Monday 8 March 2010

Spring at last - crocus at the Lawns

Near the entrance to the Lawns in Old Town.

Thursday 7 January 2010


The ruined chancel of the old Holy Rood Church at the Lawns, today
I have written about the Lawns many times on this blog, it would be true to say it is probably my favourite place in Swindon. It is in fact the site of an early prehistoric settlement in the Swindon area and the remains of Holy Rood church are very likely built on the site of an ancient burial ground.

Friday 1 January 2010

2010 - New Year's Day at Coate Water

New Year's Day 2010, not only a new year but a new decade; it really does feel like a new chapter. I have so much enjoyed compiling this Hidden Swindon record of Swindon's tucked away nooks and crannies. Coate Water Country Park does not really fit the criteria as, far from being hidden, it is Swindon's crowning glory. Also being the backdrop for the children's novel 'Bevis' by Victorian author Richard Jefferies there is a literary and historic value to this beautiful location. Coate is not safe though - developers are hungry for the adjacent land which would considerably diminish the sense of it being a country park. Swindon Council still want to build 750 homes on the land along Day House Lane even though the larger development was thrown out on appeal. Natural England is running a campaign to extend the buffer zone around Coate Water to include the land along Day House Lane.
Early this afternoon, I walked with a couple of good friends around the Coate lake. Today there were lots of people out and about; people with dogs, people with children all enjoying the holiday and bright, chilly weather. An avenue of trees; woodland, robins; the heron sanctuary with Liddington Hill in the background; and the lakes still partly covered with ice in places.

Looking towards Liddington Hill from the Heron Sanctuary

The ice covered swampy area along Broome Manor Lane at the back of Coate - not strictly part of the park, it has an eerie atmosphere all of its own.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Chalkland beeches

The beeches at Avebury Stone Circle - beeches thrive in chalky ground, shallow rooted they are susceptible to being blown over. Associated with ancient knowledge and wisdom; the Anglo-Saxon for beech is 'boc' which became book.
Anyone travelling westwards towards Swindon along the M4 will know they have almost arrived when the clumps of beeches come into view high on the Marlborough Downs. The beeches mostly grow on tumuli; Bronze/Iron Age burial mounds.
I mention them on Hidden Swindon because with Liddington Hill overlooking the southern edges of our town they are part of our landscape; the Marlborough Downs are part of our town's heritage and our town belongs to the landscape of north Wiltshire.
Yesterday I jumped on a 49 bus out to Avebury, quite early. This is such a simple pleasure as the 49 is generally a double-decker, to sit upstairs gives an amazing view of the Downs. The bus slowly ascends the hill out of Wroughton and there ... suddenly, one of the best views in the country opens out before you. The ancient Clouts Wood drops away to left with deep coombe surrounding it, then the rolling curves of the downs, often still cloaked in morning mist. Yesterday I witnessed something I have never seen before - a swirling cloud of birds rose up from one of the crop fields and flew in balletic formation before dispersing into the sky. It was a bird I was not familiar with as rooks are usually the dominant bird on the land; after doing a bit of research I have decided they must have been fieldfares - a fleeting moment of the wonder of nature ... for free.

Wednesday 9 December 2009


The church of St Michael's and All Angels dates back to the 13th century and much of Highworth's history is recorded within. The entrance facing the avenue of trees has a hole in the masonery, this was made by a cannon ball in the Civil War. The cannon ball remains in the church though the ball on display is a wooden replica. The church also has some impressive stained glass windows, an example can be seen here

Highworth is a small market town north east of Swindon. It once had a larger population than Swindon and was a more prominant town - until Brunel built his railway which started Swindon's expansion. Highworth continues to remain separate though the rural green belt between it and the outskirts of Swindon is gradually shrinking.
Apart from the church there is much of the old market town still in evidence; I found myself walking past cottages that date back to 18th century before walking up Sheep Street to the town square (below).

Highworth means town on a hill ('worth' comes from enclosure) - it looks out over the Vale of White Horse and the Thames Valley. The area is thought to have been well settled in prehistoric times and I understand archaeological investigations are planned in the future.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Alfred Williams - a man of distinction

This evening I attended a small function at Swindon's Central Library. The gathering to launch a new website dedicated to the life and work of Alfred Williams (1877-1930) The Alfred Williams Heritage Society.
Graham Carter, a journalist at the Swindon Advertiser is largely responsible for this superb website. He also compiled the evening's handout which described Alfred Williams as - author, linguist, soldier, hammerman, builder, artist, naturalist, scholar, folk song collector, poet, historian, philosopher and ... local hero - quite a list.

