Life Drawing at Charleston Farmhouse
A day sketching a life drawing model with coloured pencil, graphite and biro.
Playing the guitar and singing
At least 8 years ago I made these new year resolutions of things to do. One, and they are interlinked, remains stubbornly undone. The guitar stand remains, its handy – the guitar (in its case) is in the shed. If I sing, it is with the guitar.
A life time ago, it feels, in a different place (literally) I sang the way I now walk the dog or visit a wood or take a walk by a river. I suppose.
I still have a swatch of songs, the lyrics and chords, all typed out in 1980 ahead of going off on my gap year which started in early December 1980 working the season in the French ski resort of Val d’Isere. As well as 20 or so pop songs: a lot of Bowie, some Beatles, Cat Steven, Simon and Garfunkel, I have my own songs written when I was 17/18. Happy teen songs, love songs and comical songs (not very good songs!)
I doubt I have sung, except once or twice in church, at a funeral or civic ceremony, for at least 10 years. Come to think of it, the singing stopped around the time I also, finally, stopped swimming. Are the two at all connected?
Will something get me started again? It used to be the case that I’d catch a tune in the radio, find a song street, and if the chords weren’t too onerous I’d give it a go. I should.
Is it having neighbours that has put me off? I’ve not performed for many decades. In my teens and twenties I busked and sand on stage. Or drinking waking that bored the household with calls to stop?
Once upon a time I travelled with a guitar to accompany my singing and a pad of paper and soft pencils to draw. No more. But looking on the bright side there is plenty here that I have done or still do.
I took up life drawing in 2016 and attend at least ten classes a year, initially at Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, but now with Silvea MacRae Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve expanded this into large watercolours of the pieces created and since started print making at Bip-Art – I have work, glass, rollers and ink out before me.
Visits to France and learning French have slipped a bit but after a few trails with language Apps I settled on LingVist and have stuck at that for five years taking my vocabulary from 375 to many thousands – 2,500 or more words I know and have stuck from over 5,000 that I have studied. I’ve tired of the platform though and am thinking about a person/video based course picked up from Instagram. Perhaps. Other languages call!
I also got together with other French speakers twice a month in a group called ‘Rendez-Vous à Lewes’ – sadly we lost the habit during Covid-19 lockdowns and the dynamic has gone.
For five years I returned to dinghy sailing, owning a Streaker and competing with Newhaven & Seaford Sailing Club. I went out as crew on offshore boats and even crossed the Atlantic from Grand Canaria to Bermuda via Cape Verde. I sold my Streaker in 2021 and left the sailing club just this month – even though I could from time to time go out on Rescue Bot duties (I have the requisite Power Boat II licence). Other things fill my day – woods mostly! I’m in one most days. Somewhere in East Sussex.
Skiing does happen but has been ruined by a protracted legal battle with Clubhotel Multivacances and timeshares inherited from my late father who died in 2002. The family, five of us, have had to pitch in to pay ever increasing maintenance fees despite the flat being used rarely – and one flat never at all. That and the cost and appalling lack of fitness. Yet I will be in a set slope next weekend and have a month in the Alps planned for January 2024 to mark 30 years of marriage (skiing brought us together and we honeymooned in the Alps).
And then there’s Radio 6 Music. Not on the list but rather an illegible scribble for a song I must have liked. I’m habituated to listening to Cerys Matthews everyday Sunday and got a call out after Jane, my older sister died in April 2022 … and now there’s Craig Charles both are a ‘must listen’, ideally live, otherwise on BBC Sounds and often played two or more times over.
Vegan Christmas Lunch
With a daughter who has been vegan for over a decade and a son who is vegetarian when they come over for Christmas the entire family goes vegetarian. With some planning it works: a nut-roast, a rich gravy and lots of roast veg and green veggies.
Lewes: the place to go to see what the future looks like
If you were able to attend the Human Nature Phoenix Planning Application Launch on Friday (27 January 2023) at The Depot, Lewes what did you come away feeling? What key phrases rang in your ears? Have you done anything as a consequence? I did.
To the event: it was heaving with people and full of the kind of bonhomie that The Depot is so good at. It was Robert Senior – The Depot who introduced things: “This is an exciting development for the town, and I’ve invested in it”, he said. In brief introduction he compared getting it right for the North Street Development as similar to the transformation of the former Harvey’s Brewery Depot site, with the same issues and expectations, but on a far larger scale. Robert Senior expressed his hope that the Planning Application will go through without a lot of issues.
