Woodingdean Well Walk

Back in July (I’ve been busy!) I did an 8 mile walk from home to home via Woodvale Cemetery, the Race Course, a community orchard and some Access land to a very deep well in Woodingdean. Then completed the circuit via Happy Valley, some young bovines, Mount Pleasant, a golf course, Whitehawk, some grazing sheep and the General Hospital.

Trying to avoid public transport and get some interesting walking demands exploring things closer to home. The well was something I’ve heard about but never seen – not that there is much to see, just a twee bit of masonry and a heavy steel grid over a watery hole outside a Nuffield private hospital. The site was previously occupied by a technical training school for boys, built to help poor boys find a trade, and the well was started to find a cheaper water supply to the planned workhouse (still standing and part of the Brighton General Hospital buildings) The project did not go well (pun intended), a 6 foot wide shaft was hand-dug by workhouse inmates (free labour) to a depth of 400 and some feet in two years, the hole being lined with bricks as it descended BUT they did not find water.

Shafts were driven horizontally to intercept water, but none was found. So they decided to dig deeper, but only 4 feet wide this time, and still brick lined. Digging and bricklaying went on 24 hours a day until March 1862, when a bricklayer noticed the chalk floor of the well beginning to bulge upwards. A very rapid exit was needed as water began to pour into the base of the well. Men scrambled up ladders climbing up to 1285 feet to the surface. It is still the deepest hand-dug well in the world, and its base is 850 feet below sea level.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before getting to the well (which is at the end of the short projecting stick on the route shown above) we walked through a community orchard managed by local residents. They’ve planted hundreds of fruit trees and maintain meadow grassland areas. The air must be clean because there is a lot of lichen on the trees (above).

After the well diversion we walked south along the top edge of Happy Valley to find a spot for lunch. We must have provided a much needed novelty for the herd of young cattle, who slowly made their way over to us, egging each other on to be bolder. Once one of them had chewed my left bootlace we felt we had to withdraw!

This was the beginning of the return journey, over Mount Pleasant, and down into Wick Bottom:

This is Wick Bottom looking north, and Mount Pleasant is on the far right. From here on we get increasingly urban, with a golf course to cross, then down into a narrow track through thick bramble scrub on what was once a landfill site, but provided me with a few handfuls of ripe blackberries that day.

After passing through part of the Whitehawk housing estate we faced the steepest challenge – up a track over more open downland, complete with sheep, to the racecourse and General Hospital:

It seemed a lot steeper to me than this picture suggests. Volunteers have been clearing this slope of shrubbery over several years to allow the much rarer chalk grassland species back in, and now the grass is kept open by judicious application of sheep.

A brief taste of a summer now gone.

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Fascinating, curious and serendipitous – all in one day

Monday 6th July on a local walk with Jerry, circular from the front door with beers in the garden afterwards. Starting up through Hollingdean to Moulsecoomb station and then the steep bit up the downland sward of Hollingbury Hill. Here be the fascinating thing – what I believe to be a pair of mating red-bummed bumble bees. She’s much bigger and without any yellow bands, like her he has the red bum, but in addition a shoulder and back of the head yellow band and just a tiny yellow patch further down. Just like the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust say.

The Trust go on to suggest that he was lucky not to be in a battle with other males, most males never have sex at all, but spend there short time feeding and fighting, but not fuc . . . .(sorry).

Across Hollingbury Hill and north into the Stanmer Estate where we found the curious scene. There must be a play, short story of at least a joke to explain this empty Disarrono bottle and single left brown brogue. A task for Tom Stoppard surely?

Next it was across the campuses of Sussex and Brighton Universities, reminiscing about our times at both places where we had been students and employees, before finding a quiet spot for lunch. I even found a few ripe raspberries for dessert.

Heading in to Brighton across Falmer Hill we got a great view of the Isle of Wight, but you don’t have to believe me because it didn’t come out in the photograph!

View across Brighton not showing the Isle of Wight in the distance, though I assure you it was visible at the time.

