South Swindon Parish Council

(Central Swindon South Parish Council)
South Swindon Green Trail

Online Trail Guide to start at Shaftesbury Ave Lake

Introduction

The South Swindon Green Corridor is a recreational and conservation Trail created in 2021 by South Swindon Parish Council. The Trail, which is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long, links Shaftesbury Avenue Lake in the east to Cambria Bridge in the Town Centre.

Whether you want to walk the whole Trail from end to end or just use the Trail as a starting point for alternative walks to other sites or to create circular Loops (some suggested Links and Loops are given later).

Along the Trail, we will explore local history, historical transport links and the natural world of south Swindon.

Using the Trail

This Trail has been developed for everyone to enjoy and every effort has been made by the Parish Council to improve the Trail for all users but please note that some sections of the Trail are liable to be muddy in inclement weather and therefore may not be suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs and appropriate footwear should be worn. Not all sections of the Trail are suitable for cyclists or horses so please plan your route carefully.

Trail Code

When using the Trail, please keep to the following Code:

  • Keep to the Trail or follow appropriate public rights of way.
  • Dogs should be kept on a lead.
  • Clean up after your dog and use the waste bins.
  • Take your litter home.
  • Guard against all risk of fire.
  • Take special care when crossing roads.
  • Cyclists and horse riders please give way to walkers.
  • Be aware of your surroundings if you are walking alone on the quieter sections of the Trail.

Section 1 - Shaftesbury Ave Lake to Broome Manor Lane (1.3 Miles)

The start of our walk is the lake at Shaftesbury Avenue which was formed as part of the new post-war development of Park South. Several streams flow into the lake mainly from Coate Water but also from the new development at Badbury Park. Water is held back in the lake before being released into the River Cole and onto the River Thames.

The lake and adjacent open space are popular with local residents with a “Friends” group helping to look after and improve the area for people and wildlife with support of the local Parish Councils. Recent improvements have included the provision of new dipping platforms, a wildflower meadow, flower beds, bulb planting and pollinator friendly shrubs and fruit bushes.

With the lake to your left, follow the footpath towards Coate Water before crossing over Shaftesbury Avenue at Oldlands Walk. Turn left and safely cross over Queens Drive and Marlborough Road at the traffic lights before entering Coate Water through the historic, green entrance gates. Follow the Trail up the slope towards the main lake and the small café kiosk and public toilets.

At the metal railings, the Trail heads right and continues alongside the lake or alternatively turn left and walk along the top of the dam wall to follow the Link route to the Richard Jefferies Museum.

(a) Richard Jefferies Museum

Richard Jefferies was born at Coate and became a well-known writer on country matters and was passionate about the environment, but he was also a visionary, a prose poet and an observer of human behaviour and society. He was influenced by the landscape around Coate Water and the surrounding area.

The Richard Jefferies Museum Trust was created in 2014 to take on the development and running of the museum. The museum consists of a seventeenth century thatched cottage bought by the Jefferies family in 1800, a later, nineteenth century three-storied farmhouse, plus outbuildings, gardens, a copse, orchard and vegetable gardens. Inside, there is an extensive collection of items relating to Richard Jefferies.

Since taking over the museum, the Charity has focused on delivering arts and nature events and more recently has developed a small cafe.

Trace your path back to the Café and resume the route of the Trail as it follows the edge of the lake on your left, passing the golf kiosk on your right and head towards Broome Manor Lane along an avenue of lime trees.

(b) Coate Water

Coate Water Is a man-made reservoir, constructed by the Wilts and Berks Canal Company in the early 1820’s to top-up the Canal. The River Cole was diverted, two miles of a feeder ditch were constructed between the reservoir and the Canal. Following the arrival of the Great Western Railway in the 1840’s, the Canal gradually fell into decline and in 1914, the reservoir was bought by Swindon Corporation. The excess water from Coate Water now flows into the lake at Shaftesbury Avenue and on via the River Cole to the Thames.

The “Art Deco” style Diving Board was constructed in 1936 using 215 tonnes of concrete and 2 tonnes of reinforcing steel. The structure towers nearly 10 metres above the water and remains part of Swindon’s history when swimming and several other water sports and activities were popular until swimming ended in 1958.

Extensive areas of Coate Water are designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR). Coate Water is one of the largest lakes in Wiltshire making it a popular site for birdwatching – how many different species of birds can you spot as you pass through Coate Water?

