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Late artist's sculpture will be signature piece of exhibition

Penelope Waiting by Althea Wynne (© Anthony Barrington Brown),),Penelope Waiting by Althea Wynne (© Anthony Barrington Brown),),Sculptures by twenty artists including the renowned artist Althea Wynne, who was killed in a car crash in January together with her husband, the photographer Anthony Barrington Brown, will go on show to the public this week.

Wynne 's Penelope Waiting is the signature piece of the exhibition of contemporary sculpture, which opens at Avebury Manor on Saturday, May 5.

Other leading sculptors taking part include Will Spankie and Roger Stephens, both stone carvers who draw on nature to create abstract forms in granite and marble, and Emily Young, who works in the same medium, but creates human forms which express a strong sense of our long history in this ancient landscape.

Work in clay, metal, glass and resin will add to the mix. Some, like Ruth Moilliet’s stainless steel Allium, reflect planting in the long border, while Alex Moore’s steel obelisks hint at more dramatic planting to come.

On the east lawn large ceramic pots by Phil Simmonds look stunning set against the cream stone façade of the Manor itself.

Cream Tea by Helen SinclairCream Tea by Helen SinclairElsewhere in the garden, Alan Foxley’s abstract ceramic sculptures have a remarkable similarity to some of the standing stones set in the landscape beyond, while the borders will sparkle with glass installations by Sue Tinkler and Alan Spark.

The Celebrating Art in the Garden exhibition runs every day from 10am to 5pm until 10 June. Normal National Trust membership arrangements and charges apply. For more information visit

The exhibition is organised by the Friends of the Garden in partnership with the National Trust. All work will be for sale and commissions from artists will be used to support artists in Wiltshire.

 Wynne, who lived near Warminster, was a world-renowned sculptor, best known for large works in bronze and ceramic for gardens and public spaces.

Finback Seat by Ben BarrellFinback Seat by Ben BarrellAmong her best-known works is the three bronze horses at Minster Court in the City of London. Cast and erected in the early 90s, each stands at 10ft tall and weighs four-and-a-half tonnes.

Pictured top to bottom: Penelope Waiting by Althea Wynne (© Anthony Barrington Brown), Cream Tea by Helen Sinclair and Finback Seat by Ben Barrell

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Routemaster bus will be centrepiece of new market

It's a long way from London, but Marlborough residents will soon get used to seeing a red Routemaster bus in the High Street.

The bus, which is fitted out with a kitchen and has a small cafe on the upper deck, will be the striking centrepiece of the relaunched Farmers' Market, which will return on Sunday, July 1 from 10am to 4pm with a wider remit under its new name – Marlborough Communities Market.

The market aims to be a showcase for local enterprises and fairly traded produce, as well as locally-sourced produce grown with the minimal use of pesticides and fertilisers.

The markets will be organised by the not-for-profit organisation Wessex Community Markets, with support from Marlborough Town Council and Transition Marlborough.

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We meet Nerissa Vaughan as Great Western Hospital makes some good news

Last week was a good week for Great Western Hospital: it did not get caught in the headlines over increased waiting times for elective surgery, or in those lurid headlines about patients being sent home at night – and then it scored a first with a new heart operation.

GWH has checked its records and found that a tiny proportion of those discharged from its wards do so between eleven at night and six in the morning – about three per cent.  And the great majority of those are pregnant women who come in but find it’s a false alarm or new mothers keen to get their babies home as soon as possible.

Patients are only discharged if they want to be, are fit to be and if support is in place at home.  One patient looking forward to going home was 76-year-old Derek Wakefield who lives near Malmesbury and has just had a pioneering operation to insert the country’s first ever defibrillator implant that is safe under an MRI scan. A patient with one of the normal defibrillators, which are inserted to prevent cardiac arrest, cannot have an MRI scan because the instrument reacts badly and can seriously damage the heart.

When Marlborough News Online met GWH’s chief executive, Nerissa Vaughan (pictured right), she was keen to point out that the hospital had recently been in the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley’s list of the top ten hospitals for keeping waiting times for elective surgery within the eighteen week target.  And the average wait was lower in 2011 than in 2010.

Nerissa Vaughan has only been chief executive at GWH (officially Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) since last October.  She came from King’s Lynn hospital which was her first appointment as chief executive.  She joined the NHS in 1991.

She is openly bullish about the process of change that is affecting all parts of the NHS: “The NHS is going through a lot of structural change – but it’s remarkably good at coping with structural change – because it has so much experience of it.” 

