Seven Miles from anywhere…

Back in 2009 Mike Roberts posted a picture of Imber Court in his blog which reminded me that I would like to go back, having had my first brief glimpse back in the eighties. Imber is often described as a ‘ghost village’ or more recently, and incorrectly by the BBC as an abandoned village. It wasn’t abandoned, it was commandeered by the war department in 1943 as an area for American soldiers to practise military exercises ready for the war in France. Villagers were given 41 days’  notice to leave. They were given no help to find alternative accommodation and have never received compensation. After the war the villagers expected to return but were never allowed back, until a campaign by one man in the sixties, Austin Underwood, who raised awareness in the press and led a protest walk to the village. Now the MOD opens access to the public for a limited number of days a year.

Today, there is little trace of the original cottages and village, those houses that remain sport corrugated rooves and  are accompanied  by breezeblock additions, evidence of continuing military occupation. The roads that lead to Imber, across the sweeping Salisbury plain are littered with warning signs, the plains are beautiful in their hidden danger. The roads, no more than narrow potholed tracks finally curve down into the fold of a hill giving you a view of St. Giles Church, Imber – such a typically English view. The church on the hill, still standing despite military ordinance and manoeuvres and now partially restored and lovingly nurtured by the Churches Conservation Trust, hints at the history of Imber going back to the mid  12th Century.

The dark spaces where windows once were, the sandbags, the tank posts, are all over powered by a sense of indignation, a place like this belongs to people; belonged to people, the stones in the graveyard that are crumbling and askew deserve better and it is a triumph to the dedication of evicted residents, their family and  those who have helped restore the church, or come to make music  there, restore the bells (sold for scrap in the fifties) , or to serve tea and biscuits on open days, maintain the website, put up signs, print leaflets etc., that it speaks so loudly to those who visit. Some places fall to ruin from lack of care or interest but others are so strongly tied to people, so connected that despite the obvious need for the MOD to be able to operate in areas, secluded and secure from public ingress, you can’t help feeling that  Imber was a mistake, an expedient measure but somehow a wrong one. Still people come, are drawn to this place, seven miles from anywhere.

There is a lovely photo film by David White here which, if you haven’t been to Imber gives you an evocative glimpse and you can also visit the church website here

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The Tattooed Seagull

This is what can happen when places excite you, when your senses are fired up and sight, sound, taste, hearing, touch all co-mingle as your imagination starts to process it all

A walk in Whitstable with @escapetocreate

We were treated to a mini tour by Catriona, creative tourism specialist2 starting  from the edge of Seasalter along the coastal footpath, past the golf course, over the railway bridge and along the beach where we came upon the ‘Cultural Baton’7 a small shiny airstream caravan, parked on the beach  where we were invited to make a boat and given a beautifully made map of Kent showing the journey made by the artists around Kent. Then we walked past Peter Cushings House (according to the blue plaque) and past various stalls selling seafood delights and freshly ground coffee toward the harbour and the ‘Crab and Winkle’4  which I had to be winkled out of, after enjoying a plate of oysters and one of my favourite dishes; savoy cabbage and bacon with crème fraiche. I didn’t think the day could improve after such a satisfying lunch but we finally tore ourselves away with the youngest clutching a large crab claw by way of a souvenir (and yes, it will be some time before we forget our visit as the car will carry the smell of that crab claw for weeks to come!).

Catriona then took us along the Island Wall street, so we could ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at some of the architectural treasures along its way, such as the Horsebridge Arts Centre5 and the lovely Kentish Clapboarded cottages, we were all delighted to make it safely through ‘Squeeze Gut Alley’ and then to come across ‘Starboard Light Alley’ where the hulk of an old oyster yawl ‘The Favourite’ built in 1890 and retired in 1944 has come to rest, finally coming upon Windy Corner Stores6  in Nelson Road before returning to our journeys start, for chocolate cake and tea surrounded by Kentish Apple trees. If only every Sunday could be like this! As it was, we know we have to come back, we’ve yet to see the Castle, the museum and to fully explore Marine Parade, Tankerton and then there’s Faversham creek along the coast…. But huge thanks to Catriona for sharing her insider knowledge and exciting both our palate and our imaginations with a brief walking tour of Whitstable.