A Day out in Swindon

Not a town I would usually chose to visit, but we went out in Swindon the other day and I was pleasantly surprised by the wide range of people, attractions and businesses there. For example both the Nationwide Building Society (or are they a bank now, I’m never sure these days) and the IT giant Intel, both have their UK headquarters in the town.

Swindon is just off the M4 in Wiltshire and despite being seen as a new town, it’s actually very old, it was even mentioned as far back as the doomsday book, along with many other towns in the area such as Marlborough. The age of the town can be seen as soon as you step away from the main town centre where you will find the usual range of high street brands, hair dressers and solicitors offices, but there are numerous old buildings there too, many of which are around the oldtown area.

Of course if you are a football fan, you will probably be aware of Swindon FC, who are doing fairly well at the moment, although I won’t say any more than that, as I must admit to knowing virtually nothing about the game!

The magic roundabout is possibly the most ridiculous bit of road design in the country, possibly all of Europe, it consists of a central point with five mini roundabouts around it, so if you want to get from one side across to the other, you have no choice but to navigate 3 of them to make it over, it looks comical, but believe me, when you approach it on a busy day it’s very confusing! I didn’t see any, but would imagine there are a lot of accidents there, probably only little bumps as everyone is moving so slowly.

On the way out I could see this chap in what looked like a space suit at first, but as I got closer I realised that it was a beekeeping suit. He was up a ladder with an old fashioned skep under one arm and was poking around with a big round mass of bees, I’m guessing he was a bee swarm collector rescuing a stray swarm of honeybees. I pulled over for a few minutes to watch, but it looked like he would be there for a while so drove off again.

So in addition to all this I actually made a few new business contacts too, one was a solicitor based in Swindon and another was involved with the local council, not road planning I hasten to add 😉 So all in all I have come away with a rather unexpectedly pleasant opinion on the town.

Wiltshires Monuments

As a tourist driving down the A34 if you blink you will miss it, but Amesbury is one of Wiltshires smaller towns which is rich in history. It is the closest town to Stonehenge, being just 2 miles away and also the home of Sarum Castle and Woodhenge.

Stonehenge
Although nobody can be 100% specific, the monument is said to date back to around 3100 BC and was built in three stages over 2 millennia. Unfortunately due to previous damage the stones are now cordoned off, so although visitors are welcome, they are unable to actually touch and walk amongst the stones.

Initially Stonehenge was just a large earthwork, construction was approximately 3100 BC, at this time it was just an earthwork, made up of a ditch, mound and some holes in the ground, however it appears to have soon been abandoned and then left for around 1000 years. Then around 2150 BC the 82 blue stones were hauled to the site from Wales, they are said to have travelled for 240 miles both dragged overland on wooden rollers and floated down rivers on rafts, these stones were then erected on the site in a double (but incomplete) circle formation and the start of the avenue was also begun. At around 2000 BC the third phase sees the introduction of the enormous Sarsen stones, which most likely came from the Marlborough downs approximately 25 miles away, whilst they did not travel the same distance, some of these are estimated to weigh in at 50 tons! Finally around 1500 BC some of the smaller stones were re-arranged to create the formation we still see today.

Old Sarum Castle
Salisbury was not always where it now stands, Old Sarum is the original site with it’s impressive hill fort still standing. This was constructed by the Celts in the iron age and named Sorviadum, however it was taken by the romans and several roman roads converge on the site to this day. Parts of the Doomsday book were written at this site, only in 1219 when the bishop moved the cathedral to the current site of Salisbury did the emphasis begin to move. It is also a notable rotten borough, and numerous rich would buy the site to gain a seat in parliament. Now it is of course derelict but well maintained standing on the outskirts of Amesbury and one of wiltshires many tourist attractions.

Wood Henge
Only discovered in 1928 when excavated after being spotted by a military pilot as the flew over the site, one of the most impressive tourist attractions is wood henge, it  is one of the UK’s most recent significant discoveries. It’s 76 metres in diameter and probably used to consist of ditches, banks and wooden posts, most of this has now been lost but markers have now been put in their place.

If you are planning to visit the area it’s worth a look at the visit wiltshire website, they have information about all the local towns including Amesbury which is the closest, plus information on accommodation in Amesbury from hotels to B&B’s.

What Happens In Marlborough

The country market town of Marlborough has many attractions, from it’s many and varied shops and restaurants, to the local attractions and art galleries, however look a little deeper and you will begin to see that the town has much more to offer the average local or tourist than first meets the eye.

Golf is a particularly popular pastime, possibly due to the high number of retired people living in and around the area, there is a fantastic private course on the outskirts of town, which partly resides on the common, you can see it as you leave town towards Swindon.  A second course is a little further out to the west of town and yet another towards Devizes. Upavon has it’s own course too and they accept pay and play visitors.

The leisure centre boasts a wide range of facilities for a town of it’s size and includes a weight training room, swimming pool, sauna, steam room and a large sports hall with all the athletic equipment you would expect.

If you enjoy a spot of shooting Marlborough is right in shooting country, if like me you prefer to just shoot clays there are several clay shoots to visit, so you can really challenge yourself by not becoming too familiar with just one course.

The microlight centre is just past the Beckampton gallops on the right and flights can be booked for as little as £45 for a quick flight, this is a very popular activity during crop circle season, so if you come during the summer you are probably best to book in advance.

There are numerous B&B’s, guest houses and hotels in Marlborough and the surrounding villages, along with a wide range of restaurants and high quality local pubs. For some reason there is no Marlborough tourist information centre though, so you will either need to find what you need on the internet before you come, or pop in to Avebury, which is only about 4 miles away.