In the second of our monthly walks in 2017 we headed towards Wiltshire with an aim of walking across the Salisbury Plain – little did we know it was going to be one of the coldest Februarys ever but even the sub zero temperatures and intermittent snow flurries did nothing to dampen our spirits.
As we’ve mentioned the aim for these walks has been to discover more of the wonderful living history in places we’ve always said we’d go to but have never in fact made it to!
Our accommodation was a brilliant hostel in Cholderton (which we pretty much had to ourselves given the time of year) which had a rare breeds farm attached to it but I digress!
On an overcast Saturday morning we set off from a military car park towards the Long Barrow onto the Plain, marvelling at the quiet stillness of a place normally associated with a high level of military activity – which we noted from empty shells throughout the walk.
Whilst on the walk we learnt about some of the wonderful living history of the frequent ‘tree graffiti’ we saw:
“One mark among these trees was made by an American GI as he awaited being dispatched to take part in the D-Day invasion. It says ‘Frank Fearing – Hudson, Massachusetts, 1945’, followed by a love heart and the name Helen. Chantel managed to track down a Barbara Fearing in Hudson, whose parents were Frank and Helen. Barbara was thrilled to see a picture of the mark on the tree and filled in more of the story. Frank had secretly married Helen just a few hours before leaving or Europe to fight. He survived the war and lived until 2001. He had told Helen he would carve her name into a tree everywhere he went in Europe but she didn’t believe him. Although Helen has recently passed away, she was alive when Chantal got in touch, and was able to see a picture of the tree her husband had engraved for her all those years ago.
The prehistoric earthworks and the Second World War graffiti are both marks left in the landscape by humans that endure well beyond their lifetimes.”
Excerpt taken from Military Environmentalism
Much like our enjoyment from a previous walk at learning the history of Tyneham village in Dorset we were keen to learn more about another interesting example of MoD influence on the landscape and we were not disappointed.
Although not a ‘ghost village’ like Tyneham (or indeed its neighbour Imber) what we visited was as equally interesting, this was Copehill Down – known as a Fighting in a Built-Up Area (FIBUA) village.
Originally built during the Cold War to train troops in the eventuality of war, the East German looking ‘village’ has since been extended and most recently become an ‘Afghan’ compound for new training troops.
The level of detail was extraordinary – with look out posts, burnt out cars, abandoned choppers as well as trenches.
The area is still active and used for training so we continued our walk around its perimeter and began our walk back hoping to find a warm pub with an open fire to thaw us out!
Although the weather was not ideal it was a massively rewarding walk in that we learned so much about the area and the influence the MoD has had on the land, from the planting of trees in rows acting as copses for cover for training troops to the Plain being protected nature has been able to flourish in a way that would have not been possible if the land had been farmed.
The second half of our weekend was dedicated to discovering a little more about the surrounding area of Cholderton, we didn’t have to look far as we discovered that our hostel also had a Treetop trail (measuring at 500 foot long, 32 foot high) it in its grounds as well the farm.
This provided some much needed ‘leg stretching’ after the long walk the day before!
After much laughter on the Tree Top trail we packed up and headed for our final stop before the journey back – the infamous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, better known as the hill featured in the 1973 Hovis advert.
Our group is nothing if not gluttons for punishment so we decided to do the walk up and down and I’m pretty sure by the end of this all our legs were wishing for nothing more than to be sat in a tea room with our feet up!
Often places like the outskirts of Salisbury become places you see just from the car window, I know that from the inevitable queues I’ve been in as people crawl past to get their glimpse of Stonehenge on the A303 but the area is so much richer both environmentally and historically than just these stones so get your walking boots on and get discovering people!