(link to Contents Page) The Salisbury Plain Field Trip 2012

Our 2012 Field Trip to Salisbury Plain was held on Saturday 25th August.

Attendees (clockwise from left) : Ann Heuberger, Steve Patton, Nat Beck, Charles Beck, Ken G, Mary G, Jean Wilkinson, Steve Whatley

Our 2012 Field Trip had two aims, apart from having a summer reunion:

  1. To re-create the car chase in ‘The Devil Rides Out’, to see how well the descriptions of the places named in the book measured up to reality, albeit almost eighty years later, and
  2. To visit some of the places where DW stayed as a nineteen year old Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery in 1916.

The group was made up of eight enthusiasts all of whom travelled some distance to join the event – with the longest drive being made by Ken and Mary G, who drove down from Scotland specially for it.

The group gathered together at The Bear Hotel in Hungerford on the Friday night, and as usual, the first stop was the bar !

The Bear was chosen not only because it’s an excellent hotel with profuse historical connections (Charles I, William III, John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys all stayed there – click here for the hotel’s historical notes) but because it is where the Duke picks up Rex van Ryn after Tanith has given him the slip in ‘The Devil Rides Out’.

DW may well have stayed there, and we were pleased to see him recorded in the historical notes framed on one of the hotel’s walls (albeit with his name mis-spelt !).

Historical Notes on Hungerford and the Bear Hotel
Click on an Image to enlarge

Detail mentioning Dennis Wheatley

The Group were issued with booklets containing itineraries, maps, and extracts from various DW books, and set off at 10.15 on the Saturday morning, having heard one of the gloomiest weather reports on record. Perhaps it was no surprise as it was a Bank Holiday weekend, but in the event we were lucky – the umbrellas only made fleeting appearances as the day progressed.

The Field Trip booklet
Click on an Image to enlarge

The first destination was about 5 minutes westward along the A4, at Froxfield, where Rex was supposed to have dumped the bicycle he bought earlier in the evening at the old Almshouses, and begged a lift. The old Almshouses were still there (rather impressive buildings erected in 1695), and – is this a coincidence ? – a young lady called Ev was busy putting up signs for a cycling race that was due to take place the following day. She very kindly – and tolerantly – took a photo of the group.

Ev putting up signs

The Group (picture courtesy of Ev)
The entrance The group outside the rather magnificent chapel.

Click on an Image to enlarge

The Almshouses at Froxfield

From there, the Group decided to follow the Duke’s route, and taking the A4 back into Hungerford, turned right onto the A338 just past the Bear. This winding road took us down to Burbage, where a large modern roundabout has replaced what was presumably a rather more sedate T junction in DW’s day, and here we joined the A338, going south past a number of charmingly named villages – and passing some veteran cars which made up wonder if we had entered a Wheatley-style time warp.

At the junction with the A303 we turned west, and just outside the aptly named Solstice Services, we took a detour to the north east to find Bulford bridge, where Tanith – livid with rage that Rex should have put the police on to her as though she were a common car thief - spotted a policeman and doubled back.

Having passed a sign on a chapel saying ’Seek and you will Find’, we found it, and very pretty it was.

Bulford Bridge

Then onwards to Stonehenge, but the traffic was so heavy that we decided to have lunch first, and ‘do’ Stonehenge afterwards.

Lunch was at the Angel Inn in Heytesbury, a few miles east of Warminster. Again chosen for its DW connection – DW was billeted at Heytesbury House in the summer of 1916. It proved a good choice.
The 16th century inn provided us with a superb meal.

The group lunch at the Angel Inn in Heytesbury

After lunch, we ventured across the A36, taking our lives in our hands as we crossed the busy main road on foot, to take a look at Heytesbury House. Described by DW as ‘not large enough to be termed a stately home, but a pleasant Georgian house ...’, this huge house became home to Siegfried Sassoon in the early 1930s, and after the interior was completely gutted by a fire in 1996, it was developed into a small number of luxury apartments. This we learned from one of the owners, whom Steve Patton approached (thank you Steve – we’re most impressed by the practiced way in which you do this !).

Heytesbury House (the house at Chilbury?)

One of the mysteries the Group sought to solve was the location of Chilbury – the village where, at a house north of a crossroads, the Satanists gathered to put on their robes before they made their way to the Sabbat. And why, when all the other place names in the car chase are real, did DW have the Satanists arrive at a house in a village which does not exist ?

It is tempting to believe that DW substituted Chilbury for Heytesbury. Perhaps he thought that the Sassoons would not be amused if he wrote about devil worshipers inhabiting their house. We may never know for sure.

After this, we made our way back towards Amesbury to walk round Stonehenge, thinking of the Duke taking Simon to the ‘ancient sanctuary’ after rescuing him at the Sabbat as we did so.

Members of the Group at Stonehenge

From Stonehenge, we made our way back to the B398 where we took the route the Satanists would have taken towards Chitterne, taking a brief stop near the entrance to Chitterne Dairy. Somewhere in this region the Satanists, followed by the Duke, switched into a track running north-east, to the site of the Sabbat. Something to explore on another day.

Scenery at Chitterne, and (left) a typical (for Chitterne) road sign
- much of Salisbury Plain is now a ‘no go’ area owned by the Ministry of Defence.

From Chitterne we proceeded north-east – the Duke himself would have headed north-west once he had rescued Simon, and we visited the village of Tilshead.

Jean had reminded us that in the autumn of 1916, DW was been billeted at The Black Horse in Tilshead, where the landlady was ‘most kind’, and where he discovered some rare bottles of vintage port in the cellar. While there he also had a 'ships that pass in the night' affair with a young married woman, with whom he 'became extremely friendly on the sofa'.

We couldn’t find the Black Horse Inn, but Nicola at the garage very kindly told us that it was now a private house, and pointed out where it was. We are most grateful, Nicola !

The Black Horse pub in Tilshead as it is now (left) and as it was in 2007 (right)
Photo on right courtesy of Avtost at Flickr; copyright and all rights reserved

From Tilshead, we took the A360 up to the B3098, and followed the Duke’s route (now accompanied by the rescued Simon) back across the top of the Plain through Market Lavington and Easterton, where Tanith had crashed the Duke’s Blue Rolls on her own way to the Sabbat.

Market Lavington Easterton

Easterton : Is this the place where Tanith is supposed to have crashed her car ?

From Easterton, the Group headed back to Hungerford, completing its nine and a half hour tour of the Plain, and minus Steve and Ann Patton (who had to leave to drive home), sat down to another large meal. DW would have been proud !

Members of the Group outside the new entrance to the Hotel

Members of the Group outside the old entrance to the Hotel and (right) detail

Thanks to all who took part, and to those who weren’t able to join us on this particular date, we missed you, and we look forward to seeing you on our next Field Trip !

Back to top

This page last updated    Copyright © 2002-2006 Bob Rothwell. 2007-2022 Charles Beck.