THOUSANDS of visitors flocked to Warminster on Saturday to clamber aboard a fleet of heritage and modern Routemaster buses to visit the abandoned village of Imber on Salisbury Plain.

More than 3,000 people are estimated to have taken advantage of this weekend’s open days to tour the deserted village – which was abandoned during the Second World War to allow British and American armed forces to train for military exercises.

The visitors were transported to Imber on a fleet of 28 heritage and modern Imberbuses loaned for the day by the London Transport Museum, the Bath Bus Company, and other bus companies up and down the country.

Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Chairman of Network Rail and founding member of the Imberbus organising team, explained: “Imber village, in the middle of Salisbury Plain, was evacuated in 1943 by the Army to allow it to be used as a training area in advance of D-Day. Other than a few days each year, Imber village has been out of bounds to the public ever since.

“This most unusual bus service across the Plain not only allows people to get a fascinating and rare glimpse of Imber, it allows a day out visiting Tilshead, Chitterne and the Lavingtons where you can eat and drink in village halls and country pubs.

“There’s nothing quite like traversing Salisbury Plain from the top of a red double decker bus. We use a combination of historic red London double-deck Routemaster buses and the newer, but no less iconic, wheelchair accessible New Routemasters to take visitors along the route”.

Sir Peter launched the tours in 2009 after an informal meeting in The Raven public house in Bath with Martin Curtis, managing director of the Bath Bus Company, and friends Michael Meilton, a bus scheduling consultant, and Simon Hall, who is retired.

He said: “We were sat in the pub and someone said ‘where’s the most unlikely place we can go to run a bus service and the answer was a place that we cannot normally go to at all – Imber’.

“We started out with just five buses in the first year and now in 2019 we are using 28 buses. Last year, we had more than 3,000 visitors and donated £13,000 to charity.

“We have even got a special charter train coming in from London today with 200 people aboard and have brought in a temporary bus shelter from the London Transport Museum. It will be here for the weekend and gone by Monday.”

Sir Peter was the Commissioner of Transport for London when he came up with the idea and it has grown like topsy over the past decade. Mr Curtis says: “This year, it has got to be our biggest-ever event.

“It looks a lot busier this year and we have got far more buses and every one looks packed. People with London Routemaster buses wanted to come and join us but the buses have to be licensed and run properly.

“We have probably got buses from every major bus company from around the UK represented here today. We also have a team of volunteers, who are managers, supervisors and bus drivers.

“We are pleased with how it is going so far and that it has not rained today. The event has grown again and is clearly becoming more popular.

“The people who come are the general public, and military and transport enthusiasts, who want to see Imber, Salisbury Plain and the buses.”

This year, the buses took visitors to Imber and other points on Salisbury Plain, including the New Zealand Farm Camp, West Lavington, Market Lavington, Brazen Bottom, Tilshead, Chitterne and the Knook Camp.

There were short and longer routes available, with services originating from and returning to Warminster Railway Station and crossing at the Gore Cross interchange.

For the first time this year, the buses are also serving the Delaware Road Festival at New Zealand Farm Camp for Saturday afternoon arrivals, and returning festival goers on Sunday morning, and running a service to and from Imber and Warminster on Sunday afternoon.

The 16th century St Giles's Church, looked after by volunteers with the Churches Conservation Trust, appeared to be a focal point for the visitors with people queuing up to go inside.

Among them was 91-year-old Margaret Abraham, from Southampton, who had come to Imber to track down members of the village’s Potter family, from whom she is descended.

With help from James Kirkwood, from Warminster, and the Imber parish registers, she managed to identify her great-grandparents William and Mary Potter, who lived in Imber in 1848, and was confident of tracing the family back to Thomas Potter in the 1670s.

Mrs Abraham said: “I am so pleased that I have found them. I thought that I might find my grandmother but I am delighted to have gone back even further.”

Inside the church, volunteers served visitors with tea, coffee and pieces of cake, while others browsed a display of photographs showing what the village of Imber used to look like.

I found Roger Green, from the Bratton Silver Band, selling raffle tickets to visitors to raise funds for their 160th anniversary celebrations. The band is giving a concert at St Giles Church on Sunday, August 18, from 6-8pm.

Mr Green said: “We have a very strong connection with Imber and have performed at a Christmas concert with the local choir.

“The composer Christopher Bond is composing a piece of music for our 160th anniversary which will be recorded by the European Champions, the Cory Band from South Wales, on their next CD.

“We will be performing alongside the Cory Band in a joint concert at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon on Sunday, September 22.”

Other displays included The Churches Conservation Trust, a conservation charity that has helped to save 340 churches across the UK, and the Imber: You Walk Through Project, a virtual tour which was first presented at the Salisbury International Arts Festival earlier this year.

Visitors had come from far and wide, including Bristol, London, Southampton, Gloucester and Somerset. They included John and Jackie Bedford, from nearby Frome, who said: “We have never been to Imber and just wanted to come and see it.”

Mr Bedford, 70, was a former bus driver who had worked for Badgerline and First Bus, as well as local coach firms Beeline and Centurion, and was interested in both the heritage buses and the village. “We’re going to have a look around the village at the houses,” he said.

In truth, aside from St Giles Church there’s not a lot of the village left to see. Most of the old houses have long since disappeared. The empty shells that remain have tin roofs and no windows or doors and are used by the military for training purposes.

But the half-hour trip to the village enables visitors to see sections of Salisbury Plain that are normally closed to the public. Warning signs and tape illustrate the military purposes for which the area is now used.

If you’re a lover of history, transport or you just want a fun, unusual day out the trip to Imber is worth a visit to the abandoned village and you get to travel across the Plain in a Routemaster bus.

The Imberbus event was first run in 2009 as a one-off, however it proved so popular the organisers have run it every year since. It continues to attract lots of attention as well as help raise money for charity.

Last year, the event raised £13,000 which was split between the Friends of St Giles’s Church and the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal. This year, Sir Peter Hendy and his team are confident they will exceed that total.

This year, any surplus will again be donated to those charities, with £2,000 also going to the Macmillan Cancer Support, the Stagecoach bus company’s charity for 2019.

Details – Saturday and Sunday August 17 and 18

Buses will run from Warminster Station to Imber and across the Plain every 15 minutes between 0945 and 1745, and back from the villages every 30 minutes, and from Gore Cross, Imber Park & Ride and Imber Church to Warminster every 15 minutes, all day.

There is no need to book in advance – day tickets are available priced at £10, with single tickets on sale as well.

A limited service will also operate on Sunday 18 July, as above.

Further details including timetables and the history of the abandoned village can be found at