My Wiltshire

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
... good reason for leaving London- retiring to flying, shooting and fishing...

Submitted: February 18, 2012

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Submitted: February 18, 2012

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 I am still indebted to Mark Allen, the founder and principal of the Mark Allen Group, for his belief and patronage, together with the financial support he provided in backing an unknown writer, rapidly approaching his pension, as a first time novelist.  It was a humbling, but exciting experience, and now, many years later, my motivation and efforts continue…

 My next piece was published for one of Mark's magazines, Wiltshire Life, back in the nineteen nineties. I think it is still valid today and part of my journey to becoming a more prolific and serious writer.

 

***

 

My Wiltshire

Peter Hunter

 

Wiltshire for me happened by accident.  The greyest of February mornings - a London soiled by noise, traffic fumes and far too many people - threatened me with terminal boredom.  I had read the interesting bits in The Daily Telegraph, and was down to the property page, a feature I rarely bothered with.

 

  It mentioned a few acres near Salisbury - a marsh of silted-up, disused watercress beds, a corner of which someone had built a house on.  Intriguing?  I was not looking for a county cottage - not for years to come, until the flames inside me had died and I no longer desired to conquer the business world.

 

  The countryside hinted of premature retirement - a quiet place to live, perhaps to die which I was not ready for. The property had other attractions and three days later, I bought it…

 

  I came to Wiltshire and dug a hole in the ground, big enough to hold nearly five million gallons of clear chalk spring water.  A liquid three and a half acres of wish fulfillment - our little lake. I stocked it with baby trout and waited for them to grow.  It launched, maybe a few years too early, the beginning of the second and gentler half of my life.

 

  A second lake soon followed.  I then possessed my own private fishery - something I had desired since my formative youth spent poaching the lakes and rivers of East Anglia.  Now, a few years later, our lives are reversed - we travel from Wiltshire to London for weekend breaks.

 

  I had always planned returning to live in Norfolk, the flat haunted countryside of my youth.  Until recently Wiltshire had remained a series of airborne snapshots - the long green bit over which I flew to Dorset's Compton Abbas for coffee.  Our county is surprisingly lacking in places where a private pilot can land a plane.  Only one licensed civil airfield exists - Old Sarum - the only place in Wiltshire to hire, or learn to fly powered aircraft.

 

  A surprisingly large slice of the county is denied to common aviators thanks to the selfishness of the Ministry of Defence.  It makes it very difficult for a casual, white horse spotting flight on a bright day.

 

Not only is the airspace hogged by massive control zones centered on Boscombe Down and Lyneham - but Wiltshire is cut in half by a thirty mile wide restricted military playground absorbing Salisbury Plain.

 

  You can, just, fly north to south through the county without asking permission, along a two or three mile unrestricted strip just west of Warminster, but mostly you need to ask Big Brother.

 

It spoils the illusion of freedom…

 

  But it's still a great place to see from a thousand feet up - if you are prepared to take your eyes away from twenty million's worth of military hardware smoking low and fast towards you.

 

 I just want to join in their games - a low level dogfight with a Hawk or Tornado.  We, the taxpayers, are supposed to own these toys - never could understand what was supposed to be so wonderful about growing up.

 

  Coming to Wiltshire did affect me, and in the manner I feared most. One morning in 1988, I woke up wondering what I was doing, nudging fifty, imprisoned in a sweaty office and commuting many times each year to New York.  Each day seem to unravel with the predictability of a frequently repeated film.

 

  Running a group of computer service companies had lost its buzz.  Now I longed for big skies, high downs and crystal rivers.  The second half of my life has brought a new challenge.  The inspiration and much of the material for writing my thrillers comes easily here.

 

  The need to explore Wiltshire is strong, not the ancient bits, the tourist attractions, but the less obvious places such as Salisbury Livestock market on a Tuesday morning.  This is real Wiltshire - far from the packaged images, the antique shops and signs pointing to ancient monuments.  Away from the preserved picture postcard villages - collections of stone and thatch that only the incoming weekenders can afford.

 

  The real spirit can be seen distilled into an identity on the cattle market.  Roots so old they have been forgotten.  Accents and attitudes descended from the ghosts that still guide their phantom sheep along the Drove, the high ridge towards Salisbury.  Give me an hour at the market rather than a week in some stereotyped trendy thatched pub.

 

  I came to Wiltshire to live, to start the second, even better part of my life. My intention is to build a third scale replica of Stonehenge in the middle of my old cider orchard. 

 

My body will one day be buried there…

 

End

 

©  Peter Hunter

 


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