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Rottingdean’s Great War

This morning I received a delightful surprise as glimpses of sun broke through the heavy winter grey and old Rottingdean revealed itself around its war memorial and pond. I parked next to the war memorial with its Roll of Honour to both wars, with Rudyard Kipling’s home of five years behind off the green – somewhere he abandoned as it became a popular destination for tourists seeking him out. 

A short walk took me onto the South Downs behind Saltdean – a walk that could be greatly extended when doubling back you see to the sea, the iconic old windmill on the hill and in contrast the vastness of the massive Rampion Offshore Wind Farm on the Channel horizon.

The return through the edges of the town showed off the many bedroomed ‘executive homes’ of the last century with their Jags and Range-Rovers, as well as the apparently older properties along Tudor Close by the church and cemetery which turn out to be cottages created out of the 1920s Tudor Cottages Hotel.  The Manor House dates back to the 15th century, the Black Horse pub to the 16th century whilst The Elms where Kipling lived is 18th century and the Grange and North End House (where Burn Jones lived and worked) are 19th century. 

Much occurred in the late 19th century with Burn Jones and Rudyard Kipling residents and the boarding prep-school St.Aubyns which saw many of its students graduate to the likes of Eton.

My First World War interest saw me visit the exterior of the school (closed for five years and being developed into apartments and houses). Its abandoned and trashed interior can be seen online courtesy of an old boy who broke in a few years ago to take a look. The journalist, author and Scots Guards subaltern Wilfred Ewart was here 1900-1905 as was his friend George Wyndham. 

My First World War interest also took me into the churchyard of the quirky St Margaret’s of Antioch with its nativity display still out in late January. 

I spotted a dozen or so CWGC graves, mostly the class Portland stone, some private memorials. These include:

Fireman H Bateman, died 20 May 1917 on the SS Tycho. Mercantile Marine. Steamer sunk by a U Boat off Beachy Head. Body recovered and buried here. (Initial detail from the headstone and the Roll of Honour compiled by Chris Comber). 
267153 Pte William H Chatfield, Royal Sussex Regimentand  458331 Labour Corps died 14 February 1919 ‘of sickness’ (age 20) Son of Mr and Mrs Herbert Chatfield of 9, The High Street, Rottingdean. (Initial detail from the headstone and the Roll of Honour compiled by Chris Comber). 
2nd Lieut. David Dennys Fowler, RFC 
Born 20 June 1897, Seawall, Glenelg, South Australia 
Son of James Fowler of Dyxcroft, Rottingdean and and Mary Harriet (née Morgan), both were born in south Australia. 

In 1898 David’s six year old brother died. At some point in the next year or so the family moved to England.

1901 Albert Gate, Knightsbridge with his parents. His father was a ‘merchant grocer’ (employer) from south Australia. In 1909 a younger brother James was born (the family was by then living in Surrey). 

At the 1911 Census, Dennys, age 13, as he is known, was at school, Wavetree House, Furze Hill, Hove, Brighton, the census sheet showing 20 boys ages 12 to 13, of whom two were born in India, and Dennys in Australia. He then went to Harrow, was part of the OTC, leaving in December 1914. Although war had broken out to he took up at place at Trinity College, Cambridge. He had only just matriculated when his mother died on 14 November 1915 in Wimbledon. On 13 January 1916 he applied to become a flying officer. He gained his Aero Certificate in a Maurice Farman Biplane 29 May 1916 at Military School, Catterick Bridge.

Second Lieutenant David Dennys Fowler reported from England and posted to No. 1 Squadron, A.F.C. (Australian Flying Corps), at Heliopolis on 4th September, 1916.

Fowler was wounded on 5 October when his BE2c was hit by anti-aircraft fire while on reconnaissance with 2Lt J Hutchins as his observer, who escaped unhurt, but Fowler was sent to hospital in Tigne, Malta on 5 October 1916 with gsw to left foot. In December 1916 he was invalided back to England  and attached to No. 78 Squadron, R.F.C.

Text supplied by Chas Schaedel and the South Australian Aviation Museum History Group
On the night of 17 March 1917 he was flying a B.E.2s Serial number 7181 on a Zeppelin patrol after an air raid. He was turning too near to the ground, causing the left wing tip to touch and the plane crashed about one and a half miles from Telscombe Cliffs Aerodrome and was killed.

He was buried in St.Margaret’s of Antioch Church, Rottingdean on 20 March 1917. 

