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Lake Wood, Uckfield – early summer visit

Lake Wood, 12 June 2022

I am still a few months short of visiting Lake Wood across all seasons. My first visit was on 19 October. I wonder if I was making a visit after a busy summer season before a clean up, or after a warm summer weekend as I couldn’t help but note then, as I did today, on the discarded coffee cups (Costa), beer bottles (Budweiser), vodka battles (Stolichnaya), crisp and sweet bags. Since that trip I have been prepared to collect some litter so long as it doesn’t require gloves or anything larger than a large poo bag … I have filled a shopping bag on one occasion, and then again a bin liner.

Solutions to such problems of litter, graffiti, a few fires and frequent abandoned deposits of dog waste are welcome. I rather think it starts with trips to the site with local primary school children on litter picking and other trips so that in the decades to come they want to take care of the place. 

Lake Wood (panorama view) 12 June 2022

But please don’t let me put you off – the litter and graffiti is low-key. I’d like to say it is idyllic, and visually it is indeed a treat for the eyes to enjoy a late 18th century early 19th century landscaped garden in the style of Capability Brown. Idyllic for me, however, requires minimal interfering noise from traffic hurtling along the Uckfield Bypass, or negotiating at speed the chicances – despite poor visibility around Rock Road, which takes up two sides of a triangle – so 2/3rds or more of the perimeter of the wood.

Parking, and especially departing the lay-by here requires nerve as from both directions, both hidden corners, vehicles can emerge at speed and they are never sympathetic to find you pulling out. 

Something needs to be done about noise pollution and behaviours which I struggle to deem ‘anti-social’ so much as ‘lazy’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘unsympathetic’ – people who can’t be bothered to take their litter home with them having walked in with an energy drink, MacDonald’s milkshake or Wild Bean Coffee. Certainly the take away outlets need to do more to advise and educate their customers – indeed, I think local councils should demand that such outlets as a condition of their licence have clearly visible and well communicated posters regarding litter and the environment. 

Rock Road entrance to The Woodland Trust, Lake Wood

The current signage that relies on a collection of icons that misunderstood or ignored is not the answer. Or use emojis … at least apply a language that is in common use. Actually, I have come to understand that a lot of signage attracts its own problems by providing confusing, multiple messages. Just two would do: take your litter and dog’s shit home. Digital might help.

This is what I made of Lake Wood in March 2022 > https://bit.ly/3xG3v5S 

Lake Wood and The Woodland Trust Mission

Whenever I visit a Woodland Trust wood I go to the Woodland Trust website, read up on it (no matter how many times I have already done this) and download the Management Plan which, as the name suggests, is a dry, practical description of the space, its opportunities and problems and the plans for the immediate 5 years and then 50 years hence. Few of us visit these woods unless as children are likely to care – another good reason to develop interest and love for the woods at the youngest age. I’m thinking age 4 and up – though I can’t see a local nursery, even a primary school, visiting given the health and safety risks of a deep, boggy lake and rocky outcrops, let alone fallen trees and decaying trunks. (Which to my mind age ten sounds like bliss).

Lake Wood, AllTrails 12 June 2022

I would like an illustrated map. The above is what I produce on AllTrails.

Nothing overly revealing if the ancient trees and some habitats need to be protected, rather than advertised to the world, but a map matters for habitats and paths. And here, as in many woods these days, people treat a track/path or ride as a guide or point of reference and eagerly venture off into the woods whatever the time of year, emerging and blossoming plants. 

The Woodland Trust Mission

All management plans open with this statement: 

To realise all the environmental, social and economic benefits woods and trees bring to society, we:

  • Create Woodland – championing the need to hugely increase the UK’s native woodland and trees.
  • Protect Woodland – fighting to defend native woodland, especially irreplaceable ancient woodland and veteran trees; there should be no loss of ancient woodland
  • Restore Woodland – ensuring the sensitive restoration of all damaged ancient woodland and the re-creation of native wooded landscapes.

I’m learning as an elected town councillor for the Green Party (any surprises here?) – that wishing for everything even where there is a conflict of interests, that delivering a generous management plan such as they requires wider collaboration, positive communication and engagement with the very group that is always the issue when it comes to the environment – us! People! 

Lake Wood, Uckfield 

From the Woodland Trust Management plant I read that this is a “3 acre spring-fed lake created from an earth dam”. It includes ‘aramatic outcrops of Cretaceous Ardingly sandstone covered in mosses, lichens and ferns’ – indeed it does, though in places every inch of the stone has been carved into with a knife or chisel so that Gary can declare his love Courtney. 

This is ‘a semi-natural woodland’ – ‘although much of it was extensively modified in the late 18th and early-19th centuries in the style of Capability Brown by the enlargement of the lake and the planting of exotic trees and shrubs’. Indeed. Though Capability Brown couldn’t see 250 years ahead to the space coming into public ownership and the burgeoning time engulfing the garden with the modern essentials the residential dwelling: easy access to the countryside and roads that allow you to drive at the greatest speed possible for that road. 

We learn that “Trees planted at the time included beech, lime, horse chestnut, sycamore, coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)”. I am too early in my woodland journey to be able to identify some of these readily. I have learnt that both mid-winter and mid-summer offer valuable indicators. I am starting to visit woods with a mind to picking out just one tree at a time until I know it. 

Some of the trees sit like giant bonsai on the tops of the stone outcrops overlooking the lake. This, the huge specimen trees, some touching 60 or 70ft I am sure, the twisting hornbeam and the views onto the lake, as well as discovering its steps, tunnel and boat house dug into the stone are all fun. 

