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This is an archive of walks done by the Saturday Walker's Club. You should only need to use this page if the SWC website is down.

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Saturday, 1 April 2017

Saturday Extra Walk - Apocalypse Now! – Imber Live Firing Range (Salisbury Plain)

New Walk! – SWC 286: Westbury to Warminster (via Imber Live Firing Range)
Length:  30.4 km (19.0 mi)
Ascent/Descent:  490/432 m
Net Walking Time: ca. 7 hours
Toughness:  9 out of 10 

Take the 08.06 Exeter St. David’s train from Paddington (08.35 Reading), arriving Westbury at 09.42.
Return trains: plenty of options either to Waterloo (direct, or change at Salisbury) or to Paddington (change at Westbury or Swindon). Journey time from 2 hours, but mostly a lot longer.
Ticket prices are admittedly a little on the high side, as both stations are served by different train companies and outside the Network Southeast area: Buy an Off-Peak Warminster Return at £57.50 (£37.95 with Senior, Two Together etc. Railcards, but not with Network Railcards: tough luck, folks!).

Bookended by pretty indifferent, tarmac-heavy urban stretches through Westbury and Warminster (a typical garrison town full of low-rent pubs, plenty of shabby housing and a Wetherspoon’s Hotel: be prepared for a bit of aggro), and a White Horse set in concrete and painted white for easier maintenance, this walk is a challenging but fascinating journey across the Imber Live Firing Range on Salisbury Plain, an accidental wilderness due to having been MoD property since 1898, and completely  out-of-bounds to the public.
The SWC, in its greatness, has negotiated exceptional access to the range today though.
We will be met by Sergeant-Major Watson  at the sentry box at the Bratton Entrance to the Range, where he will assess our equipment and physical fitness for the adventure. He will also give us the mandatory Health & Safety briefing and assessment (see below ‘Rules’ for a taster).
We will then march in formation, accompanied by a drummer (left-right-left-right-left-right…), for 6 km to Imber village (abandoned in 1943 at short notice to be used for training house-to-house combat in preparation for the invasion of Europe and easily the most haunting and evocative place visited on any SWC walk, ever) with its burnt out shells of pockmarked buildings and the pervading smell of napalm (and not just in the morning).

En route to, and at, Imber do follow these Rules especially: don’t climb on abandoned tanks (they are targets, not playgrounds); don’t pick up unexploded ordnance; mind tanks  crossing our track (they do generally have right-of-way, and even if not…); follow any instructions given by military personnel and don’t talk back to passing troops (they are armed, we are not); stay cool, calm and collected when shells explode close by; hide your accents (London or other foreign): this is deepest Brexit-Land.

Note:  Before embarking on this walk, you have to read the chapters on Public Safety and Access Rights on Salisbury Plain/Imber Range and on General Health & Safety Rules for military areas and ranges on page 2 in the walk directions pdf, as there will be a written test on the train to decide whether you are allowed to join the walk! I don’t want to be embarrassed by you not passing the Sergeant-Major’s assessment, comprende?

A three-course lunch (made from long-life military rations with much watered-down ‘tea’ and some gruel) may be provided by the army at Imber, if we’re nice… T=swc.286
For walk directions, a map, a height profile, gpx/kml files and photos  click here.


Bridie said...

Great stuff - I am defo doing this one as I have heard about the abandoned village since my childhood and always wanted to visit
Not sure about marching to yhe veat but daresay i will manage and suprisibgly I quite fancy the lunch - i have had too many gourmet middays.
Well done Thomas - a decent walk at last

Anonymous said...

Truly magnificent post, Thomas, in style and substance. Thank you.

Percy Fishbelly said...

Any special clothing required? I think I have a tin hat somewhere. (Might once have been used as a potty but it was a long time ago.)
And a white flag ..

Walker said...

This is a fantastic idea for a walk, Thomas: literally fantastic. But are you planning to do this one of the Milton Keynes one? It seems a shame to have two so incredible walks on the same day.

Anonymous said...

Split ticket option for youngsters: Padd-Bedwyn return with Network Card - £19.10; Bedwyn - Warminster Cheap Day Return £16.90. Total - £36. No need to get off train at Bedwyn.Please stick to April 1st for this walk. Thank you.

Thomas G said...

Walker: thanks for the praise, much appreciated. The MK walk is probably a little too short for me on this first long Saturday of the year, but I'm well up for this little adventure here. Just checking my storage shed for my old Bundeswehr fatigues, they gotta be somewhere surely...

Thomas G said...

In reply to Anonymous (Comment #5): that's true only if the return train also stops at Bedwyn, which the fast one's don't, so please disregard this option.

Kelda said...

Definitely an upgrade on MK!

Anonymous said...

It's April fool's day......

Anonymous said...

Will there be Poisson D'Avril for lunch?

Anonymous said...

Yes this walk defo an April Fool's joke

Thomas G said...

Sorry, folks, but I just had a call from the Army to tell me that my permission to enter the range this Saturday has been rescinded. No reason given, of course.
Might have to do with my time served - in the Bundeswehr. Or maybe it's just the date.
So the walk is off. I'll try again another time. Stay tuned.

And thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Probably a wise move to postpone this very intriguing walk……definitely one to do with the appropriate clearances and instructions…..However, I simply could not resist the lure of the adventure today, so I set off on the appointed train to embark on the journey with a map (as an unusual glitch on the website resulted in me not being able to find the written instructions). Needless to say, I was not surprised when I was the only person to alight from the train under partly cloudy skies. After quickly passing through Westbury, I entered the Imber firing range and things became very interesting. Within moments of entering the range, I narrowly escaped being mowed down by a platoon of tanks moving in formation. It was only due to some fast action that I was able to sprint from harm’s way into a remnant of a derelict building. Once I caught my breath, I carefully carried on picking my way across the wild terrain and passing several burnt-out tanks along the way.
Fortunately, I stumbled across a pub for lunch which much to my surprise featured poisson d’avril as the special of the day – however, I found it a little disappointing – somewhat dry and, well, papery…..After lunch the fun really began. Upon seeing a group of soldiers in the distance seemingly pointing riffles in my direction, I jumped behind a mangled and rusted jeep, ducked down and closed my eyes just in time to sense a shower of bullets whiz by narrowly missing me. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was staring down the business end of a riffle held by an apoplectic sergeant major who then unceremoniously marched me double time at gun point to the boundary of the firing range. Finally, upon reaching Warminster, I made my way to the Wetherspoons for a much needed drink where I succumbed to the offer to buy a whole bottle of red wine for just 1 pound more than a large glass. Having had too much to drink, I wobbled off to catch 20:10 back to London – only to fall asleep from too much wine and miss my connection in Salisbury, waking up at the train terminus in Portsmouth Harbour….
Notwithstanding the challenges encountered today, this area holds great promise for an interesting walk – I definitely look forward to doing the official route at another time – preferably with written instructions and proper clearances…

Marion said...

Thanks to all contributors. I had such a laugh reading this and was almost taken in but for the excellent humour displayed by Thomas. I tried to visit the abandoned village taken over by the army near Lulworth Cove on the Isle of Purbeck coast a month ago on a week day but the access road was closed and shrouded in sea fog. There were views of tanks and military burnt out equipment but it does open on the weekends when sadly I'm working. You don't need permission then but need to check as its a long way from civilisation and fortunately i was driving