Katie Derham hosted the event. She’s lived around here for 15 years apparently (closer to Haywards Heath than Lewes) and unless I am mistaken I taught her children to swim with Mid-Sussex Marlins at The Dolphin (hers was a familiar name amongst parents for a time) … I digress.
Jonathan Smales, Executive Chairman, Human Nature resisted the temptation he must rightly feel to sell the virtues of the project for an hour or so and kept to his allotted ten minutes. He provided a potted history of Phoenix Ironworks and the issues that arise from a ‘wickedly’ difficult brownfield site. In this context I understand the term ‘wicked’ to contrast with ‘messy’ – management speak for ways to describe different creative problem solving approaches, a ‘wicked’ problem having no easy fix, requiring as it does much subjective soul searching and inventiveness, while a ‘messy’ problem has to be addressed with logic and analysis. That’s my take on it, Jonathan Smales might say he just plucked the adjectives from there air.
A planning application in Lewes passes through the gut of four planning departments: Lewes Town Council, Lewes District Council, East Sussex County Council and South Downs National Park Planning Department. Each has some, a bit, not much or a lot of influence on the other, or not, depending on the issue, and how aligned the thinking and understanding is across the individuals in these departments. That is my personal take on the situation after nearly four years as a Lewes Councillor and 25 years poking my mind into ‘local issues’ here in Sussex (20 years) and Warwickshire (5 years).
To say that the North Street Quarter is “Not in great shape after 20 years of dereliction and blight” is an understatement. It is sad that sites like this are too commonplace – so good luck truly, bonne courage, to those who wish to take on and transform such sites that for multiple reasons can stagnate, become blocked or caught up in development/planner/legalistic imbroglios.
The bullet points were:
- The safest part of the town for flood defences
- The only large-scale carbon regenerative development (in the UK, Europe, possibly the world/universe … I was getting my thumbs wrapped around ‘regenerative’ as I took notes on my phone (I should have just recorded a sound note of the entire thing).
- The involvement of 15 architects
- A potted history of Phoenix Rising
- The biggest affordable scheme in ESCC
- £400m investment
- Find out more on the Human Nature website.
As a someone who loves being on, in or beside water (lakes, rivers and the sea … and swimming pools!) I was interested in the slipway on the development (Lewes needs another with public access). Though not if this creates a safety risk or sees jet-skis on the water.
I am intrigued that artists often imagine the development at high tide (twice in 24 hours, not always in daylight), and in mid-summer, with the sun shining brightly through from the north east (around 4:00 am). The reality of living here will be different, not in a bad way: we have weather (cloud, rain, wind, drought) and we have constant change in the river. An animation, rather than artist’s sketches would better show what a place will look like and be like to live in (though costly I suppose). Trees too, mature 30-50 year old trees – Surely there should be no problem showing a three year old sapling and recognising that it will take generations to grow to maturity (unless of course, mature trees are going to be planted here). We shall see. I’m sure Audrey Jarvis of Lewes Urban Arboretum could provide advice.
The Lead Designer, from Periscope, Dan Ray then spoke. He talked about the development having to fit into Lewes, “for the next few hundred years”.
With the castle on the hill and the Saxon layout of the High Street and Twittens that might be rephrased ‘for the next thousand years’. It should be built to endure.
Points covered included:
3 minutes walk
- Flood attenuation
- Landscape systems
Robert Ash of Ask Sakula Architects then introduced the first parcel of the development which will be at the far end of the site next to Wailley’s Bridge and the Pells. I was taken by how European it looked, with suggestions of Barcelona in the brightly coloured, sunny artist’s impressions or certainly something from the Netherlands, or of some community developments in Strasbourg. He’s a fan of shutters; so am I.
I don’t understand why external shutters aren’t commonplace across the UK, as they are across continental Europe both to shade windows in summer, but also to keep in the warmth in winter. The Georgians had internal shutters, why no more? Double-glazing? Cost cutting? We need them, the Phoenix Development will have them.