There are several walking and cycling routes starting from Coate Water including the popular route around the lake which is approximately 1¾ mile (2.8km) and takes about 45 minutes.

Section 2 – Broome Manor Lane to Croft Wood (1.7 Miles)

Exit Coate Water and carefully cross over Broome Manor Lane before following the Trail as it skirts around the edge of the Golf Course with the old Bird Sanctuary on your left.

As you follow the Trail, keep your eyes open for a brick culvert to your left which marks the route of the former Midland & South Western Junction Railway which left Old Town Station and ran alongside Marlborough Road, Broome Manor Lane and finally across the Golf Course before heading out to Chiseldon and on to Andover. The Railway opened in 1881 and passenger trains ran until 1961 - see section 3 (b) for more information about the Railway.

Pass Nightingale Farmhouse on your left and continue onto Casso’s Wood and Fir Clump.

(a) Casso’s Wood and Fir Clump

Casso’s Wood was planted by over 800 people at the “Plant a Tree for Africa” tree plant on the 19th January 1992.

Look out on your right for the inscribed sarsen stone, now partly hidden from view in summer by the surrounding trees and vegetation, and the nearby plaque marking Casso’s Wood. The inscription on the stone reads;

“Casso’s Wood planted January 1992 by friends in fond memory of Cassandra Clunies-Ross ecologist-forester 1965 – 1991 that her work to conserve woodlands here and abroad is not forgotten”.

Next to Casso’s Wood is Fir Clump, once home to an ancient stone circle which was discovered during survey work to construct the M4 motorway. It is understood that the stone circle consisted of 2 rings measuring about 120 metres wide, with a total of 34 sarcen stones being recorded.

Look closely in the wooded area and you can see several sarcen stones still in place in the bank. It was one of these sarcen stones that was taken to carve the memorial stone used in Casso’s Wood.

The Trail now runs adjacent to the Motorway alongside the Broome Manor Golf Course on your right. Continue along the Trail until you get to the pedestrian bridge over the M4 motorway at Ladder Lane.

(b) Ladder Lane

The Trail now meets an historic trackway known as Ladder Lane that forms part of the old cart track that linked Swindon to Marlborough and villages across north Wiltshire. Carts drawn by horses, or more likely oxen would have once hauled goods up and over the hill on the way to market and was once used by the Stagecoach taking passengers between Swindon and Marlborough.

Follow the Trail to the right heading up Ladder Lane towards Pipers Way before bearing left into Croft Wood.

Alternative Links

To the left, a bridge over the Motorway goes up through Burderop Wood to Ladder Hill and the top of Brimble Hill from where you can access routes to the villages of Wroughton, Hodson, and Chiseldon, as well as Barbury Castle (Iron Age Hillfort) and the Ridgeway National Trail.

(c) Croft Country Park

Caution: This section of the Trail passes close to the Swindon Mountain Bike Track, please keep to the designated footpath route.

Croft Country Park was created and planted in the mid-1990s and is a popular mixed woodland, with formal and informal planting. As well as the trees there are ponds, grassy banks, pathways, and footpath links to Great Copse.

The park is also the location of a popular mountain bike trail managed and maintained by volunteers from the MB Swindon Club. The waymarked trail around 5km long is based around a family / beginner off road trail (Blue) with some more difficult technical (Red) sections for the more experienced cyclist.

Follow the signposted Trail through Croft Country Park, past a small pond, noting the interesting shape of the adjacent Sarsen Stones. Rest for a few moments on the seat and see what wildlife you can see around the pond area.

Continue to follow the Trail before passing the Wish Hounds sculpture on your left at the end of one of the lime tree avenues.

The Wish Hounds sculpture was created in 1994 by Lou Hamilton and consists of concrete cast lettering, powder coated scrap metal and earthworks in a circle of trees. It doesn’t take much imagination to hear them howling Baskerville-like and to feel their hot breath and their jowls heavy with saliva.

The Trail now passes by a small public car park on your right before bearing to the left and walking through the trees towards Pipers Way. Carefully cross over Pipers Way (alternatively double back and cross over Pipers Way using the traffic island just before the Nationwide roundabout) and turn left to continue along Pipers Way with the Glenwood Close allotments and a small wooded copse on your right-hand side. You may wish to walk through the copse before re-joining the Trail at the traffic lights at the bottom of Croft Road.