We learn that the October 1987 hurricane took down a lot of trees here. Many have been left in situ have well and truly bedded down. Many have produced an abundance of new shoots, or support ‘companion’ trees and shrubs – others will rot down over 100 years or more. 

We learn that ‘​​the northern part of the site is largely overstood mixed coppice of hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut with semi-mature birch with oak standards’ – which is also where, if I recall, there is the densest carpet of wood anemones I have seen anywhere. 

Over the next 50+ years

 “Many of the existing over-mature trees will have died or been windblown but another cohort of mature trees will have been recruited as potential veteran trees across the site”. 

Areas with a light tree canopy tend to have a ground flora dominated by coarse species such as bracken and bramble.

There is a Woodland Trust to ‘connect people’ with woods. 

However, I would like to see parts of the woods close to trampling feet, dog mess and littering. I cannot see how any space on the edge of a rapidly growing urban area can otherwise protect its intrinsic value. Volunteers are already involved, so if there isn’t a ‘Friends of Lake Wood’ there needs to be one.

The site has a WT access category A: high usage site, regularly used at all times of year with more than 20 people using one entrance every day. There are 2 pedestrian access points from Rocks Road although parking is very limited.

There is ‘anti-social behaviour including litter, fires, camping, swimming, boating and vandalism. I’ve never seen boating, swimming or boating, though the odd fire is lit – the constant problem is litter. Today’s haul included the usual sinners from takeaway outlets McDonalds, Costa and Subway as well as bottles of drink (beer, Coke, water, milkshakes, a yoghurt) and sundry bits of sweet paper wrapper. Last September or October I filled an entire shopping bag with the remains of a large alcohol and energy drink fuelled picnic. 

Graffiti on a 230 year old birch, Lake Wood, 2022

There’s lasting damage to the trunk of a 230 year birch which now features a large wrap around penis and balls. I think an arborist is required here. Soap and water? Careful picking away the affected bark? A strong detergent or a power hose would surely risk killing the tree? 

The sound of aeroplanes coming into London disturbs the peace frequently enough, though nothing is shocking as the first time (and last time) you sit outside at the The Hurlingham Club and have a 747 jet land on your head … every 7 minutes. 

Noise Abatement

The management plan says that the 19th century sandstone wall will be replaced by a wire fence when it fails. This unfortunately has been done and what is left is a large gap which filters the noise of traffic on the busy raised Rock Road. The ‘Slow’ signs here are ignored – with people stopping in pop-up lay-bys left and right of the road the speed limit ought to be dropped to 30pm and traffic calming measures put in place.

As for the Uckfield-by-pass …

Why should any through traffic be allowed to blight the lives of the local residents? Speeds should be reduced with signage to explain why and better noise screening put in place.

Life Drawing with Silvia MaCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse

The barn at Charleston Farmhouse – Artists’ Studio and Musuem

I took up life drawing in 2016; until then I’d only even drawn portraits and things: buildings mostly. Initially I attended Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, turning up a couple of times a week over many months, possibly 18 months on and off, before I heard about the day-long sessions run by sculptor Silvia MacCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve been a regular ever since. I think we try to make 10 sessions over the year, always the first Tuesday of the Month. Maybe we don’t meet in January or February (too cold for the model), whereas in late July, certainly August we are in the ‘summer barn’ at Friston Place which can see us in the enclosed garden – life drawing outdoors. Though the model may need a parasol and sunglasses!

My late Mum (who gained an MA in Fine Art from Durham University) would be proud of me; and intrigued though this wasn’t her style or approach. Coincidentally she was taught by Quentin Bell when he was a lecturer at King’s and says she baby sat for his children Julian and Virginia I suppose. She was from the school of art where you sit carefully observing a single pose for several hours and execute it with scientific care and a soft pencil. She draw us like this, and in due course I was drawing my friends too in a similar fashion. What we get with Silvia is art as being, the heart and soul of putting marks on a blank sheet of paper, drawing from the shoulder, drawing at speed. At least that is how I have come to see it.

Today was a challenge like no other.

Usually a model will make a series of poses, say ten poses each lasting 3 minutes (minimum) or six poses for 4 minutes or some such. We may follow up with poses of increasing length, say a couple of at 30 minutes that a ‘long one’ of 45 minutes. Not today. Never with Silvia. She always has a trick up her sleeve which I feel conjures out of us a playfulness, and character that would otherwise be lacking.

My 11th sketch of Liz as she does Qi-Gong.

Liz is a wonderful model: beautiful, intelligent and keen for ‘her’ students/artists to have a chance at creating some magic (even if we’re everything from novice to professional). The ‘warm up’ of a series of short poses was instead a series of semi-constant movement using Qi-Gong. Her feet and torso solid, Liz moved her arms synchronously in the same repeating pattern. This was one heck of a challenge. I like a 1 minute pose that I may complete in 10 seconds, but here the movement is constant. I made it up as I went along, at first establishing the torso/trunk and head as best I could, and then picking a moment that I would return to hoping to capture that moment. I then found myself trying to add to my initial doodle in the fraction of a second that position was repeated.

Image 3 of 13 of Liz as she performs Qi-Gong

After several attempts at this I then tried different things: making the trunk as hesitant as the arms/hands would appear, and then getting as many stages of the hand and arms as I could – forgetting about the torso/trunk and legs, only adding these later. It felt like trying to capture a moment of a hummingbird feeding, yet Liz moved really slowly. It was a challenging ‘warm up’ – far more challenging that lots of ‘short’, static poses of 3 to 5 minutes, and more challenging than drawing with your non-dominant hand only (left in my case) or drawing with your eyes closed. I proposed ten drawings. I used a fountain pen with black ink. I tore them from a pad so that they could be shared with the class. We do this: all work out on display to view and discuss. 