What does she think about the new Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) led by GPs that will be taking over from the Primary Care Trusts in April 2013?   “What I think is good is that GPs are already opening up direct dialogue with our consultants in a way that they wouldn’t have done without CCGs.  In the past they talked about individual patients, now they are beginning to decide how services are planned and finding new pathways.”

And the bad things about the changes? “Reorganisation inevitably means disruption – but it’ll be resolved over time.”  She admits the Wiltshire GPs have been a slower than most in getting themselves setup: “But they’ve done a lot of in depth thinking about what works for Wiltshire.”

One of Nerissa Vaughan’s priorities is the county’s community health services which GWH took over in June last year after the Primary Care Trust was forced by the government to give up providing services as well as commissioning them.  “There are things we can do to improve community services – like embedding better technology in people’s homes.”

These services will be part of GWH’s changing workload due to the aging population: already the average age of patients in their general medical wards hovers around the late 70s: “We’ve got to find better ways to meet the needs of the elderly – this will mean redesigning care to help more of them to live at home.”

Ms Vaughan sits on Wiltshire’s shadow Health and Wellbeing Board which under the new Health and Social Care Act will, from April 2013, bring councillors onto the commissioning stage.  She believes these Boards could turn out to be the best thing in the current NHS reforms: “If they work effectively, they’ll bring agencies together and provide a democratic link.” She’s not worried by any political input the Boards may bring to the NHS.

Finally, what about the future of Savernake Hospital?  GWH are using more beds at the hospital for recuperation, for patients on their way from surgical wards to their homes. They have just announced an increase in these beds at Savernake to thirty-four.

“The direction of travel will mean moving care away from hospital’s and into communities – where it’s appropriate to do so.”  But she’s also certain that this will not endanger GWH’s income stream from services provided on the hospital site.

To round off GWH’s week, the now spritely sounding Mr Wakefield was interviewed on BBC Radio Wiltshire about his new-style defibrillator implant: “I can’t praise the gentleman that put this in and all his staff enough…It’s been absolutely fantastic…If you’re frightened to come into hospital, don’t be frightened to come to the Great Western.”

Bruce Laurie, who chairs the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will be speaking at the annual general meeting of the Friends of Savernake Hospital on May 16 at 7pm in Marlborough Town Hall.

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Children plant a "Christmas" tree at Easter

Marlborough pre-schoolers have helped to plant an apple tree that started life around the same time as they did, as part of the town's Community Orchard initiative.

Children at St Mary’s Under Fives helped to plant a Christmas Pippin in the grounds of the school. The sapling had grown from a pip planted in 2007 by Leader Janet Hobson and her husband Neville, to celebrate National Apple Day’s eighteenth birthday and the publishing of The Apple Source book.

The planting of the sapling brought the number of new apple trees in the town to 34. Other recent editions include a Grenadier in the grounds of Highfield residential home and a Charles Ross, a classic late Victorian variety, which was planted in St Peter's churchyard on Good Friday.

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Advice on how to make some headway out of the financial gloom

Myles PalmerMyles PalmerThere may be gloom all around, but the new tax year does offer advantages to be considered while making a spring clean of your finances.

Advice on the subject has come from Myles Palmer (pictured), divisional director of Marlborough-based Brewin Dolphin, the investment house that sponsors arts events in the town, including the jazz and literary festivals.

“New ISA limits mean you have never been able to save as much in the tax-efficient shelter,” he points out. “This tax year you can invest £11,280 in an ISA, with a maximum of £5,640 allowed in cash.”

“It is the same with pensions.  The more you put in the more you get back from the Treasury. High earners paying the top rate 50 per cent tax should maximise their pension contributions to get the 50 per cent relief.”

“They could also take advantage of the 22 per cent tax gap between capital gains tax and income tax to increase capital return from investments.”  

He admits that with the economy still fairly fragile many households will be eager to give their finances a boost.

“For starters, get yourself an action plan,” he suggests. “Dig out your financial records, including savings, bonds, insurance plans, both general and life, pensions and mortgage statements.”

“If you have debts, use it to repay them.  Borrowing rates may be low, but savings rates are lower still. It is more than three years since the Bank of England cut base rate to just 0.5 per cent.”

“And so it makes sense to repay debt now while rates are at rock bottom.”

He adds:  “Spring-cleaning your finances is not just about cutting back.  It is also about making the most of what you have.”

“Check whether you had an account that offered a bonus a year ago.  If you did, that bonus has probably disappeared and so you may find that your rate has fallen off a cliff. If so switch to a better paying account.”

Becoming an early bird investor too by taking advantage of the new tax year ISA and pension provisions and take a look too at Enterprise Investment Schemes.

