48 hours in Swindon
PUBLISHED: 15:45 31 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:20 20 February 2013
Swindon's perceived persona is as a railway town, but there's much more to Swindon than steam engines.
Swindon is something of a cultural haven in North Wiltshire. It is, in fact, a microcosm of everything that is happening in the rest of county and makes you realise why it is recognised as being a town apart from, whilst still belonging to, the county.
For an introduction to the history, culture and natural environment of Swindon, begin in Old Town at the Swindon Museum & Art Gallery in Devizes Road where there are such delights as an early fire engine, penny-farthing bicycle, colourful Egyptian room and a large fearsome-looking crocodile! 01793 466556, www.swindon.gov.uk) Also in Devizes Road is Swindon Arts Centre, outside which there is a large bronze veneer sculpture fittingly entitled 'Applause'. The old theatre, alongside it, has been beautifully restored. For their exciting programme of summer and autumn events (01793 466565 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old Town has a number of interesting old buildings, one of which is The Bell Hotel in High Street. Carved into the stonework above its front door are the words 'Establyshed in ye reygne of Kynge Henry VIII AD 1515'. You can't miss it because there's a huge bell hanging outside. Admire too, the beautifully painted frontage and royal crest on The Kings Hotel, just round the corner in Wood Street. Wood Street and Devizes Road are also home to some of the town's most interesting specialist shops, from which you can buy off-road bikes, children's dancewear, ladies' fashion, unusual wooden furniture, bridalwear, collectable art and hand-crafted jewellery.
Swindon is blessed with a number of large leafy parks and gardens. Old Town's pride and joy is its immaculately tended Town Gardens. In summer, this pleasantly tree-shaded park, with its ornate iron bandstand and sensational rose garden, is an absolute riot of colour. Queen's Park and historic The Lawn are equally delightful green and peaceful oases.
Where to eat
The Kings Hotel in Wood Street, Old Town, serves pub grub and Best of British meals using locally sourced ingredients (01793 522156). Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding is a speciality! Mackenzies Café Bar, also in Wood Street, is open daily for coffee and brunch (01793 430111). If you fancy a spot of international cuisine, here are a few suggestions: Jade Garden at 76 Godwin Court, Old Town (01793 611199) serves traditional oriental dishes plus special and exclusive, uniquely prepared creations. It has a superb wine list and also does take-away food. Ashoka Indian Restaurant in Bridge Street (01793 511011), is a modern restaurant in a convenient town-centre location serving contemporary Indian cuisine. Bottelino's Traditional Italian Restaurant (opposite Swindon Designer Outlet in Penzance Drive) is run by the Botta family who have a fine reputation for the very best in Italian cooking. They pride themselves on using traditional recipes and fresh ingredients (01793 887710), www.bottelinos.net. Los Gatos Spanish Tapas Bar & Restaurant is Swindon's first and only traditional tapas bar. It is in 23 Wood Street, Old Town (01793 488450).
Three things to take home
While you're visiting 'Steam' pop into the Museum shop and treat yourself to a huge, round lolly which has the letters GWR running through it. And they do rock, too, and chocolate bars, and of course model railways. I'm sure Isambard would have approved!
When you're in Old Town, make sure you call in at Candle & Art Supplies in Godwin Court who stock just about every style of candle imaginable. They also do personalised versions. So why not take home a candle inscribed with your loved one's name as a birthday or anniversary present?
Young's of Wood Street in Old Town stock an amazing range of unusual giftware, including hand-crafted jewellery, the 'Jelly Cats' range of children's cuddly toys, and fireplace surrounds, of all things. I was going to suggest you take home one of these, but a floral china teapot garden planter would be so much easier to carry!
Where can we stay?
For a historic hotel of character (c1867), centrally located for exploring Old Town, try The Kings, 20 Wood Street (01793 522156), www.thekings-swindon.co.uk. Alternatively, there is Express by Holiday Inn in Bridge Street, a modern, 134-bedroom hotel right in the heart of the town (0870 4443758). www.exhiswindon.co.uk. Another option is The Fox & Hounds in Wroughton (01793 812217), www.thefoxandhoundswroughton.co.uk, an inn of character with exposed beams and a large beer garden on the southern outskirts of Swindon. It has live music from local bands on Saturday nights and there is a separate lodge in the grounds for guest accommodation. Stanton House Hotel is an attractive Cotswold stone house in the village of Stanton Fitzwarren on the outskirts of town. It has two restaurants, which offer a choice of European or Japanese cuisine ((0870 0841388). www.stantonhouse.co.uk. Portquin Guest House is family run and family friendly. It offers quality accommodation, AGA-cooked breakfasts and is situated in its own 31/2-acre grounds in the village of Blunsdon, north of Swindon (01793 721261), www.portquinguesthouse.co.uk. The Swandown in Victoria Road offers friendly, family-run 3-star accommodation and is only a short walk from Old Town and the town centre (01793 536695), e-mail: email@example.com.
26, 27 August: Lydiard Park open-air performance of The Winter's Tale by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre Touring Company.
30 October - 1 November: Swindon Beer Festival with 100 real ales. www.swindoncamra.org.uk/beerfestival
. Things to do in and around Swindon
Wyvern Theatre in Swindon Town Centre hosts a varied programme of events throughout the year. During August and September, two of the highlights will be 'All You Need is Love', a celebration of '60s music on Sunday 3 August, and Swindon Last Night of the Proms on Sunday 7 September. For tickets, (01793 524481), or book online at www.wyverntheatre.org.uk.
A trip to Swindon wouldn't be complete without visiting 'Steam - Museum of the Great Western Railway' in Kemble Drive. Brunel's Swindon railway works were responsible for building some of the best and most famous locomotives in the world. A full-size model of the great engineer stands in the museum's vast entrance hall where there is also a shop and Station Buffet ((01793 466646), www.steam-museum.org.uk.
Nearby, and similarly housed in a former railway building, is the English Heritage National Monument Record. Its Search Room can be visited without an appointment by anyone interested in the Listed Buildings of England, although it is advisable to telephone ((01793 414700) in advance to allow time for the archivists to find files. Opening times are Tuesday to Friday 9.30am-5pm and occasional Saturdays ((01793 414600), www.english-heritage.org.uk.
Car parks: There are lots to choose from in all areas of the town, ranging from street level pay-and-display in Old Town and near Swindon Designer Outlet to large multi-storey car parks in the town centre. There is some free parking on the road alongside Old Town Gardens
Park and ride: The Copse, just off the A419 north of Swindon, and at Wroughton if approaching from the south
Buses: The bus station is in Corporation Street and the two main operators of buses in and around Swindon are Stagecoach (01793 521415) and Thamesdown ((01793 428428)
Trains: Local and Intercity trains stop here regularly. For details of First Great Western services, contact National Rail Enquiries (08457 484950)
Tourist Information: 37 Regent Street, Swindon, (01793 530328). www.visitswindon.co.uk