Monday, 19 August 2013

The South Country*

It is particularly true in England that almost none of our countryside is natural, how it always has been. Most of it, beautiful as it may be, bears the imprint of man.  At one time, much of the south-east corner of England was covered in trees, especially oak trees, but these were felled to provide the material for building England's battleships, our wooden walls as they are affectionately remembered.  Sussex was also, at one time, the heart of the English iron industry.  Indeed, there are still reminders aplenty with hammer ponds and place names that evoke the old industrial times.  But today it is the South Downs of which I am thinking particularly.

Anybody who has read more than one or two of the postings on this blog will be well aware that I am especially fond of that part of England known as the South Downs.  These - the Downs - are a range of low hills running approximately parallel to the south coast of England for a distance of nearly 90 miles, chiefly in the counties of West and East Sussex.  They have been immortalised in poetry by Rudyard Kipling and Hilaire Belloc:
The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea,
And it's there, walking in the high woods,
That I would wish to be
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.
As recently as the 1930s, the Downs were largely grassland, grazed by great flocks of sheep, each with its attendant shepherd.  Come World War II, English farmers were pressed to grow more wheat and much of the South Downs were put to the plough for the first time.  Now there is an almost equal mix of arable and pasture.  At least, this is the case in the vicinity of Brighton, as shown in this picture.

Further east, by Eastbourne and Beachy Head, the countryside looks completely different, much more like moorland.  I always think this must be what the whole of the Downs was like before the coming of the plough.

*The complete Belloc poem can be found here.  Or Kipling's Sussex here.

See?  You even get a bit of culture here!

1 comment:

The Broad said...

I've loved the South Downs ever since I saw them on my first trip to Britain in the late '70s. On our return to Britain on the 2nd of September we will be visiting friends who live near Beachy Head and have a house with the most magnificent view running down lush green hills to the English Channel...