A collage of images of Liz kept to a single A1 sheet

We took a break: coffee/tea and cake.

Next up a 30 minute pose. Liz sat. Looking at it I think I rushed setting out the pose. I do chance it which means I can dislocate a shoulder or shorten a leg, and most easily of all, turn fingers into a bunch of bananas/broken twigs. I tried some pastels. I wonder if I can ever get away from black ink on white paper – that or lumps of charcoal. I lose something I feel when I take my time and it gets fiddly. Or I make it so. I admire the artist who gets the pose as simply as possible than adds a few dashes of watercolour.

Lunch. We bring our own packed lunch as the Farmhouse and kitchen is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I usually bring something or make a dash for Middle Farm.

An hour to make friends and catch up with others. May of us have been doing this for a few years. I was missed at the last three sessions; the first I had Covid, the second I had a terrible cold and the third I had a family funeral.

After lunch we began with the only long pose of the day. I think it was 30 minutes, or was it 45 minutes? Liz got herself comfy on a sheepskin rug and pillows and by all accounts fell asleep. We drew. I ventured into colour – a new development for me. So far I’m only having success adding a simple colour wash to ink drawings.

Liz in pastels. 30 minutes (or was it a little longer?)

After that we returned to movement, but this time with a pose frozen for a few moments, even a few minutes. For me this was enough (usually), to get a flavour of the pose, everything positioned just about in the right place with an opportunity, very tentatively, to try and get a sense of Liz by adding features to her face.  Liz had music to do all of this too, haunting songs, nothing familiar but all beautiful.

Liz while still for a few minutes between a series of movements

These multiple poses are something I could work with – on even larger sheets, recreating what I was doing today, trying to fit in the ‘right’ combination and number of poses: say three to five main poses, with eight or nine minor ones.

And so the day came to an end – it was 4.00pm. Like others I felt I had been sitting an exam it was that intense, though far more fun.

Moat Wood, East Hoathly through the seasons

I took up visits to woods in general and Woodland Trust woods in particular to give that part of my day no longer occupied with e-learning at GBMET a focus. This has seen me travel back and forth across East Sussex, with some trips into West Sussex and over the border into Kent (just). I may say that in time my current tramping ground is the South Downs. 

The Woodland Trust provides the detail on the history and management of the wood I visit, along with guidance on the flora and fauna to expect. I rarely get the parking right and can differ up and down local lanes several times before I get it right. 

My Sussex Woods

As petrol prices have gone through the roof my trips have spiralled ever closer to home, within 5 miles of Lewes, and on foot on local walks in every direction from the Winterbourne to Juggs Lane, Egrets Way and the Railway Land Trust, Malling and Southerham Nature Reserves, Malling Field along the Ouse to Offham and of course Landport Bottom and the Old Racecourse. 

I had already completed six or more visits to Sussex Woodland Trust woods before I took a punt on Moat Wood, East Hoathly. We know the village from ‘outlier’ bonfire events – always a nighttime November trip, so hardly an opportunity to take in the countryside. 

I’ve now been back to East Hoathly at least ten times in nine months, most times varying the visit a little, either parking up on South Street in the layby or by the Church. I’ve also wondered well beyond the woods into the surrounding fields. The temptation has even developed to move here, with a few properties coming up which have looked interesting (if not always affordable). Anything away from Lewes, its connectability, schools and ‘quality of life’ and resources becomes more affordable if you want a detached house, a patch of garden and somewhere to park a car. 

The Mission of The Woodland trust is to ‘improve woodland biodiversity and increase peoples’ understanding and enjoyment of woodland’. I can get behind that, and apply the same thinking to Chalk Downs and hedging and coppiced fringes into woodland and suburban back gardens. I apply this to the shambolic ‘rewilding’ of my own urban garden which has had ten years of ‘nomoever’ and a lot of mulching. 

Moat Wood is an easy, short circuit on the flat. The rides can be muddy and on some paths are best tackled in wellies or sturdy boots. There is one bench on the corner of one walk and some hefty downed trunks that afford a good bench and picnic spot south of the spartan remains of a mediaeval moated farm. It was designated a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage in 2000, which gives the site additional protection against unauthorised change. This might not be enough to prevent the site being closely fringed by busy roads and housing development. 

There are two recommended spots to park, either by the Church in the village car park or by the side of the road, or on South Street where there is a layby with space for several vehicles. I’ve always been able to park, often being the only vehicle in the lay-by. 

Location of East Hoathly in East Sussex, southern England (cc OpenStreetMap) 

I’ve not tried the entrance closer to the A22 because there is nowhere to park and I’ve learnt to stay away from the often busy and noisy A22. 

The entrance to Moat Wood off South Street, East Hoathly. 

I may try some early morning trips here when the traffic should be lighter. I’m afraid that traffic noise and overhead planes are impossible to avoid anywhere in Sussex as we’re criss-crossed with commuter routes and underneath some of the busiest skies on the planet for planes with Gatwick and Heathrow close, let along Luton and Stansted beyond and local airfields sending up small craft. 

My knowledge of the trees is limited but growing: I can identify a handful of trees though generally will need a leaf to go by, rather than figuring it out from a trunk or twig. I’m getting there. You also need to see the trees at different stages of growth from sapling, to mature and ancient trees. 