Grave inscription: In His Twentieth Year With Every Promise Of Happiness Before Him He Gave His Life To His Country

Sources: Australian Birth Index; UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919; British World War I Medal Records. Died in Salonika; England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995; Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificates, 1910-1950; 1901 England Census; The Street of Brighton and Hove; Virtual War Memorial, Australia.
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67450 Pte Reginald W King, The Labour Corps formerly formerly G/3064 with Royal Sussex Regiment died at home 3 November 1918 (age 32) Son of Henry and Lottie King of 29, Quebec Street, Brighton. Husband of Mrs Daisy King of 2, Rifle Butt Road, Rottingdean.
Lieut. William Oliver Redman-King (special list) Born in Brighton. Died of pneumonia at home 28 February 1919. Son of Dr. J. B. and Mrs Annie Louise Redman–King of Weetwood Hall, Leeds, Yorkshire. (Initial detail from the headstone and the Roll of Honour compiled by Chris Comber). 
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Serg.Maj. J H Rose, RFC, died 28 January 1916
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Maj. Cuthbert R Rowden RAF/Worcestershire Regiment 78th Sqdn. Formerly with the 5th Worcesters. Died at home 20 April 1918 (age 21) Son of Arthur Roger and Blanche Mary Rowden of Eastnor, Ledbury, Herefordshire. Husband of Mrs Frances Rowden of ‘Halcyon’, Redhill, Surrey. (Initial detail from the headstone and the Roll of Honour compiled by Chris Comber).
Fire Engineer J Short, Mercantile Marine S S Tycho died 20 May 1917. When the steamer was sunk by a U-boat off Beachy Head.  Body recovered and buried here. (Initial detail from the headstone and the Roll of Honour compiled by Chris Comber).
A ninth unnamed WWI Mercantile Marine is also remembered here.
Commonwealth War Graves in St.Margaret’s of Antioch Churchyard, Rottingdean

I’ll return to Rottingdean to seek out the graves I failed to spot this time round. I will also slowly complete short profiles for each man who served and died. My starting place will be the Roll of honour for the Rottingdean War Memorial produced by Chris Comber in 2004. Where I can find a photograph of the person being remembered and a Pension Card and further family and service details I will feature these in a commemorative post to the ‘Remember on this Day’ pages of The Western Front Association. 

Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacCrae Brown.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Since mid 2016 I’ve tried to join the life drawing classes run by Silvia McCrae-Brown at Charleston.

I’ve kept all my efforts and have a photographic record of most. I’ve just taken a look over these by way of comparison – I’m glad to see a significant transition from the awkwardness and impossibility of these early drawings. 

Silvia Macrae Brown runs the life drawing class at Charleston on the first Tuesday of each month. I go along when I can, Covid permitting. I’ve taken the day off from work in the past to go along. It is just one day. 

It matters to have someone with a plan, especially if it is designed to stretch us. This isn’t one of those classes where anatomical exactness created over a single pose over many hours is wanted, rather we have multiple poses, movement, drawing with our non-dominant hand, or with our eyes closed.

Today was different. There is an exhibition of Duncan Grant’s work ‘Duncan Grant: 1920‘ showing at the moment. 

So the plan was to work the way artists at Charleston worked 100 years ago – a life model was a rare treat so what doodles and sketches they made were reimagined into later works, painted onto tiles, cupboards and wall panels.

Now it was my turn. I’ve always embraced instructions whether from a coach or teacher – however awkward I may feel the challenge of the new can create insight. Today was such a day.

An idea that had been fermenting in the first idea for something to contemplate in the afternoon was brought forward. The model would hold a pose and rotate 45% every minute – that of put her on a rotating plinth. I prefer the short pose. I find 30 seconds is enough. The race is to ‘grab’ the essence of the pose for future reference. Silvia is a sculptor who often references her own approach to seeking to find the essence of a pose.

I use a Lamy fountain pen and black ink. I used to swear by an artist’s felt-tip but have come to prefer ink on paper for its smudge-ability and inconsistency; I enjoy the fight. Just as I enjoy keeping one step ahead of the blunt pencil by having at least 20 sharpened (with a Stanley Knife, never a pencil sharpener). I only use soft pencils for drawing long poses when I’m in the mood for that kind of exacting task. I prefer to be quick and intuitive rather than slow and studied. 

I keep all drawings. 

This is a dictate handed down by my later mother who did her MA in Fine Art at Durham University in the 1950s. Quentin Bell was one of her tutors – he was a lecturer there at the time.

I will just show a few here to illustrate the progress. I know that plenty of my efforts fail, so will just do another, and another, and another until it starts to look and feel right. This is what is meant about getting your hand in … like a gymnast or dancer practising moves before a session.

After another go like this and taking note of the instruction to be capturing the essence of the pose I went for something smaller.

From these the idea was to take a pose and work it up as a single art piece, as bathroom tiles, wall paper or some such as the Charleston artists did (not the reproduction tea towels and place mats you might buy in the shop).