Alfred Williams is probably most well known for his book Life in the Railway Factory; a while back, however, I wrote about his excellent little book Villages of the White Horse (on my other blog)
Alfred Williams has been mentioned several times before on Hidden Swindon. Local artist Ken White dedicated a wall mural to Alfred Williams for the centenary of his birth back in 1977 and, still living and working locally, he repainted it this year.
I am sure I will be adding to this post on a regular basis, happy to join forces with the people I met this evening, from all walks of Swindon life - to help this unsung man of distinction gain the acknowledgement he so richly deserves.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Rushy Platt and the River Ray

The Rushy Platt Nature Reserve is looked after by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. It is part of a large area of marshland known as fen that once covered most of south Swindon. Home to wading birds such as snipe, amphibians such the great crested newt, and the increasingly rare water vole, in summer it becomes a sea of valerian.

The River Ray flows through the Rushy Platt Nature Reserve

This part of the River Ray flows past the Running Horse public house under the Wootton Bassett Road and through the centre of the Westcott Recreation Ground. Frances Bevan from the Swindon Advertiser recently wrote an article in her series about the history of Swindon, telling her readers that a mill once stood on the or near the site of the Running Horse. Records of a mill and land in an area called Eastcott and Nethercott, later known as Westcott, date back to 1339. In 1805 the Wilts and Berks Canal company bought the mill under powers that enabled them acquire waterways likely to be affected by the needs of the canal.
(Source of historical information: Frances Bevan at the Swindon Advertiser)
See link below to an earlier post showing another section of the River Ray as it meanders its way towards the Thames at Cricklade.

Monday 2 November 2009

Moat Walk, Wroughton - after the rain

Resident ducks from the village pond out for a morning stroll
Moat Walk in the centre of Wroughton - after the wind and rain of the previous day the stream is full of fallen leaves.

The Village Pond, Wroughton
The river Ray rises in Wroughton somewhere on Priors Hill, before meandering around to west Swindon and eventually Cricklade where it joins the Thames. Moat Walk and the village pond in Wroughton are fed by the Ray - the pond and looked very attractive this morning in the bright, chilly sunlight. A waddle of ducks came optimistically towards me ... I was sorry to disappoint them but I was on my way to the dentist.
There is more about the river Ray here ...

Wednesday 28 October 2009

A spring-fed copse

Small pond with reeds - at the centre of the copse

Someone emailed me a while back about these stone blocks (I'm sorry I can't find the email to give the person a mention but many thanks to her). There are three of these blocks placed at different spots around little copse at the foot of the Lawns, just off Drove Road. Each has a small poem on it - the one above has the following words "Sweetest of all things is wild flower air" and by the small reedy pond "A green fringed brook marks the edge of golden ground". I think the copse is looked after by a local primary school who use it as a nature garden.

A tranquil autumnal walk around the Lawns, so full of colour at this time of year. On this occasion, however, I walked downhill behind Christ Church to the little copse. A small footbridge over a stream fed by one of the natural 'iron' springs around the Lawns (this one is by the far wall of the Christ Church churchyard) leads to a path from the Lawns through to Cirencester Court on Drove Road.
Away from the path, I had a stroll around the copse which has a sense of being secret and, oddly, while all the trees on the Lawns are mostly gold/brown these were still completely green, well watered by underground springs. I have not written about this place before; it is typical, however, of the many hidden pockets of woodland off the beaten track around Swindon.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Autumn reflections - Queens Park

The lake - Queens Park, just before dusk, not visible in the photo is the rising moon

Another sarsen placed in the small Mesothelioma Memorial Garden in a corner of Queen's Park. Opened in 2003 in remembrance of the railway workers of the town who died of mesothelioma. But if the while I think of you dear friend, All losses are restored and sorrows end (Shakespeare)

Monday 26 October 2009

The scenic route home

A random reflection on the beautiful county Wiltshire
Today I did something I used to fantasise about when working full time; I went down to the bus station to see which buses were in and just picked one at random … the one I chose was the 70 going to Marlborough. I hadn’t been to Marlborough for a while; I think it is true to say that although geographically quite close, there couldn't be two towns more different - although Swindon was once a small Wiltshire market town. (To illustrate the vast difference of today's Swindon I would need do an analysis of its economic history for the previous 170 years.)

