Monday, 6 April 2015

The Ghost Town of Imber

In the remote and desolate part of England that is Salisbury plain, not far from the ancient monument of Stonehenge and nestling within a countryside dotted by mysterious burial chambers or 'barrows', lies the deserted and forgotten town of Imber.
Cue fog and maniacal laughter and the distant sounds of wolves howling for blood. CUT! England may have fog at times and there are a fair few mad people that laugh rather too much, but there aren't any wolves.

A pity really as Imber would be much more exciting if it had some resident wolves. Here is a map in case you'd like to visit. And a picture of my sat-nav en-route. The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice both are blank. Weird. Spooky. Why do I suddenly have an uncontrollable desire to laugh...
The Church of St Giles, dating from the 13th Century, is the first building you see as you approach, its high bell tower marking the town from afar. This is the only building not owned by the MoD, (the British Military). The Army evicted the inhabitants with just 47 days notice and forcibly took over the town in 1943, paying them a pittance and promising that after the war, they could return. A promise that was never honoured. A town that had probably been in existence since before the Romans and was first mentioned in 967, disappeared from public view.

Used as a training area for urban warfare, most of the buildings have crumbled or were demolished. Just a few pock-marked and crumbling originals remain. A new town of ugly block-built and empty-eyed 'houses' now form the town proper, and it's from these that soldiers still practise their art of staying alive while administering death.

The town lies in the middle of the army's gun and tank ranges and as such is out of bounds to the public, only rarely do the military allow public access. Usually that's once a year on a day closest to St Giles day when the Church is available to visit. But for a few days this Easter, Imber and the Church was open, hence my visit. Stark warnings on the dangers of treading off the main road due to unexploded munitions are everywhere.

It's a strange place, a place where you feel you shouldn't be. There's very little to see. But the ancient Church standing above buildings used wholly to train for war is a sad visual irony. The 'town' sits amidst one of the last wild places in England. You will see no power lines here. The landscape is as it has always been, except that is for the odd rusting remains of one or two derelict and shot-up tank hulks. A cold wind chills my skin as I walk through the ruins. There's no fog, maniacal laughter or howling wolves to make me shiver. It's just the ghosts of war that linger here.