Chanctonbury Ring: Hiking & High Strangeness

The South Downs are a range of rolling chalk hills that stretch across the south-eastern coastal counties of England. Inhabited and settled for thousands of years, there is archaeological evidence of Neolithic mines and Iron Age forts scattered throughout the green hillsides. One of these forts, known today as Chanctonbury Ring, sits at a height of 782 feet and is marked by a peculiar clump of beech trees. Many of these trees, originally planted by local landowner Charles Goring in 1760, were destroyed in the hurricane of 1987 and subsequently replaced in a replanting programme. Along with nearby Rackham Hill and Cissbury Ring, the three hills are said to have been created by the Devil. Scooping up mounds of earth and chucking them aside, he attempted to create a valley and flood the local churches. But as is often the way, the Devil’s work was interrupted by the crowing of a rooster and he scarpered, leaving behind a large valley known as Devil’s Dyke.

But then the Devil has always had a dark association with this area of England. The northern doors of many local churches were bricked up to keep out evil forces. Infamous occultist and self-confessed ‘most evil man in Britain’ Aleister Crowley, was said to have practised his dark arts on Chanctonbury Ring in his 1920’s heyday. Run anti-clockwise six times round the ring, local folklore says, and the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. The Devil does indeed drive a hard bargain. Throw in theories of ley lines, UFO sightings, and tales of Saxon ghosts, and the Ring pretty much runs the entire gamut of ‘High Strangeness’.

It was a glorious Sunday two weeks ago that Jane, myself, the Nikon F100, and the dogs took an eight-mile hike there. Little did I know then, that thanks to The Coronapocalypse it’d be the last time I had any human contact for the foreseeable future. We started off in the Anglo Saxon village of Steyning, right by the church. Dedicated to St Andrew and St Cuthmann, the church is largely Norman, although its history goes back further than the conquest. Sometime around the 9th century, St Cuthman is alleged to have arrived here pulling his sick mother in a cart. When the tow rope broke he naturally assumed that this was a sign from God that he should stay put. So he stuck around, built a wooden church, and administered to the needs of his adopted flock. Everyone needs a hobby.

All photos: Nikon F100 / Ilford FP4 / Developed in Kodak HC-110 Dilution B

Steyning Church

Steyning hurch

And after two miles we get our first glimpse of Chanctonbury Ring. It’s that little mohican of trees atop the far right hill. Still a long way to go.

Chanctonbury Ring

The footpath goes right through a farm….

…with cows!

This shed looks like it was built by the same person who put up my shelves i.e. me

This could be the final push. But if there’s one thing I hate when struggling to get up a hill, it’s being passed by someone on their way down.

Bertie & Coco make it look like a piece of cake, though.

Almost there. Just need to get past these vicious looking cows…

Chanctonbury Ring

And here we are: Chanctonbury Ring.

Chanctonbury Ring

“Naturally the Ring is haunted. Even on bright summer days there is an uncanny sense of some unseen presence which seems to follow you about. If you enter the dark wood alone you are conscious of something behind you. When you stop, it stops. When you go on, it follows. Even on the most tranquil days when no breath of air stirs the leaves, you can hear a whispering somewhere above you, and if you should be so bold as to enter the Ring on a dark night, as my wife and I did… We never shall repeat that visit; some things are best forgotten if they can be.”
Dr Philip Gosse, local resident, 1935

Chanctonbury Ring

Chanctonbury Ring

Coco & Bertie: Running scared? Or running with joy?

Chanctonbury Ring

In these dark days of isolation, it feels like it could be a long time before any of us can do simple things like this again. But it’s looking at these pictures, and the memories they invoke, that’ll get me through it. After all, that’s ultimately the real reason we take photographs, right?

This Week In The Coronapocalypse | In An Instant: Lockdown Edition: Pylon

I’ve now shot two packs of Polaroid Originals colour film in my SX-70, and I’m starting to get a feel for what works for me: simple compositions, muted or restricted colour palettes. Yellows and blues tend to look nice.

Now it’s time to try some black and white, and I didn’t really know what to expect. I went down by the river on this morning’s walk and shot this. Based on my extensive experience of one shot, the black and white film seems to be a very different beast. A touch more ethereal, a bit more flaky. I’m quite excited to get out and shoot some more. I guess that’s what house arrest does to you.

Pylon, Chertsey Meads / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Black & White Film

Polaroid Pylon

Prior to this pandemic, thanks to Brexit and the ensuing culture war, Britain has been engulfed in political turmoil for three years. Each day seemed to bring a new political calamity, which was then promptly forgotten when the next one happened 24 hours later. Weeks felt like months, months felt like years. I really regret not keeping a simple note of events as they happened, just so I could look back and try and make some sense of it all.

So during this period I’ve decided to sum up the weekly events that have struck me the most, from the deadly serious to the absurdly ridiculous. If my tone seems flippant at times…well, we all have our own way of getting through this horror.

See all previous updates here

This week in The Coronapocalypse:

  • UK officially in lockdown for minimum of three weeks
  • Nation celebrates Mother’s Day by not visiting mothers
  • Most vulnerable told to isolate for 12 weeks
  • Prince Charles tests positive
  • More than 700,000 heed the call and volunteer to help the National Health Service
  • PM Boris Johnson leads by example and tests positive
  • Oh, and the Health Secretary. Oops.
  • Clap For Carers: households across the UK stand on doorsteps & balconies to applaud efforts of NHS. Grown men weep get something in their eye.
  • Situation stabalising in China….
  • ….whilst situation in New York and Spain looks ever more grim
  • Government declines invitation to participate in EU scheme to get desperately needed ventilators because ‘We are no longer in the EU’…
  • ….and then following national backlash ‘clarifies’ by saying ‘We didn’t see the email’. Yep, the grown ups charged with getting us through this crisis basically used the Dog Ate My Homework excuse. Lordy.
  • Off-licences declared ‘essential’ and allowed to stay open. Draw your own conclusions about us Brits.
  • Self-employed to be paid 80% of previous year’s profit.
  • Gatherings of more than two people outlawed. The Nation’s introverts cheer.
  • US now country with most cases
  • Britsh Summer Time starts and clocks go forward one hour, meaning nation has one less hour of weekend to enjoy / endure (delete as appropriate) with family members before…
  • …spending every waking hour of forthcoming weeks with family members…

Worldwide cases: 664,891
Worldwide deaths: 30,893
UK cases: 17,089
UK deaths: 1,019


In An Instant: Lockdown Edition: Welcome To….

Welcome to….

….the local hand car wash, as it happens.

When these guys started up about six or seven years ago, they started sending out flyers proclaiming to be ‘The Best Hand Job In Town’. They soon stopped that once they realised they were attracting the wrong kind of customers.

The Best Hand Job In Town / Chertsey Car Wash / Polaroid SX-70 Sonar / Polaroid Originals SX-70 Color Film

Chertsey Car Wash

I took this photo on my exercise stroll this morning. The car wash is just by my apartment, and in the old days at weekends when I’d wake up a bit later and the traffic was light, I could hear the gentle sloshing of the water from their hoses. It’s a surprisingly comforting sound. Of course, now it’s silent, abandoned, and its absence just adds to that dislocating sense of 28 Days Later desolation. The streets are empty, with just an occasional car, and if you do pass a pedestrian coming the other way, both of you give each other a wide berth. This is the new normal. I can’t help wondering if future generations will wonder how it become traditional to sing Happy Birthday whilst washing your hands.

See all of my Polaroid SX-70 photography here