Land of the Moonrakers

If asked to describe the county of Wiltshire in a few words, I think I would have to say that it’s predominantly a rural county with chalk downland as its main geological feature.

To generalise doesn’t tell the whole story of course, but it’s a pretty fair description I think.

The largest town by far is Swindon with a current estimated population of just over 200,000.

The next highest urban population (from the 2011 census) is Salisbury, the county’s only city, with 44,478, and Trowbridge, the county town, with 39,409.

Chippenham isn’t far behind with 35,800 but there isn’t another town over 20,000 according to the 2011 census. The next census is in 2021.

Most of these rural towns are in the northern half of the county, and those in the north-western part have a feel to them more akin to the Cotswolds rather than the Downland countryside further east and south.

Probably the most well known part of the Wiltshire countryside is Salisbury Plain. It’s rather a featureless landscape with very few visual delights, but it does have Stonehenge, just one of many exceptional Wiltshire archaeological remains for which the county is justifiably famous.

Due to its scant human habitation today, Salisbury Plain is also home to army training camps such as Bulford and Tidworth, which conversely, has a population of around 18,000 between them.

People from Wiltshire are known as Moonrakers, but whether they like being called that I’m not sure. The name stems from an old folk tale.

Even though Wiltshire is landlocked, it was on a smugglers route, and the story involves some barrels of French brandy that were hidden in a village pond.

One night while retrieving the brandy they were spotted by some revenue men. The moon was being reflected in the pond and when the smugglers explained that they were raking up a cheese, the revenue men laughed and thought that they were just simple yokels and carried on their way.

Cranmer, a pond in Devizes, is reputed to be one of the most likely places for this to have happened, although others have laid claim to be the pond in question – that is, of course, whether it ever happened at all.