Kingley Vale, Komodo Dragon and a Druid

Way back on the 12th March four of us set out for an ancient yew woodland just north east of Chichester.  Arrived at the car park at 10.30 and walked beside a few fields to arrive at the National Nature Reserve which is Kingley Vale.

The first yew trees are there immediately, but they are nothing special – seen bigger in a country churchyard.  After a while we see into some bigger groves of them, and walk through gaps in their drooping branches to enter the dry bare earth zone underneath the yews.  Now we can get close to the trunks and branches.

blood red bark (600 x 411)

It was raining a little, but that added to the quality of the wood, and the fresher bark’s redness was stunning.  You can see through the branches above to where they dip down to rest on the ground.  If they sit there long enough they take root, and as the roots develop they become effectively a new tree.  The old core trees don’t really die.  They generate aerial roots inside the rotten centre which reach down to the ground and start all over again.

Pixie Druid and friends (600 x 407)

Our druid told us that this makes them impossible to date correctly, and though several have been dated at about 2000 years he said they are really much older.  And he’d know, he told us he is third generation Druid for Kingley Vale.  Not sure how official that title is.  He is the one with the big hood and pointing towards the camera, he is holding a fine yew staff, and has two of his what?  Disciples? Fellow druids? with him.  Jackie and Marian are the ones on the right.  He called himself Pixie.  We met them on the path and they followed us, offering information and enlightenment.

komodo dragon yew (600 x 466)

This is my Komodo Dragon – yes, its just a bit of tree, sorry.  When we got away from Pixie and friends we found a delightful tree with a ring of juniors around it.  Difficult to photograph, and the image below is the best I managed.

treees from trees (600 x 450)

The parent is in the distance, one offspring is the main up-curved branch, but another (grandson?) is starting by my feet, where you can see a branch on the left dropping down to the ground.  I suspect that this makes the tree the ‘grandfather tree’ which several people asked us about, but I was not familiar with this name.  Rowena went up the tree, and after a bit of persuasion so did I.  Always easier to get up than down, I recalled too late.

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Education and Media Rant #1

On the Today prog this morning the host was asking a Labour person how they would manage to spend more on education in these days of austerity.  The rep did not immediately draw the host’s attention to the politically motivated austerity, designed to undermine the public services to allow the private sector in, over time.  Nor did the rep say anything about the available wealth handed back to the rich over successive Tory governments, in the steady process of disabling the many whilst enriching the few.

And what was the bloody host doing adopting the Tory political position in the first place?  Did he really think austerity was a God-given fact, rather than a political choice?   Oooo! these people annoy me.  I planned to go on a lot more – perhaps about the Labour Party policy forum meeting I spent the afternoon at, in Crawley.  At least the members who turned out in considerable numbers seemed to have a grasp of the real nature of things.  But how many ideas will find there way from the membership to the manifesto is in the hands of the elected members, not entirely behind the current leader.  But dinner is ready.

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Extraordinary Homes

Some weeks ago the Radio Times was promoting a show called ‘World’s Most Extraordinary Homes’.  In the write-up the author appeared amazed that the home in question was created on a footprint of just 100 square metres, as if this was a small footprint.

I read this just after watching the Stephen King movie ‘The Client’ in which a poor woman remarked, “All I ever wanted was a white house with a walk-in closet”.  She was living in a trailer.  Am I reading too much into this phrase – I think it means detached and large house.  It is the US of A, and a walk-in closet does imply big rooms.

crisp clear day aug 2013 51 ULR (600 x 545)

Anyway.  I did a simple sum.  The house I live in has five rooms plus a kitchen, bathroom and utility room.  Plenty of space to do with as you like.  And it is built on a footprint of just 65 square metres, just like thousands of other standard terraced houses in Brighton and across the country.  It seems to me that the obvious extraordinary feature of the Radio Times house is its extraordinarily large size.

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Spring Equinox Beer Festival

I know its not the equinox yet, but the Campaign for Real Ale branch covering Horsham has a different view.  Or perhaps they couldn’t book the hall next month.  So on Saturday 26th February I joined old school-friend Graham and his son-in-law at the Horsham Drill Hall to sample a few beers from the Dark Beer bar and the Light Beer bar.  See what they are doing there?  Sadly the dark beer bar was much shorter than the other – which is not the equinox.  The equinox would be equal length dark and light, but I guess if you have 19 dark beers and 28 light ones you have to bend the rules.


In contravention of normal practice I started with pudding.  Half of Bradford brewery Saltaire’s Triple Chocoholic. The smell and taste of a chocolate dessert – with alcohol.  Cleansed the palate with half of Downlands Hop Contract – wonderful aromatic hops with darker fruity flavours.  Back to the dark side for Greyhound Brewery’s Booster, a US style brown ale from West Sussex.  I think it was on the dark bar to boost the numbers.

The fact we got into the event at all was very fortuitous.  Last year we just walked up to the door at opening time and bought tickets.  It was sold out days in advance this time, but Graham met a key organiser who said he expected some returns at the door on the day, and he would keep the first 3 for us.  And he did.  We bought baguettes with stuff in, but the bread was very soft and not baguette-like at all.  Necessary though.