Hornbeam

Oak over the moat and April, June and January

Moat Wood offers all the stages through to mature trees of maybe 150 years old. For truly ancient trees of 200-300 years old you need to look further afield … of come back in a century. I know my oak:

I love to find woods through The Woodland Trust ‘Find a Wood’, read up the introductory blurb on the website and then download the Management Plan. 

The three strategic aims of The Woodland Trust that I’ve picked out are to: 

  • Protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future
  • Work with others to create more native woodlands and places rich in trees
  • Inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees

This is a fine balance which opens the woods up to access to the most invasive of all species: us, our dogs and behaviours while working with local councils, and land owners, which might include a property developer or farmer, or a wealthy individual with a philanthropic turn. Woods in Sussex are largely unconnected and isolated; either a patchwork of often visited spaces close to urban sprawl, or a wet or deeply incised space which couldn’t be commercially turned over to farming (or a commercial shoot) as well as apparently random spaces that few people ever visit which might offer the best sanctuary of all. We don’t take kindly to being kept out of a wood and protect our rights of way and footpaths stoically. 

It required significant donations from local people in East Hoathly and the East Hoathly and Halland Parish Council to purchase Moat Wood Moat for the Woodland Trust in 1999. 

The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Moat Wood tells us that:

The majority of the canopy of Moat Wood is dominated by mature oak, grown as high forest, with a mixed species understorey. 

This canopy was drastically opened up by the storm of 1987 and subsequent clearing operations. These cleared areas are now dominated by a mixture of natural regeneration and coppice re-growth, particularly of hornbeam, along with a few surviving planted oaks. 

My multiple visits to Moat Wood are shared on All Trails and a selection of my photographs shared to Google Maps. My photographs, trails and even these notes are essentially a personal aide memoire. I’ll revisit what I have written and build on what I know over the years. 

Moat Wood from South Street, around the ‘moat’ to the A22 perimeter. You could try and cross this busy dual-carriageway – I haven’t. 

The policy for Moat Wood is of ‘minimum silvicultural intervention’ which means there are no operations such as coppicing, thinning or felling.

All I’ve been aware of is the clearing of some of the saplings, bracken and brambles that were choking up the southern environs of the 13th century moat – cleared during a dry spell last autumn they became soggy over winter but at least make it possible to make out the old moat and what would have been a farmstead. It requires a lot of imagination to picture it. The joy though is to see the trees and plants change so much during the seasons, with autumn and spring by far the most colourful, while the contrast between mid-winter and mid-summer couldn’t be greater. 

The Management Plan for Moat Wood has more to say on these moated farmsteads: 

This type of moated site is likely to have been a prestigious domestic or religious settlement containing timber-framed buildings and been built between 1250 and 1350. 

There are around 6000 moated sites known in England, mostly built between 1250 and 1350. They form a significant class of mediaeval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside

Mature Oak 

Some of the mature oak is currently affected by chronic oak decline and ash is affected by ash dieback

There are ‘ancient woodland indicator ground flora species’ such as bluebell, wood anemone and wild garlic. These are glorious as early March, through April to May. 

The coppice regrowth around the moat will be re-cut on a short cycle (2-5 years) to maintain open views of the feature.

There is a ‘naturally regenerated understorey of species such as hornbeam, birch, hazel, holly, sycamore and sweet chestnut’. 

Conifers

According to the Management Plan parts of Moat Wood outside of the Trust’s ownership are ‘threatened by unmanaged conifer plantations’ in one area and ‘attempts to remove all vegetation prior to submitting a planning application in another’. It is one of the main principles of the Woodland Trust to protect, maintain and restore this species-rich habitat.

Help Save the Historic Lewes Bus Station

Read on then act. Responses must be in by a week on Friday, the 10th June 2022.

Lewes Bus Station

This is an article by Cllr Adrian Ross

“As you may know, the Generator Group has now submitted an application to South Downs National Park for the ‘demolition and development of bus station site’.  This is a full application for planning permission, rather than the request for advice that they submitted in August 2021.

The Green Party councillors of the town (Lewes), district (Lewes District) and county (East Sussex) have reviewed the plans in detail and do not think they are suitable.  The ‘elephant in the room’ is that the proposals fail to identify a suitable alternative site for the bus station.  Instead, they propose temporary on-street bus stops, or ‘three bus stops plus waiting and seating facilities on Phoenix Causeway’.  Neither of these come anywhere near the Lewes Local Plan requirements for ‘an operationally satisfactory and accessible site’ or a ‘suitable alternative town centre site … offering the same or better undercover waiting facilities’.

The proposals would leave bus passengers waiting under small shelters, directly adjacent to a very busy road, that they would need to cross to change services.  It would also leave the bus companies without space for buses to wait between services, almost certainly leading to gridlock around the town’s narrow streets.

Lewes Bus Station

We have many other concerns with the proposals too, notably:

  • the proposals offer no affordable housing
  • the plans don’t include enough one-bedroom properties, so badly needed by young local people
  • requirements for zero-carbon homes and the use of sustainable materials have been ignored
  • there is no assessment of the air quality impact of moving the bus station
  • viability calculations appear biased to justify not meeting policy requirements

if approved, the plans would severely constrain options for the far bigger North Street Quarter.

If you agree with our concerns, then please respond to the application – we need South Downs National Park to know the strength of opposition to these plans in the town. 

Comments can be submitted via the South Downs National Park planning site at https://planningpublicaccess.southdowns.gov.uk/online-applications/ by searching for application SDNP/22/02197/FUL.  

