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Markstakes Common : June 2022

I came to Markstakes Common today looking for a noted ‘ancient’ ash which according to the map is hidden away in the north-west corner of the Common close to Furzeley Farm. It took me quite a bit of meandering around as you can see from my AllTrails to find it, not least because there are several other Ash in various stages of growth or decrepitude, with one or many stems in the same area. All no doubt from the original tree?

The 160 year old Ash in Markstakes Common, June 2022

This 3-stemmed ash had a girth of 302cm in 2010, which to my reckoning makes it around 160 years old. 

The Observer Book of Trees

I turned to the Observer’s Book of Trees (written in 1937, revised in the 1960s and reprinted – my copy, in 1972). The language is redolent of Wilfred Ewart who was writing before the First World War I and used references to the Classics. Here we read that the ash is the ‘Venus of the Woods’ for its ‘grace and strength of a goddess’. I don’t see this myself, not hemmed in my brambles, bracken and nettles and unable to view the tree from the cut lawn a few metres away over the boundary.

I have taken to giving the trees I visit regularly names based on their approximate year of germination. Growing since around 1850, and traditionally female, I was thinking I’d call this Ash ‘Victoria’ (the Queen rather than Beckham) – although Victoria covers a reign of several decades) or perhaps ‘Crystal’ as the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace opened in 1851. For now ‘Crystal Ash’ it is.

The Observer reminds the reader that a tree’s character is very much down to its context, that hemmed in by a forest a tree is significantly different to one growing in an open meadow or hedgerow. Weather has an impact too, through its history, notably the significant storm of October 1987 and the more recent storm of some impact in February 2022 – a tree may lose a branch, be tipped off centre or be felled. We now have climate change to content with too: with hotter dry summers in southern England, and storms that are potentially more powerful with greater rainfall. Trees that were pollarded will have many stems if they have since been left. A tree has an impact on everything around it too, potentially starving out plants of light and nutrients or providing support to a bank with very deep roots. 

Ash, according to the Observer ‘was used where iron and steel have long since supplanted it’ (p.95)

As I am still at the start of my journey of recognising and understanding a multitude of trees I take note of its ‘leaflets’, which I read are ‘late to arrive and early to leave’. Initially I thought the ash tree leaves were distinct, only to find there are other quite different trees which might have fewer or more so called ‘leaflets’.  This is when the winter tree with is black leaf-buds is so handy. It also explains I’m sure why the Markstakes survey was done in January 2010, not in spring, summer or early autumn.

I am yet to see any of these trees in summer, having started my visits in autumn. I know I need to look out for distinct flowers and in the case of the Ash, the seeds or ‘keys’ with their singed ‘spinners’. 

I learned from the Observer that the Ash only produces seeds that germinate in its second year, matures at 40+ years, and has a natural span of 200 years. And a bit of history – they were coppiced to make oars, axes and hammer shafts. 


Kiln Wood and Turnmill Wood, Blackboys, 20th September 2021

Woodland Trust 

First Wood of the Day. I’m on a minition to ‘bag’ a few today; the twitcher in me is out. 

Evie and I walked from the village of Blackboys. We’re earlier enough to be ahead of school drop-off and far too early for  the wonderful looking pub. 

Across the busy B2192 to Heathfield from Uckfield Road and into the woods. Sadly the noise from the traffic is never far away – how much more pleasant it would have been to have been here, quite against the regulations, during the Covid-19 lockdown when even our local wooded walk along the edge of the busy A27 Lewes bypass was silent.

We get quickly away from the road and in so doing move through a patchwork of land use types.

Indeed, there is a second wood, Turnmill Wood, not yet on the Woodland Trust website (or missed amongst the 1,000+). There’s a ‘remnant of precious ancient woodland’ in here – dark between mature trees and pooling streams. It is a treasure, but sad in its isolation, like a neglected standing stone, or a piece of Hadrian’s Wall alone in suburban Newcastle. Foreigners must laugh at our niggledly loves and precious attitudes, but when you just have crumbs or ancient woodland left rather than vast forests stretching miles over mountains and dotted with wide lakes what else can we do. 

It doesn’t take long to find the ‘other’ entrance, or the correct entrance to Kiln Wood – there’s layby parking here too – for two or three cars at least, off the busy main road. 

It is more of an entrance too, with some of the features I am coming to expect and recognise in a Woodland Trust managed wood – excellent steps, gates, bridges and signage. I’m looking forward now to returning to these spaces after a downpour or in the rain, once the tree cover has gone and in winter. So my frantic ticking off woods in Sussex now is to set me up for 28 or more return visits over the next 6 months through autumn, winter and spring.

I’m used to telling a person’s story each day of the year for The Western Front Association, people, almost always young men, who served and died during the First World War, rather than peacefully and commemorated like this in a local wood. I have my eye on several spots around Sussex, a beach in Northumberland and a snow covered slope in the French Alps, so my ashes will have to be bagged up and split, and funds set aside for a bench or two such as this.

The Blackboys Inn is so picture-postcard that in the summer, and outside Covid-19 travel restrictions, I am sure it is popular. I’ll aim to get here for lunch or an early evening snack next time. 