From here, whether or not the model was posing (which felt impolite and potentially a waste of a rare resource) we were invited to take a pose and work it up as a pattern, shape or draft for an artwork. I had a few goes with a single, double and various other repetitions and combinations.

And a single pose with colour – something I’ve rarely ventured into using!

This was a breakthrough moment for me. I’ve only ever thought of a life class to be a period of work that delivers its only outputs at that moment, on the day. That any reworking of something would be a lesser thing – akin to copying from a photograph. How wrong I am. Of course artists are forever gathering up ideas on pads of paper or working with models and items in the studio to work up into a distinct and separate work. 

For lack of ink and seeing a set of blue sheets of paper to use up I went for white charcoal and produced a series of five multiple sketches on single sheets, followed by a few single images.

I was beginning to feel confident with what I was able to express with a few simple lines. The skill is to let the hand/arm draw what the eyes are seeing and the brain is feeling. Experience, practice and growing knowledge of where the bones and muscles are helps. 

We were then invited to return to a favourite pose and work on this. The model kindly took a number of poses as requested including the ‘crossed arms above the head’ which I favoured.

We ended the session with a seated pose. Enjoying using the white charcoal pencil I had only grey or green darker papers to choose from. 

Second pose of Francesa – I hadn’t judged where the leg was going!

A single pose for 35 minutes I did four sketches in each trying to do little more than get the entire figure on the page without making it too small. I then added the colour based on the model sitting under a bright orange/red heater in the barn where we are working.

One of the four charcoal sketches with pastels of Francesca. I usually get to the fixative before the smudges appear!
Francesca. Drawing 4 of 4. Starting smaller I got the whole figure in. I ought to have done some basic measuring first rather than wading in – but heh. I like spontaneous. And as here, where there is an error I am more likely to cross it out than rub it out.

Lake Wood, Uckfield 23rd November 2021

Lake Wood, November 2021

Parking is limited to three or four cars on a stretch of badly broken curb or in a near-by lay-by but at this year especially it is worth the effort. There are no visitor plans or ‘site interpretation’ at the entrances which I rather feel is a mistake – education mattes, and helps. Not everyone will care to download maps or information in advance or once they have arrived picnic in hand, dog on a lead, children in tow. 

All Trails, Lake Wood – less than 2km

I’m no fan of the noise of traffic coming at you from two sides of this 20 acre triangular ‘ancient woodland’ plot that makes up Lake Wood. I keep thinking I ought to get earphones and listen to music; this is the sad reality of a number of these Woodland Trust woods here in Sussex where most seem to be on the edge of a main road or on the edge of urban development. 

The site was given to the Woodland Trust by the Streatfield family to whom there is a dedication. From the Management Plan I learn that ‘landscaping occured in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

A pond was enlarged, features carved in the sandstone outcrops and exotic specimen trees planet as a part of the ‘Gardens and Pleasure Grounds of Rocks House’. This would make the oldest trees, both conifers and broadleaves, some 140 years or so old. Armed with a tape measure this is what I found with a ‘veteran’ sweet chestnut, beech and giant redwood, in turn with girths of approximately 300cm to 500cm. It is likely that theee were all planted around the same time in the 1880s.

Sweet Chestnut. Trunk girth 360cm. Age approximately 144 years.
Redwood, 515cm girth. Likely to be the same age as the other specimens planted around 140 years ago.
Beech at Lake Wood, Girth 395cm. Possibly over 150 years old.

To protect woodland and put it into caring hands who will manage it for generations to come I can think of no better policy; it is that or risk seeing it being developed – in this case with a series of executive homes each with its own access to the lake, or a mass of Bellways Boxes, the lake drained or fenced in, or the wood simply abandoned to motorbikes and picnic litter.

The lake is the creation of Capability Brown and the rides around the lake, including a tunnel through the rocks, were designed for carriages. Excotic trees were planted, many of which survived. Steps, tunnels and a boathouse were cut into the rocks at the time too. 

The 1987 storm took down some 100 oak trees and led to the quick spread of rhododendron and the associated effects it has on taking all light from the ground. An early task of the Woodland Trust, working with volunteers, was to remove the rhododendron.

Reading the Lake Wood Management Plan indicates the thought given by the Woodland Trust to getting the wood into a state where it can largely grow into its natural self, encouraging the variety of structures, ages and types of tree and undergrowth currently present with invasive species removed while retaining the ancient specimen trees. My sense of all this is at times more of a living museum, or a safari park for trees, than a truly natural wood – nature would quickly cover and block the so-called rides and paths kept clear by footfall alone could not exist without the steps and bridges so thoughtfully added. Here the need to accommodate, if not encourage visitors, is clear. 

