In a previous post I wrote about my adopted county of Wiltshire, and decided that maybe I should go and work for the tourist board. But of course there are no jobs there - paid, at least - so I abandoned writing about motorcycles and set too on a new book about Wiltshire. And here it is..
England was born in Wiltshire when King Alfred won the battle of Ethandune in 878, and one of Wiltshire’s famous white horses still guards the site. Of course people lived in Wiltshire long before that: Stonehenge was once the most populous place in Europe, and the site of a great midwinter feast. One of the few places not covered by dense forests, this was where sheep farming could make England rich and create the biggest empire the world has seen.
But Britain’s rise came with mixed fortunes. The Black Death killed millions, yet allowed a new middle class to emerge and create the first true European democracy. Yet conflict has never been far away, a bloody Civil War being fought across Wiltshire, and we prepared for two world wars including the first military airfields. Concorde first flew here and Wiltshire continues to have the most advanced aircraft in the world regularly visiting her skies.
The canals of Wiltshire brought remarkable feats of engineering that Brunel would build on to create his Great Western Railway. Suddenly fresh food could be speedily brought into cities to feed the exploding population, although not without cost.
By exploring English history through a Wiltshire year each development can be set in context. How dark winters create superstitions and opportunities, and how conflicting demands pressurise farmers and wildlife. Stories that tell how the haves kept the have-nots to heel, but occasionally compromising by offering rights such as land ownership and the vote. Yet most of all this is a love letter to the English countryside and Wiltshire in particular. In a world riddled with divisions this is a chance to understand our shared heritage, hopefully with plenty of “I didn’t know that”s along the way.
Greg Pullen has lived in Wiltshire for fifty years, working as a chartered surveyor specialising in old buildings. His writing has been published in national newspapers and magazines, and three books for the Crowood Press. A Wiltshire Year is his second self published book. You can buy it here