There were various exemplars of sustainability, such as green walls. The community should grow to care for these, especially to find a way to keep them alive in the case of a drought. Will the development be able to extract water from the Ouse when water becomes in short supply? Drought as well as flooding has to be mitigated against.
The panel for the Q&A introduced themselves, of value in its own right, but it ate into time that might have been better spent taking questions from the audience. Half-an-hour for this and 12 minutes or more went on introductions – though I sense this wasn’t the place for tackling potentially awkwards questions which would have come up had it gone on longer – a shame, as the panel would surely have been able to address these, the ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’. I felt like mentioning a few ‘known unknowns’ but felt better about it.
Most impressive was Professor Raphie Kaplinsky, an Economic Historian (retired, he’s an emeritus at University of Sussex), formerly of The Open University. Google him and you learn that “Since his formal retirement at the end of 2014, he has begun working on the green economy and urban regeneration in Newhaven and Lewes (towns close to Sussex University), and in Greece” and more besides from his website Raphie Kaplinsky.
He summed up 300 years of global Economic History in about 8 minutes flat, mentioning in passing four, what he called ‘long wave techno-paradigms’ from the Industrial Revolution with waves of creative destruction that interrupted conservatism, taking in periods of populism, standardisation, mass production, individualism and decentralised. Henry Ford got a mention; he might have added Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. His rallying cry was “Lewes: the place to go to see what the future looks like!”
Others on the panel, none of whom took a question, if I recall which rather turned them into set dressing included: Julia Oxborrow, Environmental Campaigner; Kelly Harrison, a leader in timber projects.
Zoë Nicholson, of Lewes District Council, asked the first question. She spoke of a positive ‘alignment of partnership working’ and summarised the presentation made by Human Nature for the North Street Quarter by praising recognition of the importance of: housing density – and so not building on greenfield sites or close to and adjacent to ancient woodlands; sustainability, in relation to becoming carbon neutral and meeting the problems of the energy crisis, as well as affordable homes – so that Lewes people can live and work here.
David Cown qualified this from the panel saying that the development has to be “a place where people live, not just a housing development.” There was criticism of the ability of the South Downs National Park to make the right decision, given that they have agreed to a widening of the Exeat Bridge over the Cuckmere without pedestrian or cyclist access.
Jonathan Smales used a footballing metaphor to describe having to “play the ball in front of you … and having to be ruthlessly pragmatic”, pointing out that the South Downs National Park “is obliged to listen to everyone”.
A question came from Cllr Dr Patricia Patterson-Vanegas, Wealden District Council (Greens). She is the one who described the plans for the Lewes North Street Quarter as ‘music to my ears’. Her question concerned water – in particular relating to sewage, or “toilet flushing” as she politely put it. This opened up a discussion on rain gardens, water harvesting and flood management.
Conversations continued for a short period over a buffet lunch. I was able to introduce myself to Prof Kaplinsky, felt too shy to ask for a selfie with Natasha (no one else was), noted the views of Patricia Patterson-Vanegas and spoke to several fellow Town Councillors ahead of the first of several upcoming meetings of the Lewes Town Council Planning ‘Task & Finish Group’ in relation to the Human Nature Phoenix Development.
When I got home I googled Raphie Kaplinsky and then ordered ‘Sustainable Futures’ which may be the first in several books I read through of his given how taken I was by what he said. Can Lewes truly be “what the future looks like” ? Not a bleak dystopian science-fiction future, but more Shangri La – a Blue Lagoon for families? Without the required climate impacts delivering Mediterranean weather to the South Downs.
Frosty Meadering around Markstakes Common looking for ancient trees and frosted fungi
It feels like this should be my fiftieth visit to Markstakes Common so I’m going to call it that. I’ve been coming here since late April/early May – not every week, and some weeks several times. I’m also a Friend of Markstakes Common’ so weather permitting I do some scrub clearing work with others for a few hours every Monday morning. Every walk I record on AllTrails as an aide-memoire to where I stop and what I find – I still struggle often to find gems I’d spotted early. One moss covered tree trunk can look very much like another.
My interest comes from the number and variety of ancient and veteran trees in such a small space, the variety of ecosystems and its relevant proximity to Lewes (six miles to the south).
