The South Downs are a range of chalk hills running roughly east to west along England’s south coast. My town lies between the Downs and the English Channel and my home is less than a mile from the Downs, in the northern part of town.
Last Sunday, Marian and I walked to Cissbury Ring, a hilltop iron-age fort. The climb starts on a bridleway (that’s a path where horse riders have ancient rights to travel) between two golf courses, one privately owned and the other open for all comers to play. Since the advent of mountain bikes, cyclists also ride the bridleways, pumping their way up in low gear, faces red, flying down at speed, exhilarated at the rush of air and the tyre-scattered, crackling stones beneath.
We walked up, slowly, stopping to examine the familiar views across the valleys, tracing out the pathway over there that would take us back home. In early April, the first flowers grace the hedgerows; light, bright colours against the dark twigs where leaf buds begin to swell. This year the sheep must be in a different valley, but Cissbury Ring will give them grazing this month, according to the notice pinned on a gate.
Further up into the Downs farmers have ploughed lower lying fields; the white chalk gives the brown soil a cake-like look, as if dusted with caster sugar. The winter bareness is still apparent, but in a few weeks leaves will appear to fill out empty space. We are surprised by the volume and variety of bird song.
Next to the path down the hill, half a mile before Waterworks Cottages, someone has placed a triangular, rough hewn stone inscribed like a headstone with
15TH APRIL Of Carefree Days, Of Picnics, Horses, Walks, Birds…. ALWAYS REMEMBERED
No name, no year. Just good memories of journeys taken together. Like Marian’s and mine that day.6 April, 2005