Nature in its truest form is more apparent where there are dead or fallen trees – though the mass flattening of hundreds of trees in the October 1987 hurricane is not apparent. I rather believe that with rhododendron invasion the site would otherwise be a mass of 40 year old densely tangled waxy leaved evergreen rhododendrons. Despite their threat as an invasive plant the cherry laurel planted along the dam as a hedgerow remains – it is about as appealing as a neighbour eager to shut out prying eyes from a private garden and looks out of place, or is just another boundary like a wall, road, by-pass or fence. 

The rock outcrops are favoured as a feature and so are to be kept free to some degree of birch and holly which would otherwise hide their form. 

There is next to no litter – unlike the bag of cans, bottles, crisp and sandwich wrappers I collected in September. I took away one plastic bag that had been used to pick up dog faeces and left in a hedge. I was wearing gloves: I already had a small bag from my own dog so didn’t feel unduly put out. However, there are no bins on site or near the entrances which is a pity – some people clearly leave litter at one entrance as if expecting a bin rather than taking it home with them.

I’ll be back mid-winter. I’m sure it will look different again once all the leaves have gone, with frost or a snowfall.

Moat Wood in late Autumn 21 November 2021

My first Woodland Trust Wood 10 weeks ago and one I have returned to a few times since; it is a short drive, it offers a short walk with a variety of terrains, parking, a village shop and pub serving Harvey’s Best. Even the drive there is magical as the old Roman Road from Ringmer to Halland is an avenue of orange and red horse chestnuts.

My trip this afternoon was to capture the late sun glowing yellow onto autumn leaves. Arriving at a little before 4 O’clock I nearly missed it as the days are fast shortening and some low cloud on the western horizon cut the sun off early.

Moat Wood and East Hoathly mapped my All Trails

Knowing my way around I aim for the Church car park to take a loop through the church, passed the primary school to the allotments, then into the woods via the remaining conifer stand towards the moat to get the silhouettes of trees and any remaining colour before pushing through the hazel brush onto the road and back into the village.

St .Mary’s Church, East Hoathly

The light is bright across the church but I’m also eager to get down the path to spot the startling orange of the chestnut in the hedgerow by the road into East Hoathly.

Autumn colours on the oak and hedgerow on London Road outside East Hoathly

I’m not suitably confident about my tree silhouettes so already wish I’d gone a lot close to look at the leaves. I am sure to be corrected if I have this wrong.

London Road Oak, East Hoathly

I’m walking our dog Evie who is on her lead; I’ve come off the footpath to get close to the trees so we double back into the woods. I’m struck how much difference a few weeks can make. The difference between the deciduous trees and undergrowth that have mostly lost their leaves and the plantations.

Scots pine plantation planted in 1969 making these mature trees 50 years or so old.

Since 1987, on the back of the October hurricane which took down a lot of the deciduous trees these pines have been thinned, a practice that will continue here, as it does across Woodland Trust woods in order to restore woods to their deciduous native origins.

A Woodland Trust wood is well signposted at the entrances, where there is usually a sturdy gate or style and in the wood itself there are benches dedicated to those who have made a bequest or where a family have left something to the Trust.

A bench dedicated to someone who loved the woods

I return to these benches as a fixed and unchanging reminder of where I am – even if I also have All Trails live to tell me where I am, and now used like a digital compass.

Moat wood has a number of mature oak; the intention is to allow these to mature over the ‘very long term’ (50 years and beyond), with only minimal intervention as trees fall, create a break in the canopy and other mature.

I tend to find myself in the same spot each time I return so can in due course create ‘before and after’ shots between the seasons and show and timeline between spring, summer, autumn and winter. Lack of rain has reduced the moat to a soggy mud.

In other places the soggy flat ground and a strong wind has tipped a few younger trees over; unlike the trees of 1987 which were replaced, these will be allowed to rot or regrow where they are.

My trip this later afternoon ends as it gets dark and a visit to the King’s Head for a pint of Harvey’s best by the fire.

Malling Down Nature Reserve, Lewes Sunday 21st November 202

I have to admit to ticking off a walk out of Lewes I have never done before, although I have approached parts of it from the north and south. My desire is to see autumn trees but with the sun so low we decided to keep out of The Combe. 

As each of these maps from OpenStreetMap, Google Maps and Ordnance Survey show the same thing: a strip of trees in the shady lee of the coombe. Instead we parked on the street off Malling Hill and took a path onto Malling Hill to Cliffe Hill, walked around the side of Lewes Golf Course then battled a chill northerly wind to the old chalk pit and the walk back.

I can’t say I took much pleasure in it.

In a ridiculous over statement Sussex Wildlife call the Malling Nature Reserve ‘a superb chalk grassland and scrub’. The same author calls Lewes ‘quaint’. The clichés depress me.

