If you can find it, you should visit the old village out past Wareham… The fellow across the table waved his fork sort of westerly as I dipped into another portion of fish pie. The dinner party was approaching 11 pm, and my host passed the wine bottle again, asking “Tyneham Village?” Right, the one that nobody ever returned to.
‘Made a mental note, checked the map once I got home, and off for a drive in this morning to try to find the place.
And I agree, it can’t be done without directions, nor without checking whether tanks are having artillery practice that day.
1943, and D-day preparations are underway in England. The soldiers need a staging area to practice taking terrain, and the Jurassic Coast is similar to Normandy. The mining parish of Tyneham is chosen for the mock assault and the residents are all displaced. None ever returned: after the war, the entire area became an artillery range for the British Army.
Now, on selected days, it’s possible to weave over the hills and down the slopes to visit what’s left of the village seventy years later.
The drive out is really worthwhile all by itself, with spectacular views across Dorset and the seacoast. The Grange Hill viewpoint is especially good, carpeted with spring wildflowers.
The village tucks into a forested hollow at the base of the ridge, easy to overlook if not for the car park nearby. A signpost gives the history and a map of the trails at the entrance. Then its in to explore the village, all roofless weathered red-brick walls bordering weedy overgrown floors. It’s a tiny Pompeii.
The old church and cemetery are tended, and the school has been partially restored (original furnishings and a charming nature table that, unfortunately, seems to have fallen from favor in modern England).
And absolute tranquil silence: the area is surrounded by fences warning that live fire can fill the woods and slopes beyond the wire from time to time.
The nearby farmstead is being restored as a museum. It’s a collection of both old farm machinery and random bits of munitions scavenged from the surrounding fields. The barn is used by a local theater group, although with the poor signposting, audiences must be word-of-mouth.
People will say that this was a FOMO chase (Fear of Missing Out), but the village is an interesting artifact and worth an hour to explore. The trip is worth it if you find a way down to the beaches, or want to make the diversion from the nearby South West Coast path.