Visiting the deserted village of Imber

Visiting the deserted village of Imber

Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire is well known as a training area for the Ministry of Defence (MoD), used for military training for many decades. However, this wasn’t always the case. Up until 1943, a quintessentially English village named Imber bustled with life in the middle of the plains.

Life changed suddenly and irreversibly for the villagers though that cold December of ‘43. With World War II underway, the MoD had been taking over more and more of the land for training purposes (it currently owns about half of the Salisbury Plain area), and as part of the preparations for D-Day – and training for Operation Overlord – the village of Imber was evacuated.

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

The deserted village of Imber, Wiltshire

Although the villagers were promised that they could return when the war was over, sadly the majority of them were never allowed to return to the village. Ever since that evacuation, Imber has remained eerily deserted, the buildings left to crumble away, only ever visited by soldiers who use the area for training exercises.

Since 1943 Imber has been closed to the public. Few of the original buildings are left standing, with the only new addition that of a housing estate built by the MoD to run drills. However, for a few days every year, Imber is opened up to the public, so I jumped at the chance to explore this deserted village.

The reality is that exploration isn’t really possible – unsurprisingly, as an MoD training site, it’s not safe for visitors to enter any of the buildings or even step off the main road, as there can be unexploded ordnance in the area! Even so, it was very interesting, if also sad, to visit what remains of the village, which was less than I expected.

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

A sad shell of a village

Knowing very little about Imber before I visited, I had presumed that the village would still be standing as it was, but just empty. In truth though, only a few of the village buildings are left standing; some farmhouses, cottages and the shells of the inn and a large town house. Today there’s only a small sign where the post office once stood. The biggest structure I saw was that of the ‘estate’ built in the 60s by the MoD.

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

St Giles Church, Imber

However, when the public are invited to return to Imber, the village’s heart – its church – comes back to life. Cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, St Giles’ Church is used a the hub for visitors, where they can learn about Imber’s history, even get a cup of tea and use the loo. Bell ringers are even brought in, giving the unused church bells a rare chance to chime.

We visited during the Easter opening period, so the church grounds were alive with excited children taking part in the annual Easter Egg hunt.

As well as the opportunity to see the intricate beauty of the church’s architecture and features, inside St Giles’ boards run down both sides of the knave, telling the history of Imber and the stories of its inhabitants. There’s even a copy of the evacuation letter sent to each villager, and pages from old newspapers telling the sad tales of those fighting to return to their homes.

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

Visiting deserted Imber Village, Wiltshire

Imber open days

Imber opens to the public several times a year. Open days usually take place at Easter and then sometime during the summer. St Giles’ Church also holds a remembrance service in November and also a ‘Festival of Carols’ in December (how lovely would that be to experience!). When confirmed, dates are announced on its website www.imberchurch.org.uk.

Although it was quite sad to learn more about Imber and its inhabitants, it was also very interesting to get a chance to visit such a place. If you have the opportunity to visit Imber, I highly recommend it!

 

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Keri

By day Co-Editor Keri is a freelance journalist and copywriter, but spends most of her free time either travelling or planning her next trip!  A complete travel fanatic, she has a love of tropical climates, wildlife and afternoon tea (hence the creation of her Global Afternoon Tea Challenge!)

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22 Comments

  1. April 23, 2018 / 7:47 am

    Hey nice find, really interesting to read the history

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:25 pm

      Cheers Ian, glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  2. April 23, 2018 / 3:52 pm

    What an interesting place to visit. It seems really incongruous to have a kids’ Easter egg hunt in such a place! But I guess it’s a great learning experience for children. #Mondayescapes

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:25 pm

      Ha ha, it’s quite strange, but very popular!

  3. April 23, 2018 / 6:16 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this, having known nothing about it previously – what an interesting place to visit.

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:26 pm

      Glad to hear it Suzi!

  4. April 24, 2018 / 6:38 pm

    I’m in eerie and fascinating. I remember going a few years before my girls were born. Stepping inside the church you could be anywhere but the homes and other buildings feel very sad. Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:27 pm

      It really did feel sad, especially reading how the people thought it was temporary, but then never got to return! 🙁

  5. April 26, 2018 / 1:52 pm

    That is a really sad story! On another note, I may join you on your afternoon tea challenge. I feel we have the potential to be friends!

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:29 pm

      Ha ha – it’s always lovely to fine a fellow afternoon tea lover! 😉

  6. April 26, 2018 / 5:11 pm

    I grew up on the edge of Salisbury Plain. It’s a fascinating place. My dad took a vintage bus trip to Imber last summer. I think there’s a trip or two every summer so I shall make a point of visiting this year. It would be so interesting. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:30 pm

      I’ve heard they’ve just released their August open days now Clare- hope you get to go check it out. x

  7. April 26, 2018 / 7:23 pm

    Oh wow how strange! I wonder if the town will ever be given back to the people and renovated or just left as is! Must have been quite eerie though! #FarawayFiles

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:32 pm

      Ah it’s MoD owned now, won’t ever go back to being a village sadly…

  8. April 26, 2018 / 9:10 pm

    OMG I didn’t think places like this existed in the UK it must have been so interested to look around those poor people never being able to return x

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:35 pm

      It was interesting but there was a lot less of the original village there than I expected Sarah, which made it quite sad…

  9. April 27, 2018 / 3:21 am

    It’s sad to see what became of this village. I can’t imagine just being told I had to leave and never being able to go back home again! Seems like an interesting place to visit, nonetheless!

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:36 pm

      Im totally with you on both counts Bryna!

  10. April 27, 2018 / 7:15 pm

    Now THIS is the sort of unusual (unique?) experience that I love to seek out when travelling. Depsite the fact that so little remains, it still must be a fascinating and somewhat surreal experience. And I don’t believe that rubbish about the unexploded ordnance – they just don’t want any unwanted insurance claims (sorry to be so sceptical! ;o) )
    #FarawayFiles

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      Ditto Jonny, I love finding the quirky things to do and see!

      Tbf – it is still an active training site?!

  11. April 28, 2018 / 4:10 pm

    There’s something about deserted places. It’s so fascinating to think about who was there before, and why they’re no longer inhabited. #farawayfiles

    • Keri
      Author
      May 8, 2018 / 5:42 pm

      Very true Hilary. I’m off to Turkey next week to explore the ruins along the Lycian Way and I can’t wait to be surrounded by such history!

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