From April 6 anyone investing up to £100,000 in a new start-up business will be eligible for income tax relief of 50 per cent, plus for 2012 any tax on capital gains invested in such businesses will be waived.

But he warns: “The risks related to these investments are high and are not suitable for all investors.  Though of course, you should never let the tax tail wag the investment dog.”

“But irrespective of whether you are a higher rate or a lower rate taxpayer, get your tax personal tax affairs in order.”

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Ceremony marks arrival of shepherd's hut at windmill

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

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Town council publishes definitive list of Jubilee events

A definitive list of events being held in Marlborough to celebrate the Queen's diamond jubilee has been published by Marlborough Town Council.

A summer of celebrations open with a concert of classical music on May 19 and wrap up with more classical music almost three months later. Between times there'll be drama, talks, art and photographic exhibitions, films, fairground rides, a picnic, a ball, the lighting of a beacon and even a skateboarding festival!

Saturday, May 19
Olympic Jubilee Ball, Town Hall, 7pm for 7.30pm. Organised by the Chamber of Commerce in aid of Swift Medics. Tickets £40 from Specsavers, The Food Gallery and Joules. Black Tie.

Marlborough Choral Society Concert. St. Mary’s Church, 7.30pm, British songs and Last Night of the Proms music, so bring your flags and celebrate! Tickets £9 from Sound Knowledge and Choir members.

Sunday, May 20
Fifteen: Drama with students from St. John’s & Marlborough College, Town Hall, 2.30pm. This unique production looks at the years from 1952 to 2012 through the eyes of a fifteen year old. Music by Kaya Drums. Sponsored by Kennet Valley Arts trust. Tickets £5 from White Horse Bookshop and KVAT website, or 07771704253.

Wednesday, May 23
The Merchant’s House Lecture, in association with Marlborough History Society, by Sir Roy Strong, entitled 20th Century Coronations, at The Memorial Hall, Marlborough College, by kind permission of the Master. 7.30pm. Tickets £14 (Friends of MH and MHS £12) from the Merchant’s House.

Sunday, May 27
Marlborough Area young people join in the celebrations with a Skate-n-Scoot competition, which they have organised. Open to all. Recreation Ground, Marlborough. Free entry.

Monday, May 28 to Friday, June 1
An Exhibition of Self Portraits by Marlborough’s Children, some of which will have been digitised to form part of the Face Britain initiative in celebration of the Jubilee. Town Hall, 3pm to 7pm, free entry

An Exhibition of Photographs of people in Marlborough taken during the celebrations on Coronation Day. Town Hall 3pm-7pm. Free entry. From the Merchant’s House collection. It is hoped that some of the residents featured will be on hand to tell their stories.

Friday, June 1 to Tuesday, June 5
Fair on Marlborough Common. All the fun of the fair from the town's old friends in the Showmen’s Guild who have visited Marlborough for generations for the Mop.

Saturday, June 2
Official opening of the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations by the Mayor. Town Hall 10am. Hoisting of the Union Jack and a symbolic presentation by Marlborough Community Orchard of their gift of an orchard to the town.

 A Queen is crowned : 1953 film of the Coronation, with narration by Sir Laurence Olivier. Town Hall. 7pm for 7.30pm. Organisers will also be showing rare footage of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Free entry. Licensed bar.

Sunday, June 3
A Civic Service of Thanksgiving for Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee. St. Mary’s Church 10am. Marlborough Churches Together invite you to this service, which, in common with churches across the country, will include prayers and readings especially composed for the occasion.

Picnic in the Priory at Priory Gardens from 11am until 5pm. Bring your own picnic and join in the fun. Bouncy castle, bucking bronco, traditional Punch and Judy, dance and fencing displays, live music. Food and Bar. Town Hall open if wet. Free entry

The Thames Pageant, Town Hall, 3pm. Live coverage of this spectacular show with the Queen’s Barge and a flotilla of a thousand boats on the Town Hall's huge screen. Food and licensed bar. Free entry.

Monday, June 4
The Lighting of a Beacon above Barbury Racecourse, organised by the Marlborough Brandt Group.
This forms part of 2012 beacons being lit across the Commonwealth and those at Martinsell and Inkpen will be able to be viewed. Marquee, live music, dancing, bar. Tickets, to include hog roast, £15 Adults, £5 for those under 18 and £35 for a family of four. Available at the White Horse Bookshop and MBG on 01672 861116. Open from 6pm Beacon to be lit at sundown. A camping area will be provided for those who wish to stay the night at the site.