Cross over Croft Road at the traffic lights and bear to the left to follow the footpath into East Wichel.

Alternative Links

When crossing Pipers Way turn right and then immediately left to walk between Glenwood Close Allotments and the Nationwide car park. At the end of the track, turn right and head up into Great Copse and follow the trail to Pipers Way or the Croft Sports Centre. From here you can access the start of the Railway line via the old Railway embankment / Signal Way or visit The Lawn via Bruddel Wood.

Section 3 – East Wichel to Rushey Platt (1.2 Miles)

After crossing over Croft Road, bear to the left and follow the path alongside East Wichel Way. When you reach the first set of houses, follow the path to the right and along the front of the houses in Collard Close until you reach East Wichel Park on your right.

(a) East Wichel Park

Follow the Trail to the right and into the East Wichel Park where you will find a play area and ball court as well as a Tiny Forest along with a modern representation of a “stone circle” using local sarsen stones.

East Wichel Park is also home to Swindon’s first Tiny Forest which was planted in March 2021. A Tiny Forest is a dense, native woodland that helps mitigate the effects of climate change, supports urban wildlife, and connects people with nature. Please spend a few minutes to walk around the park and find out more about the Tiny Forest from the information board on-site.

As you leave East Wichel Park, bear to the right and continue to follow the path along Lohart Lane, around the boundary of the East Wichel Primary School and into Stonehenge Road. Follow the path around Stonehenge Road until you reach a bridge on your right, walk across the bridge and continue to follow the “concrete road” up the hill towards Old Town.

(b) Railway Path

Caution: The next part of the trail from East Wichel to the old Railway line is particularly steep with some steps at the top to gain access the old Railway line and can be icy in cold weather.

Leaving East Wichel, make your way up the “concrete road” towards the old Railway bridge. To the left side of the track, you will see several concrete blocks laid in a line adjacent to the track – these are likely to be old “Tank Traps” placed as part of a local defensive measure during WW2. Nowadays, these blocks of concrete are covered with a variety of mosses and lichen.

Pass under the bridge and turn left, up some steps and then turn right and walk along the old Railway line and continue over the Mill Lane bridge.

At various locations along the former Railway Line, you will notice some wheel sculptures. There are five wheels from the Old Town direction which represent Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Conceive. Each Wheel has two parts, a small wheel showing the element, and a large wheel with a short piece of poetry. In addition, there is a length of wood crossing the path between each of the wheel pairs which originally had two words written on them (now largely worn off).

The former Railway line started off as the Swindon, Marlborough & Andover Railway Company and was intended to link Andover with the GWR line at Swindon. Originally, they planned a tunnel some 830 yards long beneath Old Town hill which proved to be technically difficult and too expensive with the tunnel finally being abandoned in what is now Queens Park.

A new route was chosen with the railway line winding its way around the southern edge of the Old Town Hill until it encountered an outcrop of solid rock which meant that the route had to be blasted into the hill to form a sheer cutting, some ¾ of a mile in length to reach Swindon Town Station in Old Town (located in Signal Way Industrial Estate).

Alternative Link

Turn left on the old Railway line to follow the Trail to Town Gardens to visit this formal Victorian Park with refreshments and public toilets (0.6 miles) and onwards under several impressive bridges (Springfield Road and Croft Road) to reach Old Town. Along the route you will also pass through the Old Town Railway Cutting which is now designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its geological interest dating from the Jurassic period.

The Railway was opened in 1881 and later the line was extended to Cheltenham to form the Midland and South Western Junction Railway (MSWJR). In 1961 the line was closed for passenger traffic but continued in use to bring in materials to help construct the M4 motorway and the track was lifted in the early 1970’s before being developed in the early 1980’s as a recreational Trail.

Continue along the old Railway path with occasional impressive views to your left across Wichelstowe and onto the Marlborough Downs beyond including the old hangers at the former airfield at Wroughton, now used as an archive and storage by the Science Museum. Just past the Mill Lane Bridge, look across the fields of West Leaze farm where there are the buried remains of the medieval settlement at West Leaze as well as with some ridge & furrow cultivation. Also keep a look out for a Red Kite and Buzzards soaring above, or deer in the fields below.