I would call Malling Nature mediocre; it gives the impression of a patch of exposed Downland that is overgrazed, over managed and over trod. It is an urban park, a dog and human playground squeezed in against the edge of a popular town with busy roads in ear shot and a golf course along its southern boundary.

There are multiple gates to negotiate each with a set of signs with conflicting messages regarding ownership, what you should or should do with your dog and the presence of sheep in the field (or not) – though there were no sheep present anywhere when we visited. The signs warning of sheep are secured by clips to the wooden gates and are clearly left in place regardless of whether there are sheep present or not. Someone has not been told the story of the boy who cried ‘Wolf!’. Ignoring the signs is inevitable.

Here at least the importance of picking up dog shit is explained; on the Landport in the distance across to the west of the town and visible from Malling Hill the attitude I have had expressed to me in person on the ground and online in meetings of the Friends of Landport Bottom that on ‘open countryside’ dogs can do what they please, were they please.

Costells Wood, Scaynes Hill Saturday 20 November 2021

Costells Wood is owned by The Woodland Trust and is a site of so-called ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ which is made up of ‘wooded heath and gill woodland habitats associated with the High Weald’. ‘Wooded heath’ (I looked it up) is a catch-all term used to describe a kind of landscape in the south of england that is made up of woods, heath, hedgerows and farmland more typical of the 19th century than the 20th while a ‘gill’ is a brook, burn or stream, often ‘deeply’ incised into the soily ground.

In England I rather feel that ‘deep’ here simply means you can’t step over it, though a running jump may do the job. It is deep enough to lose a cow, but perhaps not a skyscraper: this is Sussex after all, not Colorado. 

There are three interconnected ‘ancient woods’ here, Costells, Henfield and another one whose name escapes me. Included are a couple of small ponds and some wooded heath. I used the App All Trails to find my way around, pick out paths and monitor my slow, meandering progress. 

It doesn’t look or feel so ancient – this is not Jurassic Park; the trees are largely under 100 years old, with a lot of younger undergrowth where rhododendron has been cleared or the trees are being coppiced. 

The ‘ancient’ is used technically here to describe woodland that has been constantly used or known as a woodland since the 1600 – but 400 years of woodland use does not mean that any trees are this old. A handful are big enough, I’ve not measured them but would say 250 years is possible. An expert can correct me but I suspect the gale of October 1987 and disease have taken down older trees, whereas woodland management since 1996 when the Woodland Trust took over has seen invasive non-native species, conifers, rhododendron and laurel removed. 

The wood has also been designated an area of wildlife importance. Not living locally I’ve not experienced the wood at night so I would be unaware of this. In any case, the ever present sound of cars on the Lewes Road into Haywards Heath, regular flights overhead in and out of Gatwick and one entire side of the wood made up of a housing estate makes the area far less wild than is required to attract much wildlife. Dogs and walkers take some blame, though their presence is welcome, and I have to wonder what domestic cats get up to here. Where the south of the area is bordered by the busy Lewes Road (A272) , to the north there is a row of power line known as ‘Bunny Walk’ where the land below has been cleared and is cleared regularly to protect the cables – it lived up to its name. 

The entire area and all its paths could be covered in under 2 hours; I’ve made three visits in many months and came here a couple of times ten years ago when my son was playing football for a local club.  It is an isolated patch which risks being hemmed into even further by housing development. The 10 acres to the south is privately owned with a fenced off path through it. It is easily accessed from the village hall car park and blighted by the main road. I rather suspect the recent sale will see three or four very large executive homes appearing on its borders – just like the other such properties on the Lewes Road into Haywards Heath. 

Two large housing developments were built on the other side of the road between 2018 and 2020 which will increase the number of visitors and therefore regular disturbance, presence and impact of domestic pets and litter. 

My walk today took me from the carpark on Scaynes Common down a cul de sac past two grand homes and down an avenue of trees.

The avenue of trees down along the footpath to ‘Bunny Walk’ from Costells Lodge and Silver Birches

It is easier to park in the Scaynes Hill Millennium Village Hall car park and use the entrance off the sports field. The rest of the wood abutting the housing is fenced off with access restricted or banned. 

Quoting the Woodland Trust Management Plan directly I can expect to find ‘oak and occasional ash standards with hazel, birch and hornbeam coppice’ and in spring ‘pockets of ancient semi-natural woodland ground flora such as bluebell and wood anemone’. As well as ‘alder flush woodland’ in the gills, with ‘carpets of mosses and ferns and the occasional and scarce alder buckthorn’. 

‘The most notable stand type is the wooded heath area with open-grown oak, birch and Scots pine with a ground flora of heather, bilberry and bracken’ which the Woodland Trust advise is ‘a scarce habitat in lowland England’.

