There’s a pub I know in Wiltshire with an interesting history. It has recently started a new phase in it’s existence, thanks to some lottery funding and community involvement, but my first encounter with it was in the summer of ’96.
A friend and I had been to a party in London one weekend, had the rest of the week off too, and were at a bit of a loose end. Then I had a brilliant idea.
One of the people that I was sharing a flat with at the time had once told us that his Mum ran a pub in Wiltshire somewhere, so I rang him before we left London, to find out exactly where it was. He gave us directions, and we set off to find the quaintly named Honeystreet, and the Barge Inn.
Arriving at the extremely rural, picturesque village, we managed to find the pub, tucked away down a lane, behind a lumber yard.
The landlady – our friend’s Mum – was out when we arrived, so we put our tent up in the camping field and went in to sample their wares.
Our hosts, June and Adrian, arrived some time later, returning from a local Vintner’s Association outing on the Avon and Kennett canal, on which the pub stands.
After establishing that I shared a flat with her son, June made us very welcome, and laid on a massive feast for us, apologising that she couldn’t spend more time with us that evening.
The following day we met up with June at lunchtime, and she told us a little about the pub and its history.
The two main things that the Barge was known for back then, were the fact that an episode of intellectual TV detective series, Inspector Morse was filmed there, and that it is a Mecca for Cereaologists. (crop circle enthusiasts)
People flocked to the pub from all over the world, to study the wealth of information about the crop circle phenomenon which is so prevalent in the area around Wiltshire. The pub had a room devoted to the subject, with astonishing numbers of photographs, maps, and leaflets about all manner of strange theories. There were also various carvings and an amazing mural that covered the ceiling in the back room.
In short, it was a truly unique place, with a great atmosphere and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area.
Over the years, I have returned many times, for family camping holidays, and to meet up with friends, because it is almost exactly half way between where we live now and where we used to live, so makes a useful meeting point. We always have a great time there, whether it’s going up to one of their regular summer music festivals, accidentally turning up during a (hilarious) Ufologists convention, exploring nearby Avebury and Silbury hill, or just walking the dog in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside.
June and Adrian have since retired, but the pub is once more going strong
Possibly my favourite story concerning the Barge however, occurred ten years on from that first visit, in 2007.
In July of that year a holidaying German policeman called Josef stopped at the pub in his hire car, having heard of it’s reputation as a centre for crop circle activity. He parked at the side of the barn attached to the main building and went inside.
By all accounts, he spent a pleasant evening chatting to the locals and studying the “Croppie” literature and photographs of recently formed circles.
At the end of the evening, Josef said his goodbyes and went out into the rainy night (this was England in July) to find his car.
Now, the only access to the pub is up the narrow lane beside the lumber yard, which is on the right as you leave. Starting his fiat punto, Josef pulled out and carefully turned left…
Josef’s route, in red.
Driving slowly up the path in front of the pub, passing astonished customers, he stopped at the very edge of the towpath.
Then, indicating, and looking left and right with obvious concentration, he pulled smartly forward. And drove straight into the middle of the canal.
At this point the car was almost completely submerged, the canal being 4-5 feet deep at it’s deepest, although the windscreen wipers were still comically sloshing back and forth.
Obviously panicking, Josef forced open the door, only to have the pressure of the water push it shut on him as he tried to climb out, trapping him against the side of the car.
By this time, customers and staff from the pub had rushed to the scene, and someone dived in to free the terrified German. After some considerable effort, the car was manhandled, with the aid of ropes, back to the bank and secured, awaiting rescue the next day.
“Bloody students”. Josef, the morning after the nightmare before.
By the time the rescuers did arrive of course, in the shape of a crane, the media had got hold of the story, and Josef and his punto were, if only briefly, famous.
His explanation of the accident was that the canal, in the dark, looked very like wet tarmac, and the streetlight on the bridge further upstream made him think that this was the road.
I’m told that when he returned to his Berlin police station following his holiday, an enlarged press photo of his car, streaming water, being craned from the canal was prominently on display.
To find out more about the newly invigorated Barge Inn at Honeystreet, and there’s a lot more to find out, go here.