Tuesday, June 5
Presentation of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal to local emergency service personnel. Town Hall 10am. Come and pay tribute to the town's local heroes.

Live coverage on the big screen of the Service of Thanksgiving from St. Paul’s in the presence of Her Majesty. Town Hall 10 am (Service at 11am). Free Entry

Sunday, June 10
Diamond Jubilee Open Gardens. Certificates will be given to open gardeners who display in this Jubilee year. Look out for a variety of interpretations on the Diamond Jubilee theme. Details from the Merchant’s House.

Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16
Jubilee: A Celebration in Dance: Performed by St. John’s students at the Theatre on the Hill. Tickets £5, concessions £3, family tickets £12. 7pm. Download a booking form from the St. John’s website Theatre page -

Saturday, June 23
 Manton Music Festival. A wide variety of music, including London Straight Six, Mort de la Mer and Scarlet Simonis Skedaddle. Bring your own picnic or choose from a hog roast or burgers. At Manton Grange water meadows. Licensed bar. Tickets £10, £5 for concessions and £15 for a family of four. 4pm until 11pm. For tickets see or call 07771704253.

Saturday, July 7
 MCO Diamond Jubilee Concert. Marlborough Concert Orchestra will play Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music among other pieces. An outstanding young violinist, Mathieu van Bellen, returns to Marlborough for a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto at this concert. 7.30pm Tickets £8 Students £1.50. From Sound Knowledge

Friday, July 13
Priory Gardens (evening). A performance of the Queen’s Suite, composed by Duke Ellington,
and premiered this Summer in the UK by the band Echoes of Ellington. Written in her honour by the Duke after they met and performed by one of the greatest ever UK swing bands. Details from

Tuesday, August 7
Queen’s Jubilee Concert - A performance of the works featured in the Coronation, Walton, Parry, Handel and others. Marlborough College Chapel and in the Memorial Hall for the second half. Tickets £15 from Sound Knowledge. 8pm

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Savernake forest’s famous ancient oak trees to star in a new book

Saddle Oak 1Saddle Oak 1Many of Savernake forest’s most venerable oak trees have been receiving some special attention during a visit by photographers from a Belgian publishing house.  On Sunday (April 22) Michel Timacheff from the publishers Edilens Editions and two colleagues were shown round some of the oldest – some as much as 700 years old – and most famous of Savernake’s oak trees.

Edilens Editions are preparing an English language edition with new photographs of their Guide Illustré des Chenes – or oaks. This massive and scholarly two volume, 1,500 page work first published in 2006, details the various species and varieties of oaks across Europe, the Americas and Asia, and contains about 4,000 photographs from northern South America to Indonesia – via Savernake.

Michel is the chief photographer and graphic designer for Edilens’ series of botanical reference works designed to be the standard books on each species.  They have already published a guide to the world’s maples (1995) and a work on pines is nearing completion.  

Michel and his team are on a ten day tour of British oaks.  The visit to Britain was essential as British woods hold about eighty per cent of all Northern Europe’s veteran trees and Savernake Forest is one of the most important sites for veteran trees in England.

Michel told Marlborough News Online: “There are not many forests in Europe with so many old oaks – and we’ve not seen many older oaks on our visit so far.  Here in Savernake there are so many really old oaks – and with so many wonderful shapes.”

Left to right:  Dr Jack Oliver, Hervé Mureau & Michel TimacheffLeft to right: Dr Jack Oliver, Hervé Mureau & Michel TimacheffThose strange shapes – like the Saddle Oak and Old Paunchy – have formed because many centuries ago the trees were pollarded or cut down to use in building homes, barns and sometimes barrels, leaving a large stump which slowly regrew into today’s mighty trees.

The tour of the ancient oaks was organised by Joan Davies who lives on the edge of Savernake Forest.  Some years ago, she and retired doctor and active botanist, Dr Jack Oliver, did a survey of the oaks and wrote a paper about them for the Wiltshire Archaeology and Natural History Society.

In 2003, at the request of the Forestry Commission, Dr Oliver used Joan’s photographs for a display at the International Oak Conference in Winchester.  It was the publication in America of the proceedings of the conference that prompted Michel to contact Joan about Savernake’s oaks.

Old Paunchy – a Sessile oakOld Paunchy – a Sessile oakAlso on the tour is Hervé Mureau a French botanist who works in the Lyon Botanical Garden specialising in trees.  He and Jack Oliver spent time discussing the minute differences between various hybrids.

 Savernake Forest is home to the English or pedunculate oak, the Sessile oak and to many variant hybrids.  Old Paunchy is a Sessile oak – you can tell from its stalkless acorns (sessile means ‘stalkless’.)  And there’s one Turkey oak in the forest.