Objections need to be on the basis of planning policy, so we have written an extensive assessment detailing the policy non-compliance that we have identified. 

A summary is below, and our full Green Party response is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b8KGHFyrN1ZvCuZQ8Oy5cn0Q353jXgMW/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=102816289702924531298&rtpof=true&sd=true

Alternatively, to make it easy for as many people to respond as possible, we have developed a template response which can be submitted in a few clicks, or edited as required. 

Here’s a link to it : > https://actionnetwork.org/letters/respond-to-lewes-bus-station-application-sdnp2202197ful/ 

NOTE : if you put the objection in your own word it will carry more weight – Editor)

  • Please do take the time to respond to these proposals, which jeopardise public transport in our town. 
  • Please share this information as widely as you can and encourage others to record their objections too.

There is no agreed plan to replace the bus station, as required by South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (for ‘North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area’).

Neither of the ‘two potential options to replace the existing facilities’ meet any of the requirements of Policy SD57, Policy SD19 (Transport and Accessibility), Lewes Neighbourhood Plan objective 10 (Village & Town Connections) Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy HC1 (Protection of Existing & New Community Infrastructure) or Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy AM2 (Public Transport Strategy).

Lewes Bus Station and Garage

The obvious solution to keeping a bus station in Lewes – i.e. retaining it on the existing site – has not been properly evaluated.

The proposals offer no affordable housing, in contravention of South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD28 (Affordable Homes), which requires a minimum of 50%.  This is despite the apparent absence of any extraordinary costs such as flood defences, decontamination or provision of community facilities.

The mix of home sizes is not compliant with South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD27 (Mix of Homes), with a significant shortfall of the one-bedroom properties that are in such short supply in the town, and so needed for local young people.

With the proposed relocation of the bus station, the development must be considered to be a ‘major development’ according to SDNPA’s definition.  South Downs Local Plan Core Policy SD3 (Major Development) requires that development proposals should be zero carbon and use sustainable materials.  Current proposals are not compliant with this policy requirement.

The ‘Air Quality Assessment’ does not consider at all the air quality impact of moving the bus station, so does not meet the requirements of South Downs Local Plan Development Management Policy SD54 (Pollution and Air Quality).

Regarding viability, Generator Group bought the site in April 2021 in full knowledge of all planning policies.  Government guidance is clear that ‘site purchasers should consider [policy compliance costs] when agreeing land transactions.

Government advice is also explicit that ‘the price paid for land is not a relevant justification for failing to accord with relevant policies’.  So, if Generator Group overpaid for the land, then that is their mistake and responsibility; residents should not have to pay for it through the loss of both a bus station and affordable housing.

Finally, South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area, Lewes) requires redevelopment plans ‘to be considered as one’ and proposals to be ‘consistent with other phases/schemes’.  If approved, the bus station plans (especially the proposed relocation of the bus station) would seriously constrain options for the far-larger and more strategically important North Street Quarter.  Therefore, SDNPA must not grant any approval for the bus station site ahead of the North Street proposals.”

Brighton Open Houses Festival 2022

We attend Brighton Open Houses Festival on at least one day of the four weekends in May each year; we usually make a better job of it. Discussions beforehand and having tried to gauge what to visit we made an overly ambitious plan. Rather than sticking to one trail and walking from neighbour to neighbour over a number of hours we’d cherry pick a few studios and move between them on foot, electric train and bus. We needed the car. 

It didn’t quite work out – we spent too much time on foot a long way between venues. Indeed the 12,000 steps was the biggest takeaway rather than the excitement of a particular venue or artist. 

Devil’s Dyke Farm 

That said, we made a reasonable start at Devil’s Dyke Farm, though we thought this would be an Open House; instead we found a wedding venue marquee and an event that had a commercial air to it. Devil’s Duke Farm was excellent for what it was: well signposted, ample parking, loos, coffee and even alcohol (but not food) and ample space for each of the artists/creators to display their work. 

Perennial favourites here included Sarah Jones and Helen Brown, as well as the charming Wolfram Lohr and his handcrafted wooden and leather hanging plant containers. 

The price was a bit steep and I was unconvinced that a pot full of water, crocks, soil and a plant would remain secured to the wall. 

The history of the location, the end of the line for the Devil’s Dyke Railway, was fascinating (it’s a shame that the train doesn’t still operate). 

The views are also panoramic with 15 or 20 miles out to the top of the horizon taking in the vast Rampion Offshore Wind Farm and huge shipping silhouetted on their traffic lanes in the Channel.

Our next move was to park up in Brighton Marina, dodging the Sunday morning car boot sale. We’d have 4 hours for the rest of our trip. The thinking was a dinky ride on the Volks Electric Rail would take us into Brighton and then we’d walk along the seafront dropping into a number of venues, then come back through town via venues near the station, the Lanes and finally Kemp Town. To achieve this we would have needed bikes or scooters – or taken an Über between some parts of time; I hadn’t realised the distances involved which explains why the ‘trails’ have been created. Yes, select a trail and walk between venues on this trail. No, pick and mix across many trials thinking you’d still be able to walk between them. Brighton and Hove is not Ditchling! The Ditchling Art Wave venues really are linked back gardens, shop fronts and venues that are neighbours. And we ought to have come on the first weekend and made our mistakes then rather than leaving it all to the last day.

The highlight of the Volks Electric Railway was to make the first purchase of a discounted ticket for a ‘Senior’. The train has had a renovation recently but is otherwise much as it was when constructed 150 years ago, and much the same as when I first made a trip into Brighton from the Marina in August 1980. On that occasion I was on a family sailing trip with my late father and his boat; his boat Canny Lass, a Fischer 38 was moored on the new marina. At the time the ONLY building on the site was the Portacabin like Brighton Sailing Club.

