Memories of Salisbury Plain

I have been in a reflective mood lately. I don’t know if it is the understanding of time speeding up which it surely is or the fact that little pockets of memory have suddenly become more accessible to me. Either way, I keep remembering parts of my life I had forgotten about.

I lived not so far away from Salisbury plain. This is a huge area of land that was purchased by the military when land was cheap in the Wiltshire county where it sits. It is used on a daily basis for army maneuvers which can consist of gunfire from rifles and tanks. Red flags indicate when such events are taking place and what areas of the plain this is happening in.

Most of Salisbury plain is not accessible to the public at any time and the parts that can be walked on are clearly marked. However, for me, the bits that I was allowed on were of little interest. I was fascinated by wildlife and particularly social insects. The good thing about the military owning huge areas of land and throwing enough shells around to scare most people away is that the land pretty much sits untampered with. Nature on Salisbury plain thrives in a way that is completely different from anywhere else in the UK. Rare wildflowers and insects live in the open stretches of chalkland and forests, butterflies that struggle anywhere else still have a foothold in and on this almost untouched ground.

My interest in social insects attracted me to the place and I knew exactly where to park my motorcycle and where to cross the fencing and disappear into this forbidden wilderness. In those days I either had little fear of coming across an unexploded shell or was too stupid to think about it and I forget which it was, but I did manage to avoid them.
Salisbury plain is changeable in mood in a similar way that parts of Scotland are too. You can stand miles away from any building or other humans and look up to a sky that goes on forever only for the mood to change as a weather front smothers the view in a matter of minutes. A clear blue sky can transform into a threatening and suppressing blanket of grey and black and exposes your singular vulnerability. Such moments are both beautiful and scary.
On some occasions, I would sleep out on the plain and one night I came across a group of soldiers in the woodland who were sat on logs around a campfire. I felt like some military sniper as I crept through the undergrowth until I was close enough to be able to hear them. The next day when they were gone I examined where they had all sat drinking and found enough coins that had dropped from their pockets into the undergrowth to buy myself a cheap lunch later in the day. I don’t know why that felt like some kind of victory, but it did.

I am glad I foolishly took those risks as I saw some things in nature that not many will see today, and I won’t see those things again either. I gathered information and discovered things only to find that others too had discovered them and before me. Still, that kind of education cannot be purchased and is never forgotten.
As we grow older time does speed up. The long summer afternoons we remember as a child are very much a thing of the past and an afternoon now whizzes by at almost the speed of light.

You can when you reflect back slow it down a little, not enough to replicate those distant memories but enough to give the illusion that time is in our control for a few fleeting moments.

Andy Beveridge

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