Back to the bars for Green Duck’s (from Stourbridge apparently) Duck Under.  I recall enjoying it.  The programme says it was a well hopped golden pale with citrus finish – I would enjoy that.  I went on to Art Of Darkness from our local Dark Star brewery, Triple fff Forbidden Fruit, a bronze IPA from Hampshire and finally the delicious and not previously encountered Long Arm (Ealing, London) IPA OK.

Then I ran for the bus!!!  And sat on it for the hour ride back to Brighton.  What a constitution the boy has.

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Walk to Keymer for lunch and nearby art

Sunday saw me on a bus at 9.40am heading for Patcham and a 4 mile walk over the Downs for lunch.  Walked away from hundreds of children playing football at Patcham Recreation Ground at 10am climbing the slippery track between the gardens of houses and the roar of the bypass.  The noise peaked as I took the footbridge across four lanes of traffic to find a fairly newly designated piece of Access Land, complete with interpretation board and map beside a new gate.  So new that the grass showed no signs of wear on the direct routes between gates – I felt I was pioneering a new trail, an odd feeling in such well used countryside.


After three fields I approached the rifle range.  Its marked on the OS map as that, but I have never previously seen it (and heard it ) in use.  This day the crack crack crackle of rifle shots and the red warning flags made it very clear it was in use.  At the top of this field I left open access land and had to follow the public rights of way.  Not easy when the only obvious route turned out to be a cul-de-sac leading to pheasant rearing pens.  So a barbed wire fence had to be climbed.  Turns out this was the right of way – according to my map, but it simply stopped at a fence.  But the start of that section was rewarded with a misty view into the sun, across to the Ditchling Road:



Soon I reached the South Downs Way, looking left and right, then right again I waited for a gap in the streams of walkers, runners and cyclists until it was safe to cross this busy highway and make my way down the unnamed ridge which doubles as an RSPB reserve.  A mile further and I was in Keymer early enough to pop into the Greyhound for a pint of Longman Brewery Long Blonde ale before heading for our vegetarian lunchtime venue Mama Ganoush.


Mine had sprouted mung beans, cauliflower, squash, pomegranate and rocket served with beetroot, carrot and spinach salad.  It was tasty, as were the two large glasses of Rioja and the black coffee.  All six of us headed for Ditchling Museum and Art Gallery afterwards where I was keen to see the notebooks of the illustrator John Lord.


The chap on the museum till was apologetic that a public catalogue was getting tatty, and then he refused my offer of payment to enter the museum, saying that he felt it would be unreasonable to take money from me.  This odd behaviour became clear when he said I was John Lord.  At that point I remembered being mistaken for him a few times way back in the 1980s when we both worked in the Art College part of Brighton Polytechnic.  The drawings are great – the one above is from one of his ’90s notebooks, when The Hitchhikers Guide was so popular.

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Toilet fixed

A couple of posts ago I put up  a picture of the hole in our upstairs toilet floor.  Eventually fixed it by cutting a sheet of plywood to fit the whole room, reinforcing the side where there is no joist handy by screwing a 2″ by 2″ timber to the plywood on the underside  of the remaining chipboard flooring.


Still not looking great, I hear you think.  Have patience.  At this stage I got Kevin back to install a new loo.  Two days ago I was up at 6am to see Jackie off on a trip to Cambridge.  Decided to finish the loo.  First had to stain-block some rusty patches on the back wall, then paint it nicely.  Then staple down underlay.  Must thank Marian for that and the carpet off-cuts from her new carpeting job.


Note the little step to protect the new carpet edge in the doorway.  Then the tricky part.  Three hours to carpet a small loo – no threat to professionals.  But pleasing to me.  By 1pm the task was completed.  Be careful how you pee!


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Undercliff walk

Last week Steve and I met up to walk along the concrete path at the foot of the cliffs east of Brighton.  After so many days of wet weather the idea of concrete seemed better than footpaths on the Downs.  Plus it would be low tide, so plenty of stuff to see and talk about.


The foreshore immediately east of the marina shows a weed covered wave cut platform, with hardly any flint shingle at all.  We decided that this is because of the marina, built in the 70s, it stopped the eastward drift of shingle which would have maintained the beach.  There is evidence that a shingle beach once existed – small pieces of groynes still stand – like the bit centre left of the above photograph.


A real bonus was the warmth!  The sun shone some of the time and it was not windy.   mile or so further east and the protective effect of the marina is lost and shingle is once again available.  perhaps it does move past the marine, but the immediate eastern coast is in a sort of shingle-shadow zone.  Like a rain-shadow zone in physical geography.


Even when it got cloudy the sun came through in places.  Here it marks the distant sea horizon with a thin bright line of light.


The undercliff walk is part of the protection to reduce cliff erosion, so there is very little material added to the beach from local erosion.  Here you can see the chalk showing through, right below the undercliff walk, carved into glorious undulating and convoluted curves by the sea and battering of pebbles.  Such pleasing patterns and colours – I feel a painting coming on!

It was good to get out for a walk, talk and some inspiration.

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