The lost village of Imber on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire is certainly capable of conjuring up mist-shrouded ghosts but the reality is much more pleasant! Imber Village residents were evacuated in 1943 as the MoD needed the area to train American troops (one of the roads leading off Imber Road is aptly named American Road).
Believing they were helping with the war effort, the residents duly evacuated their homes on the understanding they were to move back at the end of WW2. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and what we are left with are some remaining buildings of Imber Village as it was mingled with purpose-built training blocks for army manoeuvres as the land is still owned by the MoD. This is more than apparent as you approach from Warminster along Imber Rd, through a checkpoint and spot the many derelict and destroyed army tanks along the way.
Part of the road is no more than a track and if it hadn’t been for other motorists, I would have wondered where on earth I was going. Sat Navs and maps show Imber quite literally, in the middle of nowhere!
Despite the tanks, the barren environment and the isolation – especially on the approach to Imber – one can’t help but feel a sense of excitement. There has been a settlement at Imber since Saxon times and whilst you may wonder what on earth possessed the Saxons to settle here, it is helpful to remember the land was more forested than it is today. Imber ‘high street’ ran parallel with a stream, perfect for a settlement.
The sense of isolation evaporates as one enters the village; probably due to hoards of visitors! Having only minimal access per year to this little gem, people certainly come out in droves and it helps that parking is plentiful. One building is the hub of these visitor days – St Giles, the Norman church (www.imberchurch.org.uk). With its’ ancient gravestones and where there are teas, coffees, snacks, historical documents, family archives, photographs (seeing people standing outside their cottages where are now none is quite poignant). Family members of descendants are happy to discuss their displays with you and it is rather shocking to realise the families legal fights to try and get their community and homes back.
Then there is the Manor House – sadly behind metal gates barring access but can be seen from the one main road; a derelict farm house you can walk around with an original, semi-complete featured fireplace, and one of two original Inns. A second church, a baptist church, has long since gone but the gravestones and a plaque are still there. However, this place certainly comes alive during the visitor days (usually around Easter, August Bank Holiday, Christmas) allowing the public a sense of how the agricultural community must have thrived for centuries pre-1943.
Due to the minimal access days available to Imber, this is definitely a must visit for tourists, day-trippers and locals alike.