The Trail now passes over the Wilts and Berks Canal – pause here for a moment to enjoy the views on either side of the bridge before we descend to the Canal towpath whilst the old Railway Trail continues towards West Swindon.

Section 4 – Rushey Platt to Cambria Bridge (0.8 Miles)

The route now leaves the old Railway line and descends to the right, down to the Rushey Platt section of the former Wilts and Berks Canal. On joining the Canal towpath, turn left to follow the Canal towards Kingshill Road.

(a) Skew Bridge

The ground at Rushey Platt was very marshy and this caused difficulties as the waterlogged and shifting ground wreaked havoc with the efforts to build the embankment for the railway line, the problem only being solved by the deposition of tons of stone into the marshes. The canal was eventually crossed by an elegant red brick bridge built in 1883 known as Skew Bridge – so named because it crosses the Canal at a “skew”. Look underneath the arch of the bridge to see the pattern of the bricks in the arch above your head.

(b) Rushey Platt

Rushey Platt is a remnant of the lush wetland marsh that used to cover much of South Swindon before land drainage for agriculture made this type of habitat uncommon in Wiltshire and is designated as a Local Nature Reserve for its special habitat and wildlife.

One side of the Reserve is bounded by the River Ray which rises at Wroughton, flowing through Wichelstowe before passing through parts of West Swindon where it is joined by the Lydiard Brook before reaching the Thames just to the east of Cricklade.

There is an informal track around the Reserve if you wish to have a closer look.

(c) Wilts & Berks Canal

The Canal ran for 52 miles from the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington to join the River Thames at Abingdon with the Canal reaching Swindon in 1804. Like the future railway line, the construction of the Rushey Platt section of the Canal was fraught with serious engineering difficulties caused by the wet and marshy land. The Canal finally opened in 1810, initially prospered with its main cargo being coal from Somerset.

During the construction of the Great Western Railway, the Canal provided a cost-effective route to bring in large quantities of building materials needed for the Railway which ran close to much of the Canal route.

It is ironic therefore that when the railways were up and running, they took trade from the Canal which then lapsed into permanent decline before finally being abandoned in 1914.

(d) Kingshill Road

At Kingshill Road, a bridge was built in 1803 to allow the Canal to pass beneath the Swindon to Wootton Bassett Turnpike Road. The bridge was demolished in the early 1920’s.

Carefully cross over Kingshill Road and continue along the route of the filled in Canal towards Cambria Bridge and the Town Centre

(e) Cambria Bridge (Finish)

Walk under the Cambria Road Bridge which was built in 1877, later modified in 1893 and refurbished in 1978. On the towpath side of the bridge (Westcott Place side), the brick abutments were protected from wear by iron plates and the one on the northern side of the bridge is still in position. Closer examination of the iron plate shows several rope grooves.

Adjacent to the canal at this point was a large wharf and timber yard, probably where the playground and kickabout area are now located.

On the north (playground) side of the bridge, there have been several murals painted over the past 40 years. In 1981, a mural depicting Canal scene was painted by the local artist, Ken White. Ken is one of Britain’s most successful artists and his work is well known in Swindon for his distinctive murals, mostly dating from the 1970’s. Unfortunately, many of his murals have now been lost due to age and redevelopment.

Unfortunately, the Ken White mural became dilapidated over time and in 2001 a new mural was created by a group of local artists based on drawings from children from the nearby Robert Le Kyng School as part of a community project to improve the area.

In 2015, another mural was created by local artists to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Great Western Railway starting in Swindon. Elements in the design include images of:

  • A Steam Train
  • The Tardis from Dr Who
  • The Drs Assistant (Rose) played by local singer and actress Billie Piper
  • The Mechanics Institute
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel
  • The Suffragette Edith New (born in Swindon in 1877)
  • Ken White

A more recent addition in front of part of the mural is a community fruit garden containing several different types of fruit bushes which was planted in Spring 2021 by local residents.

This is where our Trail comes to an end, but you may wish to explore the local area further with short links from here to the GWR Park and Town Centre.

Alternative Links

  • Walk along Cambria Bridge Road and carefully cross over Faringdon Road to visit the GWR Park and Railway Village
  • Continue to follow the route of the old Canal into the heart of the Town Centre where there are various refreshment outlets, public toilets, and local buses. Further along Canal Walk, there remains an original Canal Milestone to mark the distance back to Semington (the start of the Canal) as being 26 miles away.

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