Beechland Mill Wood, East Sussex, 16th September 2021

A Woodlands Trust Wood

This is only my second trip out to a specific Woodlands Trust wood. I knew there would be a challenge because the Woodland Trust Guide for East Sussex has No.1 Beechland Mill Wood signposted as one where ‘local parking is difficult’. Actually, I had a problem finding it because though there are roads equidistant in a large rectangle with the wood in the middle, the wood itself is across a field or two, via paths or sports fields.

Advised not to rely overly on a SatNav I nonetheless had Waze and Google Maps send me back and forth around the top, around the south then to the east. Eventually I got out and walked up a lane only to find myself in a private driveway – perhaps there was a path down one side of one of the houses. My journey was further curtailed by roadworks.

Eventually, across football fields I should have recognised from when my son was competing in one of these leagues I make it along the side of a house, across a rugby field, over a meadow and into the woods. You know it is a Woodland Trust wood as soon as you come across a stream crossed by a well-made footbridge; depending on where there’s signage you will know too from dedications on the occasional park bench or other marker.

I pause, I listen. I recorded 30 seconds of soundscape. I take in a deep breath through my nose. I look at the trees, gauge their age, look at the amount of undergrowth and consider the amount of intervention – are trees felled by the weather left or cleared? 

A popular dog walk from Newick I meet three couples and two people on their own – all with a dog (usually one, sometimes two). I greet them and talk with one. 

A wood like this always takes me back to Mowden Hall School, Northumberland and the 35 acres of woods some 105 or more boys had to roam in every weekend. We dug holes, made ‘trenches’, had dones, climbed trees, had mock battles with staves, bow and arrows and ‘handgrenades’ (bracken rhizome) and built dens. The fancy den had plastic sacking in the roof and on the floor with a ‘barbed wire’ defensive fence made from dead bramble stems. 

Moat Wood, East Hoathly, East Sussex, 14th September 2021

No. 1. Woodland Trust

This is my first self-conscious Woodland Trust wood walk. 

I made it easy on myself and went to a wood not far from home, to a village I thought I knew and where there would be easy parking. I still managed to go off in the wrong direction on the A26 for 3 miles before doubling back; this is what happens these days when I turn the SatNav off. The weather was as promised and worst. I took an anorak and umbrella.

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Leaving Lewes to the north east is a painful exercise as major roadworks have reduce a busy road to a single lane. I’m sent back on the south route to avoid it coming home.

Being my very first trip specifically to a Woodland Trust I wonder what regular observations I will make? I record 30 seconds of sound for a potential set of soundscapes. I also take a deep breath and take in the ‘forest’ smells. Adsly at this time of year things can start to set off my hayfever allergies. Something about spores or seeds in the air.

I rather think a wood needs: trees, paths, a stream or lake with bridges, styles and gates in and out and some simple signage. There are benches, but I wonder when or if bins will ever appear? I pick the little litter I find on such walks. I rather thank others do the same.

Queries on a Woodland Trust wood are readily answered if you are a member as you have access to the Management Plan for the wood. This gives a detail context, the geology, surrounding land use and current spread and nature of the trees, and the plan. Here we have a mixed wood that some 80 to 100 years ago was planned with pine – which have stolen all light and underwich there is little to no growth – this is only a small section of the wood which is mostly deciduous.

I tend to use my nose and ‘sense of direction’ to navigate a circuit in and out of a wood. At under 25 acres I guess this is an easy enough thing to do, that and using the sight and sound of the A22 along one edge to guide me back to the village.

As the Digital Editor for The Western Front Association for the last six years I have become efficient at searching names in the National Archives and our own Pension Ledgers and Cards. Throw in the rest of Ancestry, the British Newspaper Archive and my own growing library of local and national ‘rolls of honour’ and I can usually complete a reasonable profile of a person, their life before the war, during the war, demise and commemoration. I curate over 2,300 names in our daily ‘Remember On This Day‘ in which someone who served and died is remembered. I will indulge the good story, most especially where we have a photograph of the protagonist too.

R W Beal
 A J Bishop
A A Brooker
R Surcess
W C Carley
C J Colbran
H Corke
L Ellis
C Y Goldsmith
S G Warboard
E N Hurd
A C Nutson
FSC Joules
CJ Kemp
E Morley
G EM Peskett
H M Piper
R Russell
W W Woodhams 
The War Memorial at East Hoathly, East Sussex

There’s some natural overlap between an interest in those who served in the First World War and the village and town memorials I will stumble across, as here. The temptation is to start researching the names – you do one and you have to do them all though and there’s a very good chance someone has done this somewhere already.

I wonder if those with dedications on the woods would want more said? A few paragraphs and a photo online?

All photographs taken on a iPhone11 Pro. I’ve come to adore its simplicity and convenience. In due course I may take it out, if only for the close-up lens. For 360 degree pictures to indulge some interactivity with ThingLink I will need myself a 360 camera – now there is a thought for my upcoming birthday 🙂

From Lewes, East Sussex

The River Ouse at Southease, The South Downs Way

Walking and taking photos yesterday afternoon after a morning writing – for me that was 4.30 am to 11.30am I resolved a character/plot issue in a novel I am challenging myself to complete in first draft in a month. This is part of an online ‘Write a Novel in a Month’ thing that has been running since 2002: recommended. It has all the joy and connectivity of learning in a supported environment that you could want.

