On Friday 22nd February the sun shone and I went for a walk. Just a mile north of home is a ‘Gateway to the National Park’, well, its just behind Moulsecoomb railway station – the southern flank of Hollingbury Hill, upon which sits an ancient hillfort. You can walk up teh Lewes Road, but why would you? Perhaps to look at traffic and the enormous building site where Brighton University is expanding?
No, I didn’t either. There is a quiet way just behind those trees at the top right of the photo above – a sequence of residential streets that go to Moulsecoomb station and the bottom of Hollingbury Hill. It was a misty day, and the view over Brighton from the hill was, well, limited:
But I’m in the National Park, along with scores of dog-walkers – you might spot 4 or 5 of them halfway down the hill.
At the top of this rough grass field there is a dewpond, traditionally a hollow lined with puddled clay which would retain rainfall. Perhaps dew as well, they say the cold water might encourage moisture to condense from the air passing over – but can you prove it? I thought not.
But I don’t want to talk about the pond, beside it there is a tree – such a tempting tree – just asking to be climbed. So I did. About 10 feet up I wondered if I’d break much in a fall. I came down again.
Safely back on the ground I headed north, passing unseen the hillfort mentioned earlier, hiding as it is behind a screen of trees and defended by flying golf balls. Access is mainly across golf fairways – I usually hold a partially folded map up against my head on the upstream side – this improves my visibility to golfers and offers some sort of protection should they decide to ignore me.
At the north end of the golf course there are three fields running north to the bypass which marks the edge of the city – nearly a mile of permanent pasture. Walking up the middle of the fields keeps you at least 200m away from the busy Ditchling Road to the west, so that’s what I did. Until the herd of heifers at the north end spotted me, and , being bored, decided to see if I’d like to play. Or perhaps I had a cunningly hidden hoard of hay with me. I cannot pretend to know their motivation, only their action. They started out slowly, cautiously even, just a couple at first, gradually gaining courage as their numbers swelled. Casually, without any outward signs of mounting panic, I turned west, not so much for the road as a gate and its reassuringly strong fence. I finished that section walking on the cycleway beside the main road, feeling more at ease beside thundering lorries than would normally be the case.
The bridge over the bypass gives fairly easy access to Stanmer Park and it woods dotted with giant trees, many of which are entering their declining years.
This giant bracket fungus is accompanied by scores of woodpecker holes further up the trunk. And as I saw them I heard my first woodpecker of this year, drumming on a tree to my west.
Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society have been conducting a dig in Stanmer Park for several years. Its on a tiny area of pasture, and when the sun shines and the companions are encouraged by occasional finds of not very exciting pottery shards, and lazy lunches are full of buzzing bees and interesting speculation about the site and its historic uses I’m sure digging is thoroughly worthwhile, if only as a social activity. But such conditions are exceptional. The usual weekly online dig reports are more about rain, mud and the impossibility of interpreting the plethora of post-holes, ditches and pits exposed. I don’t dig.
The photo shows the site partially refilled, as is done each year. Incidentally, the lane (top left) follows the line of the actual boundary of the City of Brighton and Hove, so this point is the first time I have left the city since closing my front door behind me two hours ago. Google Maps currently shows the site before the new digging season, at 50.87462 North and -0.11357 West, have a look why don’t you?
I had planned to continue east in this open access land for a while longer, but had my plans amended by the appearance of a n enthusiastic young cow. She popped over the near horizon, clearly sent on a mission to greet newcomers. With a determined look she head my way, perhaps to help me across the swathes of churned up mud around the cattle trough. And indeed her approach did assist my speedy crossing of the mud, even if one foot disappeared briefly from view. I pulled it up promptly and left her field with only about 2 kilos of mud still attached. At this point I met my neighbour, John, who seemed to think I was running away from a young cow! Remarkable how easy it is to misinterpret events. John was on his road-bike, taking a quick trip up to Ditchling Beacon – with no risk of bovine obstruction at all.
Soon I was passing around the north and east of Sussex University campus, a feature which seems to require bigger and bigger detours to skirt. Its growing fast.
To my delight the Swan, at Falmer village was open, so I popped in for a pint. Palmer’s IPA from Bridport – most unexpected. Traditional ale, but very welcome, and the landlord was chatty, making the half-hour there thoroughly satisfying.
After passing through Falmer village and its scenic pond (Warning: blue-green algae, do not enter the water!) I headed south to explore an earthwork just off the right of way. The low angle of the sun helped define it.
Just beyond this enigmatic feature there is a steep-sided valley that contains the visible remnants of a medieval sheep enclosure. The OS map shows it all, but that is the power of imagination over reality. Or perhaps access to historic records. Only one section is really clear, but it is a delightful quiet location – well worth the trespass.
Can you see it yet? On the left hand side of the valley a strong boomerang shadow defining part of a ditch and embankment. Now I was beginning to run late, so it was over the barbed wire and onto the right of way, past lots of sheep glowing in the nearly setting sun, and a quick, foot-bashing 3 miles on tarmac back home for dinner and the theatre. If you have been, thank you for reading.