a portal to the other world

August 30, 2014

holloway

I need to do this more often; just wander through landscapes that have strong undercurrents. There’s no excuse as the Chanctonbury Ring is only about an hour away to the west along the coast road. In France I would have been much sharper on exploring similar landscapes. The uphill meander along the Holloway carved through ancient beech trees, middle-age ash and youthful sycamore has dog’s mercury carpeting the chalk and flint ground on either side. Sounds from the overhead swaying branches and foliage reminded me of a similar walk through Nothofagus woods on the other side of the world . . .  . . .

beech

ash

hollway 2

. . .  emerging into the light on the summit of the Downs with harvested fields to the south and banks of fruiting bramble encircling the woodland, the curve of the old beech ravaged by the westerlies is revealed standing firm – a living landmark on ancient fortifications.

bramble edge

The storms of 1987 have left some trees from the first planting in mid 1700’s. These grew into a cathedral grove visited by tourists in the early 20th C. arriving on specially scheduled trains from London; thousands enjoyed moonlight walks over the South Downs and stayed to see the sunrise from the Ring. Laurie Lee slept beneath the trees in 1934 and mentions meeting groups of unemployed trudging from coast to the city. Recently Robert Macfarlane, busy cataloguing his journey on foot across the island (The Old Ways), spent the night, somewhat uncomfortably in the ring, hearing screams and cries – human not avian – and voices conversing. Sussex folklore has many descriptions of the haunted areas of the downs – a portal to the otherworld.

fifth view

third view

‘Legend has it that the devil had a hand in the formation of Chanctonbury Ring. When he discovered that the inhabitants of Sussex were being converted from previous pagan religions to Christianity he decided to drown them’.

‘He began digging a trench down to the sea from Poynings, sending large quantities of earth in every direction, one of which became Chanctonbury. He was not to complete his work however. An old lady living nearby placed a sieve in front of a lighted candle on her window ledge. This disturbed a cockerel perched on a fence. The devil heard the cockerel and, looking over his shoulder, saw what he thought was the sun rising and so fled before completing his task’.

There are examples of the folklore involving interaction other than these:

Walk 7 times around the ring on a moonless night + the devil will give you nourishment.

Walk more times around naked or run backwards around at midnight on Midsummer Eve and you might see a druid, a lady on a white horse, a white bearded treasure seeker, a girl, Julius Caesar and his army ( the Romans were here too).

Sounds busy and a tad crowded. The young males seem oblivious, or are they?

sheep2

origanum 2

Wild marjorum, Origanum vulgare, spreads vigorously around the south facing slopes; the flower heads more pungent than the foliage. The chalky meadow mix on the open slopes show skeletons of agrimony but scabious, harebells and red clover are still in flower in late August; a soft ground layer around the odd mature tree presumably remnants of the planted cathedral. Back through the lower woodland – the path – the journey for visitors is clearly defined – exposed roots of old specimen beech form beautiful and rather fitting sculptural elements. The seen and the unseen exist here.

chalk downland

roots 3

roots 2

roots 1

The century of émigrés,
the book of homelessness–
gray century, black book.
This is what I ought to leave
written in the open book,
digging it out from the century,
tinting the pages with spilled blood.

I lived the abundance
of those lost in the jungle:
I counted the cutoff hands
and the mountains of ash
and the fragmented cries
and the without-eyes glasses
and the headless hair.

Then I searched the world
for those who lost their country,
pointlessly carrying
their defeated flags,
their Stars of David,
their miserable photographs.

I too knew homelessness.

But as a seasoned wanderer,
I returned empty-handed
to this sea that knows me well.
But others remain
and are still at bay,
leaving behind their loved ones, their errors
thinking maybe
but knowing never again
and this is how I ended up sobbing
the dusty sob
intoned by the homeless.
This is the way I ended celebrating
with my brothers (those who remain)
the victorious building,
the harvest of new bread. Pablo Neruda. The Saddest Century

3 Responses to “a portal to the other world”

  1. elizabethwix Says:

    A splendid post mixing the mysterious and the mundane. (Such a nice sheep photo). Such astounding roots – and what rich but muddled folklore…
    This is a walk I’d like to take.
    The Neruda ineffably sad.

  2. Seb Says:

    Quite simply breathtaking

  3. charleshawes Says:

    Great post Julia. Love those tree roots. I’m with the sheep- unimpressed by the ghosts. (But who knows, sleeping out anywhere on your own can feel quite spooky).


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