Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Bluebell Day (St George's Day)

The bluebell is reputed to bloom on St George's Day (23rd April) and in former times blue was worn on this day.

I started this blog in September last year as the leaves were just starting to turn to gold. The first picture I posted (just to see if I could) was the bluebells in Croft Wood - so it is the bluebells in Croft Wood that I now come back to.
I have tried to show another side to Swindon, the quiet, leafy places that can only be reached by foot or cycle. Swindon has so many tucked away little places, my focus has been around Old Town where my favourite places seem to be. I have also discovered the rivers Ray and Cole and have followed their courses through various parts of the town. Where there is a river or stream there is invariably a corridor of trees and wild flowers.

There is a clear message running through this blog or rather, stepping out briskly as on a bright dewy morning, which is basically to leave the car at home. Go out on foot or bicycle, hop on the 49 bus out to mystical Avebury - discover the joys of nature and local history. Whilst improving the quality of your own life you will also be improving the quality of our beautiful, fragile planet.
So at this point I am going to take a break to work on but I will be back later in the year to add more to Hidden Swindon.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Bandstand blues

The bandstand in the Town Gardens - picture taken earlier this month (5th April)
Thieves rip lead from bandstand
It is very rare for me to post a news item on this blog so this is a sad exception. Yesterday I walked through the Town Gardens in Old Town - a place of peace and tranquility loved by people of all ages.

I was appalled to find that thieves have ripped the lead from the roof of the bandstand. This is especially sad as only two years ago local residents raised £10,000 towards the cost of its renovation (with the remaining cost coming from the Landfill Tax Credit Scheme). It was reopened amidst much celebration on St George's Day (23rd April) 2006.

The gardeners at the Town Gardens were shocked and distressed when they made their discovery on Friday morning and visitors to the park have been moved to tears at the sight of the damage to the much loved Grade II listed bandstand.

I should not really comment on my thoughts about the perpetrators of this theft. Such activities are commonplace enough in our modern world, however, when it happens to somewhere that brought so much pleasure to so many people feelings of violation kick in.

The roof will be repaired and no doubt appropriate measures will be taken to protect it in the future. Hopefully it will be ready for the summer months when local brass bands play on Sunday afternoons and the scene becomes one that is quintessentially English - to be enjoyed by all.
[Acknowledgement to the Swindon Advertiser for the headline "Thieves rip lead from bandstand" and for some of the detail above which was reported in yesterday's edition]

Friday, 18 April 2008

New life

Yesterday I spent a most enjoyable afternoon exploring Wroughton, a historic downland village close to Swindon and on route to Avebury. Much to see, an old mill, the river Ray* running alongside the paths and gardens, the beautiful Clouts Wood and the bright, blustery downland. I was thinking about making my way home when my companion for the afternoon, Elaine, pointed out a duck at the side of the village pond. The mother duck was sitting 'watch' over her little brood, we counted nine in total, huddled together in the warm afternoon sunlight.
Here's some of them ......ahhh !

* The river Ray meanders its way through this blog. It rises somewhere out near Wroughton (around Priors Hill I believe) and flows through many of the places I have talked about in previous posts - as it makes its way to the Thames.

Downland by Wroughton

A family of Shire horses in a downland meadow by the Wroughton Science Museum - previously an RAF site (part of it visible in the background).
There is a larger male horse just out of shot and the trio came galloping over to us - initially a little disconcerting but it soon became clear they were very friendly indeed.

Steep downland by Clouts Wood - possible earthworks. Two ancient battles are understood to have taken place on the slopes of Barbury Castle and Ellandun, both nearby - this part of the downland is likely therefore to be the site of burial grounds.

The Old Mill at the Pitchens in Wroughton

The water wheel - an integral part of the Old Mill (now a private residence)

This idyllic spot tucked away in the Pitchens is the site of an Old Mill

The grinding stone that belonged to the old mill

I had been meaning to spend some time wandering around Wroughton for quite a while now. Within walking distance of Old Town, I pass through frequently on my way out to Avebury. Yesterday was my day off, the sun was shining so I met up with a friend who lives in Wroughton (thanks for the delicious potato and leek soup Elaine) and I have Elaine to thank for showing me just what I have been missing by not 'discovering' Wroughton sooner.
The older name for the village is Ellandune and legend has it that the "Dun of Ella" was a Celtic hill fort where the church now stands (dun is a term for Iron Age ring fort). There is some evidence of human occupation dating back to the Neolithic period though the evidence of a greater significance dates from the Roman period. Wroughton has always been deeply rooted in farming and agriculture and the old mill (above) was one of many granary mills that once existed in the area.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Clouts Wood at Wroughton

The bluebells in Clouts Wood just coming out - traditionally reputed to bloom on St George's Day which is on 23rd April and in former times blue was worn on that day.

