COATE WATER VISITORS PAGE
This is the 'unofficial' site about Coate Water Country Park! This site was created as a means to share information, memories and thoughts about one of the best places to be in Swindon.

This page contains material sent in by visitors to the park. If you would like to add something to this page contact us at coatewaterswindon@tiscali.co.uk

1. Autumn Reflection by Barry Woodham, Swindon

2. Coate Water Memories by Janet Woodham, Swindon
3. Coate Water Country Park A poem by Natalie Hutt, Swindon
  4. Coate Water Visitors, by Jean Saunders from 'Save Coate'
5. Innocent memories of Coate Water, by Patrick Arundell, Somerset (ex-Swindonian)
   

Events at Coate

1. Autumn Reflection,  by Barry Woodham, Swindon

Today my fishing tackle is vast. I have rods for all purposes with reels, floats and lines for every purpose. I have a lifetime's collection to choose from, for every expedition and species and every condition. It was not always so.
Nearly fifty years ago I remember an autumn day that I set forth as a young teenager to the lake at Coate Water. It was a wild place then and for sixpence, a boy's dreams could be given a chance to come true. I had fished this lake for several years and thought that I knew the nature of its challenges. I had never caught any really big fish from this enigmatic water although they were there. Small roach and bream had come my way from many a secluded reed fringed hideaway. Knowledge is hard won for a boy without a senior companion. Books are read and plans are made, more in hope than in actual reality.
I was about fourteen years old and possessed one rod and reel and whatever my father had scrounged from his fishing friends. Autumn had begun and it was October the first, with the start of the pike fishing season. This was my chance to try and catch a much larger fish than I normally tackled. My rod had lost a bit off the end section and was much stiffer than it would normally be. Boys and snapped rods go together unfortunately. Never the less, for my purpose it would do extremely well. I had saved up my pocket money, so I could buy some sprats and a herring for bait. Pike are predators and eat other fish. So as catching small fish can be a chancy business for a self taught boy, I would make sure that I had the right bait with me.
Saturday morning was well under way as I made my way out to the lake with my precious bait wrapped in newspaper. My rod was tied to the crossbar of the old bike and my tackle was in my pockets. The fact that a fine drizzle was falling was just incidental to the day. I was not at school it was the weekend and I was going fishing. My mother and father had grown used to my absences over the weekends whatever the weather. Now I have a marked reluctance to getting cold and wet and choose my day's fishing trips with more care.
After cycling up Drove hill, standing on the pedals to get to the top, I had the long downwards journey to Coate in front of me. I was in a state of excitement even before I arrived at the old iron gates. The bike was hurriedly locked to the stand, my sixpence taken and I was through the turnstile. I ran up the slope to the wall with the old diving board in front of me. The wind was driving the steady drizzle like needles into my face and the wind was blowing up the lake straight at the wall of the dam. I knew that there were only one or two places that would shelter me and that was right down the bottom of the lake where the feeder stream came rushing in to the bay.
By the time that I had walked all the way down there, I suppose I was quite damp. It did not seem to matter. This was to be my first time fishing for pike. I had seen these sharks of fresh water stuffed and mounted in glass cases. They could grow longer than my arm and weigh over twenty pounds. They were a lengthy fish with great shovel shaped heads with teeth that could take off a finger! I had brought a pair of my fathers pliers just in case I might need to unhook one. I found a sheltered spot at last, under the trees and hurriedly fixed the reel to my rod and threaded the line through all the rings. My float was a large split cork, painted red, held in place with an elastic band and weighted with a piece of folded lead so that it was half submerged. At the end of the line was tied a steel wire trace with two large treble hooks at the end with one that slid up and down. I was ready.
Now came the bit that I had not done before and that was putting on the bait. I had seen it done in books, but this was the real thing. I selected a sprat and impaled it onto the hooks. It looked all right, so I set the depth of the float and cast out. With a great effort I cast out this heavy weight only to see the small silvery fish fly off into the distance and the float stop short, as the line fouled at the reel. I tried another sprat and was more successful this time. Time went by as it does when you are totally absorbed in what you do. The float was suddenly not there and in a frenzy of excitement I struck to set the hooks. I was too early! The pike has to turn the fish before it swallows it and the mouth is full of teeth. That is why a steel trace is needed, to prevent the fish from biting through the line. I felt an all too brief surge of power and then nothing.
I wound in my tackle and stared at the shredded sprat in disbelief. It was now the afternoon and it would be dark all to soon. I remember that I decided to put on the herring and worried about it flying off when I tried to cast it out into the lake. I had an idea. Searching my pockets I found a spare elastic band and wound this round the herring and the trace and hooks. Now I was ready. The heavier weight made the cast difficult, but to my relief it sailed out into the bay and settled into the waves. By this time I was beginning to feel the cold, although the rain had died away. The damp had penetrated through my clothes and I was beginning to wish that I had tried the more expensive herring before this time.
The clouds were collecting again and maybe it was time to call it a day, when I saw the cork go down. This time I quietly reeled in the slack line and began to count to myself, trying to imagine what was going on under the waves. By the time I had got to five I guessed that the fish had turned the herring in its mouth and was preparing to swallow it. That I did not want it to do or the hooks would be too far down its teeth encrusted throat for me to easily get them out. When I got to ten I reeled in more line and struck the hooks home. This time a heavy weight pulled back. To my amazement I could feel a feeling of fury come sizzling back up the line. The next thing that happened was the water erupted out in the bay and a long lean shape leapt up shaking its head from side to side. My mouth went dry! All thoughts of cold and damp went out of my head. It was just me and this fish in the whole world. I gained a little line and felt once again the fury. Where was it? Again the fish surged out of the water and I could see that it was tiring just a little. The old cane rod creaked as the fish plunged and fought. It had belonged to one of my father's friends who had kindly given it to him for me. It was not supposed to be used for this sort of fishing. Now I was presented with the problem of how to get this fish out of the water and onto the bank. I have a landing net for this purpose, but then I just had hope! The swirls were getting sulkier and more sluggish as the fish got nearer to me. I waded into the water so that I could see what I was going to try to land. I saw the head of the pike and its toothy grin gave me a spasm of fear. Carefully I managed to get the fish between me and the bank and dropped the rod to one side.
I picked the fish up, out of the water and guided it onto the grass kneeling down beside it. I was trembling and could not control my cold, wet hands as I smoothed the flanks. The top was dark green and dappled into the silver belly. Its baleful yellow eyes stared back at me wild and unyielding. Her tail was shaped like a spade's end. She was longer than my arm and much thicker than my leg. One careless move and her teeth would have me. I thought of losing a finger and my mouth went dry again. I could see one of the treble hooks was outside of her jaw the other one was just inside. Slipping my left hand under her gill cover I lifted her head up and the mouth opened. I could have put my fist in her mouth without touching the sides and I had never seen so many needle sharp teeth all together in my young life. The pliers were in my right hand and I fastened them onto the other hook, giving them a twist. Out came the hook, more easily than I thought.
I just stared at this magnificent creature and felt humble. She was mine and she was going back into the water to grow even bigger, there to dominate her territory once more. I picked her up for the last time and carried her back to her domain, placing her upright in the lake's edge. The pike lay there for a few moments with her gills opening and closing, before she gave a flick of her tail and disappeared back into the depths of her home. Now I felt cold and wet. It was time to go home and have some tea. Hot soup would be good, I remember thinking as I made my way back. I could hardly wait until I could tell my dad what I had caught, but would he believe me?
Looking back on that fish after so many years, I know that it was not a huge pike, but it was my first and that's what makes her special to me. Every autumn that passes reminds me of that day and what it was to be a boy.