I’m going on a tree hunt
A decade ago a number of surveys were carried out mapping the habitats and identifying 38 notable, ancient or veteran trees. I have surely seen them all by now, and can find 20 or so of them with relative ease. Some have remained elusive however because they can be amongst other trees of a similar type and generation so picking one out as different to the others can be tricky – more so through spring, summer and autumn when the canopy is dense and the understory dark and the tree’s silhouette hidden. I hope to tick them all off by spring. I feel, after months of struggling to get close or even pick it out in a busy canopy, that I have identified the Ash.
No.1 Ash 3-Stemmed
I’m less certain amongst the hornbeams in the lower (southerly) part of the wood because there are over a dozen mature/old looking hornbeams, some companion trees or with companion trees, surrounded in holly, or with bits fallen off them. A few times I have wondered if the tree I am looking for has been flat across the floor for a decade …
As well as finding them on the map, I am photographing the tree in various ways: vertical panoramic, wide shots and close-ups of features, and a slow pan video of 20-30 seconds. Part of me feels I could be doing this to record a wood that could be gone in a few decades – we shall see. It coped rather well in the drought (though one person having a barbecue could have put paid to that).
Foraging with a camera
Fungi became the next interest in late summer and through autumn. The foraging instinct has until now been a spring thing looking for wild garlic. This year we also collected a lot of sweet chestnuts. I collect very little of what I come across preferring to photograph the fungus, using the PictureThis Mushrooms App, and once home digging through my two Collin’s Fungi Field Guides . I am ‘getting the picture’ in the most general of ways – of course I know and am told that ‘my’ fungus could as likely be one of several similar looking species. But you have to start somewhere.
Today I returned to old friends to assess their state after the hard frost: hairy curtain crust, crowded parchment, sulphur tuft , birch polypore, wood ears and King Alfred’s cakes …
As Markstakes Common is the responsibility of Lewes District Council I can talk to my fellow Green Councillors about the management of the woods and common. Compared to other spaces it is deliberately not invasive: unless they fall over a recognised path the trunk or fallen branch is left where it fell. I’ve seen trees that I am told fell in February denses invaded by a variety of fungi by late October.
We have eaten those fungi that clearly will not kill us! Wood mushroom, porcelain mushroom, puffball and jelly ear. It still freaks me out and I’m aware of the risks and touch nothing that might be seriously toxic.
Now that I know where certain fungi can be found it intrigues me to see what will happen in a frost: jelly ear broken down, sulphur tuft gone from a bright mustard-yellow of dark leather brown in a few days … the birch polypores and King Alfred’s cakes shaking it off.
Author and journalist Dixe Wills gave an illustrated talk about living in Longyearbyen for a year.
The theme of Dixie’s talk came after a short introduction, when, like Pte James Fraze from Dad’s Army he declared “We’re all doomed” and related this to the impact climate change is having on Svalbard.
He started with a bit of geography and history, how it was initially known as Spitsbergen, not Svalbard; the discovery of coal, the Treaty of Versailles and the laterly the Spitsbergen (remaned
Svalbard) Treaty which gave the archipelago an open visa and mineral exploitation policy taken up by Norway and Russia. We learn that the Russian’s maintain a presence by running a mine but that all the workers are Ukrainian.
One curiosity from World War II is the story of the German radio operators on the island who were informed of the end of the war in May 1915 but were unable to surrender until that September.
Svalbard is also home to the Global Seed Vault and is one of those’/most see’ sights.
For four months there is no light, the Northern lights appear day and night, and are viewed to the south
Returning to the theme of Climate Change Dixie told us that Svalbard has seen an average temperature increase since the 1960s of 5.4 degrees. This rate of temperature change is six to seven times faster than the rest of the world. He then talked about the impacts, that the fjord used to be iced up for most of the year; you could ski across and the port was only accessible in the summer – now it is ice free all year. This greatly affects the ability of polar bears to hunt.
The Ice Fjord, once completely iced over given you 35 miles round is now completely clear.
Looking to the north east a wine glass shaped gulley of snow changing as it melts traditionally marks the beginning of summer – when the wineglass breaks summer has begun. This used to occur in August, then in July, and in 2022 on 5th June. Ave temp: 6 degrees.
“I am a victim of climate change” Dixie declared showing a selfie he took of himself with a bloodied and bandaged head. This happened after a sudden warming in March 2022 when the temperature rose by 2 to 3 degrees and there was rain, which subsequently turned to ice, followed by snow. He slipped on a jetty and split his head open which required six stitches.
