Stacy, over at Microcosm, recently did a post about breaking free from the confines of the garden and enjoying some Big Views and some Big Sky. “Skies that soar without hindrance and landscapes that stretch to the ends of the compass rose” – gosh, but she has a way with words. I thought, well if it is good enough for Stacy … And so, on a gloriously sunny (but cold) Saturday morning Jim, Solo – the Stinky Terrier and I hopped in the car and rattled east along the coast road towards Eastbourne. We drove through the sleepy seaside town of Seaford (where we live) and down into the beautiful valley of Cuckmere Haven and up the other side and, a short while later, arrived at an expanse of open Downland called Crowlink.
It is land owned by the National Trust and, I believe, leased out to a sheep farmer who uses it as pasture. Nevertheless, it is open access land for walkers.
And what an impressive and exhilarating place it is. The soft, springy turf (kept close-cropped by rabbits and those sheep) is a joy to walk on. The views are vast, the sky close by and, directly to the south, lies the English Channel.
Not many shrubs and trees grow here; it is after all exposed to the full fury of storms rushing up the Channel from the Atlantic. But there are a few stunted pines, gorse and …
… hawthorn; clipped by the prevailing southerly wind.
Near the car park is a perfectly ordinary strained wire fence. If you walk along that fence, after a couple of hundred yards, you’ll come to a kissing gate between two straining posts. And it is one of these posts that I wanted to see. Because I put it in. Yeah, me.
That one there. The braced post to the left of the ‘gate. In the summer of 1999, I was enrolled in a forestry course and ploughing my way through one of the many modules that we had to complete in order to graduate. Strained wire fencing. Ugh, those three words still make me shudder. What a tedious task strained wire fencing is. Digging post holes, hammering in posts, attaching wires and netting and, every so often, erecting a braced post (a straining post) that will stand up to the enormous pressure exerted when pulling the wires taught. Can’t say that I fell head over heels in love with SWF, especially as we seemed to do so much of it. There are several lengths of fencing dotted about Sussex; in Heathfield, in Uckfield and just outside Lewes, as well as this one here at Crowlink, that I have muttered and cursed over, spilt blood, sweat and tears over. The ground at Crowlink is an inch or two of baked soil above solid chalk and flint. Imagine digging a post hole in that! I haven’t done fencing since 1999 and I don’t suppose I ever will again. And do you know what? Good riddance.
But I did want to see whether the straining post at Crowlink, my straining post, was still there. I hadn’t seen it in almost 13 years (sorry, I’m welling up) and I had wondered whether I had put it in properly. Whether I had done a good enough job. So to see that post of strong sweet-chestnut, still solid as a rock and looking like it has been there for decades, was pleasing. It’ll probably outlive me. My post. I felt quite proud.
Anyway, we’ll leave the fence behind now (come on, it’s only a length of fence for goodness sake and not that interesting) and continue walking south towards the sea. You will shortly begin to catch glimpses of flashing white to left and right.
Because here, between Brighton and Eastbourne, the South Downs breakthrough to the sea. And the ceaseless onslaught of the Channel has sliced into the chalk to create the famous, dazzling white cliffs of South East England. (Further east, where the North Downs reach the coast, are the White Cliffs of Dover).
To our left, eastwards, a pair of walkers head off toward Belle Tout lighthouse; a building that relatively recently was moved. Yep, ‘they’ moved it because it was in danger of falling into the sea. Hauled it 165 feet inland. How impressive is that? (If you’re interested,you can read more about it here).
Look westward and you realise how easy it would be to stumble over the cliff-edge. No warning signs here, no fences or protective barriers. No crowds either. Head a few miles further east to Birling Gap or Beachy Head and, on a day like this, you’ll struggle to park your car and likely be picked up and carried against your will by hordes of day trippers.
But here at Crowlink you have the sky and the Downs,
the cliffs and the sea pretty much to yourself. And nearby is the pretty little village of East Dean with its smashing pub, The Tiger.
They brew their own beer at The Tiger, you know. Good stuff too. Time for a spot of lunch and a pint, I think. Shall we head back up to the car?