A rare funnel cloud, the beginnings of a tornado given the right circumstances, was spotted over the downs to the north of Marlborough last night.

The distinctive downward-pointing spike of cloud was clearly visible over the Ogbourne St George/Aldbourne area and several readers telephoned the Gazette to say they were watching it.

Bill and Sue Nelson, of Barrow Close, Marlborough, took photographs from their garden.

The funnel slowly disintegrated back into the storm cloud it had protruded from and disappeared.

The unusual cloud formation appeared at about 6pm last night and was visible for about 40 minutes, remaining high in the sky well above any ground.

According the meteorological web sites funnel clouds are formed of condensed water droplets associated with a rotating column of wind and extending downwards from the base of a cloud but not reaching ground level.

Funnel clouds, which are frequently spotted in regions that experience tornadoes, are most usually associated with thunder clouds.

One Gazette reader who asked not to be named said: “We were wondering if it has anything to do with that huge fire at the scrapyard near Wootton Bassett with all the heat, smoke and steam rising into the air.

“We could see the column of smoke from the fire reaching the clouds so perhaps that had something to do with it.”

According to Wikipedia: “If a funnel cloud touches the ground it becomes a tornado. Most tornadoes begin as funnel clouds but many funnel clouds do not make ground contact and so do not become tornadoes.”

The web site added: “A funnel cloud that touches down on water or moves over water is a waterspout.”

Amateur meteorologist Eric Gilbert, of Poulton Hill, in Marlborough, who records the weather for his website Windrush Weather, was one of those taking photographs of the funnel cloud. He said: “I have never seen one before, it was a first for me.”