An new fun sport has manifested itself in Marlborough – slack lining is its odd name – but it has so interested the town council that it is helping to get it established.
Slack lines are tightropes that you can string between two trees – protected with pieces of carpet round their trunks – and that gives you a chance to test your balance like a circus trapeze artiste.
But it all happens safely just three feet off the ground – and you can do it barefoot too.
Seventeen-year-old Harry Shakeshaft and a group of fellow sixth formers at St John’s School tried it out in Priory Gardens last month and immediately attracted attention – and the need for permission to continue.
And Harry was at Monday’s meeting of the council’s Amenities and Open Spaces Committee to explain the sport to councillors and seek their approval.
“I was given a slack line for Christmas and it all started from there,” Harry told Marlborough News Online. “Then a school friend bought one too.”
“Now most days after school we come down to the park and put up the slack lines. It’s good fun.”
Councillor Richard Pitts, the committee chairman, showed councillors a video he took of the slack liners in action. Councillor Caroline Jackson commenting: “Learning balance is so important. It’s a wonderful idea.”
Deputy mayor Edwina Fogg approved too. “A nice activity for youngsters,” she said.
Now Councillor Pitts has had an offer from a company to put up easily removable slack line poles in the council’s Salisbury Road play area to give a chance to other youngsters to try out the sport.
What is thought to be the country's largest shepherd's hut was pulled into place at Wilton Windmill on Saturday (March 24), where it will act as a souvenir shop, refreshment area and education centre.
At 24ft long by 10ft wide, the new mobile shepherd's hut is twice as long and much wider than the standard 12ft by 7ft buildings – including the two it has replaced.
At a ceremony on Saturday a 1937 Farm All F20 tractor was used to pull the brand new hut – designed in the style of the originals, which date back 120 years – onto the site, before a modern tractor and winch truck positioned the building.
The shepherd's hut was built by cousins Will Vickery and George Bannister of Blackdown Shepherd's Huts, a business started in Taunton last year by carpenters with 20 years experience.
The sheer size of the hut posed considerable challenges for the craftsmen. “We worked with a fabricator to build a frame and roof arch that would support a structure of this size,” said Will.
“Now we know we can do it, we hope it will open up a whole new market for us – these shepherd's huts look much better than the static caravans you find at caravan parks, but don't cost an awful lot more.
“For tourism in heritage areas, or for the glamping – glamourous camping - scene we can offer something very attractive.”
The hut cost £32,000 fully fitted. The exterior, floors and internal fixtures are all made of FSC certified seasoned oak, and the cast iron wheels were forged by a foundry in the south west.
George explained: “A shepherd's hut is basically a mobile home used by shepherds to provide shelter as they herded their flocks across the land.
“The first evidence of a shepherd's hut dates from 1596 and became a common sight in Southern England in the 1800s as sheep were moved across the light chalky soils to fertilise the land.”
Peter Lemon of the Wilton Windmill Society said: “We are delighted with the hut created by Blackdown Shepherd Huts.
“We wanted something versatile and an eco-friendly venue that would fit comfortably into the Centre and provide a stimulating environment for the school groups to learn. The quality of the shepherd hut is outstanding”.
The hut was funded and equipped through fundraising by the Wilton Windmill Society, the North Wessex Downs AONB and the Pewsey Area Board.
The ceremony took place in glorious sunshine, with enough wind to make the sails of the windmill turn – which won a cheer from visitors. The official Wilton Windmill season starts on Easter weekend, with guided tours and demonstrations from 2pm to 5pm on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The season runs until September and the annual heritage open day will be held on Saturday, September 8 from 1.30pm to 4.30pm.
Pictured: Above: Will Vickery and George Bannister of Blackdown Shepherd's Huts (seated) with Wilton Windmill Society volunteers and members Below: Mike Walsh on his 1937 Farm All F20 tractor
I consider myself a pretty good driver. In 22 years behind the wheel I've mastered many vehicles, from a Challenger tank to a 185mph TVR Sagaris in the name of local newspaper journalism – and I have the pictures to prove it. But today I'm racing a Formula 1 car... and I've just been beaten by my five-year-old son.
Perhaps this statement requires some qualification. For a start, Milo is nearly six – that extra nine months makes a real difference in the world of competitive parenting.