Somewhere between Bevendean Estate and home we passed a small patch of reddish dandelion-like flowers which I had never knowingly seen before, but I knew instantly what they are called: ‘Fox and Cubs’. I had seen the term used on the Round Hill Facebook page, with a description. As it is the only British reddish dandelion-like flower it had to be fox and cubs. Nicely serendipitous.

And home in time for Beer.

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A gull’s gift – our own ‘Ambassadors’.

Some days ago a passing gull gifted us with a streak of lime on the front window. Gazing at it over the following days it began to remind me of something, then the Guardian of the 8th July told me what – the Holbein painting, The Ambassadors – or more particularly the deformed skull at the bottom of the painting.

So what, I wondered, did our pale streak hide if viewed from an acute angle? Here it is front on:

Peering along the ‘avian gift’ I got this image:

So what do you think? Do you know those wonderful pottery birds by the Martin Brothers? Well compare the one below. A bird gift from a bird.

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Inuksuk Envy

Some years ago Jackie and I spent 4 weeks travelling around western Canada. We were exploring the city of Victoria, near where the cruise ships disgorge day visitors, and met two first nation guys who were working on soapstone models for tourists. They had one tool for the job, a broken hacksaw blade. The models were not great art, but small and light enough to fit into our carry-on luggage (no suitcases for these explorers!), so we bought our own Inuksuk.

Only about 2 inches tall, our soapstone Inuksuk.

He’s standing on a rather nice pebble from Dorset, and placed in the garden for this moody (!) shot. He normally lives in Number One Shed – a.k.a. the dining room. But I’m posting this because I saw a real Inuksuk on Facebook a while back and thought I share Jacquie Dowding’s photo here. That’s were the envy comes in – though I’d never have got hers into my backpack.

The Real Thing (I’m guessing)
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From Round Hill to Round Hill

Round Hill to Round Hill – outward route in green

On the 28th May I left home (at the bottom of Round Hill in Brighton) to walk about 3 miles for a picnic lunch with Rowena and a chance to walk on the Round Hill in Hove, just north of the bypass. Not a beautiful route, but one with some interest.

For example whilst crossing over the main Brighton to London railway line I saw 2 trains, both moving! I’ve not seen that rare sight for months.

Walking west on a road called The Droveway. Lots of posh housing, including one called Bishop’s Palace – I suspect its the home of a very proud couple called Bishop.

At least I failed to find a real Bishop’s Palace on a Google search, except for a Catholic one nearby, but not here. But better than a palace I found a farm, at least what remains of Preston Farm. Once home I checked the National Library of Scotland mapping tool to see what old OS maps would reveal:

Preston Farm c 1890, the Droveway is an unfenced lane over open grassland
Same buildings today – a little more built up.

The Droveway continues until we reach the one-time source of Hove’s drinking water, a beautiful piece of Victorian engineering housing a big coal fired beam engine which raised water from deep within the chalk to adjacent reservoirs at ground level, but high enough above the early Hove to supply water by gravity.

Hove Corporation Waterworks – the site is for sale again, since the ‘British Engineerium’ tourist attraction failed as a business

Those Victorians had a bit of philanthropy about them, they offered free drinking water, provided you were willing to walk beyond the edge of the town to get it.

Of course the fountain doesn’t work any more, though someone has left a mug, should it start flowing again

A little further on an there is another feature the Victorians would have seen, though in their time the tarmac road in the foreground was two large farm ponds

Blatchington Mill

Approaching the edge of town now, and on Nevill Road, on the grounds of the George VI Mansions, I spotted a retaining wall built from re-used building materials. It might be seen as a continuation of the Brighton building material ‘Bungarush’ (basically flints and broken bricks set roughly in lime mortar and gravel, but relegated to garden walls rather than used to build homes. I’m guessing there was a shortage of building materials in the decade following WW2.

Low retaining wall separating two levels of amenity grass, and built using bricks and blocks from a demolition somewhere.