Barry Woodham is a local (Swindon) author, details of his latest book can be seen at: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/barrywoodham/

Activities at Coate
Photos from Coate
Memory Lane YOUR Memories
 

2. Coate Water memories, by Janet Woodham, Swindon

My earliest recollection of Coate Water, was when I was about six years of age. (1949) On a Saturday morning my mother and I would polish the brass and what little silver we had. We would do the housework and if I had been very good, mother would pack up a picnic and we would set off to Coate across Pepplow's, fields.
Mother would pay my penny to get in to Coate and to the paddling pool we would head. All thoughts of food had gone. We would sometimes meet my Auntie. She would come by bus as she lived by the park near Faringdon road. This was the other side of Swindon in those days.
I can remember that this was a very hot summer's day; I was in the pool, knee deep. My auntie thought she would cool off in the water buy paddling her feet. The pool was always slippery and had a green colour to it. My auntie slipped and was to be found sat in the pool. She got out and it being so very hot, stood by my mother to dry off her dress.
We were going to my auntie's for tea so we had to go by bus. I sat by my auntie in the bus. It was a long way to go the other side of Swindon. When my auntie got up from her seat she left a very wet patch behind her and all the water from her underclothes had come through onto her dress. In those days women wore corsets if they were of a fuller figure. As I was a small child I was delighted.


3. Coate Water Country Park. A poem by Natalie Hutt, Swindon

I strolled into this peaceful land,
With the sun shining through the trees,
Couples were walking holding hands,
Listening to the birds and bees.

Children's laughter beside the lake,
Ducks and swans gathering around,
A relaxing park we will take,
Its wildlife and leisure we found.

Folk playing golf or pitch and putt,
And families around the pool,
This country park is never shut,
Not even when the snow will fall.

Here you feel no sorrow or pain,
No worries weighing your life down,
Hear no thoughts frustrating your brain,
Whilst this calming park's in our town.

