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Coordinates: 51°09′18″N 1°48′32″W / 51.155°N 1.809°W / 51.155; -1.809

Stonehenge, the most famous antiquity on Salisbury Plain

Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering 300 square miles (780 km2).[1] It is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known landmarks. Largely as a result of the establishment of the Army Training Estate Salisbury Plain (ATE SP), the plain is sparsely populated and is the largest remaining area of calcareous grassland in north-west Europe. Additionally the plain has arable land, and a few small areas of beech trees and coniferous woodland.

Contents

Physical geography

The boundaries of Salisbury Plain have never been truly defined, and there is some difference of opinion as to its exact area.[2] The river valleys surrounding it, and other downs and plains beyond them loosely define its boundaries. To the north the scarp of the downs overlooks the Vale of Pewsey, and to the north west the Bristol Avon. The River Wylye runs along the south west, and the Bourne runs to the east.[3] The Avon runs through the eastern half of the plain and to the south the plain peters out as the river valleys close together before meeting at Salisbury. From here the Avon continues south to the English Channel at Christchurch. The Hampshire Downs and the Berkshire Downs are chalk downland to the east and north of Salisbury Plain, and the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase are to the south west. In the west and north west the geology is mainly of the clays and limestones of the Blackmore Vale, Avon Vale and Vale of Wardour.

Amesbury is considered the largest settlement on the plain, though there are a number of small villages, such as Tilshead, Chitterne and Shrewton in the middle of the plain, as well as various hamlets and army camps. The A303 road runs along the southern area of the plain, and the A360 cuts across the centre.

History

Stonehenge on the Salisbury Plain

Salisbury Plain is famous for its history and archaeology. In the Neolithic period Stone Age man began to settle on the plain, most likely centred around the causewayed enclosure of Robin Hood's Ball. Large long barrows like White Barrow and other earthworks were built across the plain. By 2500 BC areas around Durrington Walls and Stonehenge had become a focus for building, and the southern part of the plain continued to be settled into the Bronze Age.

Around 600 BC Iron Age Hill Forts came to be constructed around the boundaries of the plain, including Scratchbury and Battlesbury to the south west, Bratton Camp to the north west, Casterly Camp to the north, Yarnbury and Vespasian's Camp to the south, and Sidbury Hill to the east.

Roman roads are visible features, probably serving a settlement near Old Sarum. Villas are sparse, however, and Anglo-Saxon place names suggest that the plain was mostly a grain-producing imperial estate.

In the sixth century Anglo-Saxon incomers built planned settlements in the valleys surrounded by strip lynchets, with the downland left as sheep pasture. To the south is the city of Salisbury, whose 13th and 14th century cathedral is famous for having the tallest spire in the country, and the building was, for many centuries, the tallest building in Britain. The cathedral is evidence of the prosperity the wool and cloth trade brought to the area. In the mid-19th century the wool and cloth industry began to decline, leading to a decline in the population and change in land use from sheep farming to agriculture and military use. Wiltshire became one of the poorest counties in England during this period of decline.

There are a number of chalk carvings on the plain, of which the most famous is the Westbury White Horse. The Kennet and Avon Canal was constructed to the north of the plain, through the Vale of Pewsey.

In 1896, George Kemp and Guglielmo Marconi experimented with wireless telegraphy on Salisbury Plain, and achieved good results over a distance of 1.75 miles (2.8 km).[citation needed]

Army Training Estate Salisbury Plain (SPTA)

Military use makes some areas of the plain inaccessible to the public.

The exact area of Salisbury Plain is sometimes confused with the extent of the military training area that it is home to. In fact this only covers roughly half of the geological boundaries of the plain. The army first conducted exercises on the plain in 1898. From that time, the Ministry of Defence bought up large areas of land until World War II. The MoD now own 150 square miles (390 km2) of land, making it the largest military training area in the United Kingdom. Of this, around 39 square miles (100 km2) are permanently closed to the public, and access is greatly restricted in other areas. As military use of the plain increased, new camps and barracks were constructed, including those at Larkhill, Bulford, Tidworth and Warminster. Several installations have been built and since removed, including a railway line and aerodrome that were constructed next to Stonehenge. In 1943 the village of Imber was evacuated to allow training for Operation Overlord to be conducted. The village has remained closed ever since.

The Royal School of Artillery is based at Larkhill, and live firing is conducted on the plain for approximately 340 days of each year. Military personnel from the UK and around the world spend some 600,000 man days on the plain every year.[4]

The ATE SP is located close to other military facilities including the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down (much of whose work is secret), Boscombe Down airfield and Middle Wallop Army Air Corps Base, where pilots train on the Westland Apache.

Wildlife

Because of the large training areas inaccessible to the public, the plain is a wildlife haven, and home to two National Nature Reserves, but there is concern that the low level of grazing on the plain could allow scrub to encroach on the grassland. In 2003 the Great Bustard was reintroduced into Britain on Salisbury Plain.[5]

Cultural references

The plain has featured in the writings of William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, William Henry Hudson and A. G. Street, and in the paintings of John Constable. It is also used in The Beatles movie Help! as they sing "The Night Before" and "I Need You". It is also mentioned in Ayreon song "And the Druids Turn to Stone". In the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe, the Lord Chancellor has a nightmare in which he is crossing the English Channel in a steamer, which changes to a 4-wheel vehicle, and finally he is "Crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle".

See also

References

  1. ^ "Salisbury Plain", Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed 2006-02-11.
  2. ^ James, N. D. G. (1987) Plain Soldiering. Hobnob Press
  3. ^ "English Nature Salisbury Plain SSSI citation
  4. ^ Welcome to the new British Army Website - British Army Website
  5. ^ James Owen, 2003. "Tall As a Deer, Huge U.K. Bird Staging a Comeback." National Geographic May 6, 2003.

External links

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Simple English

, the most famous antiquity on Salisbury Plain]] Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering 300 square miles (780 km2).[1] It largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire.

The Plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Avebury and Stonehenge, which are a joint World Heritage Site. The Plain is sparsely populated and is the largest remaining area of calcareous grassland in north-west Europe. The Plain also has arable land, and a few small areas of beech trees and coniferous woodland.

On the Plain is the British Army's largest training ground in England. It is suitable terrain for tank manoevres; buildings such as Imber are used for urban warfare training.

Boundaries

The boundaries of Salisbury Plain have never been defined, and there is some difference of opinion as to its exact area.[2] The river valleys surrounding it, and other downs and plains beyond them loosely define its boundaries. To the north the scarp of the downs overlooks the Vale of Pewsey, and to the north west the Avon. The River Wylye runs along the south west, and the River Bourne runs to the east.[3]

  • Google satellite map centered on Stonehenge: [1]
  • Access to miltary site: [2]

References

  1. "Salisbury Plain", Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  2. James N.D.G. 1987. Plain Soldiering. Hobnob Press.
  3. "English Nature Salisbury Plain SSSI citation


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