Much of Salisbury Plain is now closed to walkers, being a military firing range. Norman Merritt, a lifelong local man, recalls walking across Salisbury Plain when it was still possible
MEMORIES OF SALISBURY PLAIN
By Norman Merritt
My father was an avid walker he loved his Sunday stroll and would cover miles on our Sunday walks. My favourite walk was always the pumping station walk down to the valley of SELDOM SEEN as it was always known to my father and his father before him. An apt name because no matter where you are on Salisbury plain it is invisible from view. The only time you can see it is to be there.
So come with me for a walk around the valley as I remember it.
We start our walk at the sentry box at the top of Market Lavington Hill and walk a few hundred yards until the track forks to the left. We now take this left fork and follow it for about 2 miles into Seldom Seen.
As we start our walk on the left is a large clump of trees this was the site of little farm (su029533) it is marked on the map as gibbet knoll but this was not the original site of the gibbet. As we continue walking past the trees, the field on the left goes into a triangle where farther down the track from Easterton merges with the track we are on. This triangle field was the original gibbet field it was, many years ago, a crossroads. The track went across the track we are on and down to Fiddington Farm (su034528) and Wallace’s Cottages (su037528) and then veered off to terminate at Philpott’s Farm (su033521). We will be coming back on this other track
Going back to our track, the crossroads was an ideal place for a gibbet. It was a major highway in Roman and medieval times. It was the main route to Salisbury. If you are going to hang a body as a deterrent to others to (behave or else) you put it where it can be seen right by the trackways.
Now if we carry on down the track about 500 yards on the left would be Easterton Hill Farm (su037530) and on the right at about this point was a massive well since filled in but at the time protected by stakes and wire it was brick lined and about 4 metres around.
The story is that a Canadian soldier fell in and drowned in the well and that during exercises on the plain a Bren gun carrier was lost down the well. .The soldier that drowned in the well on December 15th 1914 was private Charles Mathews of the 12th field ambulance corps of Hamilton. (Canada)
As we continue down the track about 600 yards we now come to the area known as Pond Farm (su0435251). It became a large army training camp long before World War One.
We now continue on down the track after a while it starts to drop down into the valley and as you round a slight bend the low lying valley starts to come into view and with it the pumping station you can now see Seldom Seen in its full glory.
SELDOM SEEN is .a low lying flat area and an ancient crossroads. The track from the right going to the left is the old coaching road from Bath to Andover and the road straight on takes you to Salisbury. The pumping station is situated in the right hand corner of the valley
It is still a very imposing building and now a sanctuary for owls so it still serves a purpose.
The western side of the pumping station is cut into the chalk hillside. The north end and east sides are solid concrete walls and roofed in – massive reinforced concrete roof. The doors and window openings are fitted with 12mm thick steel plate doors and window shutters so the operator could seal himself in and work the pumps during live firing.
To the south end were the stables for the horses and trap, then you passed through a door in the stables into the pump room. This would have held two beam engines to pump the water – long gone at this time.
I have no idea when it was built it does not show up on my map for1888 but looking at the way it was built I would hazard a guess it was around the time of the build up to Pond Farm Camp. It was the site of a water house before the pumping station was built.
The left hand track that took you to Upavon and on to Andover and Winchester forked about half a mile from the valley. This left hand fork took you back up to Eastcott Hill Farm on the top of the ridgeway track (Su033542).
The right hand fork from the valley will take us to pick up the other track from the top of Lavington Hill where we first started from.
As we leave the valley track the track back to the left would take you to Tilshead, Orcheston, and on around to pick up the Redhorne to Salisbury track about two miles from the Bustard pub
At a spot now called Bombard the sign post for Lavington, Urchfont and Salisbury still stands at this spot
We are going to take the right hand fork and head for home to complete this 6 mile triangle. As we walk after about half a mile you would get a better view of Wallace’s Cottages to the right and Fiddington Farm lying on the slope of Church Hill. The next farm we would come to was New Farm (su034518). This farm covers both sides of the track. The wooded area where the farm stood is still there.
The next farm would be Philpott’s Farm (su033521), the last farm on the track. This is the farm where the track (the old crossroads) from Easterton going past Wallace’s Cottages and Philpott’s Farm terminated.
The only other building on this track is old barn (su028528).
We have now arrived back at where we started.