SWINDON itself is architecturally brutal though wonderfully convenient for commuting, since the Inter City trains take a last breath here before sprinting on to the West Country. Big businesses such as Motorola, Honda and the Nationwide have their headquarters here. Professionals, bank managers and the wealthier shopkeepers huddle together in the Old Town, in Victorian and Edwardian houses on the south side of Bath Road. A three-bedroom terrace at the cheaper end of the market here would cost £155,000. Four bedrooms in a more expensive road would fetch £300,000. Lawn, near the lake and nature walks of Coate Water Park, is also sought-after. Thirties’ style, five-bedroom detached houses with gardens cost £370,000, new homes about £600,000. Residents are hotly opposing plans for 1,800 dwellings and industrial estates near the water park. Broome Manor, with its golf course and a mix of modern Georgian, Regency and ranch-style houses selling at £540,000, evokes the atmosphere of Dallas.
People tend to flee Swindon for the chalk villages of the Marlborough Downs or the Vale of the White Horse. The east is more popular, with villages such as Liddington, Wanborough, Bishopstone and Aldbourne. These are cohesive, and tend to have primary schools, huge churches and pubs that are still free houses. A four-bedroom house could be bought for between £350,000 and £450,000 depending on position. Ex-council properties sell at around £150,000. Although the villages are only just off the M4, they are seriously horsey and have some prime hacking country right on the doorstep. A walk across the Berkshire Downs connects us to the past as surely as any history book. The white horse is at Uffington, against the Ridgeway near Dragon Hill, where St George is supposed to have killed the dragon. It is worth remembering that the further east you go from Swindon, and the nearer you get to Hungerford or Faringdon, the more attractive the villages and the higher the prices.
The National Trust owns much of the land to the north of Swindon, including the villages of Coleshill and Buscot. Here the infant Thames is hardly more than a stream running beneath the willows. Lechlade is idyllically pretty with a good collection of Georgian houses, but it fills with boating people in the summer and, being 10 miles from Swindon, is a bit of a slog to reach at the end of a hard day. The stone for St Paul’s Cathedral was loaded here. Fairford is a thriving community, with shops, active local societies and a church with 500-year-old stained glass windows. A small Cotswold house with two bedrooms might sell for about £190,000. The old gravel pits at Whelford are popular with watersports enthusiasts.
Villagers driving into central Swindon from the west have to contend with the volume of traffic. Wootton Bassett is a large market town with a good range of local shops, including a delicatessen. Nearby Hackpen Hill has a white horse on its flank. There is a weekly market – once so disorganised that an early photograph shows a large cow emerging from a solicitor’s office – and a farmers’ market takes place once a month. You can buy studio apartments for £98,000 and ordinary little three-bedroom semis for £170,000 to £200,000.
The Somerfords (Little and Great, divided by the River Avon), are popular because they border the Cotswolds and are closer to the prettiness of Malmesbury and its beautiful 12th-century abbey ruins than to the dead weight of Swindon. Great Somerford has a combined shop and post office. They have lots of local societies, from under-fives to the Somerford Stagers amateur dramatics group. Great Somerford also has a primary school. An interest in horses is a useful social passport. The Vale of the White Horse Hunt is on the doorstep, there is polo at Cirencester Park and endless bridleways and footpaths criss-cross the Cotswolds. The price of a new detached house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a double garage costs £400,000 to £460,000. Brinkworth has lots of good points, including its foodie pub, the Three Crowns, a gardening club and a quilting group called The Bramble Patchers. Set on a ridge, with wide-angle views, the village is notable for its extraordinary length – stretching to just over four miles. A period house with four bedrooms here will cost £375,000 to £425,000. Slightly to the east is Lydiard Millicent, with a pub and a green-belt buffer zone to insulate it from Swindon. A new, four-bedroom detached house might cost £300,000. Purton Stoke, which has a pub and a village street that tapers into open countryside, is much nicer than its overblown neighbour Purton. A four-bedroom Victorian house at Purton Stoke might have a price tag of £450,000; a two-bedroom, brick semi-detached cottage, £280,000.
To the south there are a very few villages scattered in the sweeping chalk hills between Swindon and Marlborough, which actually lies closer to Pewsey station.