When I was a kid, I remember being driven across Salisbury Plain, and spotting a pristine but empty looking village tucked away in the fields. My parents told me this was an army village, not for living in, but for exercises and drills. My imagination was absolutely caught by this and whenever I travelled around, across or anywhere near Salisbury Plain, I would always be on the lookout for this exceptional village.
I think I must not have driven across that same road since because I’ve never seen it, and the village has taken on a magical, mythical, Brigadoon-esque quality in my mind.
I have since learned that, of course, it’s not Brigadoon, but Imber – a so-called ghost village, evacuated by demand of the Army during the second world war and never relinquished.
From what I can tell, it’s pretty difficult to get a look at Imber, it being a site of gun battles and terrifying army exercises. But there is an easier ghost village to get to and that is Tyneham.
I took advantage of what may be the final day of sunshine available in the UK, and hot-footed it to the Dorset coast. You can park at Tyneham, for free, and have a look round, but I decided to make a bit more of an adventure of it. I parked at Kimmeridge and walked through the military range, up and over the cliffs, and down to Tyneham. I kept my eyes peeled for any tanks or camouflaged personnel elbowing their way through the long grass, but as the military ranges were open and the public were allowed in, I guess they were having a day off.
Tyneham was a little underwhelming, if I’m honest. It was fascinating to see the shells of houses and they put storyboards in some of the buildings to describe the previous inhabitants. Just like Imber, this village was taken by the military and never returned to the owners, despite vigorous protesting on their part. It’s very rundown now, with just the main wall structures remaining.
There just weren’t as many buildings as I’d imagined. The church looked the most complete, but that had a heap of scaffolding around it, taking away any picturesque qualities. There’s a schoolhouse too, but that was fenced off for repairs, leaving me with just two sets of houses and the church interior to really enjoy.
There is a creepy feeling about the idea that people were just forced to leave with no return, but I had thought it would be a little more atmospheric. It didn’t help that there were a lot of other nosey tourists like me around, so that it really didn’t feel very ghostly! It seemed to be a popular destination for bikers.
It wasn’t a disappointing day, because I really enjoyed the walk to and from the village but I can’t say I stayed very long once there. On the one hand, I felt a bit deflated about the ghost village, but on the other hand, I’m glad it was Tyneham I saw and not Imber. The mythical mystery in my mind lives on!