The ‘understorey species are typically hazel and rowan, with occasional holly and alder buckthorn with a dense layer of mosses, liverworts and ferns carpeting the streamside areas’.

Repeated visits will have me pick things out one by one and in time I should get to know my plant types well; I really need to go on a guided walk with an expert. September to November has so far had me experience late summer, autumn and early winter. There has yet to be a frost; unusually there have been only a couple of spells of heavy rain. The ponds are low, the paths largely dry though wellies are recommended given the many patches of well-trodden mud. 

I removed some litter, the usual culprits: energy drinks, disposable coffee and a take-away … 

A regular visitor to Haywards Heath I will try and make a stop here every month, or at least every other month until I have covered all seasons and weathers. I want to explore Henfield Wood, though a short foray gave me the impression it was made up of a lot of barely penetrable coppiced hazel. I wonder too where the Sussex Ouse Valley Way would take me.

The Sussex Ouse Valley Way using Google Maps

If I am here for long enough I wonder which field, meadow or paddock will be given up to housing. We have to live somewhere, and rather than apartments in town us Brits do love our houses with a tiny patch of front and back garden and a place to park the cars.


The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Costells Wood 

Wooded Heaths in the High Weald 

How old is that tree?

Although I am still new to identifying trees, though I am ably assisted by the ‘Picture This’ App, I am now taking the next step to approximate their age. A quick google gives a variety of approaches, some more technical than others, and those from the US forever having you choose between imperial feet and inches or the far more sensible metric systems. Having started with inches I quickly flip the tape measure around and go with centimeters instead to remove one complexity in the calculation.

The science is self-evident – some trees grow faster than others, and the growing conditions will have an impact too. I am not after an exact age, so looking for a recently sawn down tree of the same type and girth, or sawing down the tree to get at its age or taking a core sample would be taking it too far. And unless in my own garden, against the law.

All I want to be able to do is to take a measurement, do a calculation based on what kind of tree it is and therefore say that this tree is around 50 years old, or 100 years old or 150 years old. That’s about the range, with some closer to the 30 years mark, anything younger a sapling of sorts and anything far older edging towards ‘ancient’. Rather like guessing a person’s age I think you develop an eye for it, certainly around your own parks and walks. Around Lewes there is a lot around the 60 year old, very few old trees and many younger. I’m thinking the oldest trees are likely to be in the cemetery, where ancient yews are often found. And in Southover Grange Gardens which was in private hands 100 years ago and has an old mulberry and equally old beech which I think are at least 300 years old?

I try out my method around Stanley Turner measuring a sweet chestnut here, a field maple there, a sycamore too. The willow that came down a few years ago are surely reaching the 250 years old mark and having been sawn off I could get an exact diameter.

While the field maple that came down a year ago is possibly around 60 years old.

There is a chance that there is someone alive who remembers them being planted – or even planted them. For this I need to approach the Rugby and Cricket Club.

I also head up to Jubilee Gardens and visit Bell Lane.

My calculations remain vague. I put this large beech in Jubilee Gardens off Juggs Lane at 120 to 130 years old. With all of these are await correct.

I’m yet to calculate the age of the trees in Bell Lane Recreation Ground or the older trees in the Railways Land Wildlife Trust Land.

William’s Wood, Warninglid during ‘fall’.

I will use the expression ‘fall’ as suits my own needs an experience; for me it is that day, or those days where leaves are self-evidently falling from the canopy – today is one of those days. ‘Fall’ here in Sussex on England’s South Coast is therefore is building to a crescendo and having lasted a week to 10 days will be over. Autumn on the other hand came as temperatures belatedly dropped below 10 degrees C. I struggle to believe we even have a winter anymore – for winter there needs to be frost and temperatures below freezing sustained during the day. Snow helps. I’m sure there have been a couple of years over the last decade where ‘winter’ in this sense never happened … autumn and ‘fall’ were late, winter tried but failed to transpire and days later we were into an early spring. Such is life under climate change.

This is my third visit to William’s Wood and the second time I’ve inadvertently timed my walk with the shoot that chases ducks off the lake or pheasants out of the heath to the west. My views are no longer mixed: we should not be raising animals to eat, let alone shoot them for sport. Yet I am a crack shot. Age 8 to 10 I remember going out to shoots in Northumberland and southern Scotland with my father who went shooting most weekends in the season. He taught my brother and I to shot. I use the same techniques when taking photographs.

Knowing where to park up and how to enter the wood makes it straightforward to find William’s Wood and then continue on through Bishop’s Wood and Harvey’s wood, sticking to the public access footpaths courtesy of All Trails and Ordnance Survey Maps.