An enjoyable couple of hours in Marlborough was spent ...
When I went to catch the bus home, a bus with 48a and Swindon on the front was waiting to leave. The driver looked very relaxed when he told me ‘this one goes by the scenic route’ so I jumped aboard.
What a lovely journey, the afternoon was still golden as we left Marlborough; the winding road seemed to follow the river Kennet for a while as we headed for the villages of Axford and Ramsbury. This is a part of Wiltshire I don’t get to see often as am usually heading in the Avebury/Devizes direction. The landscape was one of gentle undulation, grazing sheep, meandering river and the rosy pink of a late afternoon sky. We went through copper beech woods and ‘tunnels’ of autumn trees. By the time the bus reached Aldbourne, the silver-grey light of dusk was starting to settle over the timeless pastures. The country road ran parallel with the M4 for a few minutes and the views from either side of the bus were something of a sharp contrast. Baydon and Wanborough, the final two peaceful Wiltshire villages on our route before the bus sped down towards the bus station. Swindon seemed very busy and cosmopolitan after such peaceful, rural journey - the light was fading fast, it was good to be almost home.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Peace Stone

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on, on, and out of sight
(Siegfried Sassoon 1886 - 1967)
The first two lines of the above verse are carved into a sarson stone in the Town Gardens - I do not know anything about the stone's history though I am guessing it was erected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day in 1995. In a comparatively short time the carved words are now almost indecipherable as the stone has become lichened over the past decade. The dove carvings on the front and back of the stone can still be seen clearly (click on photo to enlarge).
Carved doves on the back of the stone
Swindon! Swindon! Place of teenage memories, I returned a decade ago for family reasons and am old enough to remember Swindon as a relatively small town with a High Street, buses that stopped in it, interesting shops. Long since ravaged by town planners; they are now trying to put the damage right ... there is talk of reinstating the canal, too late I fear.
What has not changed though are Swindon's wonderful shady parks. These are still cherished and enjoyed by the town's residents and none are more lovely than the Town Gardens in Old Town on a golden autumn day such as today.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Ancient market town and mud springs

The Wilts and Berks Canal in Wootton Bassett
Today I walked along here with my great friend Hilary; restoration work is still ongoing and much of the canal is overgrown. I found myself asking why had I ignored Wootton Bassett for so long, it is surrounded by hamlets I have never heard of (e.g. Bushton) and has view of a white horse near Broadtown, the existence of which I had been completely unaware of until today. The canal also has the 'rare geological phenomenon' of mud springs nearby. I did not see them on this occasion as at present the ground is very dry and water levels low.
I have Ian, a former Swindon resident to thank for the mud springs link below - fascinating. I will go back soon for a good old ramble around Wootton Bassett.

The Old Town Hall in Wootton Bassett - built in the 17th century, now a museum

The market town of Wootton Bassett has recently become well known for the saddest of reasons. Because of its proximity to RAF Lyneham, this is the high street that comes to a halt as a show respect to the young soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Just four miles west of Swindon and, until the arrival of the Great Western Railways in the 1840s, of far greater importance as a town, Wootton Bassett dates back to Saxon times; the first reference to it was recorded was in 681 AD. The name comes from Wodeton or Woodeton meaning settlement in the wood - possibly a clearing in Braydon Forest.
It was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. For more on its history see below.
Many thanks to Paul Gahan for being kind enough to correct some of the detail in my original entry and for providing addtional information.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

Liden Lagoon

A blustery, overcast afternoon with leaves spinning down, today I discovered yet another willowy place in Swindon that remains relatively unknown. In the same group of lakes as Coate Water (the other being just off Shaftesbury Avenue) and tucked away on a leafy housing estate, Liden Lagoon came as a total surprise. Sarsen stones scattered around the edges of the lake, water fowl, two solitary herons (in different places) a single swan. I walked the complete perimeter of the lake noting with pleasure that the benches positioned at various points around the lake each had a short 'watery' poem carved into the wood - and example being "Heron so still at the waters edge".

