Three Churches And A Watermill

I’ve always been a bit of a walker, but it wasn’t until a girlfriend walked away in 2014 that I started to take it more seriously. At the time I needed something else to fill my mind, and ironically, the prospect of those long, empty weekends ahead felt suffocating. I’m within easy reach of some of England’s most beautiful countryside, so I set out to walk and explore as much of it as possible. Over the next few years, it wasn’t unusual for me to clock up 25-30 miles over the summer weekends.

Fortunately, Jane’s an even more avid walker than me. Not that she has a choice, sharing a house with two insane spaniels with broken off-switches. A few weeks back, on the type of warm day that already seems like a distant memory, we took the dogs on a ten mile walk through the West Sussex countryside. I packed my Nikon F100 and a roll of Ilford FP4. These days the Nikon, coupled with the spectacular Nikkor 35mm f/2 AF-D lens, is typically my first choice when I’m shooting 35mm,

We parked up and set off from Burton Mill, near the ancient village of Petworth. The current four storey watermill dates from 1780, and was built on the foundations of an earlier forge or fulling mill.

In the early 1960s, part of the mill dam collapsed. Since then it’s been in a fairly chequered cycle of decay and refurbishment. By 1978 things were so bad the mill was used as a derelict building in an episode of the BBC detective series Shoestring [photos]. The good news is it’s been up and running again since 2018, and produces flour using heritage machinery and simple water power. You can see some of the old mechanism on the right.

All photos Nikon F100 / Ilford FP4 / Developed in D76 1+1

Burton Mill

Bertie’s looking quite lanky in his adolescence.

St Agatha’s was the first church we came to, in the download village of Coates. It dates back to beyond 1100, although exactly when is unknown, as is why it has the unusual dedication to St Agatha.

This was an interesting day for a skywatcher like me. Clear blue skies, big fluffy clouds, and this; the beginnings of a half-decent mackerel sky.

Sutton is a tiny yet immaculate Sussex village. There are just a few hundred residents, and they’ve not had a shop or school since the 1970s. But us Brits take our pubs seriously, and the White Horse survived thanks to the stubbornness of the villagers. In the 1950s Sir Ian Anstruther moved to nearby Barlavington. Finding that the White Horse was under threat, he bought it to ensure its future as a pub. When his family finally sold it, it was only with the condition that it would always be a pub. A true British hero…

Sutton Church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, and dates back to the 11th century.

There was just enough light to get a handheld shot of the altar. It’s quite something when you think of all the people who’ve stood here over the course of a thousand years.

This nice little cottage stole my eye.

The lost Anglo-Saxon village of Burton is recorded in the Domesday Book as “Bothechitone”. Only this wonderful little church remains. Dating from around 1075, it was rebuilt in 1291 and (partly) in 1636.

Finally, just before we got back to Burton Mill, Bertie made a dash for the water and narrowly escaped an alien attack. Or maybe the Nikon’s light seals need some attention?

Song Of The Week is an old Astor Piazzolla number performed by the extraordinary painist Jacob Koller and violinist MAiSA.

Race With The Devil

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile national trail that follows the old routes along the chalk ridges of the South Downs, many of which have been used for 8000 years. Jane’s lucky enough to live in this part of the country, and last Friday we took a nine mile walk that included several sections of the trail. It turned out to be a race against the weather. A race in which we lost. Massively.

All photos Fujifilm X100F

Through the wayward pines, and some early indications of the weather to come

Lambs! Hundreds of ’em…

Some serious rain starting to close in….

The Devil’s Jumps are a group of five large burial mounds on the South Downs Way, just outside the hamlet of Treyford. They’re around three to four thousand years old, and the main line of five barrows is aligned with sunset on Midsummer Day. We had our sandwiches on the top of one, and now I’m wondering if we’ve been a bit disrespectful. I mean, I’ve seen Poltergeist and Pet Semetary. Don’t mess with ancient burial sites.

The Devil's Jumps Fingerpost

The Devil's Jumps

These guys know something is going down

All along the watchtower

Just a few miles to go, but things ahead are not looking too good…

…but we’re also being chased from behind

That was the last snap before we were hit by just the type of end-of-times rainstorm you’d expect in 2020. Obviously I dealt with it in my usual stoical way1, but it’s always good to know: in the rain, no one can see your tears.

1. The original title of this post, ‘How I Survived a Hurricane’, was rejected by the fact-checkers.

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?