The Dog Show 

The walk from the end of the Volks Line to the 360 and into Brighton was far further than expected. At least the result was a typical Open House treet, a couple of rooms, a grand Georgian parlour featuring in this case a variety of artists, painters and makers on the theme of dogs. 

There were many lovely pictures and items, though we were not tempted to purchase any prints or cards. I have promised Wanda that I will draw Evie, from life, and see what I can do to add colour with paints or pastels. 

The second venue was a ground floor studio around the corner; a lovely space but the landscapes, though well executed in oil appeared somewhat kitsch and invented, not real landscapes but landscapes of the mind with certain motives repeated in that way that might appeal to a certain purchaser, but lacks authenticity. In all honesty I had no idea where the places being depicted were and no title invited us to think this was the Downs at sunset, the Pennines and Spanish Nivada.

Having taken up an hour and a half since leaving the marina we now found we had a 20 minute walk diagonally across town to pick up a venue, only to need a further 20 minutes to get up to London Road Station. We had miscalculated, our feet were tired, we needed coffee and possibly something to eat. We rethought our plan, instead staying closer to the coast. This had its disappointments because of course it took in crafty shops, though the Sussex Arts Club Annual Show was worth the visit to renew my interest in attending regular drop-in sessions here (£12 for 2 hours). I recognised a number of the models, for example the wiry and gymnastic ‘Peter’ and spoke to our host, one of the artists. 

The work is of a really high standard and wonderfully eclectic in the variety of approaches and results from oils to charcoal, pencil to watercolour. I took life drawing up six years ago and have, I feel, started to produce work that would be worth displaying. I’m best at doing several quick pieces in a few minutes – even the three minute pose can feel too long for me. I want to get it right, get the feel and look of the model and their pose with a dozen or some marks or not at all. 

There were some hidden gems around Hanningtons, quirky one off ideas executed with a sense of fun, such as the comical piece made of painted driftwood with cartoons and cheeky, rude or political comments.

By 4:15pm our options were running out. We had to get back to the Marina.

We had expected to use our return ticket on the Volks Electric Train, but wanted to visit a number of venues towards and around Kemp Town. We had left it too late, though we could have driven up to one venue which would be open until 6:00pm. Hunger was now the motivation and it started to rain. 

Patsy Mcarthur had a first floor lounge looking over the sea, the perfect Open House venue perhaps to show her large water themed paintings and charcoal drawings of swimmers young and old, in bathing costumes or clothes, frolicking and twisting about in a pool, lake or open sea, swimming hard or just enjoying the feel of the water. 

I could see these large pieces of art displayed by someone’s swimming pool, or recreated as massive murals to cover an entire wall of a 25m or even 50m swimming pool. That or where they are most likely destined in a home with the light and a pool.

I’d happily pay the £7,000 for one of the larger paintings though these days, even if I had the money, I am less keen to purchase prints for £200 – these still need to be framed well to take their place properly on the wall. There was a hardback book though. Not being the type to gush about being embroiled by British understatement, I failed to get a selfie with the artist, have her sign the book or even talk much at all about her work, her inspiration … and most importantly of all, how she does it. 

I rather think my days of purchasing art are long gone (I have a couple of peices bought through Artsy 8 years ago).  instead I need to be making my own. I am, and always want to aim at peices 8ft long and 6ft high – so scale. But I’m still, I feel ‘getting my hand in’ and learning some simple techniques. I can see, I can draw, I can compose, but I’ve never mastered colour beyond a light watercolour wash over an inked up drawing. 

Having a space to paint without having to clear everything off the kitchen table two or three times a day would help! In our excursions we admire the different studio spaces and wonder what changes we could make around our own home. My ambition is to take my life drawing to life sized pieces and any urban landscapes I am venturing towards a good 6ft by 4ft or larger. I’m not for diddling about as if I am painting an Airfix model, and I can see that it is the large image that is best reduced down for prints and postcards (If we go this far). 

Markstakes Common   

I visited Markstakes Common May on the 7th, 12th and 17th May 2022.

(I get to places using Waze and one there I use AllTrails for my walks).

My discovery of Markstakes Common came about by accident: I was headed for a return trip to Beechmill Wood but finding roadworks blocking the road to Newick north of Chailey and a diversion too out of my way to bother with I doubled back, checked on The Woodland Trust website ‘Find A Wood’ and found this gem – a wood and common up there with any of the best ancient deciduous woods I’ve discovered around East Sussex over the last nine months. I was a bit late for any wood anemones or bluebells at their very best.

Nonetheless, even if not in their full glory, the common awash with bluebells on 7th May was wonderful to see – as if a blue mist were lifting off the common. 

Then I stumbled across a diversion in the path put there to protect an ancient oak – 360 years or more old, I believe. 

Then, there are more, many more ancient trees: oak, beech, ash and hornbeam. 

Courtesy of Friends of Markstakes Common there are various detailed maps picking out the ancient trees and the different habitats; it is this that has me fall in love with the Common; it has variety. 

There are ancient trees (I’m thinking 34 trees with ‘ancient’ status meaning they are over 350 + years old). 

Yet there are trees of all ages, open spaces and meadow, pools and ponds and seasonal streams. I can’t get enough of it. This suggests to me a space that will still be thriving in another 200 years time. 