"Mysteries lurk in murky depths"
Liden Lagoon was dug during the 1960s and is home to a range of wildlife. It is situated next to the A419 and GW Hospital, yet is unspoilt by these busy surroundings. It is a really beautiful and relaxing place in Swindon to spend time ... (taken from Wiltshire Web)

Saturday 29 August 2009

Plaum's Pit - Rodbourne Cheney

I spent some time around Rodbourne Cheney a year and a half ago in February 2008 when I was surprised to find the remnants of a small village that was once completely separate to Swindon.
Someone mentioned Plaum's Pit and today I went back to find it. What a beautiful and much hidden little spot ... I have lived in Swindon for a decade but have never visited this unsung place before. Unfortunately I am unable at present to track down the origins of this place and am assuming it used to be a quarry of some sort.

A favourite spot for anglers

Plaum's Pit, tucked away behind Cheney Manor Road

The green area leading up to the lake.

Some more sarsens - they appear on almost every green open space in Swindon

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Seven Fields Nature Reserve

Another Local Nature Reserve:
A while back while walking along Whitworth Road in the north of Swindon I noticed an intriguing looking track called Blackthorn Lane. Today I made my way there and followed my feet; what a lovely surprise, it came out into Seven Fields Nature Reserve. This is literally seven fields set aside between the residential areas of Penhill and Haydon Wick. Hedgerows still burgeoning with elderberries and hawthorn berries dividing the meadows up, it is a place frequented by dog walkers.

Today as summer wanes, the meadow grass was being cut by a large municipal grass cutter - it must have been lovely a few days ago with wild grasses in abundance. I wandered through small copses and crossed a stream which no doubt feeds into the river Ray at some point.
The meadow grass

Marsh reeds waving gently in the breeze

Blackthorn Lane - leading from Whitworth Road to Seven Fields Nature Reserve

Friday 14 August 2009

Kingsdown Brewery

Kingsdown Brewery - built 1861, home of Arkells Ales
The Old Chimney and Cooper's Fire

One of Arkell's drays returning back to the brewery
This post is directly inspired by the mural of the previous post. Today I went over to Kingsdown to have a look at this historic and still working building. Arkells has been established since 1843 and the above building since 1861, going through their gates was in some ways like stepping back in time - much remains as it has always been, except perhaps the drays, these are no longer horse drawn.
After my little wander, I called into the Kingsdown public house on the other side of the road to sample the product ... excellent.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Swindon's Murals - Arkells Brewery

Arkell's Brewery
Artist Sarah Faulkner - completed 1985
This mural is one of only two of the original murals initiated by Ken White that remain. It can be seen at the roundabout on County Road opposite the Bristol to London railway line. It was commissioned by Swindon's own local brewery Arkell's to celebrate their beginnings in 1843. The mural shows every stage of the brewing process including some of the people who actually worked there and the building at Kingsdown.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Devil's Den and wild flowers

Devil's Den Dolmen - just outside Marlborough near the village of Manton
The dolmen and wild flowers
Nothing, no abundance of them, can ever make poppies commonplace. There is a genius in them, the genius of colour ... (Richard Jefferies from Field and Hedgerow)

Walking away from the dolmen

Not Swindon at all really but comparatively nearby; hidden away in a field off the A4 between Marlborough and Avebury. Today I met my Ramblers walking group in Swindon's town centre and was given a lift out to Marlborough. Our walk leader today led us on a rather wonderful 10 mile walk which incorporated Wiltshire's only dolmen - known as Devil's Den. It is thought that this particular dolmen was once part of a chambered long barrow and is all that now remains. It was reconstructed in 1921 and is to my eyes an incredible work of archaeological art enhanced by the meadow of wild flowers it sits within. This meadow is now under the jurisdiction of
Since making this post I have received an email with a comment from Jean Saunders from the Richard Jefferies Society
I'm aware that Thomas Hardy mentioned this dolmen in his story entitled "The Devil's Door" or "Marlbury Down". I've often wondered if this is the dolmen that Richard Jefferies had in mind when he wrote the night scene in "Greene Ferne Farm" when Geoffrey and Margaret are lost on the Downs and spend the nigh there. However, the description in GFF of "three large flat stones set on edge, forming the walls, and over an immense flat one" is more likely to be the long barrow at West Kennet or Wayland Smithy.
Thanks Jean, you're comment is appreciated and I have posted it on the Avebury Forum to see if anyone can add further information.

