Swindon

The railway built Swindon, railway workers its football club. Employed at Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s central repair unit for steam locomotives on the Great Western line, maintenance men approached a young curate recently installed at Christ Church, Rev William Baker Pitt, to help create a local team.

Pitt, who played in the early games, was looking for something more than just a game of football. In the few years since Brunel’s railway, Swindon had grown 15-fold, from a modest Wiltshire market town to a busy transport and engineering hub. Tensions between incoming workers and locals long resident up in the old part of town were rising and Reverend Pitt saw football to bond the community as one.

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Steam Railway/Peterjon Cresswell

Even today, Swindon is somewhat disjointed, a shopping mall filling its centre, surrounded by a few older streets and lines of back-to-back housing built for railway workers’ families. Near the station, the County Ground has served Swindon Town since 1896, soon after the club went professional and joined the Southern League.

By the ground, built over the Wilts & Berks Canal that the GWR superceded, the Magic Roundabout is a notorious landmark, a confusing junction celebrated in song by the only band anyone can name from Swindon, XTC. It carries traffic between areas of what was Old and New Swindon, joined as one town in 1900.

The Reverend Pitt may have left for Liddington but his legacy lived on – the club he founded joined the Football League in 1920, famously winning the League Cup at Wembley in 1969.

The hero that day, mercurial winger Don Rogers, still owns a local sports shop in the town centre. Swindon remains a community club, occasionally blighted by hooliganism when teams from Bristol, Oxford or Reading come to town.

Current Swindon owner Lee Power, barely in his forties when he joined the board of directors in 2013, has since overseen a Wembley play-off final and average gates at the County Ground of around 7,000. Talk of moving away has long subsided – though long suggested redevelopments have yet to materialise. The main stand dates back to the Don Rogers era, lending the County Ground an old-school touch, quaint but distinct from the new-builds in nearby Reading, Oxford and Bristol.

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Swindon

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Swindon Town/County Ground: 51.564426, -1.772575
Swindon station: 51.565627, -1.784120
County Ground Hotel : 51.564360, -1.773477
Great Western Hotel : 51.565141, -1.784356
Holiday Inn Express Swindon City Centre: 51.563100, -1.787900
Jurys Inn Swindon: 51.562405, -1.780069
Swandown Hotel B&B: 51.556568, -1.778598
Regent Hotel: 51.555812, -1.778675
Goddard Arms : 51.552478, -1.774428
Steam Railway: 51.550558, -1.774870
Pig On The Hill: 51.551398, -1.777014
Longs Bar: 51.554755, -1.777193
The Beehive: 51.556602, -1.780955
The Savoy: 51.559612, -1.782341
Sir Daniel Arms : 51.562339, -1.787738
Queens Tap: 51.564883, -1.784965

Bearings

The nearest airport is Bristol, 79km (49 miles) from Swindon with no direct links by public transport. The Bristol Flyer bus (£7 single/£11 return) runs every 10-15min to stop 8/9 at Bristol Temple Meads train station (journey time 20min).

From there, a regular train service to Swindon takes 40min, cheapest single £15. From London Paddington, trains run every 15min, journey time 1hr, cheapest online single £15. From Birmingham New Street, you have to change at Gloucester or Oxford and Didcot. From Manchester, the quickest and cheapest (advance single £33) way is one change at Bristol Parkway.

Swindon’s train station, football ground and town centre are all a short walk from each other. Local buses are run by Thamesdown Transport, single ticket £1.60, DayRider pass £4.

A1 Swindon Taxis (01793 251 251) offers a transfer service to airports all over the country.

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Swandown Hotel B&B/Peterjon Cresswell

Bed

Visit Wiltshire has a database of accommodation across the county.

As old as its namesake venue right next door, the County Ground Hotel is more of a pre-match pub for Robins fans than a lodging – although it does rent out its eight guestrooms, usually to visiting contractors.

The most convenient place for the visiting fan, therefore, is the refurbished Great Western Hotel, right opposite the station, with a mix of en-suite rooms and shared facilities, and a bar downstairs.

Also close, the Holiday Inn Express Swindon City Centre is a reliable, affordable chain. A notch above, Jurys Inn contains 200-plus rooms, a café and restaurant. Across this busy junction, the former Menzies Swindon has recently been bought by Thistle and will reopen as a 95-room hotel with bar and restaurant.

Also a short walk from station and County Ground, the Travelodge Swindon Central offers uniform rooms from £41 without breakfast.

If you’d rather stay in the old part of town, you’ll find a couple of B&Bs on steep Victoria Road, still walkable to the ground. The Swandown is a nice choice, with a bar and dining room. Most, but not all, 17 rooms are en-suite. The Regent across the road is often, but not always, hired out for private events.

Nearby on the High Street, the Goddard Arms has a handful of rooms above a landmark pub with live sport and quality food.

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Steam Railway/Peterjon Cresswell

Beer

The older part of town has the best pubs, particularly on and off the High Street. A former coaching inn, the ivy-clad Goddard Arms marries tradition with contemporary tastes, the daily live football schedule posted on its website. Quality Sunday roasts, too.

Round the corner, the Steam Railway is another convincing candidate for best pub in town, with live sport, regularly changing guest ales and a friendly, chatty clientele. Retro ads and prints lend the place character. You’ll find a fire in winter and beer garden in summer.

More trendy and food-oriented, the Pig On The Hill also screens live sport. Longs Bar runs along similar lines but more booze-focused, handy if you’re staying in Victoria Road.

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Pig On The Hill/Peterjon Cresswell

Closer to the town centre, The Beehive attracts a younger, savvier crowd, drawn to its craft beers, home-made pies and live sport.

Right in town you’ll find two Wetherspoons, The Savoy set in an art-deco cinema and the Sir Daniel Arms, with railway connotations.

Opposite the station, the Queens Tap deserves more than just a quick pint before your train, with TV sport, live acts and a busy, buzzy atmosphere of a Saturday night.


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