This year’s Events Calendar finale had two Road Runs both converging on STEAM, the Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon. The route from Reading was put together by Mike & Glenda Lamb, but as they were on holiday, Hampstead Norreys Natter leader Peter Bush with his wife Audrey were on hand to organise the starters, whilst the Abingdon route and start was organised by Richard and Gill Martin.
On a cloudy, but dry (unusual for a Sunday this year) late September morning the Abingdon starters gathered together in the Market Square to be issued with their Rally Plaques and Route Books. For most, there was time for a chat, a coffee in one of the coffee shops which surround the Square and some took the opportunity to visit the refurbished County Museum and see the new MG exhibition. After a few words from Vice-Chairman, Richard Martin and some last minute instructions from Gill, the cars set off on the rural route to STEAM. As Gill advised, the route is not challenging, but has some lovely views over the Ridgeway and the Downs.
Swindon, however, does have it’s own challenges in the form of roundabouts! These come thick and fast and ensure a sharp dialogue between driver and navigator if wrong exits are to be avoided! Once within the grasp of the Swindon road system, those on the route from Abingdon encountered 10 roundabouts whilst those on the Reading run had to negotiate 15! Picking up on the MG signs on the approach to the Museum, everyone was welcomed by Chairman, Phil Grinham with his wife Jenny operating the barrier to the car park – she had been entrusted with the coded pass word to get us in to the parking area.
Our cars were parked with the Museum to one side of us and the large Outlet Centre on the other so it was time to choose which to do first – a history lesson, or hit the shops. An easier decision for some than others! STEAM is housed in a beautifully restored Grade II railway building in the heart of the former Swindon railway works. The Museum tells the story of the men and women who built, operated and travelled on the Great Western Railway – ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ – a railway network that, through the pioneering vision and genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was regarded as the most advanced in the world. As well as railway scenes and films of former workers telling of their working lives and conditions, there are engines to view – including underneath – and climb aboard, carriages to wander through and stations and goods yards to explore. If you fancy working a signal box, the opportunity is on hand. A very interesting and informative museum laid out in an easy to understand format making it extremely easy to lose track of time as you wander through.
The day of our visit also coincided with a gathering of choirs, both male and female, from around the UK in one of the halls so we were treated to some very fine performances for free! Indeed, before they left to board their coach home, one of the male choirs gave an impressive performance in the Museum entrance hall under the guidance of their animated energetic lady conductor.
An enjoyable day out and it stayed dry!
Text: Richard Martin. Photos: Richard Martin & Malcolm Bailey.