And for another, it's not full-size cars we're racing, but 1/64th scale slot cars. We're joining the Swindon Four Lane Blacktop Slotcar Club at Marlborough Scout Hut, as they host the local heat of a 10-stage regional competition.
Slot car racing is the affordable Formula 1 – heats are held in Marlborough, not Monaco, and cars start at £15, rather than $4 million. But like F1, there's a winning combination of driver skill and technical know-how – owners will often modify their box standard cars, and it's not unusual to find guys with engineering skills behind the controller of a slot car.
Deane Walpole of the English Association of HO Racing Clubs - the HO is the model scale - tells me: “All the guys like to tinker with the cars – they tune them and fit new motors to them to eek out a little more speed.”
And like full-size racing, fractions of a second are vital. When my son beats me – to my eternal shame – in the first heat, it's by half a second.
The cars travel at around 18 mph – no mean feat when the wheels are the size of garden peas – around a 100ft long course with four slots. Drivers take it in turns to have inside and outside lanes, racing on each of the four slots in the qualifiers before going through to the final rounds.
A beginner, like me, can expect to achieve around 13 laps in the allotted three minutes. Experienced drivers will record around the 20 mark, meaning the novices are lapped time and time again. The race ends when the three minutes is up. The power is cut and the cars grind to a halt. A computer, which has been measuring lap speeds and the distance of each car travelled, displays the podium places.
Within my first couple of practice laps I reckon I've got it sussed – fast on the straights bits, and slow right down for the bends. Milo prefers driving at full throttle, which means his cars fly off the track at every sharp bend, and into the hands of a marshal (yes, they do spell it with one L in motorsports), who quickly sets the car back on the track.
It soon becomes evident that slow and steady does not necessarily win the race. Milo's flying car tactic gives him an average lap time pretty much equal to mine. He soon learns to moderate his driving – slowing down slightly for the corners – while I become more of a risk-taker, and lose my car several times as a result. The cars of the experienced drivers, I notice, rarely if ever leave the track.
Between heats I grab a minute with Rob Lees, a member of the Swindon club, which meets on Tuesday evenings in St Mary's Church Hall in Marlborough – the club's home since the Swindon clubhouse burned down, when thieves torched a stolen motorbike too close to the premises.
The local club actually races 1/32 scale models – the size used by brand-leader and household name Scalextric. The club has 20 members, with around 10 racing at each meet, and the membership includes an airline pilot and a guy who works with industrial lasers.
“Because a lot of the fun is in modifying the cars it attracts people with an engineering background, and it's a great way of educating yourself about mechanics and electronics. But you can have a lot of fun just getting a car off the shelf and racing it too,” promises Rob.
Children galore, parents and friends turned up for Saturday’s Marlborough Science Fair, the third of its kind at St John’s School – and proved its most successful.
“We had a total of 2,200 there, which is the highest number ever,” said specialist college co-ordinator Sally Bere. “And so we were very pleased to have beaten last year’s attendance of 1,900.”
The fair, part of National Science and Engineering Week, originated out of desire to interest more children in the subjects, and it has more than proved its worth.
The first year St John’s won the top prize from the British Science Association for the best school fair in the country, earning it both recognition and a grant of £600 towards science activities.
Last year it finished in second place. “And we already we know we are in the top three schools to win the prize again,” said Sally. “But it will take a little while before we know the exact result.”
“The day was an enormous success enabling St John’s to provide a stimulating and inter-active family learning environment. It wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding contribution of staff, volunteers, external agencies and the St John’s students, all of whom helped.”
Events at the fair, sponsored by Cadley Garage, included hands on events in the school labs, a code breaking treasure hunt, Lego robotics, and an amazing planetarium show organised by Wiltshire Astronomical Society using its solar telescopes.
It was aimed at children from four upwards with subjects ranging from fossils and earth science, mechanics through the ages, a Wiltshire Heritage programme about Stonehenge and a chance to design your own glass using laser cutters.
Stalls were also set up promote the work of ARK (Action River Kennet) in protecting the rare chalk stream during the current drought conditions and the forthcoming Farmers’ Markets, due to launch on Sundays this summer in Marlborough High Street.
A diamond-shaped orchard growing amid wild flowers in a spot with its own picnic area – that is the vision for the apple tree orchard being planned for Marlborough Common.
Details of the tribute to mark the anniversary of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne were given to Marlborough town council’s Amenities and Open Space Committee on Monday by Philippa Davenport, founder of the town’s Apple Day initiative.
