Austin Underwood, a former councillor of the Wiltshire town Amesbury, once described Imber as a “murdered village”. The isolated village on Salisbury Plain today sits empty within the British Army’s training area. But it was occupied by civilians from as far back as the 10th century until the Second World War.
In November 1943, the residents of Imber were evacuated to make way for the training of American troops for the D-Day landings. They were mostly happy to comply, of course, it was all part of the war effort. What they did not know at the time, is they would never be allowed to return.
See, as Guy Shrubsole points out in Who Owns England?:
The village and the surrounding ranges had been slowly purchased by the military over the previous forty years, though often opportunistically.
After the war, it was used for training soldiers in urban environments during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. But Imber has largely remained a ‘ghost village’. There are, however, a few times a year when people are allowed to reenter this abandoned West Country village.
When can I visit Imber village?
The main day everyone can visit the abandoned village is on Imberbus Day – Britain’s most unlikely bus service. Since 2009 – after lengthy negotiations with the Ministry of Defence – Bath Bus Company, Transport for London and Wiltshire Council’s Transport Department have run a fleet of iconic London buses from Warminster to the village of Imber once a year in August.
On this day, you will be able to explore the main road through the village; St Giles’ Church, one of the only places still technically not under MoD control; and The Imber Range Perimeter Path, which is a public footpath. Raising money for charity, the buses also stop at other remote locations on Salisbury Plain, such as New Zealand Farm Camp and Brazen Bottom, as well as local villages like Tilshead, Chitterne, West Lavington and Market Lavington.
Imberbus Day is not the only day you can visit. Access is often granted to Imber’s St Giles Church during the Easter, Christmas and New Year periods. If you think visiting Imber is hard, wait until you try to find it! There’s no postcode. Imber does not have a postcode, but using What3Words, you can navigate directly to the church with: straying.just.skipped.
St Giles Church will next welcome visitors to its annual Service of Remembrance on November 11 After the service, it will also hold a commemoration of the evacuation to mark its 80th anniversary. A Festival of Carols will then be held on December 16. Between December 29 and January 1, the church will be open between 11am and 4pm for its Open Days. Funeral services are also sometimes held for Imber’s former residents. Coming home at last.