A hardy chap, he took a dip in the sea, at a time of year – 5th June, when there should have been ice.
Once they arrived in huge cruisers, now only smaller vessels – but tourism is still a problem. Dixe feels that we shouldn’t be there – that it is human presence that is causing the greatest damage.
Finally, Dixe mentioned that he had helped translate a book, ‘My World Is Melting’ by a Norwegian journalist Line Nagell Ylvisåker who has lived in Longyearbeun for 15 years.
Ouse Valley Catchment Project with Matthew Bird
Matthew spoke at the Lewes Greens AGM, to an audience in the hall and online, about the communities vulnerable to flooding along the Ouse and the creation of an illustrated ‘fly by’ from the coast to Lewes showing the extent of potential flooding which became the inspiration of projects that have developed since.
The desire has been to come up with practical ways to do something to address the many problems that have been identified. It has taken several years to bring many disparate groups together. Eventually ten key partners came together including the South Downs National Park, Greenhaven, Ovesco, Transition Lewes, Sussex Community and Sussex Wildlife Trust along with 60 or more organisations.
In the first instance £150,000 of development money was secured to run a year of events which engaged with 110 groups from Barcombe to Newhaven, Peacehaven to Seaford.
More recently £2.5m has been awarded, one of only 16 projects in the country to be selected, which will seek to develop climate resilience, and knowledge of nature and skills, nature based responses to flooding by creating leaky dams and scrapes to hold water.
There are also a number of specific projects such as: the Cockshut alignment scheme, community scheme on the Neville, the zero carbon Barcombe scheme and climate hubs – a charter of ‘rights of the river’; working with the Ouse and Adur River Trust and Love Our Ouse to promote a passion for our rivers and One Planet Living – a framework for measuring sustainability.
The Cockshut from Source to the Ouse
Ever since the talk given by Marcus Taylor at the River Festival in September on the Cockshut I’ve been waiting for enough rain to have replenished the aquifer so that I could go on a hunt for its source. I was there yesterday (2 November 2022).
The Cockshut rises below Kingston Ridge on the eastern edge of Kingston village and enters the River Ouse on the other side of the Railway Bridge at the end of Ham Lane behind Lewes Recycling Centre.
The word ‘Cockshut’, Marcus explained, derives from middle-age English to describe ‘netting used to enclose an area to trap snipe or woodcock’ – suggesting that what was once a large marshy area south of Lewes was used in this way as a ‘cock shute’. He offered some additional possible derivations of the name, but favoured this one. The marshiness and tidal flooding has now long since been managed by culverts and drainage ditches, though persistent heavy rain will still swamp the fields around where the Cockshut runs.
The Cockshut always has water in it, though where, when and even whether it flows is another matter. It rises from a spring, to quote Marcus ‘under a hawthorn bush’ just west of Stanley Turner Recreation Ground in a field on the other side of Spring Barn Farm towards Kingston.
On close inspection you find a hawthorn hedge rather than a bush, with the Cockshut appearing either side of a farm drainage pipe which allows access between fields for animals to two adjoining fields. After heavy rain there is a steady trickle of water under the hedge which runs towards a large busy farmyard. For a hundred yards or so the Cockshut and the hedge are synonymous, until it appears as a narrow stream for 50 yards and then goes through another pipe, again to allow access to the field and runs the length of the farmyard just north of a couple of fishing ponds.
The Cockshut continues, contained in a straightened ditch or culverted its entire length next going under the Kingston Road now hidden under a dense bed of brambles and nettles or appearing between the low branches of shrubs and trees by the road. With barely any incline the lack of gravity appears to bring it to a halt and you have to wonder how the Cockshut can run at all. Signs point you back and forth along various South Downs Walks, including the Egret’s Way.
For a stretch by the pedestrian and cycle path it is hidden in a wet ditch, before being culverted for a short stretch to appear along the southern perimeter of Stanley Turner Rugby and Cricket Ground.
Much of the lower Ouse from here south to Newhaven flooded with tidal water making this entire area south of the A27 to the Ouse a marsh. Drainage ditches now abound and generally do the job and cattle are often on the fields.
