This street may look like an ordinary English lane. But centuries ago, it was where a medieval monk crash landed after attempting to fly.
Flight has long been a dream of humankind. Even before modern aviation, people were scouring their brains in search of a way to take to the skies.
In the early 11th century, a monk named Eilmer was inspired by the Greek fable of Daedalus. He designed wings made for human flight, attached them to his body, and jumped from the top of Malmesbury Abbey.
The flight was a “qualified” success. Eilmer was reportedly airborne for over a furlong (660 feet, or 201 meters) and thus it is believed he flew for around 15 seconds. He did, however, break both his legs upon landing.
To his disappointment, Eilmer was forbidden from trying again by his Abbott. He insisted that he would have landed safely if he had added a tail to his design.
Appropriately for one so devoted to flight, Eilmer is reported to have been alive for two visits of Halley’s comet, the second in 1066. A number of small books detailing his life are available from Malmesbury Abbey, which marks the beginning of his flight path.
Know Before You Go
Please do not try to recreate Eilmer's flight precisely! Follow the route along the ground and take care when crossing the roads.
Because the monastery buildings evolved over the proceeding centuries, the exact origin point of the flight path is unknown. Some local reports place it near the current bell tower, others closer to the front of the main abbey. Whatever the case, you can start from the entrance of the abbey and walk southward out of the grounds, past the market cross, and down Malmesbury High Street.
There are several small alleys to the right of the High Street. The one you are looking for is called Oliver's Lane (as of September 2019 it is just beyond a shop called "H.J. Knee of Malmesbury" and before "Cancer Research UK"). This lane is believed to be the landing spot of Eilmer.
Now look back, marvel at the distance, put on your own fake wings here and take a picture. Reflect on the daring of this pioneer of human flight, who took to the air before the time of William the Conqueror!
For many years there was a pub name after Eilmer, near the railway station in Malmesbury called "The Flying Monk". Subsequently both the pub and the railway have ceased to exist.