I’d gladly live close-by. Each time I have come here I meet and talk to someone: an elderly gent with whom life-stories were shared, a mum with kids two young for school but hurtling around like puppies. Most of us had a dog, And young couples too. Everyone is happy to talk and share their love for this space. 

It is messy; trees fall and are left, maybe a few branches cut away to assist people on a walk. There is mud, partially dried up seasonal streams, a pond of sorts … 

Parking is easy; it is well-shaded off a quiet road by a sturdy stone walk with a large access gate. Unlike every other wood of its kind I have been to around the county there is not one sign here relating to the Country Code, the need to keep dogs on a lead, footfall because of bluebells or a myriad of other concerns that can cause organisations a flurry of worries, costs and concerns that necessitate information boards and other announcements in various forms that can stand up to the weather (or not), or look dated … but does any of it work? My understanding is that all that works are ‘ambassadors’ on the ground talking to as many people who visit a space as possible and sharing the word.  

I even have to wonder if information boards and signage simply encourage footfall and visitors by their very presence and do little to contain behaviours: some people drop little and let their dog(s) shit where they like, others do not. Some people trudge across beds of wood anemones and bluebells in search of a unique shot or photo op while others keep back. 

These trees and these woods will, I very much hope, still be here long, long after we have gone. All we have to do is avoid killing them off while we’re around.

Williams Wood, Warninglid

Photographs: CC BY SA 3.0 J F Vernon 2022

Last autumn I took my interest in trees (urban and woodland, ancient and young) a step further by joining The Woodland Trust and taking a close interest in (and supporting) the world of Lewes Urban Arboretum.  My journey across Sussex then began, picking out almost every Woodland Trust Wood in East Sussex with the intention of paying a visit to each during each season of the year: another few months and the task will have been completed. 

Venturing out across England I’ve visited a few other Woodland Trust woods while I was in the area; I’m unlikely to pay these a second visit. To minimise my journeys and to spread my interest I have also started to visit all the woods in a catchment of around 10-15 miles out from Lewes. This has me visiting The National Trust, Forestry Commission Woods, RSPB Nature Reserves and other private woods and parks. There are some large garden parks such as Sheffield Park (National Trust) and Wakehurst Place which I have not visited recently or included in this journey both because of the cost of admission and because most are planted with excotic and even invasive non-native species such as rhododendron. I will write about Chalk Downland and the likes of Landport Bottom and Malling Down Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife) elsewhere – they are not known for many or indeed any trees. 

I have visited William’s Wood, Warninglid at least once a month since October 2021 as I spend Saturday mornings down the road at The Triangle, Burgess Hill and enjoy the contrast from a humid swimming pool teaching swimmers in a busy swimming club to the woods where I only rarely come across a dog-walker, cyclist or the odd rider out on a hack. I have also returned several times with family or friends (and our dog). I last wrote up a visit at the end of March. I had Covid from the end of March that kept me at home for a few weeks right when I most wished to be capturing the winter/summer transition through spring which has distinct stages through the dotted white carpet of wood anemones through to bluebells, and other plants on the woodland floor and by the deeply incised running gills.

I read up on any Woodland Trust wood in advance and enjoy the detail that comes from each wood’s Management Plan. Much can change in a wood over four weeks, in this case,as I hoped, the bluebells were out in modest clumps by tree stumps, and in huge carpets under the still open canopy of the older deciduous trees.

This is the High Weald here, ‘ancient woodland’ (‘an area of land where there had been continual growth since 1600’). Inevitably the woods in the south of England are surrounded closely by farmland and parkland, though William’s Wood benefits from not abutting a major town or residential sprawl which greatly increases the footfall and other consequences politely described as ‘anti-social behaviour’, namely litter and sometimes malicious damage. The A22 is just distant enough not to be heard, though plains and assorted aircraft do leave and come in overhead to Gatwick Airport 12 1/2 miles to the north (20km).

Williams Wood is adjoining another extensive wood and abutting a seasonal shoot (pheasants and ducks) – making it noisy on my Saturday visits from October to February for pheasants and September and to the end of January for ducks. 

OS Explorer OL34 Crawley & Horsham © Ordnance Survey

There is really only parking for one car by the gate along the lane to Bellevue Care Home (formerly Stonewick Lodge) as additional cars can inconvenience residents of Stonewick Lodge on the other side of the lane trying to get into their home; a further two or maybe three cars can park on the grass kerb by the B211 (Warninglid Lane) 

A well marked track, claggy with mud after heavy rainfall and for a few weeks in winter therefore, with ‘Keep dogs on lead’ and ‘Private Woods’ signage either side takes you after some 450m to William’s Wood along the left hand fork – turning right takes you on the Sussex Ouse Way along a path that is mostly fenced in between a shoot and other private properties. The ‘keep dogs on lead’ thing is certainly to avoid scaring pheasants.

Having tried an old fashioned map and struggled with Google Maps providing much once off the road I now swear by AllTrails.  This is a record of my late April visit, stumbling around a route that might have taken 45 minutes in well over an hour: I was stopping to take photographs and listen to the wildlife. 

This also takes you onto the Sussex Ouse Valley Way, which were I to follow it the south east would take me to the English Channel, home in Lewes and then down to Newhaven and the coast. With motorways, urban sprawl, railways and all other kinds of human activity to negotiate, let alone the distance I may give this one a miss. Wellies are recommended after rain, in all but the driest weather sturdy footwear is recommended though trainers might do. 

The meadow as you enter William’s Wood was full of primroses.

The first beds of bluebells were a little further on, on banks and in spaces around the gill.