Park on the lane leading up to Bellevue Nursing Home (formerly Stonewick), once the home of William Knapman in whose name the wood beyond was bequeathed to The Woodland Trust by his wife Jane Knapman both of whom are remembered on a bench in the meadow 50m or so into William’s Wood.

It is a 500m walk from the drive to the Nursing Home to access William’s Wood. There is then a distinct fork, I’ve taken both; to the right is a long trail into the gill, onto open farmland, through other woods and lakes beyond – a right of way with a distinct sense of being hemmed in by fences, hedgerows of laurel or conifers and signs warning of Private Land. Best to go left and onto the edge of William’s Wood.

Williams Wood can be walked in a circular route in 30 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on how long you dawdle to admire the trees, the underground and gills. Bishop’s Wood beyond adds another hour.

As a Woodland Trust wood there is a management plan for William’s Wood that explains how the wood came into their ownership, its size, nature, problems, short and long term ambitions. On the ground you know you are in a Woodland Trust wood because of the quality of signposting, solid and generous boardwalks and bridges. 

My timing is perfect. Leaves have been falling in abundance in places all week but there are just enough here still for the canopy in places to be an extraordinarily varied range of light to dark yellow, through orange, red, russet and brown with some auburn, scarlet or crimson.

My knowledge of trees and their leaves, let alone their trunks and silhouette is still too poor to identify any tree other than the obvious ones: I know my oak, maple and willow, but not my ash, larch or sycamore. This will come with experience. I assiduously use the ‘Picture This’ App, though this requires a good signal. I now know my liverwort at least, though I struggle with the different fungi and would never pick and eat a mushroom from the woods without expert advice. 

Beyond William’s Wood there are long paths by one of the meadows, through stands of old larch and beech (I think), as well as oak. You can then double back above a deep or flooded fill where tress surely 200 years old or more create huge arches across the canopy and at this time of year litter the path in leaves.

Lewes Bonfire 5th November 2021

Day 15 of a dreadful cold and day two of feeling on recovering fast I feel I may be able to manage more than just a walk with the dog to clear my lungs. 

Bell Lane

A crisp sunny morning I’m up at dawn and onto the Railway Land only to find much of it fenced off because of the massive fireworks display and bonfire site preparations – we stick with a few loops around the old ornamental lake and woods and then head for Bell Lane. My eyes are always on trees and hedges, newly planted and ancient. Lewes Urban Arboretum has been active these last couple of years putting in saplings and lengths of hedgerow. I take a detour to Jubilee gardens.

Hedge ‘whips’ planted by Lewes Urban Arboretum along the edge of Jubilee Gardens

It’s too nice a day to stay in – that and the lack of exercise over the last couple of weeks is enough of an excuse for me to head out again later in the morning. Lewes on 5th November becomes gradually frenetic after 12 noon as parking restrictions come into place and the last cars leave the streets. 

For the best part of a week I have slept every afternoon – feeling good and preferring to not to make long naps a habit I venture out again later in the afternoon. I’m out at 4:00pm to get the last half hour of winter sunlight.

By 4:45pm all vehicles must be outside the demarcated centre of town and the roads are closed. For the next hour as we tip into darkness the streets are quiet, though visitors are already spilling into the pubs and out of the last train.

Western Road after road closures

I’m on Winterbourne Hollow as the roads are closed. From Prison Crossroads, as we call it, I head into town on Western Road. The Southover Bonfire Society Float is parked up ready for action at the top of the Hollow. It features Matt Hancock with his hands on a somewhat nubile, youthful and naked Gina Coladangelo. This is such old news, nearly 6 months, there have been many more scandals since. The large papier mache floats take a while to design and construct though – the default would be Boris Johnson.

I visit the Blacksmith Arms to find it packed with drinkers who appear to have been here since lunchtime – it’s like match day. Then down the High Street ‘reclaiming the streets’ in my own way by walking up the middle of the road looking back and forth to enjoy traffic free streets – not just no vehicles driving through, but no cars parked up either.

This always reminds me of late Victorian/early Edwardian Street scenes – the kind of thing my late grandfather would have appeared in as a boy: a street devoid of traffic, just pedestrians, perhaps a handcart, maybe a tub trap and pony.

East Sussex Police Officers on their way up Keere St, Lewes for their Bonfire Night duties

I’m at the top of Keere Street as a squad of police officers arrive, gather to take instructions and then spread out along the High Street in pairs where they have been told to ‘familiarise themselves with their area’ – as if much can be gleaned ahead of the crowds and revellers while standing in a boarded up shop door.

Mostly in pairs, more often than not one male, one female. the Police Officers take up position on Lewes High Street

Through town The Rights of Man appears packed until I see that drinks are being served directly on the street through a window.  The Lansdown is as busy as on Match Day when Brighton & Hove Albion supporters gather her for a pre-match bevvy or two.

