Monday, 23 February 2009

Woolstone and the Uffington White Horse

Uffington White Horse Hill - viewed from a distance, the horse is not quite visible. Just a short drive from Swindon through the most beautiful of spring-line villages all with their own pond (fed by the chalk springs running off the downs) is the magnificent, ancient Uffington Castle hillfort. Although the white horse cannot be seen clearly in my photograph it can always be seen clearly from the train as it hurtles past between Swindon and Didcot. When, returning from London, I see the white horse come into view I know I am nearly home, away from the city crowds, back to my dear Swindon. People who do not know my town see the somewhat soulless centre and judge it wanting - I see its soul in the ancient landscape that surrounds it and in the very land it is built on.

The historic White Horse Inn in Woolstone - the sign is a replica of the ancient Uffington White Horse. The White Horse Inn advertises in the Swindon Advertiser every Christmas - offering seasonal fare in an atmospheric setting, I have often seen 'olde worlde' illustrations of it and have to admit to being impressed when it came into view.

The chalk water stream that runs through the village - celandines and snowdrops growing along the bank. I cannot photograph the sound of running water as it falls from higher ground - it is nature singing. A house near by the stream - it appears to have been built with chalk bricks.A friend has done some research and the bricks are probably clunch (which is a chalky limestone)

Alfred Williams talks about Woolstone in his 1913 book Villages of the White Horse:

Every village of the down-side has one or more large chalk-pits situated upon the open hill, from which material is obtained for building, or for rubble to make up the roads and farmyards. In some localities the chalk is worthless for building being rotten and crumbling for many yards deep below the surface but here and there good consistent stuff is quarried, which when dried is useful and durable.
I walked through the charming village of Woolstone yesterday while out with the Ramblers - because I was with a large group of people I was unable to explore as I would have wished. I understand there is a little old church which I didn't get to see. There was also a Roman villa on the site of the village, no doubt built there to take advantage of the clear chalk spring water which flows through the village.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Rambling - Barbury Castle and Smeathe's Ridge

A group of walkers setting off along Smeathe's Ridge today
The Northeast Wiltshire Group of the Ramblers meet in Swindon on Saturdays and Sundays and car share to the start of the walk. The walks are usually around the Marlborough Downs taking in the spectacular views, though they often go further a field.
This morning was just so lovely - the first spring-like day of the year. So I was off for a ramble - car-shared up to Barbury Castle. I didn't know (it was pointed out to me this morning) that the left-hand hillside leading up to Barbury Castle is an Iron Age field system and in the morning shadows it was very apparent today. I couldn't get a decent photo as there were some horse riders using the very narrow road as well, so we couldn't stop. Smeathe's Ridge was just stunning in the morning sunlight, the views are spectacular but it was the sheep running down the hill in single file that pleased me to watch. Just past Liddington the Ridgeway splits in two - the Ridgeway path follows Smeathe's Ridge which is the highest ground and is absolutely beautiful. The Old Ridgeway along this section is lower down and has been tarmaced - it is used a lot by motor cyclists and other vehicles, we came back along this section. If you are walking the Ridgeway along Smeathe's Ridge you will need to walk through or around Barbury Castle and come down the west side hill - the old Ridgeway leading to Avebury is at the bottom of the hill.
For more information about the Ramblers see

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Ken White - exhibition of new work

Ken White is a Swindon artist, he started his working life in Swindon's Railway Works as a sign writer and later went to Swindon Art College. In the 1970s he painted murals on the ends of buildings that became quite famous although sadly not many of them remain. His most powerful paintings, however, are of life in the Railway Factory and in that respect he reminds me a lot of Alfred Williams who wrote 'Life in the Railway Factory' back in 1913. Ironically, Ken's best known work was the 'scarlet lady' painted for Virgin Atlantic and which became their logo. Although he has worked around the world he remained devoted to his wife and family, he and his wife Jan still live in Old Town, Swindon. Ken's exhibition of new work starts today, 10th February and runs to 28th March at the Arts Centre in Old Town, Swindon.
I dropped by today and thoroughly recommend it, his lino-cuts are superb and his paintings atmospheric. The little exhibition is evocative of a Swindon long gone. Ken is a great artist but remains, as always, quietly spoken and modest.
NB: Permission obtained from Ken White to use the above photos

Friday, 6 February 2009

Still snowing - Radnor Street Cemetery

Looking towards the Railway Village with St Mark's Church in the distance

A couple of young boys disappearing uphill with their toboggan

Dixon Street - through the cemetery gates

Looking towards the Radnor Street entrance
Friday ....... what a week! Swindon is snowed in this morning. I made a valiant effort to get to work via Radnor Street Cemetery only to find there were no buses running. I made a phone call offering to walk in but was told to go back home, the office was closing. I didn't need to be told twice, a day off, so much I could do, only I couldn't because of the weather.