A carpet of lesser celandines in the dappled sunshine

Clouts Wood in Wroughton

This beautiful 1,000 year old wood at the foot of the Marlborough Downs was once mainly Wych Elm but today comprises mainly Ash and Oak. It is managed by coppicing and includes many wild-flowers (today the bluebells were just coming out) a wide variety of woodland birds, plus deer, badgers, foxes and other small creatures. It is owned and managed by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. A joy to wander through.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Cheerful Chickens

On our way back towards Purton yesterday we passed Purton House Farm which grows organic produce and raises free range livestock. The chickens looked very chirpy indeed and, at sight of us, all came running out of their coops to gather by the wire fence. They obviously had a very good relationship with people, though were probably just hoping for food.

We came across one sad looking chicken which had somehow escaped and was wandering about rather forlornly on the wrong side of the fence. We agreed it should be rescued it from it's freedom - one of my companions gently picked it up and put back over the fence where it clearly wanted to be.

Purton House Farm sells organic free range eggs at their Farmer's Markets which are held at various times around Swindon and also at the shop Swindon Pulse. Pulse is a worker's co-operative that sells organic produce and products. It is a rather wonderful little place that manages to survive on Curtis Street where all the small shops that used to exist have long since disappeared due to the one way traffic system. You can check out Pulse (which also has links to other ethical web-sites) at

Purton Timberland Trail

The inscription on the plaque attached to this stone includes this rather meandering sentence:-

"This stone which was reputed to stand on the spot where a horse was struck by lightning and to be its gravestone, was removed from a field at Haydon End Farm approximately a quarter of a mile to east of this point soon after the second world war and laid against the field boundary for over 40 years."

Marsh marigolds on some boggy ground near the river Ray and along the Timberland Trail. The river Ray (below), a tributary of the Thames, rises south of Swindon, flows through the west of Swindon making its journey north where it joins the Thames just east of Cricklade.

Purton's Timberland Trail is a lovely walk which starts in the village of Purton and finishes at Moulden Hill and Lake. Just before the reaching river Ray, the Woodland Trust has planted a new wood, Berriman's Wood as part of the Great Western Forest.
Our walk back took us through some fields (as one of my companions was a skilled map-reader). At one point a buzzard appeared in the sky and seemed to be flying away from us but then glided around. It soared against the sun as I watched and seemed to hover above us for a while - something of a thrill for me who has lived most of my adult life in a city and town.

Thursday, 10 April 2008


This delicate little wild flower was spotted frequently whilst I was walking the Timberland Trail today - near the river Ray and Moulden Lake. It is widespread in damp meadows and pastures and can vary in colour from white to pale pink.

It has several popular names: cuckooflower, lady's-smock and milk-maid.

Historic Purton

The Manor House and Tithe Barn at Purton date back to the eighteen hundreds and are to be found in the historic conservation area of Purton. This part of Purton dates back to Saxon times and there is a Saxon cemetery nearby, see below for the history of Purton.
(See also the post on St Mary Church which stands next to the Manor House).

The Tithe Barn
While doing some research on the local quarry which provided the stone for the Manor House, Tithe Barn, Church and some of the old cottages, I came across the 'History of Purton' at the Communigate web-site. Much fascinating history on Swindon's doorstep.
Purton is first mentioned in writing in Saxon times, but Ringsbury Camp, at the southwestern end of the village, was fortified Iron Age camp.
Later, the Romans were in Purton and their relics have been discovered in many parts of the village. There was at least one Roman villa within the village and a Romano-British cemetery was discovered in 1987, during redevelopment at Northview Hospital. In the late 600s it is recorded in the charters of Malmesbury Abbey that Chedwalla, the Saxon King called the village 'Piriton', 'Periton', Puriton' or 'Pirton', all of them various ways of spelling the 'Peartree Village'.
At this time there was probably a small Saxon church on the site of the present 13th century Parish Church and a Saxon cemetery existed at 'The Fox'.
After the coming of the Anglo Saxons there were two further invasions. First in about 789AD the Danes, when Purton, on the borders of Alfred's Wessex, may well have been the scene of a battle still commemorated in the names 'Restrop', Battlewell and Battle Lake', and next in 1066 the Normans. William I, ordered a survey of the whole country to make it easier to raise taxes. In 1086, the year that the Domesday survey was made, the records show that there were at Purton a mill, a wood three miles square, sixty acres of meadow and many acres of plough land, which suggests a large village and population.
Originally built round the parish church, manor and Tithe barn, at some time in the past, perhaps as a result of the Plaque or a fire, the village moved to spread out along the Bristol and Oxford coach road.

Paintings at St Mary's Church - Purton

The walkway that links the Manor House and Church
It is likely that a church has been on this site since Saxon times and St. Mary's in Purton is one of only three in the country to have both a central tower, a spire and a western tower. The others being at Wanborough (on the other side of Swindon) and Ormskirk in Lancashire.

A view of St Mary's showing the central tower and spire

A remnant of a medieval wall painting.