This is an OU course too. A lot is said about keeping a notebook. I have ‘issues’ with this.

During this walk I decided that I had to make the protagonist’s only friend his nemesis and enemy. I also figured out a story that has been on my mind for 25 years about a 9-year-old girl buried in a school garden … however, there was something else knew that I thought I’d remember but had forgotten by the time I got to the car sad I could have tapped a cryptic message on the phone’s notepad, phoned home and left a message on the answer-phone, recorded a note on the iPhone, or scribbled a note had I pen and paper … the issue I have is that when you develop a habit of jotting down ideas it can bring your life to a grinding halt: you stop to take notes, pull over in a lay-by to write something down, let something burn in the kitchen, don’t answer the phone, wake up in the middle of the night repeatedly … this happened to me. I could not sleep for long without having an idea about something. And then I ended up managing that database, and having more ideas in a crushing spiral of brain pain no gain self-defeating, bean-counting, self-analysis, deconstructive, non-creative nonsense. Be warned smile

The answer is to work as a tree surgeon. My solution is to fill a reasonable part of my life, paid and as a volunteer, teaching and coaching swimming to kids, adults and disabled people. That keeps my head, hands, feet and soul gainfully occupied.

Learning can be an obsession; look at me. I know that learning with The OU fills such an important space in my life that even when the money has run out I want to keep doing more sad

My interactive, web-based, online, offline, inline, e-learning journey to date

I entered this field in 1999/2000 and have migrated rich content from DVD to the web, and for the last three years have been studying with the OU on their MAODE while keeping up some professional activity – working in Brighton companies have a short shelf life as ideas, people, projects, software and platforms get picked up or crushed, spun around then spat out.

There’s constant agitation – on the one hand careful evolution, on the other, a desire by some to be the first with a revolution.

It all goes into the mix.

My view is that we need to feed content to tablets and smartphones and look beyond these to a headset and ear-piece.

Personally I’d like to have chips in my teeth so that I can activate a device without having to use fingers or voice 🙂

M-learning stands for mouth learning?!



Fig.1. Copse – Lewes – Snowfall January 2010

I did a dozen of these and still mean to complete a Triptych on a grand scale with Lewes Castle above the tree tops. Who is going to give me the space and three months to do it?

I’ll keep posting drawings until someone remembers I could draw before I could write or read.

But Mum would put 6B pencils into our hands and even age 4 we had a drawing board and cartridge paper.



Reflections on memory creation and expressions of digital and analogue memory

Fig. 1. Shadows below the Fredikson-Stallard installation ‘Pandora’ with additional Neon EFX

Fredrikson Stallard piece for the Digital Memory Gallery sponsored by Swarovski called ‘Pandora’ is a collaboration between Patrik Fredrikson and Ian Stallard, two British Avant-Garde designers.

This is a picture of the shadow beneath the chandelier put through a Neon EFX.

Fig.2. Shadow of Pandora – Before EFX

Is reconstruction of their work from a shadow by third part software now my memory, image and copyright?

Photography is permitted in the gallery, so sharing and transformation is both expected and encouraged.

Fig.3. Pandora – in situ.

Like flames in a fire just look. Actually, a fire place touches more senses with the smell of the fire, or damp people around it – let alone a spark that might scorch the carpet or the back of your wrist. (Now there’s an idea – though not one that health & safety would allow through).

In relation to memory, where I entered a gallery and did not take a picture what control does anyone have of the memory the experience created or the image I have?

If supra-human digital devices are used to store what we see and hear for later management and manipulation somewhere what kinds of permissions, copyright and privacy laws might we breach? How many people do you see and hear, and therefore place and potentially identify during the day – especially if this includes lengthy walks along the South Bank, across Tower Bridge to Tower Hill and the length of Regent’s Street?

Historically we shared memories through stories – creating a visual impression in the narrative and perhaps exaggerating interactions for effect. I contend that the most vivid ‘virtual world’ we can create is not a digital one, but what we create for ourselves in our mind’s eye.

In learning terms there is a lot to be said for keeping it simple – a story well told, without illustration.

The ‘bard’ holding the attention of the audience alone on the stage or at the end of a classroom. A speaker who is alert to the audience and well enough informed and confident to shift the emphasis and nuance of their story to suit the audience on the night. How can such flexibility be built into distance and e-learning? Hard without some live element and  synchronous tutorials.

Radio is vivid. Try some BBC Radio drama.

Fig. 4. Southover Bonfire Society – at the bonfire sight, November 5th 2011

For a super-sensory experience marching on Bonfire Night in the East Sussex town of Lewes meets all the above criteria and more:

  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Experience
  • Touch, taste and smell
  • and the emotionally charged atmosphere in relation to family, community, pageantry and history.

Learning on a stick! Lewes Old Grammar School: 500th anniversary. A town parade for LOGS and five centuries of learning as they march through Lewes.

From LOGS 500
From LOGS 500

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