Soon passing behind the brand new West Blatchington Primary School and adjacent secondary school on a narrow path between their grounds and the steep wooded slope down to the bypass, and onto the footbridge over the very noisy bypass. A quick 15 minute walk north brought me onto Round Hill, Hove.

This is Round Hill in the foreground, now part of a golf course – you can just see the white clubhouse beyond it to the north.

Turning round there is the sea and Shoreham gas fired power station, and our new wind farm on the wet horizon.

I nipped back to the footbridge to meet Rowena and we accessed some Access Land a little to the east (a little curved green line with a dot at the end on the map at the beginning) by climbing over a padlocked gate. Access Land in name only it seems!

Over lunch and chat we watched a pair of buzzards rising from a line of trees below us and soaring and circling above us. On the way back, along a flint track close to the bypass we spotted a fast moving light brown or yellow ochre thin-bodied snake sinuously slither across our path. Lack of distinctive zig-zag markings makes me think it must have been a smallish grass snake, maybe 20 inches long, had I managed to pull it straight. It was too quick for me – almost instantly into the long grass.

Great end to a delightful day (apart from the three mile walk back).

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Morning walk 4th May

Out of the house by 7 o’clock to see how the vast expansion of Brighton University on the Lewes Rd is coming on.  The following two photos taken 18 months apart will give you a clue, and this is just one side of the road (Barracks site as was).

0.5. Oct 2018

Above is October 2018, below May 2020.

0. 4th May 2020

But the real point of the walk was to get up a hill and find open views and sky.  Passing under the railway line at Moulescoomb station and right up the steps then steep hill to the top was 100 metres up in 800 flat map metres across.  The biggest climb in three months! Previous best 144 steps in the Manchester hotel to our 8th floor rooms.  Rewarded at the top with Hawthorn blossom.

2. hawthorn in May

And the shear joy of a closed golf course – walk anywhere (not on the greens of course) unhindered by fear of flying white balls. Within the boundary of the Hill Fort there were purple orchids in bloom, and evidence of someone cutting some blooms to take away!

3. early orchide 1

Note the cut flower spike stems bottom centre and middle left.  On to the trig post.  Could not resist climbing onto it, even though falling off could divert valuable NHS resources to the old idiot who should know better.  Difficult to capture without selfie stick and smartphone – enjoy my walking shoes, I do.

5. On Hill Fort Trig post

Had to wait for dog walkers to disappear before struggling onto the post – I’ve got the arms for mantleshelfing (climbing term if you want to check), but the arms are inadequately provided with muscles for the task!

On the way to Raven’s Bakery (bread, eggs and a pasty) and home I passed this display of cowslips near the covered reservoir south of the golf course entrance.

6. N of Dit Rd covered reservoir

Our community group on Round Hill is keen to green the streets, we have commissioned a planter for a road closure, and people put pots and boxes onto the front steps if they have no front garden.  It seems the folk on Ditchling Road have similar ideas, here is what they have done around the base of several street trees.

7. Ditchling Rd

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Exploring a dandelion flower

A couple of weeks back the garden was full of dandelions. I planned to leave them to flower but decided to pull off the flower heads that had started to go to seed. Looking more closely I noticed the flowers close until the sun falls on them, so that a working flower looks a bit like one that is changing into a seed head.  Even closer inspection showed that those which are becoming seeds expel the petals as the seed and parachute structure grows.

I decided to have a closer look at the process, collected samples at various stages of flower to seed and carefully cut them in half.


Notice how the dying petals are pushed up and out of the closed flower head by the lengthening of the stems between the seed and the parachute.

As I looked closer I saw more – well, you do don’t you!  The yellow petals are more than just that.  The flower head is made of many petal/reproductive organ partnerships, as seen below.


See how short the distance between seed and parachute at this flowering stage.  In the picture the stigma at straight, but they curl up when the flower is ready to be fertilised.

If you have been, thank you for reading.

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Saturday afternoon – beer, poetry and music.