Next stop for Michel and his team was to be the Forest of Dean which does not have as many or as old oaks as Savernake.  But they are very keen to photograph the famous Verderer’s oak which may be 500 years old and has a girth of 7.5 metres.

Michel photographs Saddle Oak 2Michel photographs Saddle Oak 2

Michel and Joan Davies discuss their route through the ForestMichel and Joan Davies discuss their route through the Forest

Michel Timacheff stands by the base of the Cathedral OakMichel Timacheff stands by the base of the Cathedral Oak

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Britpop star Albarn brings opera to muddy Marlborough field

Damon AlbarnDamon AlbarnA very special performance by one of the world's leading contemporary musicians was given to a small festival crowd in near-freezing conditions in a muddy field outside Marlborough at the weekend.

 OneFest – billed as the UK's first music festival of the year, and the successor to last year's community pub-related HoneyFest – was headlined by Damon Albarn, the maestro behind Britpop champions Blur, cartoon band Gorillaz and more leftfield works like 2007's Oriental pop-opera Monkey, Journey to the West.
Before arriving at the festival site, at Rockley on the Marlborough Downs, Albarn was seen in Marlborough shopping for thermal clothing – and with good reason: by the time he took to the stage at 8.30pm the temperature had dipped to a positively chilly five degrees.
Albarn was at OneFest to play songs from his new concept opera, Dr Dee, based on the rise and fall of the Elizabethan mathematician, scientist, alchemist, occultist and inspiration for Marlowe's Faustus, which premiered at last year's Manchester International Festival.
Populist it wasn't, and anyone up for a warming jump-around to jaunty numbers from the singer's back catalogue was in for a shock.
Albarn brought with him a gaggle of seven classical musicians playing 16th century instruments, including the recorder and the lute,  instruments from West Arica, including the kora, and three vocalists, including some wonderfully haunting falsetto from Christopher Robson. 
Name-checking nearby Silbury Hill in the sublime Apple Carts, the star himself delivered vocals, guitar and keyboards from behind a harmonium. The first half of the set was performed without introduction or explanation, before he broke into his trademark grin to gently mock the crowd: “Is everyone getting a little cold? Well, you did turn up in a field in April.”
He then insisted on playing the lively Watching the Fire That Waltzed Away – the only upbeat song in the set – twice “because it will help us get warm again” and warning the crowd that “that's as much excitement as you'll get – it kind of goes back in on itself now.”
The performance was a teaser for the release of the album, which comes out in May, followed by the London premiere with the English National Opera this summer, and was probably the only time an outdoor festival crowd will get to hear the set. 
It was a demonstration of how seriously Albarn took the performance that he had brought along his parents and his daughter, whom he welcomed from the stage. 
As the set finished – with Albarn playing an old 78 vinyl record on a vintage portable turntable – he thanked the audience and the organisers of the festival, and later took to Twitter to say “OneFest was a brilliant experience, a lovely festival and there for all the right reasons, I'll be back."
If he does return, he'll be in good company. Michele Stodart, who performed at HoneyFest last year as one quarter of harmonic pop rock band the Magic Numbers, was back again as a solo artist to perform a reflective folksy set. 
And folk rock band Dry the River were back too. Canny Marlborough music lovers will have caught their intimate live set at Azuza back in March, courtesy of record shop Sound Knowledge 
And when the five piece played at Honeystreet last year they performed as relative newcomers, having only just released their first single. 
This year they took second place on the main stage, having just returned from a 9,000 mile slog across America to promote their debut album, Shallow Bed.
“We did it in an RV,” vocalist Peter Liddle told the crowd. “We did all the tourist stuff – Niagara Falls, giant redwoods...”
“... but to be honest it doesn't get better than this,” interrupted bassist Scott Miller, who had chosen to maintain his rock god image by wearing a sleeveless vest. “I thought it might make us all feel warmer,” he joked. 
Dry the River played a blinding set worthy of a headline slot; an eclectic mix of folk and heavy rock.  The penultimate song, Bible Belt, was – said one Marlborough festival-goer – worth the entry fee alone, while their final song, Lion's Den – also the last track on the album – swelled from a pastoral ballad to an ear-splitting wall of sound which left the crowd baying for more, and looking forward to OneFest 2013.

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The new sport of slack lining proves a fun idea for St John’s teenagers

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.

“I’m all for it,” he declared.

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Careful on the corners... MNO goes slot car racing

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.

Anyone interested in slot car racing in Marlborough can contact Rob on 07785 111999 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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