A rough guide to Swindon: The West Swindon Sculpture Trail
Take the sculpture challenge: follow the map and go in search of the sculptures
Somewhat surprisingly perhaps this sometimes un-prepossessing town possesses a rich cultural landscape liberally scattered with public art – in particular in the West Swindon development. This extensive and extremely green suburban area links the town with the M4 and comprises several distinct ‘villages’, several of which feature a ‘village centre’. Punctuating this conurbation is a fascinatingly diverse collection of sculptures that comprise the West Swindon Sculpture trail. Installed between 1982 and 1992 these sculptures are unexplained and mostly unnoticed by the locals. They are also rather neglected but no less interesting for that encompassing as they do a gamut of subject matter ranging from realism to abstract with a film star and a nursery rhyme in the mix.
A circular walk, approximately five miles long, will take you around all seven of them. The terrain is largely flat so is therefore family friendly and suitable for those not inclined to inclines. Swindon is astonishingly rich in parks and green spaces and the trail traverses some of them. There are children’s play parks and an outdoor gym en route giving plenty of added interest and making it dog-friendly and picnic-suitable. And it would add a new element to a bike ride too.
A good starting point for the trail is the West Swindon Centre: home to a supermarket, a coffee and fast-food chain and the Link Centre – a sports centre housing an ice-rink, swimming pool and sports hall. It additionally offers a café and a play area for tots. There is ample free parking here and the centre is additionally well served by buses from the town centre making the start of this trail easily accessible.
Appropriately located outside a multiplex cinema on Shaw Ridge leisure park (across the road from the West Swindon Centre) the first sculpture encountered is a flamboyant bronze portrait of the late film star Diana Dors, a daughter of Swindon. Unveiled by David Putnam this piece is a larger-than-life homage to the woman billed as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Also home to a bowling alley, a De Vere Village hotel, two Indian restaurants and a pizza restaurant this leisure complex also offers ample free parking.
A few minutes walk up a slight incline from the cinema brings you to the Shaw Ridge open space. Take a few paces more and you reach number two on the trail ‘How the Mighty Fall’ (1989). This cast iron and cast aluminium sculpture was envisioned by its creator to be imagined as an archeological artefact from the 20th Century requiring viewers to transport themselves into the future. A future that is now our reality. Here too you will find the outdoor gym and a children’s playpark.
A walk along the ridge and across the somewhat Stepford-like Bramptons housing estate and you arrive at the third sculpture on the trail: ‘White Horse Pacified’ (1987). Created in conjunction with the Portguese Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation this large blue and white work is an interpretation of the chalk-cut white horses surrounding Swindon.
The walk to the fourth sculpture ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ (1982), passes through Shaw Village Centre which marks an approximate half-way point. Here you can stop for an ice-cream or even a meal in the Village Inn. This is a chain pub so be under no illusions about the fare on offer but it’s a convenient and comfortable pit-stop. Surprisingly set in a front garden in The Prinnels this charming sculpture is carved in Portland stone and depicts the popular nursery rhyme in a domestic setting.
You now have a lengthy but level walk to sculpture number five in Freshbrook village centre: ‘Nexus’ (1986). Comprised of Blue Pennant stone and railway sleepers this piece was carved with hand-made tools, in public and in situ by the late Japanese sculptor Hideo Furtura.
The walk from Freshbrook to Toothill Village centre, the home of the sixth sculpture ‘The Watchers’ (1982) gives a panoramic view over the Marlborough Downs. As the name suggests, this sculpture cast in ferro-concrete and featuring a mother, father, child and dog represent guardian figures looking over the then new community.
On leaving Toothill a downhill path and a short walk by a stream eventually takes you to the seventh and final sculpture ‘Looking to the Future’ (1985). Completed by the first artist in residence during the development of West Swindon, this glass-fibre resin sculpture depicts three life-sized sunbathing figures relaxing at the edge of the pond. Cross the road from here to return to the starting point.
This is an activity of which you can make as much or as little as you wish. At a steady walk, and with only a passing examination of each sculpture, it could be completed in a couple of hours. But you could really take your time about it and make a day of it.
NB: Both Freshbrook and Toothill village centres have shops and pubs so there’s further refreshment opportunities there before the walk returns you to the start point.
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