High jinks in Highworth
Sunday 4th August
Well okay, not exactly high jinks but there was a very tasty tapas lunch in the pleasant surroundings of the sunny courtyard of the Highworth Hotel (what used to be Jesmond House ) which is about as close to high jinks as it gets these days…
On Friday just past I visited Highworth with a view to doing some writing about the place in this blog. Being as the blog is about Swindon and Highworth is most definitely part of Swindon’s borough it warrants a place on that basis alone, never mind its many undeniable attractions. I’ve been to Highworth before but have not previously had the opportunity to take much of a look at it. So, whilst Friday’s visit didn’t afford enough time to give the town a forensic examination, I certainly learnt a few things.
I really hope to write much more about the town in the future but time is not on my side at this point: I’ll be returning to uni for the final year of my Eng lang/Eng lit degree before too long so that will be my priority for a while. So this post is by way of an introduction. But I will return to it, so watch this space – there might even a guest blogger.
I said above that I learnt a few things about the town and one of them, which as a literature student, I was particularly excited about, is the town’s connection to John Betjemen. Amongst a few complimentary things he had to say about Highworth there was this:
“There was a sound of tea being cleared away in a cottage just near us.
And suddenly with a burst the bells of Highworth church rang out for Evening Service.
As though called by bells the late sun burst out and bathed the varied roofs with gold and scooped itself into the uneven panes of old windows.
Sun and stone and old brick and garden flowers and church bells. That was Sunday evening in Highworth – that was England.”
(‘Postscript from Highworth’ in ‘First and Last Loves’ – John Betjeman, 1952)
Now I’m clearly no expert on the place, I’ll leave that Mastermind position to the Highworth Historical Society, but I think it’s fair to say that it hasn’t changed sooooo much since Betjemen wrote those words back at the beginning of the 1950s. It really is very charming and no distance at all from Swindon, approximately 30 mins on the bus, which run every ten minutes from Swindon bus station – and that’s twice as frequent as I can get from Grange Park intotown! Parking is actually quite plentiful and FREE. (Swindon take note – on both counts) There are actually 5 sizable car parks in under 5 minutes walk of the High Street!.
There’s no point me going on in detail about the place in this post as it’s already been done and by better folk than me – as above and in the wonderful glossy booklet the ‘Highworth Town Trail’. A bargain at £2.50, this glossy, full-colour brochure is stuffed with photographs and fascinating information. There’s also a pdf version of it available on the internet – but really, I’d advise you to get the brochure. It’s cheaper than a Costa coffee, more interesting, longer lasting and calorie free. However, what I will do for now, is just mention 2 or 3 things that I particularly enjoyed in no particular order of preference.
Along with discovering the Betjemen connection I was very excited by the ice-house. I had no idea this existed and it’s amazing – it made me think of a 17th/18th century Disneyworld with the interconnecting, underground passages for the servants of the house to scurry around in and pop up where needed, without guests enjoying the garden having to do anything so dreadful as see them at work. Just like Mickey Mouse and the Disney Princesses then.
St. Michael and All Angels church is delightful (which, like everything, is beautifully described in the Highworth Town Trai) and I loved the cannon-ball. How cool is that? To have a Civil-War cannonball indentation in the wall of the church and the actual cannon-ball hanging inside the church? Wonderful stuff.
I was also intrigued by a cobbled entrance to an alleyway where there is a heart-shape marked out in cobbles – who by and why? All part of the rich tapestry that is this lovely little town. As is the Marie-Celeste of the lingerie world – an apparently abandoned shop selling ladies undergarments? Strangely haunting and sad to see the lonely mannequin inside the shop.
And on that note dear reader, I must abandon Highworth. But only until next time …
NB: I took a few photographs which can be seen on M’blog’s Facebook page.