The Cockshut is its most enchanting around the meadow south of Stanley Turner, bordered as it is with mature, mostly pollarded willow and home to swans and moorhens. The Recreation Ground, parking, walks around the sports fields and onto the meadow make it a busy spot for dog walkers.
It also provides panoramic views southwest to the Downs and Kingston Ridge, south east to Firle, east to Mount Caburn and at various points north to Lewes Castle.
Mist fills the hollows in winter and rows of a variety of mature deciduous trees announce the seasons. By chance you will cross the Greenwich Meridian here as you join the Meridian Walk for a matter of a few steps: it runs north through Lewes (Southover, High Street, Landport and beyond) and south to Southease. Don’t let me paint a picture of tranquillity though, as the experience requires acceptance of the noise from the often busy A27 Lewes by-pass.
The straightened length of the Cockshut that forms the boundary of the Recreation Ground was last cleared in 2013. Since then something of an avenue of willows has grown up through the sludge by the path around the meadow.
There are Lewes District Council plans for the meadow and Cockshut to reduce the presence of parrot feather which is choking the water, slowing down and preventing flow. It outcompetes native vegetation and blocks light. The idea, once the funding is in place, is to create a wetland habit – to ‘put the wiggles back’ and to include a couple of ponds. These plans were shared in separate talks at the River Summit given by Peter King of the Ouse and Adur Trust, and Matthew Bird of Sussex Wildlife and Lewes District Council – details can be found on their respective websites.
Planning Application SDNP/21/06027/FUL 6.8ha wetland habitat north of Lewes Brooks, including realignment of the existing Cockshut channel with the current route being infilled with spoil, a new channel created and groundworks creating a series of pools and raised areas. Construction of a bund to the southern boundary of the site. Alterations to access to the site and creation of a circular walk with bridge crossings and some areas of paved footpath.South Downs National Park Planning 21 December 2021
We might skip the history of the building of the Lewes bypass (unless others would like to enlighten me) and move on to Southover Sports Club, Ham Lane and the more intriguing 940 year old history of Lewes Priory.
The Priory, was the First Cluniac priory in England, was built not long after Norman Conquest as part of the Rape of Lewes by William de Warenne who was also responsible for the Castle. Both the Winterbourne and Cockshut, more akin to small tributaries of the Ouse or tidal creeks, flooded with the high tide and gave access to the Priory and to town at the bottom of Watergate Lane, by low draft boats.
The Cockshut and Winterbourne have flooded six times in 120 years. Persistent heavy rain on an already saturated chalk aquifer combined with a spring tide will do the job. In October 2000 a month’s rain over a couple of days combined with an incoming tide to cause flooding, as in 1911 and 1960. As I write the Environment Agency are completing repairs to the embankment along the Ouse from the A27 into town via the Railway Land, which should provide protection from the river, flooding again – though it won’t stop rain falling across the Downs pooling where it gravitates – the length of Winterbourne and Cockshut.
The other side of the A27, the Cockshut, straightened with a narrow path alongside it, is little more than a wide, water filled ditch, with a preponderance of parrot feather, dense beds of nettles, and until removed a year ago and burnt, a patch of invasive Japanese knotweed. There is access to Southover, the Priory Ruins and Convent Field and the path offers pretty views of the Castle,, though it is considerably blighted by the traffic that thunders back and forth along the dualled A27 Lewes bypass as it races between the Ashcombe Hollow and Southerham roundabouts.
Though easily followed via Ham Lane the Cockshut is barely visible and not accessible behind dense overgrowth just north of the Lewes Waste Recycling Centre – its journey ends through a sluice in front of concrete legs of the railway bridge which carries trains between London and Brighton to Eastbourne and beyond via Lewes. It is always covered in assorted graffiti tags and urban art.
By walking under the bridge onto the water meadow you can walk into town along the Ouse into Town to the Railway Land and enjoy views of distinct white chalk of the Cliffe.
The Winterbourne from source to the Ouse, Lewes, East Sussex
The Winterbourne is a fascinating seasonal stream cum ditch, often in a culvert which runs through Lewes from a little East of the town out along the A27 Brighton Road to West, entering the River Ouse next to the Linklater Pavilion. Its history and geography were explained in an illustrated talk by Marcus Taylor, who has lived in Lewes since the late 1960s, taught Geography for 35 years and was a trustee of Friends of Lewes for a decade.