Further on, entering Bishop’s Wood (all part of the same woodland) I hoped to find the largest carpets of bluebells and was suitably pleased by what I found.

Along the way I saw a number of small, bright yellow butterflies (clouded yellow I think), a lesser-spotted woodpecker, black birds, coal tits, a falcon and a few ducks and pheasants that hadn’t been shot or netted during the shooting season.

As well as the sounds of birdlife and a trickling brook, spring smells noticeably different to winter with the scents of flowers and smell of energised greenery.  As I suffer from hayfever I don’t quite understand why I am in a wood rather than out at sea or up a mountain in spring – I take antihistamines. 

Most visits I record a one minute ‘sound scape’; though I am yet to upload any of these. I’d like to be able to identify more of the birds first.

Links:

Woodland Trust

Woodland Trust Management Plan 

Sussex Ouse Way

UK Butterflies 

The Storm of 16th October 1987 

Williams Wood, Warninglid, West Sussex in early spring 2022

This 12 acre wood bequeathed to the Woodland Trust in 1993 has become a regular spot for me to visit. I usually go after swim teaching for Mid-Sussex Marlins SC at nearby Burgess Hill and have done so through late summer, autumn and winter most months since September. Today though I took the 15 mile trip from Lewes in order to enjoy the early spring abundance of new growth on the woodland floor before it changes radically; there are still no bluebells and no growth in the canopy. I know exactly how to park up along the lane to Bellevue Country House Nursing Home. Three cars can park on the edge of the lane at the top of the path, or if not, off the road closer to Warninglid Lane (B2115)

On my one hour walk, accompanied by our dog Evie, I found carpets of wild daffodils, cuckoo flowers, wood anemones, and garlic mustard.

According to the Wildlife Trust cuckoo flowers bloom from April; here in East Sussex they have appeared in mid-March. Wild daffodils, according to the Wildlife Trust are “An indicator of undisturbed habitat, including ancient woodlands and old meadows”.  High Weald being a mixture of woodland mixed farming and parkland.

There are no bluebells yet (22 March 2022). 

This is ‘gill woodland’. There are two deeply incised streams, hazel coppice, two species-rich meadows, and a larch stand. It is also a designated ‘Ancient Semi Natural Woodland’, and an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’.

Later in the year, the Woodland Trust Management Plan tells me, the meadows have heath spotted orchids and twayblade orchids) as well as sedges and rushes.  The understory is made up of Hazel and bluebells.

There was invasive rhododendron and bracken which has been cleared since 1993. There is a dead wood habitat from the October 1987 storm and newly fallen wood from storms in early 2022. 

Trees that came down in February 2022

According to the Woodland Trust, “dead and decaying wood … provides a nutrient-rich habitat for fungi, a nursery for beetle larvae and a larder for insectivorous birds and other animals.” See The Woodland Trust on ‘Deadwood in Woodland’. 

You will also learn that Williams Wood will be managed “to increase the diversity of other native species such as holly, hawthorn, elder, goat willow, rowan and cherry”. 

Ferns and bryophytes (mosses) in the gills represent the ‘Atlantic period’ of  5,000 years ago. 

Juniper haircap CC BY SA 3.0 J F Vernon 2022

Juniper haircap covers living trunks and decaying wooJuniper haircap covers living trunks and decaying woods – it is an evergreen and perennial species of moss.

The Williams Wood Woodland Trust Management Plan can be downloaded from The Woodland Trust website > 

moss. 

Another Dictator tries to take over Europe

Thirty years ago

Thirty years ago I was sitting with my frail 96 year old grandfather in his home in Newcastle. I had brought over a portable TV/VHS video and we watched ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’. This is WWI. As a 19 year old he had enlisted with the Durham LIght Infantry, and had then been transferred to the Machine Gun Corps … because he was ‘tall, fit and mechanically minded’. He served and survived the Great War (just) through the battle of the Somme and Third Ypres 1917 and training as an RAF fighter pilot (his 19 year old younger brother died as a RAF bomber pilot). He enjoyed and related to ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, he had nothing against the ‘Bosch’, we were ‘just doing our job’. Lined up on either side of a trench.  

This was 1992.

Britain was about to wage war in Iraq. Once again the DLI were in action and a young private next to a tank in the desert in this BBC North East report described his living conditions and rations for the benefit of the cameras. 

‘That’s nothing compared to Passcendaele’ my grandfather declared, relating the youth on TV to his own experience 75 years before. 

We then chatted at length, again, about the First World War, much of which I recorded and have since given to the Imperial War Museum archive.  I transcribed these talks and then returned to quiz my grandfather, and he even took a pen to make corrections to what I had typed out.

Another three decades on and his words echo in my thoughts. The Putain invasion of Ukraine is antediluvian … It is barbaric. Yet such thoughts and words were expressed at the outbreak of the FIrst World War and the Second World War.

Decades of taking an interest in what starts as a violent, military conflagration (WWI MA Degree, seeing WWII bridged only by an extended Armistice from the previous war) that can become a world war tells me that Putin is another Hitler, or Mussolini. Were he a Franco he might keep his interest in the confine of ‘his’ country, which he clearly feels he owns like a 19th century Tsar. 

A Cotswold Garden

Barton on the Heath, 16 February 2022

Two years ago I started to grab one minute ‘soundscapes’ inspired by the quiet during Covid lockdowns – without road or air-traffic the natural world had a chance to sing.

I’m yet to analyse a single one of these. This morning I was so enamoured of the bird song (as I let our dog out into the garden) that I recorded several one minute clips. What was I listening to: robin, blue-tit, lark?

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