So today, as evinced by the previous photograph, we had some sun, but in general April has been grey and chilly. Weekends are when I take photographs. This weekend I had to take my son back from here in Marlborough to his home in Warminster. It is an interesting diversion to return to Marlborough from Warminster by following byways across Salisbury Plain to Upavon. The first three miles of byway follow the Old Slow Coach Road from Sarum to Bath; the rest of the journey follows the route of one of the many Ridgeways.
Salisbury Plain is a large chalk plateau in Southern Britain, covering about 300 square miles. It is characterised by the downland — where the Plain tumbles down to lower levels — and, when you are atop the downs, by the huge, open skies and the brown and green fields disappearing into the distance, covered in gorse and other flora I couldn’t possibly name, and copses and stands of trees.
Salisbury Plain is used by the military for training purposes, and has been since before the Great War. Hence, vast areas of it are uninhabited, and remain empty but for watchtowers, vedette posts, cows and sheep, and farms. It is also covered in prehistoric monuments — Stonehenge is on the Southern edge of the Plain, and there are tumuli and barrows and hillforts everywhere. Wikipedia is your friend if you want to know more… But suffice to say, it is a barren, windswept, open, empty, blue, green and brown place, cut through by dry valleys, and affording from its downland edges views across Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire…
And yesterday, on a grey, cold, windy, April day, I drove slowly along the byways atop the Plain, trying to find photographs.
The head photo to this post is of a watchtower — from which commanders and trainers can watch the progress of the war games across the Plain — behind a perfectly ordinary field of green and crop of oilseed rape (canola).
It was certainly grey, so I had to play with light as best I could, and attempt to depict that greyness, that coldness, in the photographs. I think this very wide-angle photo captures some of it:
The above is one typical view across the Plain, where the fields are largely worked, or used for pasture, and big, big skies, rolling inclines and synclines disappearing into the distance.
And the unexpected… Salisbury Plain was once home to the great bustard, the heaviest flying bird. The great bustard became extinct in the UK in the late 1800s, and populations are precarious in the rest of Europe. There has been an attempt over the last decade or so to reintroduce the great bustard to Salisbury Plain. Without realising it, one of the byways I drove down took me close to the “secret” breeding and roosting pens from which the reintroduction is being coordinated. I didn’t quite realise what was going on when I saw this lift up and take flight.
I quickly realised, however, that something that large on Salisbury Plain could only be a bustard – and that explained all the fences I was seeing. Obviously, on a vast area littered with military establishments and munitions, coming across random fenced-off areas is no surprise. I just hadn’t registered what was behind these fences. To see one of the bustards take flight, though, was rather magnificent.
There were also roe deer and rabbits and crows and stonechats and corn-buntings… but that, in essence, was my journey across the Plain…