‘This other Eden, demi-paradise,…This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England’
The South Downs
This time I’ve not travelled far– just a few miles down the road. Welcome to my own ‘patch’. Join me as we sit looking out over the beautiful Arun valley – a favourite local view. Our eyes look over the part- natural, yet heavily manicured, countryside of farm fields, the river and up into downs beyond. As we sit and take in the scene, we begin looking at the details, seeing things we had not noticed before. We become aware of a living landscape.
The shapely rounded woods hug the hillside and the gently curving edges of the fields as they respond to the flowing contours are so typical of the South Downs. At other times perhaps a flock of rooks may be visible over a rookery in some distant trees, also some cows in a meadow, or a distant tractor working in one of the fields. Today there is a blue sky decked with ‘fair weather’ cumulus clouds. It all makes for a very calming, restful scene. as we watch everything with the cloud shadows passing lazily over the valley.
This is a view of pure pastoral countryside in its full summer dress, with scarcely a house in sight and super-abundant greenness (the soothing colour) everywhere. We sit in stillness, and reflection, feeling engaged and involved in the scene as it sinks in afresh that this is our home territory, we belong here.
Richard Jefferies, who knew his home patch near Coate in North Wiltshire well, was out there walking the fields and lanes in all weathers and all seasons. Reflecting on his own patch, he wrote of a
‘feeling of delighted and emotional involvement, of the deepening and fulfilling sense of wonder that stems from a profound attachment to the be-loved district that is our home territory.’ Most of us know just what he means here.
This is the quiet village of Burpham, tucked into the side of the downs, and looking over the Arun valley. This place has visible evidence of the fortification, or ‘burgh’, that King Alfred the Great had built here. It was one of many, built along the south coast as defence against possible Viking invasion up the southern rivers.
One-time vicar here was the pastor/poet James Hurdis (1763-1801). His poem ‘The Village Curate’ pictured the village life and the surrounding countryside during the different seasons. Here he finds a beautiful bird’s nest and, full of admiration, he views the structure of that little work:
‘A bird’s nest. Mark it well, within, without.
No tool, had he that wrought, no knife to cut.
No nail to fix, no bodkin to insert.
No glue to join ; his little beak was alL
And yet how neatly finish’d.– What nice hand
With ev’ry implement and means of art.
And twenty years apprenticeship to boot.
Could make me such another ? Fondly then
We boast of excellence, whose noblest skill
Instinctive genius foils.’
From ‘The Village Curate’ by James Hurdis (this is long out of print but available online, thankfully)
If you are interested you can see the whole poem at: https://archive.org/details/villagecurateap00hurdgoog
It’s reputed that if, when he was walking the downs, Hurdis discovered a cage put there by a local shepherd to catch birds (a fairly common practice at the time), he would release the birds and put a coin in the cage to recompense the shepherd. If true, this is a delightful touch—it shows a man with a pastoral heart for natural things, as well as people.
On Home Territory – We belong here
I grew up in the Berkshire countryside with the open Berkshire Downs, the wooded Chiltern Hills and the gently flowing river Thames all nearby. After living in several places over the past years, including a spell overseas, now our home place is beside the South Downs in West Sussex, and we feel we belong here. In a world of increasing ‘rootlessness’ and growing numbers of refugees we are so glad to be able to put down ‘roots’ and belong somewhere and make it ‘home’.
Several folk have recently commented on remembering their first impressions on returning to Britain after living overseas and rediscovering the surpassing beauty of our green countryside. We join with the poet William Wordsworth:
‘I travelled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea:
Nor England! Did I know till then
What love I bore to thee.’
This is truly a wonderful country in which to live. Do look again at my previous post ‘This Green and Pleasant Land’ and revel in the familiar countryside of your own local area, your own home territory, where you belong, within this country or elsewhere.
Do please comment
It would be great if you could comment and tell us what is special to you about the place where you live. Use the reply box beneath this post.