RAF Blakehill Farm and RAF Ramsbury

Episode 31,  Feb 27, 2022, 05:00 AM

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since the last podcast. The succession of storms had an impact and Paul foolishly agreed to appear on BBC South Today to talk about the deprivations of a whole three days without electricity. What an embarrassment. Thirty minutes or so after the BBC left the power came back on! Meanwhile Glyn was dodging the roof of the Wetherspoons pub that was flying low over Trowbridge.

But what we experienced in the south was nothing compared to our fellow countrymen in the north, some of whom went for weeks without power a short while ago. And certainly nothing compared to those people who live that way every day of their lives. This minor inconvenience was a sobering reminder of how fortunate we are.

Paul has also recommenced volunteering for Natural England. The Parsonage Down volunteers have been stood down since December. But the venue this week was the stunning Prescombe Down, which Paul visited during a walk in June 2020. The walk can be found at the link below and was called Eden’s Last Post. We covered it in podcast 17. Prescombe Down is part Natural England National Nature Reserve and part SSSI (which Natural England is responsible for monitoring). The Natural England team spent a day brush cutting and “tree popping” in what was a truly hidden side valley, visible only from the entrance to the valley itself or from a bridleway high on the slopes above. This really is a beautiful place with a sense of remoteness about it, often closed to the public because of the local shoot.

Glyn is also back to volunteering for Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, counting sheep at Dunscombe Bottom close to Knook Camp which is busy with Army personnel at the moment.

Following in the footsteps of the last podcast and the story of Sarah Lucas and her family who last lived in Wiltshire 30 years ago, we had another of life’s wonderful coincidences. Something that would complete a circle for us. We recently received a book order from Wiltshire thatcher Brian Chalk. Since he lives only around 15 minutes away Paul said he’d deliver the book. We then received an email from Brian to say that Kay Chalk, who featured in podcast 11 and in the walk Paul did in August 2020 which was written up in the blog dated 27 August 2020 entitled Searching for Kitt’s Grave (In Memory of Kay Chalk 1929-2019), was his mother! Anyone who listened to podcast 11 will know that when he found the bench erected in memory of Kay Chalk, Paul became quite emotional as Kay was almost the same age as his own mum albeit Kay lived a lot longer. It was a poignant reminder. 


Brian shared some photos of his mum and told us the story of how, from the age of 5, she used to walk to school alone from her parent’s lonely cottage at Hut and Lodge Farm on Ox Drove, down Church Bottom to Broad Chalke – a distance of around 3.5kms. And the real shock for Paul was that Kay’s ashes were scattered by the bench that bears her name. This might explain why Paul was so deeply affected by the experience of being there. You can almost feel Kay’s presence. Brian shared photographs and more remarkable stories about his family who have lived in that part of Wiltshire for hundreds of years. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out more. But for Glyn and Paul, this is what makes Hidden Wiltshire so worthwhile. Joining the dots and connecting to the history of Wiltshire through its present day inhabitants. 

We eventually got to the main theme of the podcast – the World War II RAF bases of Blakehill and Ramsbury. Glyn takes us on a journey through the landscape of what used to be two RAF airfields. 

Blakehill Farm is now an important Wiltshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve and the north Wiltshire headquarters for the Trust (the southern headquarters is at Coombe Bissett Down (spelled “Combe” on the 1:25,000 OS map)). It adjoins Stoke Common Meadow and lies to the south west of the Saxon town of Cricklade - once home to the Royal Mint from 979 to 1100 AD. RAF Blakehill was the base for a number of tactical air transport squadrons that operated RAF C-47 Dakotas and Horsa gliders. The airfield played a key role in the D-Day landings when the Dakotas towed gliders full of airborne troops to France in support of Operation Overlord in June 1944. It also served as a listening post during the Cold War. Little remains of the airfield’s past but the runways are still evident from above as crop marks. It is now a vast hay meadow of 264 ha/650 acres and when Glyn visited in June 2017, armed with permission from WWT to fly his drone, it took him 90 minutes to walk from the entrance at Stoke Common Meadow all the way across to the far side of Blakehill Farm. You’ll find a link to his original blog with photographs and links to more information about the reserve and its past below.

RAF Ramsbury, to the south west of the village of Ramsbury, started life as a base for the Training Units from RAF Bomber Command. Pilots were trained on two-engined Airspeed Oxfords before moving on to four-engined Avro Lancaster bombers located at other bases. But following America’s entry into the war it became a base for the United States Army Air Force (USAAF) for troop carrying operations. As with RAF Blakehill, C-47 Dakotas operated from Ramsbury but this time they were USAAF aircraft. Apart from carrying paratroopers they also towed American Waco as well as British Horsa gliders. Again, Ramsbury played a critical role in supporting the D-Day landings in June 1944. Little remains of the airfield now but you can read more about it in Glyn’s two blogs dated 14 March 2019 and 15 June 2019 linked below. There are lots of photographs. There’s also a link to a website about the history of the airfield below.

Then on to the wrap up:

Steve Dixon’s piece leading into our main subject today could only be “Eyes Looking East” for a host of obvious reasons. As ever the piece in the introduction and at the end of the podcast is entitled “The Holloway”.

Don’t forget to check out the Hidden Wiltshire online shop on the website if you’d like to help us keep the lights on. Both Hidden Wiltshire books can be purchased there. The second book is also available at Devizes Bookshop, Wiltshire Museum in Devizes and now Wiltshire’s libraries. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Hidden Wiltshire Newsletter from the website.


The Eden’s Last Post blog about a walk that takes in Prescombe Down can be found here - Eden's Last Post

The Searching for Kitt’s Grave (in Memory of Kay Chalk 1929 - 2019) blog can be found here - Searching for Kitt's Grave

Glyn’s 2017 blog about Blakehill can be found here - HW Blakehill Farm and Stoke Common Meadows

Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s page about Blakehill Farm and Stoke Common Meadows can be found here - WWT Blakehill Farm and Stoke Common Meadows The webpage includes a link to the RAF Blakehill Farm website.

You can find Glyn’s brief blog about his first visit to RAF Ramsbury here RAF Ramsbury Commemoration

You can find Glyn’s blog about his second visit to RAF Ramsbury here RAF Ramsbury Memorials

More about the history of Ramsbury Airfield - Ramsbury Airfield

Glyn’s photographs can be seen on his Instagram feed @coy_cloud
He is also very active on Twitter where his username is @Glyndle

Paul’s photography can be found on his website at Paul Timlett Photography and on Instagram at @tragicyclist

Steve Dixon’s sound art can be found on Soundcloud where his username is River and Rail Steve Dixon River and Rail. His photographs can be found on Instagram at @stevedixon_creative and his graphic design business website is at Steve Dixon Creative

And finally you’ll find the Hidden Wiltshire online shop here Hidden Wiltshire Shop 
and a link to Glyn’s blog about the latest book and how to purchase a copy here Hidden Wiltshire from near and far