A Day Out With Elspeth in Swindon

Your joy is complete

That’s what I want to official town tagline to be. If you read the Thursday Next stories by Jasper Fforde, you’ll be forced to go to Swindon against your will. I wasn’t the only one who felt that. You’ll want to see the croquet stadium and the magic roundabout. 1960s town planning will never have looked so good!

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There is an old part to Swindon, not old by most place’s standard, but it’s an escape if the concrete centre gets too much. In the Old Town, I liked the dead Italianate Town Hall, and there’s a little museum and a few shops/restaurants approaching interesting… and there’s the arts centre with a festival. It’s quite a slog back into the glory of the high street and malls, but I think the best part of Swindon is the old railway area further along from today’s glorious pile of a station.

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There’s a Victorian chapel and railway cottages and the designer shopping bit in old rail sheds (take note other towns, these are better then the sheds we now build, and combine history and commerce). Steam museum is excellent – even if you don’t think you care about Brunel and old trains, you will (you’d better, there’s nothing else to care about here). I cannot get over how both the National Trust and English Heritage (ie the nation’s keepers of all things OLD) moved their HQ here… from Queen Anne Saville Row in London to a dead shed amidst more dead sheds and access by a tunnel which makes you wonder if you’ve missed something (or will be missing something when you come out, if you do) in a town that’s synonymous with soulless and, er, new. The NT’s eco friendly new building is named after Beatrix P’s married name, the woman who gave us ducks, rabbits and a lot of the Lake District so developers couldn’t get it.

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Hm, I’m running out of things to tell you about… I spent much of one of my visits in Marlborough, which you can access by bus from here: a sort of Wiltshire Woodbridge of shops and cafes on a long high street, but apart from the Merchant’s House and a college where a certain lady went, there isn’t loads to report here either.

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You might also want to find Malmesbury, whose half ruined abbey (home of Naked Gardeners) is a happy sight after the gruelling bus ride, but beware – it’s easy to get stranded as the last bus (only late afternoon) comes in early as one number and leaves as another! And the whole town seems asleep by then! EEk!

Well, I’d often wondered what I’d do with those Swindon pictures and why I took them – now I know, to share them with you. Read The Eyre Affair before visiting. It will be a sweetening pill. It might also be an irresistible magnet.

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