Up on the Downs

My mother grew up in a small, close knit community in South Wales and only started speaking English when she went to senior school.

1st March was St David’s day, which is a good opportunity to celebrate Welsh heritage and proudly fly the red dragon

It must have been quite a culture shock for her when she chose to come to England to do her teacher training in Eastbourne in Sussex, and it was the little primary school in Alfriston nearby where she was sent to get her first work experience.

Alfriston primary school where my mother taught seventy years ago, although it looks like it might have been significantly extended since her day. She met my father around this time and never again returned to Wales to live, although her heart remained in the country of her birth for the rest of her life

This week we stayed for a few nights in the lovely village of Alfriston where she first taught, which is nestled underneath the South Downs.

The Star in Alfriston – our most comfortable home for three nights this week – began life in the 14th century as a hostel for pilgrims, travelling between Battle Abbey and Chichester Cathedral
The hotel was beautifully decorated with spring bulbs

To the south of Alfriston, Seaford Head has an iconic view of the Seven Sisters, although I personally find the white cliffs around Dover to be more majestic and breathtaking:

The Seven Sisters with coastguard cottages in the foreground.
An information board at Seaford Head identifying each of the seven sisters

The Long Man of Wilmington was cut into the chalk of the South Downs possibly at the beginning of the 18th century. At 72 metres high, he is Europe’s largest portrayal of the human form.

One day we parked in the little village of Firle, where nearly all of the houses are still owned by the Firle Estate and it feels very much like you have stepped into the past.

Firle Place, the heart of the 7,500 acre estate and owned by the Gage family since the 15th century. One of our daughters is getting married here this summer and it was good to familiarise ourselves with the area in advance

We did a circular walk from Firle up onto the Downs and taking in Firle Beacon:

The camera has a high drama setting which nicely accentuates the abundant sheep paths:

On another day, we really enjoyed a visit to the 780 acre Scotney Castle estate, now owned by the National Trust:

The old Castle, built on an island of the River Bewl
In the 19th century, the family decided to build a new house up on the hill behind. They then deliberately dismantled parts of the old castle to create picturesque ruins
The new house and the sandstone quarry from whence they obtained the building stone
The contents of the house are more or less as they were when the family lived there. Although the estate was left to the Trust in 1970, the house has only been open to the public since 2007 after Mrs Hussey died aged 99
Several kilometres of hedgerow have been planted by the Trust on the estate in the last few years. Once established, these hedges have been ‘laid’ in the southern style. The stems are partially severed and laid over, allowing them to continue to grow, whilst also providing a thick barrier beneficial for wildlife and livestock control. Additional stakes and binders, coppiced from local woodland, are then added which give the hedge extra height and strength
There are lots of veteran trees on the estate, many being allowed to gracefully decline – standing deadwood is extremely valuable for wildlife. But there have also been new trees planted to succeed them in due course.
A spring near the old castle trickles forth bright orange, iron-rich water. Two ancient conifers nearby make it feel like this has been a special place for centuries. Mrs Hussey used to drink the waters from this spring every day which she thought helped her live to such a great old age
We also visited the 300 acre Bateman’s estate, the home of Rudyard Kipling and his family for many years before they donated it to the National Trust, none of their three children having produced any heirs

Back home again, I have been trying not to get excited about a Tawny Owl, who was spending time sitting near a Tawny nest box in the wood. But this week any such self-control has proved impossible, once I had seen these next two photos.

This may be blurry, but we have never before seen two owls together:

This is the photo that got me dancing round the room:

A Tawny Owl roosting in the box

A Buzzard also likes to sit on the same branch:

A Sparrowhawk comes down to a wood pond to take a bath:

By this point of the year, the Fieldfare seem to have gone but they have been replaced by Redwing. I remember this same pattern last winter as well. Two Redwing here:

We have now finished coppicing for the season and it will be interesting to see how this newly-cleared area develops over the next few years:

The next job is to get the rest of the Dormouse nest boxes up before the animals emerge from hibernation.

Across in the meadows, I first got a photo of a Magpie with a stick in his mouth on 24th January. That is six weeks ago, yet still they are at it:

X9LT, the female of our pair of Herring Gulls, poses up on the strip:

It is really nice that the male, Chuckles, continues to be seen with his chick from last year:

When a new Herring Gull has the audacity to try to come in, Chuckles with his chick on the left, is seriously displeased:

A Kestrel on a perch:

A fox sits and looks across the meadow at night:

My last photo for today is of the tadpoles that have already started to hatch in the pond:

It is estimated that it is only one in fifty of the eggs laid make it out of the pond as froglets and so I wish them the best of luck.

One thought on “Up on the Downs

  1. I saw a flock of Redwings yesterday. Typically didn’t have a camera with me.
    Good to see your owl is very much at home.
    Your holiday looks to be in such a very scenic place. 🙂

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