The word ‘Winterbourne’, we learn, describes what is, for much of the year. A dry channel most of the year. It is a stream or brook that is literally ‘born again’ in the winter once the water table has risen high enough – though it failed for two years in the late 1980s and some years will be late to run, and early to run dry. Living close by for the last 15 years I can record that the Winterbourne has run, even flooded occasionally, though never earlier than December and then sometimes lasting in flow through to early May before drying out completely for the rest of spring, summer and autumn.
The source of the Winterbourne is somewhere west of the Newmarket Inn. The spring is illusive – it is somewhere in a ditch between the A27 and the railway in the lowest lying land that drops down from the Downs north and south. It is only obvious when the water table is high.
Anyone travelling regularly on the A27 will be familiar with flooding between the Ashcombe Roundabout and Newmarket Inn, for short spells these days after intense rainfall (early September 2022) or every five or so years in December after a longer period of rain when the water table has been saturated.
In the 1960s water flooded the Brighton Road and was photographed flooding off the Downs in a torrent.
From an inauspicious start in a hard-to-find spring, followed by a short section of ditch, the Winterbourne, in short order, somewhere around Ashcombe Hollow, is channelled under the A27 dual-carriageway, the roundabout and Bright to Lewes rail line, only to reappear intermittently (if at all) as a stream or ditch between the Brighton Road into Lewes and Hamsey Riding Stables. It finally emerges from a large drainage pipe or tunnel next to Houndean Allotments.
The banks of the Winterbourne are dark and damp enough to favour ferns. On the right the oh too close A27 dual-carriageway thunders by; at one spot (there must be others unless everything is funneled in through this one spot) the A27 run-off drains into the Winterbourne.
On the opposite side are Houndean Allotments. This year there was some water flow along the higher reaches of the Winterbourne from 17th October.
Onwards under a canopy of leaves in summer you might spot the four strange sculptures before you get to a patch of lawn and Lewes Pigeon fanciers.
Once again, the Winterbourne is channelled under the Brighton to Eastbourne rail line, only to emerge close to the detached houses along Glebe Close, running in a ditch by the road opposite the WInterbourne Stores and over the back garden fences of houses along Winterbourne Close.
The Winterbourne then runs along Winterbourne Lane, close to the road and verges on its northern bank and abuts to the rear gardens of Winterbourn Close to the south. At the foot of Delaware Road there is a measurement station.
The Winterbourne then runs under Bell Lane and along Winterbourne Mews.
Sadly there is an issue with garden and household waste being dumped over the back of garden fences here and fly tipping from the lane.
This is another stretch of road often prone to flooding with rainwater quickly pooling in the south-westerly corner of Bell Lane Park exactly where there is a pedestrian crossing.
The Winterbourne is culverted on two sides by concrete and walls behind the stone or flint walls of the Cemetery on one side and Bell Lane on the other.
Historically Bell Lane has flooded, turning it into an impromptu lake on one occasion in the late 1960s. There were floods the length of the Winterbourne through to St Pancras Stores and beyond in October 2000, and before that in 1915 and 1911.
There is another measuring station where the Winterbourne leaves Bell Lane Park where these ia an impressively old pollarded willow bricked into a garden wall.
As it passes through the south of the town the Winterbourne is either culverted or covered. Grills at various places where the Winterbourne enters a tunnel collect flotsam and jetsam and are from time to time cleared by the Environment Agency.
The Winterbourne is culverted for the last stretch of Bell Lane, going under the houses at St. Pancras, emerging for a short section by St Pancras Stores, then disappearing under St Pancras Road. This is site of some historic photographs of flooding at the beginning of the 20th century.
It then passes under The Course, under Southover and Western Roads Schools and sports fields only to re-emerge in Southover Gardens where it is a feature of Grange Gardens.
It then passes out of sight once more …
… passing under Gardens Street, the houses of Tanners Brook and the old Market, then under the Railway Station and lines to London/Eastbourne only to re-emerge just north of the rail line to Eastbourne, in an area that once included a manor house and formal gardens, the line to Uckfield with numerous sidings – it is now collectively the Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Nature Reserve, which includes the former gardens and pond of Leighside House.
