Grovely Woods is the largest area of woodland in Wiltshire stretching from Wilton to Wylye. Its history dates back to the Iron Age, although it is the Romans who left the most significant mark on the forest, with a long Roman Road running through it. There are traces of more recent history too - not just the Witches Trees from the 1700s but remnants of the role the woods played during World War II.
Grovely Woods is a huge tract of woodland which stands on a chalk ridge north of Wilton with an extensive history. There are the remains of several iron age forts, Ebsbury and Grovely Castle, as well as a Roman-British settlement at Hanging Langford. The Romans most significant contribution to the area is a huge Roman Road which cuts right through it and which marks a thoroughfare which has been in use for over 7,000 years.
The woods are a popular place to this day, with walkers, cyclist and horse riders all using the area, particularly the Roman road, although there are plenty of paths leading off it for those who want to be more adventurous.
Unusually for Roman roads in woods, this one has been tarmacked and the reason for this is due to World War II.
Oakley Farm, at the western end of the woods, served as an RAF depot and headquarters during the war.
The whole area received a huge influx of soldiers, particularly during the build up to D-Day, with the nearby village of Dinton gaining 1800 men who were housed in Nissen huts, some of which still remain.
RAF Chilmark was also established nearby, opening in 1937 and being used to store ammunition underground in the huge quarries left from the excavation of limestone - which had been used to build Salisbury Cathedral.
Much of the area was used for storing ordnance for both the RAF and the USAF. It was centrally located, next to a train line with the nearest station at Wylye, and the tree canopy provided cover for the ammunition against air attacks.
Bombs and shells were stacked in the woods and more volatile munitions such as fuses were stored in hundreds of bunkers and huts built in the woods. The Roman road was paved to provide for all of the military traffic in the region.
After the war, attempts were made to clear up the area and return it to its natural state, although many of the huts and buildings still remained, and removal of unexploded ordnance was fatal to some, as a report from The Western Gazette1947, reveals (click here to go to the end of this article for the full newspaper report).
Finding the World War II Bunkers in Grovely Woods
There are apparently many remnants left of World War II in the woods, but I regret to say that I have only found two of them, and online research hasn't revealed any more. Fortunately, the ones I found seem to be the main ones, and although you are no longer able to go in one of them, you can go in the other.
If you start at the western of Grovely Woods and walk down 'Second Broad Drive', you will find it just off the path and quite well hidden by the trees. If you are driving, leave the village of Wylye by Dinton Road and park around the turn off for Ox Drove. There are a few laybys but there is not a huge amount of space. (what3words: wharfs.island.reservoir)
Walk east on the path until you come to a farm building, then follow the path known as Second Broad Drive - this is the Roman road.
Keep going down the path, and you will find the first bunker at what3words: signified.sandbags.medium.
The bunker is rather lovely now - covered in deep green moss and leaves, the red bricks crumbling under the force of nature and passage of time. Unfortunately, someone has bricked up the entrance with grey concrete blocks, probably to deter potential vandals, but they have at least left a space you can peer through.
If you keep walking down the Roman Road, a mile further on you will find the second bunker. It is at w3w: emptied.gossip.inefficient
This second bunker is also rather overgrown, but it is by the left side of the road and should be easy to spot if you are looking out for it. Someone has helpfully written the word 'bunker' above it! You can go inside this one and apart from some chalked names of visitors on the walls, it is remarkably free of any debris or damage.
The woods are a lovely place for a walk, with or without bunkers, although if anyone knows the location of any others in the woods, please do email to let me know!
You can keep walking down the Roman road and you will eventually find the Witches Trees, which are a further 2 miles away, or just explore the area you are in - there are plenty of side paths to explore.
Logs have replaced bombs in stacks around the woods
Newspaper Report from the Western Gazette, 12th December 1947 -
American Bomb Dump Explosion Two Men Killed at Wiltshire Beauty Spot : Cause of Tragedy Not Known
The explosion of a stack of 201b. American fragmentation bombs at Grovely Wood—a beauty spot between Wilton and Dinton near Salisbury— in which two members of the R.A.F. were killed, and the tops of 20ft high trees blown off. formed the subject of two enquiries the Coroner on Saturday.
The dead men are AC.2 Oliver Francis Hill, aged 18 of Taymar View, St. Teath, Bodmin. Cornwall and A.C 2 James Thomas Ames, aged 18 of 50, Gopsalt Street, Shoreditch.' London. Hill died Salisbury Infirmary on Wednesday night, six' hours alter the explosion occurred. 5.1Q Arnes, who was working near the stack, was killed instantaneously, his being blown to pieces.
The Wiltshire Coroner, Mr. Harold Dale, first sat Salisbury Infirmary. where he opened the inquest on Hill Dr. A. McPhearson said the cause of death was toxemia, haemorrhage and shock.
"IN SAFE STATE."
The Coroner then proceeded to Chilmark Dump, headquarters of the llth Maintenance Unit, R.A.F., where the inquest was continued.—Flying- Officer Peter Cecil Spice, R.AJP.. said the Grovely Wood dump was subdepot, and stacked there was a large quantity of American 201b. fragmentation bombs. They were stored in the open, generally in boxes, but they occasionally came across loose ones. The bombs had been there since the war, and were examined before transportation. They had fuses in them, but were a safe state and were awaiting disposal by deep sea dumping.
The Coroner : they are in a safe state, can they be made to go off?—
They are fused, but the vanes of the propellor are wired up, and before they can be set off they have to be unwired and the vanes turned 340 times. Then you would have to strike the fuse to set the bomb going. It would take three or four minutes. He had never known one of the bombs go off before. So far as you know they cannot off without this being done? —Not without being tampered with in some form or another. Have you had any go off spontaneously?—We have never had an explosion before, and there is no record of one having taken place.
Proceeding, witness stated that on the previous Wednesday working party was detailed to collect salvage— pieces of paper, small bits of wood. &c—at Grovely Wood. Unless men were detailed to work on explosives there was an order that they were not to touch them. Hill and Arnes were two of the party, working under Corpl. Roche.
Hearing the explosion, witness immediately ran to the spot, and saw Hill lying on the ground, and he immediately telephoned for a doctor and an ambulance. There was doubt about another airman being missing, and when the party had been got together it was found that this was so, but they did not know who. search was made in the vicinity of the explosion and a dismembered body was found, which was subsequently identified as that of Arnes by means of his effects. He did not think Arnes could have been more than 10 yards from the stack when the explosion occurred. It was impossible to say how many bombs exploded. It was definitely more than one. and it was possibly six or seven. They were stacked in row. and if one went off the detonation would easily send the rest off.
Corpl. Michael Roche told the Coroner that he was working between the two men when the explosion occurred. They were about six or seven yards from each other, and they had all worked on the same job before. They used brooms to sweep up the salvage. Arnes was nearest the stack of bombs and Hill was nearer the main drive. "All at once," said witness, "there was an explosion, and I was knocked down for a couple of seconds, and when got up I saw Hill standing on his feet trying to get away towards the main drive. I went to assist him, but he collapsed on the ground. The explosion occurred where Arnes was working and no trace of him could be found at the time."
Witness added that he had been working at the dump since July, and had never known a bomb to off there.
The Coroner recorded a verdict that the men died from injuries received when a fragmentation bomb exploded from causes unknown.