The Lansdown Pub at the bottom of Station Street, Lewes 5th November 2021
The bottom of Station Street as the road is closed to pedestrians outside The Landport 5:00pm 5th November 2021

I venture over to the War Memorial then turn tail down Station Street in time to witness the police and organisers pulling a barrier across the road to prevent any further pedestrian access to the last surge of people coming in on the train. 

Lewes station closed as I approached – no trains will be stopping again today – I’m on the railways bridge to hear a station announcement about the station being closed and see a couple of police officers walking the platforms to remove any stragglers. 

Pubs are charging £5 for a pint of Harvey’s Best, up from £4:30 / £4:40 in most pubs, the exception being The King’s Head which has puts its prices up from £4:80 to £6:00 for a pint – one to avoid, as I state early on via Lewes Present on Facebook. This later meets with a certain amount of vitriol for my calling them out – yet someone else points out that they are also charging £3:00 for a can of Coke.  I also stop in at The Volunteer – busy, but a quite different atmosphere – more of a lads pub? A club or supporters pub? The atmosphere is that of a vibrant ‘working men’s club’. 

My favourite watering hole on this side of town is The Swan – where the prices have remained the same (good for them). There is a jovial party atmosphere here all afternoon and evening, very much like a very large family wedding with some drinking early, polite quaffing for a period then a descent into propper party mode. For now I head home for an additional break. Usually by this time we would have pulled out several large Really Useful Boxes containing pirate uniformes, tricorn hats and weaponry – this is all mothballed to another year. Bell Lane, too often a rat run, certainly more so before the Covid-19 lockdown than now, is devoid of traffic. The way groups of people walk down the road just shows how ante-social our narrow footpaths are that have for the last 100o years put cars, lorries and buses first. This must change. We need to reclaim the streets 🙂

Being in civvies I am not committed to joining the official marches of Southover Bonfire Society, which I have done for 12 or more years. If you’re part of the crowd and gather and re-appear at a pub as part of the crowd it is hardly surprising to find them crowd; I was able to get around with ease. The High Street was also less rammed than usual I am sure – there are years where once you get onto the route of the marching bands then you are stuck for long periods – not tonight.

The evening’s entertainments to follow. Though I made no trip out to any bonfire site. I saw fireworks over rooftops and listened to the commotion from the street.

An Autumnal Moat Wood, East Hoathly

Moat Wood, Uckfield 3 November 

My third of fourth trip to this Woodland Trust wood, so I ought to get it right. Parking by the Church is the best way in, with parking spaces and bins, then a path through the churchyard past War Memorial and alongside the Primary School into the woods.

Primary School Pond and Nature Reserve

As we approach remembrance Sunday I must research some of these names shown here; men who served and died during the First World War. 

Moat Wood isn’t a long walk, but our dog Evie is on a time limit of 20-30 minutes given her age and arthritis.

I think I’ve got the timing about right for autumn colours, the path thick with fallen leaves and the canopy in many places becoming a yellow/orange glow. This can only be enjoyed with sunshine so I’ve crawled away from a cold to get some air and stretch my legs before it is too late. Moat Wood is small, surrounds a medieval moat and is demarcated as ‘ancient woodland’. 

Over the last 20 years I’ve used the end of October and then 5th November as the guide for when I would expect all the leaves to have gone from the trees, but it appears to be getting ever so slightly later each year. It takes a storm blowing through or frost and we have had neither despite hints of frost right now and for a day or two.

I sincerely recommend going to the Woodland Trust website and searching for this wood and reading the Management Plan. It is reassuring to know that such an organisation exists and with 1000 woods around the UK many people, communities and local councils have put woods into the hands of the Woodland Trust. You can guarantee a steady hand, careful planning and a sensitive recovery plan for woods thick with invasive species or poorly planted in previous decades (typically with conifers), while dealing with the menace of things like ash dieback. I find their communications with the public are excellent.

And then there are benches, dedications, bridges, duckboard tracks, gates and notices aiming to help the public enjoy the woods rather than keeping them out.

From the Management Plant you learn some technical phraseology, this is ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ with the majority equating to ‘National Vegetation Classification’.  I’m trying to get my head around these expressions as I go from one Woodland Trust wood to another to see for myself what is meant on the ground.

‘Large parts of the wood were replanted with broadleaves after the storm of 1987.’ Which explains why so few fallen trees indicating this event can be found on the ground. There is a corner where the failure of planted ‘oak, ash, wild cherry and non-native Norway maple’ is self-evident and the natural regeneration of species such as hornbeam and birch quite virulent by comparison.

The pine, though thinned, still dominates its corner of the wood where little light gets to the ground.

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