Words - Personality Stories - The 'incomer's' tale


The 'incomer's' tale

In the dark ages my distant ancestors, an unruly border clan, fought battles for a piece of Northumbria, but because they were scattered to the four winds by some long forgotten king, by great good fortune I have made Wiltshire my home.

Although I cannot claim to be a Wiltshireman, after twenty-one years, my disparate, largely dysfunctional family might just accept that I am now a man of Wiltshire.

The call of Wiltshire's 'Great Plain' first came some fifty-nine years ago when as a young Royal Engineer on detachment and 'posted to my trade', I fell amongst an alien species call 'gunners' at the Larkhill School of Artillery.

As the School's photographer, exposed to the hazards of gunnery demonstrations and ordinance development, conscription was another way of describing animated inertia. However, London born, I found the sweeping contours of the Plain, the Pewsey Vale and beyond to be addictive; just like my dreams of world travel and success in my chosen profession.

That brief love affair with Wiltshire's open spaces ended with an ill-fitting civilian suit, a paper bag for personal effects and a one way rail ticket to battered, post-war London.

Soon, by some twist of fate, travel to distant lands and professional recognition was mine. In time my personal life, as imperfect as those of my Fleet Street contemporaries, thrust Wiltshire to the outer reaches of memory until, decades later, life began again in Salisbury.

Strange, but fortunate in its timing, I had dined with a lady, one dark winter's evening, in a quiet restaurant astride the River Avon. For widely differing reasons, it was an emotional experience for us both. Suffice to say, as a result, I eventually returned to Wiltshire.

Escaping London to live in a city no longer garrisoned by rude soldiery, little by little my affection for Wiltshire came floating back. The lady, a fellow 'escapee' from London, had breathed the Wiltshire air for some years earlier.

We married when we could and for a few happy years rejoiced in the tradition and beauty of Salisbury Cathedral. Tolerating the churchmen and caring for the Christians, we made many kindly acquaintances and a few lasting friendships.

As we walked together in Wiltshire's eternal hills and along its ancient drove roads, we would often stand silently where pre-history still creates vibrations in the soul.

In time, tired of tourist-bound Salisbury, we shook its dust and clatter from our feet. Traversing the Plain, we eventually settled amongst family and friends in Devizes.

At the epicentre of the county, Devizes might once have become the county town. Had it embraced that misfortune, its character, like its inhabitants would have suffered. Instead, it has a real sense of community and was, in many ways, the novelist's vision of an English market town, but now, cohorts of profit-hungry developers are having their wicked way!

No longer 'incomers', we can still feel the pulse of centuries as citizens of this time-honoured crossroads as we greet, friends and acquaintances on market day.

Looking on, benignly, alongside the real Wiltshire folk at the pretentious weekenders, 'right-to-rule' landowners and the disorientated young, we know that all have their place in the pattern of life in our down-to-earth version of 'Shangri-La'.

Copyright John Chillingworth