Inhale the breeze into our lungs,
Not around the traffic with smoke,
Just the noise when the birds have sung,
All sadness in your life has broke.

Just this beautiful country spot,
Which will soon go and fade away,
I'm sure going to miss this a lot,
But we'll join hands until that day.


 

4. Coate Water Visitors, by Jean Saunders from 'Save Coate'

Those of us who have spent any time at Coate Water, talking to people about the development proposals, will all have different stories to relate about this much loved place.  I have only known Coate Water for 20 years.  I still feel like a relative newcomer.  I have lost count of the number of people who have recounted their own special memories of Coate Water.  Not least of all was an elderly chap who stopped me in the town centre to tell me that he had proposed to his wife 60 years ago at Coate Water and that they were still together.  It seems to have been the place to go for "courting".  People mention the boating, the swimming and skating on the lake when it froze over.  It brings a warm glow to the heart when people tell me why the place is special to them.    Jean

   
   

5. Innocent memories of Coate Water, by Patrick Arundell, Somerset (ex-Swindonian)

Half way between the old Walcot and Park Secondary school 's, was a large oak tree. One day four lads on their bikes, no brakes, cowhorn handle bars, knobbly tyres - all old bikes we'd begged and borrowed to put together - very few people we knew had new ones decided to have a breather. There under the oak tree was a shining 50p piece. This was only a few years after decimalization. To us, LSD was pounds shillings and pence. The age of innocence? Well, not completely but it was around about 1974.

Shrilling with delight off we peddled up Broome Manor Lane , which had no new houses then, and no golf course, and no motorway although it was soon to be in the process of being built. We pedalled feverishly up the winding tree encased hill to Hodson, and then to our ultimate target the Calley Arms. Here the 50p piece was demolished on the back of copious pints of Wadworth's 6X and Smiths crisps with pickled eggs.

Ok, not the best of things for four lively 16 years olds to be doing, or was it? We didn't hurt anyone, we were immensely fit and very skilled at handling these tracky bikes - a take on motorised speedway bikes. We also were breathing in the fabulous scents of the countryside, the cow parsley, the elderflower, and hearing the sounds of bees. It really was the most precious, unspoilt place. This of course all took place at the back garden of Coate Water , but it was very much in that generalised environment.

Coate to us was a place of complete mystery. We remembered how, when we were very young, there was a miniature railway there. The track still existed but not the trains, but that was very evocative in our boyhood exploration. The diving board was another thing which had an almost mystical aura. Closed even then, who had been brave enough to dive off that huge thing we pondered, because to us they were heroes. We would content ourselves on skimming flat stones on the water singing loudly the theme tune to the dambusters song. Whoever could achieve the greatest amount of bounces elevated to star status, for at least ten minutes!

The swimming pool was also fabulously exciting and cold. It would be open through to September and I remember plunging in one late summer Saturday morning to have all the air knocked out of my lungs. But it was part of what made this place great, because it was outside, it was stretching our senses, both physically, emotionally and imaginatively.

The golf course came. That was ok cos' at least it was peaceful and anyway a friend of ours was a green keeper there and the odd round came in as we got older. And of course the older we became, the more interested one became in our sexual journey. The top end of Coate Water was renown for its potential to provide the perfect setting for an intimate embrace. Me? No such luck!

And of course as the motorway became more established the perceptible sound of noise could be heard at Coate Water, the drone of traffic, in what was to us previously an idyllic paradise. Swindon is hardly overburdened with these kind of spaces - Lydiard Millicent Park was another favourite, the smell of the pines and the wild raspberries. So we have to be aware of the incredible impact of this great lake, its stunning views and complete contrast to the modern urbanisation of Swindon , and the influence it has had on so many people, over such a long time.

In time we planted a tree for my Aunt Hilda who died in 1989. My mother died last year and her ashes are to be scattered and a tree planted, also at Coate Water.

Yes, it may be inspired to create a new centre of HE learning in Swindon, but why spoil what is a gold mark attraction for over 100,000 citizens just to provide kudos to the town and a good outlook for maybe a couple of thousand students? It really isn't a compelling argument you know! The memories of many, many people live on as well as this continuing to be a superb oasis of refuge, for people across the entire spectrum. Do we really have the right to disregard their feelings; leaving a lasting legacy which will never impact on the majority yet do damage to the fabric of Coate Water, a legacy we can surely do without.

Patrick Arundell

 
   
 
   
Coate Water is situated on Marlborough Road Swindon. From the M4 take exit 15 and follow the signs for Swindon town centre along the A419 then A4259 until you see the sign for Coate Water Country Park. Location Map for Coate Water can be found HERE
 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT COATE WATER: You may like to browse these 'official' or other informative sites;

Swindon Web on Coate

Swindon Council website re Coate Water

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