Saturday, 30 August 2008

Swindon's Forest Festival

The stand run by the Swindon Climate Action Network - working to inform the people of Swindon about the effects of climate change and the benefits of sustainable transport.
Visit their web-site at
In many ways this stand sums up the ethos of the Forest Festival and highlights the many people in and around Swindon who are working to protect our environment. I spotted Brian Burrows still working tirelessly on the Save Coate campaign - well done Brian (and Jean) for keeping on keeping on.

This is the tenth anniversary of one of Swindon's best events. Held at one of my favourite local places to walk - the Lawn, it remains relatively unsung. Lots of people of all ages enjoying the hot sunny day (first one in August) in the relaxed atmosphere of the festival. Live music, stalls (e.g. mushroom growing, organic and Fairtrade produce), make your own bird-box, plus a food and drink tent. This year there were some low-key woodland games for the youngsters - of all ages.

Excellent local band, I'm afraid my picture doesn't do them justice. The singer has a lovely voice plus is a talented guitarist and flautist. A rather breathless violinist joined them a bit later.
Find out more at

Traditional woodcraft being demonstrated

TWIGS is a community garden set up with the aim of giving people who have experienced mental health problems a chance to regain confidence and learn new skills - a stepping stone to recovery, further education or work. The garden is open every Wednesday and Friday - described an oasis of calm from the stresses of everyday life, it can be found at the back of the Manor Garden Centre in Cheney Manor.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Ukuleles in the bandstand

Ukebox Jury in the Town Gardens bandstand -
still without its roof after the lead was stolen from it earlier in the year

I have written about the Town Gardens and the bandstand several times before. I, like many other Swindon residents, was very upset when the lead was stolen from the recently renovated Victorian bandstand earlier in the year. But the bands played on ..... the regular brass bands have been there on Sundays during the 'summer', often in the rain. Today I wandered past and the sun was actually shining. This group of men and a couple of ladies were putting on a splendid show with their ukuleles. Their leader did a very good line in corny jokes which pleased the people of all ages who were sitting around. Their good natured renditions were mostly of early sixties standards though they did a really good version of 'Make Me Smile' by Steve Harley and the Cockney Rebels.

Had the sun not been shining they would have brought it with them - in fact their CD was on sale and I found myself buying a copy of "Painting The Clouds With Sunshine" - not because I'm a great fan of the ukulele but because of the enthusiasm and good humour they brought to the bandstand in the park.

Find out more here:

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Invisible Stones

The above stone is one of the most unusual I have seen - it looks as though it should be standing upright as is nearly 13 foot long and much wider at one end than the other.

By chance I found these sarsens a couple of evenings ago - they are outside a small group of private flats at the top end of Grosvenor Road which leads to a footpath that used to access the old Princess Margaret Hospital (now the site of a new housing development). I walked past these stones in the past without actually seeing them - the other day I saw them.

The amazing quality of these ancient grey stones that originate from the sarsen drift on Marlborough Downs is their ability to become invisible - to blend with the background. I wonder how many people actually look at them and ponder on their history.

The east side of Swindon is peppered with sarsen stones - I've spotted them at Coate Water, at Shaftesbury Lakes, the Lawns, Queens's Park, at the start of the cycle track on Queen's Drive (route of old canal), on some open ground opposite St. Mary's Church in Rodbourne Cheney. They also crop up on the roundabout and outside the garden centre in the Rodbourne Cheney area.

Pete Glastonbury, who is a local expert on Avebury and Stonehenge believes, there was once a stone circle where the M4 now runs. I have to speculate as to what happened to the stones - did they get buried under the motorway or were some of them saved to be relocated around the old part of Swindon.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Star Windows at the Health Hydro

The door to what was once the Ladies Turkish Baths - from both sides to show the effect of the light shining through it.
The Ladies Turkish Baths - now just the doorway to some treatment rooms

Two of the beautiful star-windows which are tucked away in the more secluded parts of the building. One is very high up serving almost as a skylight, the other small star-window is actually in one of the 'smallest rooms' in the building - but I managed to find it.

Today I finally got around to attending one of the many health therapy sessions at the Milton Road Health Hydro. I had an alternative motive however, as I had been meaning to take a closer look at the little star window which is visible from the road.
The history of the Health Hydro is very much linked to the Great Western Railway. To quote from Mark Child's 'Swindon - An Illustrated History' Milton Road Baths. Built in 1892 at a cost of £10,000, the building featured two swimming baths........ Metal rings are still in place on the outside wall to allow patrons to tether their horses.
There is a plaque on the corner of the red brick building which says the following:


Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Cycle path hedgerows

Out for my usual lunchtime walk today - along the cycle path that runs from Queen's Drive to either Stratton Road or Greenbridge - you have a choice of directions . It is a fairly busy path used by the workers employed in the Greenbridge area, dog walkers, school kids (though on holiday at present) and the odd lunch-time escapee (me) out for a little forage - a sandwich shop nearby.
The cycle-path has the remnants of ancient hedgerows which still exist, as it used to be the route of Swindon old canal and also runs alongside the little river Cole.

Conkers almost ready to drop

Elderberries hanging in lush clusters


These were some of Nature's nuts and berries seen along the hedgerows during my lunchtime walk. Much more to observe, wild flowers, butterflies, bees (still busy) hawthorn bushes in bright red berry - autumn seems to be coming upon us this year while we are waiting for summer to start.

The old GWR Sportsground

One of the entrances to the once well kept Great Western Railway Sports Ground, tucked away at the back of Shrivenham Road. It has stood lock and abandoned for several years and, at present, I am not sure why it hasn't been built on yet (research needed).

The overgrown abandoned tennis courts

The view from the far side of the sports ground - I walked the perimeter of the ground with a friend during my lunch break today. We entered through the shrubbery and bushes along the Greenbridge cycle track that runs along the far side of the ground - technically I guess we may have been trespassing. What was astonishing was how quickly Nature has reclaimed the field which was no doubt once well manicured - blackberry brambles, around the edges, thistles and ragwort across the field - a haven for butterflies. There was evidence of foxes or other small creatures with tracks leading into the bushes.

One of the several wonderful old horse chestnuts on the far side of the ground

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Lawns again - naturally

One of the magnificent Scots Pines dotted around the Lawns
The line of five holly oaks just by the entrance at near the Planks.

One of the two lakes at the Lawns - today I spotted a young heron. We watched each other for a few seconds until it took flight (sorry no picture, I wasn't quick enough).

Ruins of an Italian Garden

Looking across the ornate balustrade towards the ruins of the little church of the manor - Holy Rood.
The well in the garden, now sealed off. The well was fed by the underground spring which rises around this spot and now feeds the lakes at the bottom of the hill.

The ruins of the Italian Garden tucked away in a corner at the Lawns - previously part of the the manor house that stood on the grounds until the the 1950s when it was demolished. The grounds and house had been occupied by American armed forces during the Second World War. In the 1950s the army huts still remained in the grounds of the parkland, now known as the Lawn; these were used as temporary classrooms for the mid 1950s influx of children attending Holy Rood School. Many of these were the children of Polish refugees and this marked the start of a flourishing Polish community which still exists in Swindon today.