But before it goes ahead the council is to consult with the Commons User Group on its proposals for an area some 30 by five metres near the site of the Marlborough Rugby Club, off Frees Avenue.
“We need to float the idea to get reactions,” said committee chairman Councillor Richard Pitts, who pointed out that the apple trees will all be rare Wiltshire varieties.
And Philippa added that they would be half-standard trees so there would be no danger of people climbing them and possibly falling to the ground once they have grown.
There will also be another area of mixed fruit trees, including plums and pears. “And the fruit will be reachable to pick,” she said.
Councillor Peggy Dow declared: “Having a picnic area will be an ideal way of encouraging people to use this spot.”
Jane is a young mum who has just had her third baby. She has no family or friends nearby and is feeling lonely, exhausted and overwhelmed. She would like support from another parent, especially from someone with time to listen.
The Home-Start charity needs new volunteers who can be trained to help and support families like Jane’s who live in the Kennet areas of Marlborough and Devizes and the South Wiltshire areas of Larkhill, Downton, Mere and Whiteparish.
The Home-Start team is especially keen to find volunteers who will be able to provide support in Tidworth and Amesbury and in the surrounding villages. Home-Start’s trained volunteers support both non-military and military families.
Their next volunteer training course will run on May 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 and June 6 and 27 at The Beeches in Bulford.
Three Wiltshire-based authors shared their publishing experiences at Marlborough Library to a crowd of would-be authors to celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday.
The main message of this talk seemed to be that unless you are an established author or writing a series in a popular genre then expect little support from either agents or publishers.
Print publishing is in disarray, hard hit by the electronic format, and the main bookshops and online retailers push a few best sellers at the expense of other authors.
Self-publish an e-book, promote it on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (though don't let these sidetrack your writing) and then expect – and consider - a traditional publishing deal only when your sales hit 100,000 plus.
Mavis Cheek, who spoke alongside fellow writers Helen Slavin and James Aitcheson, gave a potted history of how she became a published author of some twenty-five years and fifteen books.
Most memorably she received her best advice when taken out by a publisher – to tell her why her first book would not be taken up. “It wouldn't happen over lunch today,” Mavis remarked.
Mavis became a writer after she fell pregnant and needed something to do that “made me a viable member of society” whilst she brought up her child, a situation mirrored by JK Rowling decades later.
A working class girl who had the right look for the 1960s arts vibe, Mavis spent over ten years working for an art publisher and then an eminent gallery before taking an arts degree.
Her first efforts at writing aimed for her to become the next Virginia Woolfe 'with no humour whatsoever,' however a publisher who recognised her underlying talent recommended that she write funny books.
And thus she become the 'Godmother of Chick Lit', a label she resists with a wry smile.
James Aitcheson, who was brought up and lives in Mildenhall, published his first book, Sworn Sword, in 2010, which he began writing whilst on a post-graduate creative writing course at Bath Spa University.
This is the first of a three book deal with Preface Publishing, the second instalment of which he is completing for release this September.
The series is set in England 1067, the aftermath of the Norman invasion, and is told from the point of view of Tancred, a Norman oath-sworn knight.
Trowbridge-based Helen Slavin began as a script writer, cutting her teeth on scriptwriting factories such as EastEnders and Holby City, before writing novels such as The Extra Large Medium and The Stopping Place.
Her fortunes in book publishing has been mixed as a 'mid-list' author; her first three novels were followed by a meeting with her publisher Pocket Books where 'I wasn't even bought a coffee'.
With Helen's suspicions raised, she was told that a book series – especially with a supernatural theme - was where it was at and what did she think?
Helen left the meeting having promised a three book series featuring a Swedish vampire detective. “I didn't like him,” she said, “And a troll ate him in the third chapter.”
So Helen decided to self-publish which is not the 'vanity' project it once was when the printed format was the only option.
In these days of the Kindle, smart phones and tablets, authors can easily convert their hard work into a self-distributing e-book format and promote the book themselves.
Whilst waiting for a response from her publisher regarding the first novel written after the beverage-free meeting, werewolf-themed Will You Know Me?, Helen has published this and her following two books online through Amazon.
The host, Marlborough Library, ended the event by announcing that in a few weeks time borrowers will be able to download books onto their e-readers, though not as yet to the Kindle due to compatibility issues.