Updated: Feb 28, 2019
When I started Hidden Wiltshire I wanted to find those places off the beaten track. But just recently, I have started to appreciate how within many of these places you can find clues to a hidden past if you have your eyes wide open. All around Wiltshire are relics of its war time past, and this became abundantly clear to me when I did some recent visits to Whaddon and Semington. Credit where credit is due, I must thank John Grech for pointing these things out and helping me bring them to life.
But before we get to the war, a few words about Whaddon. A small village today, at the end of a narrow lane from Hilperton it is nothing more than a few houses surrounded by fields. I approached it on foot, walking along the River Avon from Staverton. The one notable building in Whaddon is St Mary's Church, as the settlement doesn't look large enough to provide a viable congregation. The Church dates back to the 12th Century although its current form was largely constructed in 1879. It still holds regular services, as part of the Canalside Benefice. Whaddon itself has evidence of Iron Age occupation and was mentioned in the Domesday book.
The neighbouring village of Semington is a short trip down the Kennet and Avon Canal from Whaddon, and is quite a bit larger, supporting a primary school and a pub, The Somerset Arms. But there is a wartime connection that links these two places, as they sit on the GHQ Line Blue, a defensive stop line constructed to protect Britain in the event of invasion during World War Two. The Blue Line followed the Kennet and Avon canal, and during my walk I was able to see the following intact structures:
Whaddon Lane: an anti tank block (picture below taken by John Grech)
The River Avon behind Whaddon: Four intact pillboxes in fields, following the line of the river. The one by Pack Horse Bridge is easily accessible and you can go inside (pictures below taken by Glyn Coy)
Semington: an intact pillbox in a field behind Pound Lane. Four anti tank cylinders in the field next to the swing bridge on the canal. The remains of a vertical rail defence on Pound Lane (pictures below taken by John Grech)
In the words of Hidden Wiltshire follower John Grech: Semington and Whaddon was designated an anti-tank island in the last war. It was meant to be a tank killing ground if the Germans had invaded. There are loads of remaining defences still in situ there.
One last discovery from the River Avon behind Whaddon, is the Pack Horse Bridge. If you take the path behind the Church down to the River, you will find this wonderfully narrow bridge which is almost 300 years old. The public footpath goes right across it, and it is a delightful hidden gem.