Got an e-mail from Harvey’s Brewery telling me I could have a pint of Kiss (their February special ale) for half price if I went to the Nelson with my Reward Card.  Who could resist? Certainly not me, even though it was cold and raining.  The open fire helped dry me out outside as the Kiss wetted me inside – perfect harmony.  Drier and warmer I sat down to re-read a slim volume of poems bought recently: ‘Do Horses Fly?’ by Brighton guy Brendan Cleary.  Only a handful of poems all based around the life of Eadweard Muybridge, the guy who built kit to take a sequence of fast photos of a galloping horse, ultimately proving horses do fly, sort of.


Then it was down to the Great Eastern to get Brendan to sign the book.  Every Saturday Brendan ‘spins the discs’ all afternoon in the Great Eastern.  No discs involved any more, but his playlists are generally good for an old man like me – this day it was early Dylan, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Eric Burdon’s Animals.

Stayed around longer than planned because of the good music, several interesting conversations and excellent Franklin’s ‘What Mama Don’t Know’ bitter.  The change of management has not spoilt the place.  Saw a beer I could not resist, just because it came all the way from Hawaii – where my brother’s grandchildren live.

Kona Brewing

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January 2020 bits and pieces

Started with a six mile walk on the 1st – down to the seafront and west to where Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour is having a new home built on the site of a derelict Turkish Bath.  More importantly, from my point of view, just 50 yards from the excellent Neptune public house.

They have a notice behind the bar which reads:

“You can retake an exam but you can’t relive a Party!!”

They had Harvey’s Christmas Ale (7%) on as a special at £4 a pint, so I had one.  Moved on to the ‘Spoons in George Street, Hove where I found Kissingate’s Plum Porter (4.7%), for just £1.75p a pint with one of my 50p-off ‘Spoons CAMRA vouchers.  met a friend and stayed for a couple more – but lighter, hoppier beers, before walking back home.

On the 11th we went to Bombane’s for dinner – the last dinner of the 70 meals out between Jackie’s 70th birthday last year and my 70th on the 12th.  Everyone should have some kind of aspirational target.  Jane and her waitress sang Happy Birthday for us, and the other customers (an anaesthetist and his partner from Guildford) joined in, and took the photo of us, so we took them to the Pump House for a beer and more chat after.

JJ & RS Bombanes Jan 2020

Spot the fruit waffle and ice cream birthday cake, complete with single candle – compliments of Jane Bombane.

On the following day I spent a few hours walking to and from Whitehawk Hill where I joined the ‘scrub bashing’ party which reopened a long overgrown path through a steep hillside of dense bramble and gorse.  I did 2 hours work and left, so I’m not in the celebratory photo below.

save downs megabash

On the 22nd I travelled to Kings Cross to meet an old pal not seen in a decade, Peter Ettridge.  Maybe it was the animated conversation after a 10 year gap, but somehow we only had 4 pints each between 1pm and 6.30pm.  Which was good because we then met up with his wife and son (Amanda and Harry) to eat and drink in a Lebanese restaurant beneath London Bridge station.  I must tackle that growing beer gut!!!!

RS, PE and Amanda London jan 2020


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Christmas Day walk

We had no plans for Christmas Day but got an invitation at last minute to join a gathering of relatives (Jackie’s of course) at a Youth Hostel on top of the South Downs north of Shoreham (about 10 miles away).  So we went.  Took some food and beer and wine early on the 25th.  Kitchen full of workers, and you know what they say about too many cooks, so I went for a walk along the crest of the Downs, searching for a Norman Motte and Bailey castle which, in the words of the Historic England website, ‘was built soon after October 1066’.


This picture is taken from the top of the Motte (castle mound) looking south to the (shrubby) valley site of the long gone village of Perching – you might spot a few linear shadows indicating changes of ground level.  Today the motte is not so high as it was and the ditch just between it and the sheep is not as deep.

I will refrain from showing you more pictures of grassy hollows and mounds – you really had to be there – except for a tumulus passed on the way back to an excellent Christmas lunch.  In case another grassy lump has lost its appeal perhaps you can enjoy the hawthorn bush driven to grow downwind – nice shape, and not grassy.


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