Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Action for Access

Dave Bangs writes

Action for Access

Meet 9.55am BRIGHTON STATION, to catch the 10.07 train to Hassocks. Our walk kicks off 10.30am from Hassocks station EAST side car park (map ref in notes). See you there!

Action for Access

Working and walking for a people’s countrysidPalSyalk on Clayton and Ditchling Downs

Saturday 18th September

Our walk will start and finish at Hassocks Rail Station EAST side car park, TQ 304 155, on the London – Brighton line.

We will pass down a narrow path southwards into Butcher’s Wood, a well-managed property of the Woodland Trust, which has a policy of designating all its woodland sites as statutory access land. This wood is a pearl in a necklace of gorgeous ancient woodland sites strung out along the sticky gault clay outcrop under the scarp of the South Downs. It is managed as Hazel coppice under Oak standards, with a minority stand of Hornbeam and some ornamental Pines. It is a Bluebell and Anemone wood in springtime, full of the noise of courting songbirds, the drilling of Woodpeckers and the piping of Nuthatches. I counted ten ancient woodland plants in one brief April visit.

If the weather stays warm and damp we should see some good fungi both there and in the Downland woods and pastures to the south.

Clayton church is the finest of the frescoed Saxo-Norman churches of these under-downs, painted by a school of muralists in the 12th century. Its vivid paintings could have been done yesterday. These Romanesque churches were truly jazzy places… filled with public art done in the service of feudalism and feudal christianity.

We will climb Clayton Down under the Jack and Jill windmills. This site was placed on the draft map of statutory access land at the consultation stage, but was deleted by the time the designations were finalized. Bonkers…for it is a wonderful ancient down pasture site with a rich community of herbs and mixed scrub, with many colourful berry bearing shrubs, including three wild Rose species, Wayfaring Tree and loads more. Rich old scrub communities are rare on these Downs despite the overall increasing presence of species–poor recent scrub.

The woods here may well be primary…that is, they may well have an ecological continuity right back to the time of the spread of the wildwood over the warming post-glacial tundra. Testament to that was the presence of Large-leaved Lime - an aboriginal species that clung on here till Victorian times. There are still several mature hybrid Limes on their site, as well as veteran Beech and carpets of Bluebells under Hazel coppice, Lesser Butterfly Orchis…and hygroscopic Earthstar fungi that open and shut like flowers in response to damp and drought.

After crossing the South Downs Way we will descend into Dencher Bottom – one of my favourite sites on the Brighton Downs. This is ‘Hare Country’, and we stand some good chance of seeing one in this, one of their best redoubts.

The Bottom was part of one of the last intact chalk grassland and chalk heath sub-landscapes to succumb to the plough in the 1950’s (the other one being the plateau cirque between Kingston Hill and Castle Hill, south east of Falmer). On the south facing slope, with its Gorse tonsure, there are grand old anthills and dancing Brown Argus and Chalkhill Blues. With luck we should find good Bolete fungi living in partnership with the abundant Rockrose, which looks like a dainty Downland flower above ground, but behaves like a woodland tree below ground. There is Purse-web Spider (the British trap door spider) and Boxing Gloves Spider, Alopecosa cuneata, and the mature Hawthorns are infested with little Jewel Beetles, cousins of the gorgeous tropical monsters which dazzle with their iridescence.

Maybe we will go to Ditchling Beacon. We can vote on that. There’s plenty to see there, with a whole chain of Bronze Age barrows along the scarp crest, three ancient bostals descending to the Weald, and much long-overdue-but-very-welcome scrub clearance work by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. This is one of the last ‘tenantry down’ commons on the eastern South Downs. The Beacon is the highest point on these eastern Downs and marks the watershed between the basins of the Rivers Adur and Ouse, where a well used prehistoric trackway went north along the high ground through Ditchling (an ex- Alfredian Saxon royal manor), over Lodge Hill, with its barrow, past Oldlands Windmill, then over Broadhill and away across the darkest Weald. These trackways go back way into deepest time…Saxon, maybe Neolithic and Mesolithic and beyond ???

We will return via Keymer Post and the ‘hill and holes’ of lovely Keymer Down, a magical aboriginal site that sets my skin tingling with pleasure at memories of past visits there…Dark Clayton Holt etched against the sky; golden, pink and grey clouds and watery squalls; waving Totter Grass, little Field Fleawort on the old quarry sides in spring, Dark Green Fritillary butterfly whizzing about in July, and mosses and lichens to pleasure the deadness of winter days.

We once found a whole crowd of green-black iridescent Bloody-nosed Beetle larvae along a trackside here.

Back across Underhill Lane and the fields and woods to Hassocks.

Children doubly welcome (‘cos their sharp eyes see things us tall adults miss).

Bring a light picnic and water. Wear boots and clothes suitable for the changeable weather.

Sorry no dogs as there will be livestock and wildlife we don’t want to disturb.

We won’t always be on rights of way or access land and may have to cross one or two low fences with the aid of a carpet square for leg and clothes protection (and so’s not to damage the fences).

walking and working for a people's countryside

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