A detail from one of the many beautifully decorated arches

This beautiful 14th century wall painting in the Lady Chapel is called "The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary"

The painting of the last supper over the main alter is from the school of 17th century Dutch painter, Jacob Jordeans and was given to the church by the dowager Countess of Shaftesbury in 1782. It was stolen in 1994, returned from America in 2001, badly damaged, restored and then returned to its historic location in 2004.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Sunday morning surprise - in April

The Old Cemetery covered in snow
(picture taken from a bedroom window this morning)
The Spring
(first two lines from a poem by Thomas Carew, 17th century poet)
Now that the winter's gone, the earth have lost
Her snow-white robes; and now no more the frost

Not quite! I woke up this morning, first Sunday in April, to see everything covered in snow, though now melting fast in the sunshine. Always a thrill to see snow in these days of global warming, I think it would be fair to say we have had a traditional spring this year.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Swindon's own magical place

The Lawn Swans
I have written about this pair of swans several times already on this blog. Here they are doing what all birds are doing at present - nesting. The female swan did not move at all while I was watching, the male swan was on sentinel duties.

I wrote about the Lawn (or Lawns as it is know to me) last month under '7,000 year old enigma' so I will try not to repeat myself. This is a very special little spot within the Lawns - all three pictures were taken by the second lake. This lake has it's own small island (where the swans nest) and, being at a lower level to the first lake, is fed by underground springs. There is also a gully where water pours in from the first lake. Standing on the overgrown bank I could see an old gnarled yew tree by one of the springs (fairly unusual because they are normally found in churchyards).
The old gnarled yew, hidden away in a gully between the two lakes.

One of the many underground springs around the Lawns. This one was bubbling up from the earth and looks as if it contains iron - I also think that perhaps wild watercress is growing there .......some research needed.

April - new leaves

' April'
(first verse of Robert Browning's famous poem)
Oh, to be in England now that April's there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England - now!


Flowers on a Saturday morning

I am very fortunate to be able to walk to the Old Town Gardens en route to other places. It never fails to delight and lift my spirit. Here it is on an April morning.

One of the many rockeries that are, well ....... just lovely.

Wood Anemones in Croft Wood

The Wood Anemone
The wood anemone was the favourite flower of my dear, sadly departed, friend Chris Johnson. Pale and fragile is only thrives in woody, shady places. Here in Croft Wood they herald the imminent arrival of the bluebells which will soon carpet the little wood. Country names for the wood anemone are wind flower and granny's nightcap. It has protective and medicinal qualities attributed to it as the lines from this old couplet suggest.

"The first spring-bloom anemone she in his doublet wove,
To keep him safe from pestilence wherever he should rove"

In the language of flowers wood anemone means brevity and expectation.

I dedicate this post to Chris who died 7th April 1996.
Several years ago, Chris gave me a copy of The Illustrated Plant Lore by Josephine Addison. Soon after I started writing about (and photographing flowers) this spring, the book which had been more or less forgotten seemed to fall off a bookshelf into my hand. I have drawn on it extensively for little couplets (as above) plus the folk lore and 'language' of flowers - in doing so the book has become a joy to read and the memory of my dear friend fondly recalled.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Cricklade's Water Meadow

North Meadow is a Natural England Nature Reserve (since 1973) and each spring it comes to life with the purple haze of one and a half million snakeshead fritillaries. The meadow is where the river Churn meets the river Thames and lies a short walk away from the historic town of Cricklade. Cricklade is described as a Saxon town but actually dates back to the Roman occupation as is en route to Cirencester and lies close to the old Roman road of Ermin Street. Cricklade is also the only town in Wiltshire to lie on the river Thames.

Snakeshead fritillary
We were a little early for the fritillaries on this visit as they have only just started to come out - immensely delicate, here is an example of an early blossoming snakeshead fritillary. It has other old country names such as chequered daffodil, ginny hen flower and, less attractively, widow's veil, madam ugly, leopard's lily, toad's head and lazar's bell.
My much cherished book Plant Lore (by Josephine Addison) says, a little oddly perhaps, that in the language of flowers the fritillary symbolises persecution.

Marsh Marigolds

The marsh marigold is a wildflower common to swampy areas. It is unrelated to the real marigold and has many alternative country names - these include kingcup, mollyblobs, water caltrops, water dragon and meadow rout.

The River Thames in Wiltshire
The river Thames rises in a field within walking distance of Cricklade. The Thames Path will eventually take you to it's source and this can be picked up from the North Meadow. Old Father Thames is the source of much folk-lore and many smaller rivers in Wiltshire feed into it. The river Churn (only discovered by me today) and the rivers Ray and Cole which flow through Swindon. It is also noteworthy that the little river Winterbourne near Avebury feeds into the river Kennet, and the Kennet eventually meanders its way through north Wiltshire and Berkshire to join the Thames at Reading.
Note: I finally invested in a pair of wellies before going and have to say they were necessary.

Penny and Pip

I met these two lovely dogs whilst out in North Meadow at Cricklade today with some friends. I am posting their story here because like so many things in life they are uniquely special.

Their owner told us that both are rescue dogs - Pip, the white lurcher was found wandering on the Ridgeway where he had been dumped. He is almost blind, probably from a blow to the head, but can just see enough to follow Penny the greyhound around - so Penny (who didn't much like running) acts as a guidedog. Pip was named after Great Expectations and Penny after Penny Black.