Military chiefs were investigating today after an artillery round from a firing range went five miles off course - and exploded in a field near a railway line.

The shell flew over a busy main road and an entire village before landing just 300 yards from a mainline train track.

It left a 6ft-wide crater in a field owned by farmer Andrew Snook, 55, and scattered earth and rock up to 40ft.

Mr Snook, who farms on the edge of Salisbury Plain at Patney, near Devizes, said it was lucky that nobody was killed and has demanded an apology.

He said: "There was a lot of heavy firing going on and this one blast did really make me wince.

"I thought, 'that's close' and people in the village said they thought it landed right next to the farm but we couldn't find it anywhere.

"It must have come over a couple of villages to get here - if it would have landed in a village it would have been a very different story."

Salisbury Plain covers 300 square miles and is used extensively by the army for ground, air and tank training.

The rogue shell was fired last Wednesday but Mr Snook did not discover the 2ft deep crater in his maize field until Friday.

He says the round must have travelled at least five miles over the A342 and the village of Chirton, which has a population of 250, before reaching his farm.

It landed near the main Paddington to Penzance railway line, which carries thousands of passengers every day.

Father-of-two Mr Snook said: "We live about three miles from the edge of the firing range and around five miles from where they are usually training, so it's come quite a way.

"We found it on the Friday and we called the MoD. They came out on Saturday and started investigating - what type of shell it was and where it has come from.

"They tried to find out exactly what it was but I don't think they really know - if they did they didn't tell me.

"It's a field that I will soon be putting down to maize, so it hasn't damaged a crop, but I want an apology."

An Army spokesman said: “Following an incident last week in which an artillery shell landed outside the range boundary a thorough investigation was initiated. 

"Live firing will remain suspended until the investigation has reported, local residents have been informed of the outcome and if deemed appropriate, additional safety measures are in place.

"The officer responsible for the safe use of the range has spoken to the land owner where the shell landed and apologised.

"The safety of both our own personnel and of the general public is our priority in all training.”