The Reserve consists of five distinct sections: a wet wood (former Leighhouse Gardens), the Heart of Reeds, the developing meadow created where the railway sidings were most densely packed, the former allotments, the river bank and the water meadow.
The Winterbourne passes through the former gardens of Leighside House with its restored pond and viewing platform to the north by the entrance from Court Road and then winds its way towards the River Ouse which it enters via a sluice just to the south east of the Linklater Pavilion.
In March each year grey mullet can sometimes be seen in. a large shole by the spot where the Winterbourne joins the River Ouse.
And so, for now, ends my story of the Winterbourne, which can only be followed by adding stories of these who lived beside it: those keeping horses in the fields alongside the A27, people who have an allotment in Houndean, the pigeon fanciers and sculptor, the dog walkers and runners, those with gardens abutting the Winterbourne, use Bell Lane (recreation ground), living on Rotten Row, St Pancras and the Grange, along to Southover Gardens – its house, cafe, Sussex Arts & Crafts gallery and annual skittles show, to the station and beyond to the stream’s terminus in the Railway Land Nature Reserve with its hub, the history of the old railway sidings and Leighside House and gardens, the Linklater Pavilion and the constant activity it attracts.
You Can’t Cuddle a Fish
Peter King of the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust is an enthusiast for rivers and their landscape, the Adur and Ouse in Sussex in particular. At the River Summit held in the Pavilion as part of the River Festival hosted by the Lewes Railway Land Wildlife Trust and Love Our Ouse. He gave a fascinating talk on the work that is required, the work that has been done and the work that needs to be undertaken to improve the Ouse , to help return some of it to the way it was naturally, centuries ago – before people came along to exploit it, tame it and pollute it.
“You can’t cuddle a fish”
“You can’t cuddle a fish”, he said, apologising that trout and eels may not have the appeal of otters or behaviours, but their health is a good indicator of a healthy river system.
We have made a mess of our rivers across the British Isles over the centuries and the Ouse is no exception.
- 85% of all UK rivers are failing to achieve a ‘Good Ecological Status’.
- Only 19% of water bodies are good for fish …
Human pressures: exploitation, containment, extraction and discharges have all caused problems. There has been an impact on the landscape and ecosystems affecting, resulting in damaging invasive species and the ability of native species to survive.
Peter made a compelling case for our doing far more to address the problems and improve the condition of our rivers.
Regarding the single issue of discharges, he persuaded us that whilst Southern Water has 123 discharge points, and is clearly responsible for sewage discharge, that there are over 1,200 discharge points in the River Ouse catchment, and that as well as legal trade waste there are too many illegal discharges and therefore an urgent need to review permits.
“Put the wiggles back”
Having gone through the science, indicated the level of detail of surveys, worried us about multiple historic and ongoing problems, Peter also proposed fixes, showed how much has been done, how much more there is to do and tried to end on a positive note. That we can ‘put the wiggles back’, mitigate against flooding, improve habits and ecosystems, work with farmers and other businesses and landowners.
Lots can be done, he explained, and illustrated some of the initiatives taken from the grandest engineering works to put meanders and pools back where straightening and canalising has occurred and removing locks where the river had been contained to form a lake for shooting ducks, to smaller, more modest improvements like adding logs and gravel to slow the flow, or putting in groynes and branches where sediments can collect. A visit to the higher reaches of the River Ouse downstream from the Ouse Valley Viaduct showed where this kind of work had been undertaken.
We can all do our bit too. “The first flush of rain creates 80% of the pollution” – we can slow this run off with rain plainters, or with more space, a rain garden.
Peter concluded on an upbeat note convincing us that it is not all bad news, there are plenty of stunning bits of the Ouse to enjoy.
He invited us to volunteer with the Ouse & Adur Rivers Trust; tasks include: tree planting and river clean ups, river maintenance, monitoring and much more.
We realised there were gaps in the information available for certain Natural Flood Management techniques and measures. With the help of our partners we have produced a range of nationally available, printed and online materials which will help others to deliver NFM with more confidence.
These include :-
Focusing on Flow in Sussex – A Woodland Trust case study and related reading.
Sussex Wildlife Trust > ‘How you can help with flood management’
Rewilding Britain on How Rewilding Reduces Flood Risk
Rain Garden Planters from East of Eden
Stormwater or ‘SuDS’ Planter