Friday 31 July 2009

Ken White's 'Golden Bridge' wall painting

First painted in 1976 by Ken White to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Alfred Williams in 1877 - to learn more about Alfred Williams, one of Swindon's best kept secrets, see link below:

Recently as the bus I was travelling on swung around the Fleming Way roundabout I noticed a white haired man on a scaffold quietly re-painting his original wall painting which has achieved some fame. It was of course Swindon's own Ken White who, like Alfred Williams author of Life in a Railway Factory, brilliantly portrayed life in the Railway Works through his paintings.
Ken started painting wall murals back in the 1970s though sadly most of them have now disappeared. This one remains on the end terrace of Medgebury Road (by Fleming Way) remains. Fleming Way is built on the route of Swindon's old canal.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Swindon's lost stone circle (continued)

The plot thickens ... I have been intrigued for some some by a cluster of large sandstones at the top of Grosvenor Road on the edge of Old Town. I first noticed the lozenge shaped stone positioned on its side outside a small block of flats. Later, I spotted a similar shaped stone making up part of a garden wall on the other side of the road. When I looked in the garden there were several large sandstones in the garden ... appearing to have been in place long before the garden. Yesterday, by chance, I had a little wander behind the flats and found several large stones, many of them buried, again similar in shape to the lozenge stone standing on its side on the grass verge.
These stones are too large, too regular in size and shape to have just been excavated when building took place. I can't help wondering if some sort of ancient stone site had existed here in
time gone by, having been pushed over before people became fully aware of their significance.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Twilight by the old canal

A hot July day, too hot. This eveing it was a pleasure to go out for a balmy stroll along the old canal the bottom of Kingshill Road. So much to see in the crepuscular light - I looked across at a row of ducks lined up on the far bank (someone's back garden); a small brown deer was foraging under the willow. Peewees and other water fowl were roosting for the evening though the family of swans were still up and about.
A man came along with his two dogs - as I walked alongside him for a few minutes he told me he was homeless and lived in a tent in a field on the land known as the Front Garden. He seemed content enough, however, as we talked about nature, his morning solitude waking up with just deer, foxes, rabbits and birdsong for company. We talked about the stream by his tent which is Swindon's own river Ray, and the misty moon which he said was currently its closest to the Earth. By now the light was fading so I said farewell and retraced my steps back along the canal path. A lone brown bird on a hedgerow branch sang out with clarity into the evening.

Saturday 13 June 2009

Midsummer poppies

Swindon has grown from a hilltop market town to the large industrious borough it is today. It sits in the northernmost corner of Wiltshire with the prehistoric chalklands of Wiltshire fanning out to the south and south east; similarly, the beautiful Cotswolds spread out to the north and north west. It is just a short drive to the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire - thes bean/poppy fields are just across the Oxfordshire border near the village of Shrivenham.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Woodland Walking in Old Town

Bugle and and buttercups

Information board for Bruddel Wood, just off Marlborough Road (click on photo to enlarge for information)

At the bottom of the Lawns, beech nuts already on the trees

Bruddel Wood - nettles

One of Swindon's best kept secrets - Bruddel wood
This morning I met my good friend Elaine in Old Town; the plan was to walk from Old Town to Coate Water and back avoiding roads as much as possible. Although Elaine lives in Wroughton she hadn't actually walked around Old Swindon that much so it was a pleasure to show her Swindon's hidden beauty; here's where we walked.
We started of at the ever tranquil Lawns, walking down to the bottom of the woods, turning right we then picked up Bruddel woods (which are probably an extension of the Lawn wood). A corridor of ancient woodland running parallel with Marlborough road; today just lovely, the nettles stood high, the birds singing and we met no one else . We came out by the notice board (pictured above) and walked along the busy Marlborough road for a hundred or so metres, then crossed over into the the Polo Grounds. This took us into the Coate Tree Collection which Elaine had not seen before; a peaceful place, today the lilac was still out, one day it will be a magnificent arboretum and is already a place Swindon can be very proud of.
We stopped by the cafe at Coate for a drink then continued along the shady avenue of trees to the back of Coate. Leaving Coate we turned right into Broome Manor Lane and walked about two hundred metres to pick up the footpath around the golf course. Made our way to Piper's Lane, crossed over into a woody area, got a little bit lost, walked round in a pleasant circle back to where we started, then made our way up to the Great Copse (Croft wood); back up through Croft Sports Ground to Old Town.