solitary great spotted woodpecker who comes to the old apple tree (to peck, no doubt looking for insects).

Today, I noticed a different bird sitting very still on one of the higher branches of the poplar tree - watching. It was a sparrowhawk, though thrilling to see I understand they take small birds and often kill pigeons. We called Vanessa into the room to share our sighting - she decided to try to get a photo on her mobile phone, so we very quietly opened a fire door and crept outside. The sparrowhawk spotted us instantly, and took flight revealing its distinctive underwing markings - I would say it was a female as mostly brown.

Our little bird community around the table and feeders seemed unaware of the imminent danger they had been in or that the curiosity of their unseen watchers had saved at least one of them.
Addendum: Friday, 7th March:- Quite a thrill at the bird-table, it was visited by a large coal black bird, really the largest bird to visit so far and very impressive to see close up, the other birds stayed well back. Initially, I thought that a raven had dropped by but on reflection I think it may have been a large rook.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Strange Faces, Villett's House

These strange faces appear over each of the large sash-cord windows at the front of this rather fine building. I have walked past several times and not noticed them before today - how puzzling that is.

I have the publication Wiltshire Life to thank for this one. Whilst surreptitiously browsing an unsealed copy in W.H. Smith's earlier today, I came across an article which mentioned Villett's House on Cricklade Street in Old Town (very close to Christ Church). Quite difficult to photograph close up as a narrow pavement next to narrow a very busy road. There is a plaque at the entrance saying that the poet John Betjeman described this building as "the finest house in Swindon". It does indeed have some very interesting masonry, however, at present I know little about its history. If anyone who reads this can fill in the background please send a comment and I will be very happy to make an amendment.

Note: A big thank you to Graham Carter for the information he has provided in the Comments box: I will not duplicate what he has written other than the basic facts that the house was built in 1729 by the Harding family and later became known as Villett's House after the family who bought it in 1770 (the lords of the manor for Eastcott). Please see Graham's entry into the Comment box to read in full what John Betjeman wrote about the house in his "Studies in the History of Swindon" (published 1950). To further quote Graham: 'Its extensive cellars are believed to have connections with Old Town's famed network of tunnels which are usually cited as evidence of smuggling activities'. The contribution made to this blog by Graham Carterto is much appreciated and further highlights that we live in a fascinating and often mysterious town - the older parts of which are steeped in history.