• Sim Elliott

08.02.22/2 Birds, Landscape, Architecture & Industrial Archaeology. Ouse Valley, Iford-Newhaven.

Updated: Feb 11

After watching the geese at Iford, I walked down the Ouse Valley from Iford to Newhaven.


This post is as much concerned with the architectural, industrial and social history of the Ouse Valley as its birds. The valley has remnants of its eighteenth and nineteenth century industrial and shipping heritage, specifically, the Southease Bridge. It has outstanding Norman Churches: at Iford, Rodmell, and Piddinghoe, the last with a curious fish weathervane linking the church to the area's fishing heritage. The Monkhouse at Rodmell is part of the story of the the link between the Bloomsbury group and Sussex, and the river is where Virgin Wolf took her life.


This is one of three posts of the birds I saw on Tuesday 08.02.22. The others are:

- 08.02.22/1 Tundra Bean Geese, Russian White-Fronted Geese & a Pink-Footed Goose, Iford Brooks.

- 08.02.22/3 Short-Eared Owls and other birds at dusk. Cuckmere Haven.


Birds seen: Goldfinches, House Sparrows, Magpies, Carrion Crows, Lapwings, Little Egrets, Mute Swans, Herring Gulls, Great Crested Grebes, Cormorants


This map - off the South Downs National Park's Egret's Way (from The Route — The Egrets Way (not yet complete) - shows my journey. I walked along the footpaths from Iford to Rodmell - which I have added to this map in pink. I then walked along the bridleway from the Monk's House in Rodmell to the end of the completed southern portion of the Egret's Way (doted red line). I then walked south along the Egret's Way, past the Southease Bridge, to Piddinghoe, where a section of the road needs to be walked, and then continued along the riverside path to Newhaven.



Here are some Goldfinches in Iford. Goldfinches seem to be flourishing in East Sussex; I often see small flocks of them on my walks


The field that surround the path from Iford to Rodmell; part of the Iford Estate I believe.


A World War Two Pill-box. With the emergency evacuation of the BEF [British Expeditionary Force} from the beaches of Dunkirk [in 1940] there was an obvious and urgent need to build defences against the threat of Nazi Invasion. UK WWII Defence Locations | The Pillbox Study Group Website. (pillbox-study-group.org.uk). As I am fascinated by wetland birds in Sussex, World War Two Pillboxes are a very common encounter on birding walks in Sussex, as the Sussex Coasts was seen as a likely landing point for a Nazi invasion.


The south downs on the east side of the Ouse Valley


A curios ostrich sign outside the former Rectory in Rodmell. 1840 circa or possibly an C19 house altered at that date. Two storeys. Six windows. Faced with knapped flints with quoins, cornice and window surrounds of stone. Parapet. Tiled roof with cresting. Casement windows. Central projection of 2 storeys with parapet over surmounted by a finial and containing a 4-centred doorway. Ground floor addition of one window-bay at north end. THE RECTORY, Rodmell - 1273921 | Historic England



Rodmell Church; the Parish Church of St Peter. There’s been a church here since the Norman Conquest. The current building took its main form in the 12th century. This arch dates from the Victorian restoration of the church, and replaces an earlier pointed arch composed of carved blocks. The Village Church | Rodmell Village Website


Monks House (this photo is nit my own; it is by Elisa Rolle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monk%27s_House,_Rodmell,_UK.jpg


I walk from the Monks House (the home of Leonard and Virginia Wolf) along the bridle way to the start of the Egret Way in the Ouse, just north of the . On the way I passed this Kestrel hovering.


The Windhover, Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877.


To Christ our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-

dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins | Poetry Foundation


It is well known that Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse in March1941. She left the Monks House in Rodmell, near Lewes, where she and her husband Leonard were living, walked down the track to the river, loaded her pockets with stones and then immersed herself in the water.


According to Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Leonard Woolf (p366), Leonard found her cane about a mile north of Southease bridge. He was accompanied by the Rodmell policeman Wilfred Collins, who heroically dived into the river repeatedly to try to find her body, without result.


It is less well known that this was part of one of her favourite walks. Her diaries record that when she was a keen walker and the most commonly recorded walk is one to Muggery Pope, a set of derelict farm buildings high above the eastern side of the river.


She did not record her route, except to say that it involved walking by the river, but the first part of the walk can only have been done via the track and the river bank to the bridge. She would then have climbed up the hill on what is now the South Downs Way and then followed a path shown on old maps to the farm buildings.


On page 366 Victoria Glendinning records that Leonard and a freind searched for her body at a ruin that Leonard and Virginia labelled “Mad Misery”, which may have been their name for Muggery Pope. Virginia Woolf, Muggery Pope and lost rights of way – Travel log lewes


The extraordinary Southease Swing Bridge

A Historic Cast Iron Bridge built 1880


The bridge links Southease Parish which was divided by a ‘cut’ in the Ouse created in 1791 to improve the river’s flow.

The bridge has two cast-iron spans, one of which rotated through 90 degrees to allow sea going barges access to Lewes from Newhaven. After Asham chalk pit closed in 1967 commercial river traffic ceased and with it the need for the bridge to open.

Southease Bridge, which is in the South Downs National Park, continues in daily use as the crossing point over the River Ouse for the South Downs Way National Trail, and for farm vehicles and as a route to Southease Station. The Swing Bridge (southeasevillage.info)




Two Mute Swans, swimming down the Ouse, having just swum under the bridge.


A Lapwing on the banks of the Ouse. A red listed bird, that nests on grasslands near rivers and estuaries. Lapwing numbers gave decline dramatically, mostly as a result of agri-business:


The early declines were caused by large scale collection of eggs for food. Introduction of the Lapwing Act in 1926 prohibited this, and was followed by a considerable recovery in bird numbers.


Since the 1940s lapwing declines have been driven by large-scale changes to farming. Large areas of grassland were converted to arable, marginal land was drained and improved, and chemicals were introduced for fertilisers and pest control with increasing reliance on them. By 1960 the lapwing population had stabilised at a lower level.


Another sharp and sustained decline started in the mid-1980s, with range contractions in south-west England and in parts of Wales. This followed further intensification and specialisation - abandonment of rotations, switch from spring to autumn sown crops, increased drainage, increased use of agrochemicals. Such changes have resulted in much of the arable land becoming unsuitable for nesting by April because the crop grows too high. Tillage, drainage and pesticides have also caused a reduction in food availability.


As pasture land is improved, the resulting increased risk of trampling by livestock, earlier cutting for silage and lower food availability have affected lapwings adversely. Phasing out of rotational farming and shift of arable to the east of England and pastureland to the west of England has removed the habitat mosaic that is essential for successful chick rearing.


Mosaic where grass and spring tillage fields are close together has declined significantly in recent years, and the loss of this prime habitat has resulted in a decline in lapwing numbers.

Nest failures on arable land come from egg losses during cultivation and from predation, and poor chick survival due to crop growth. Crop growth can also shorten the laying season. Lapwing Population Trends - The RSPB


A Lapwing in flight


Looking north toward Lewes.


The Southease Bridge


Lewes Castle


The flood plain and reed-lined drains on the west-side of the Ouse


Little Egrets, approaching PIddinghoe


The eye-sore of the Newhaven waste incinerator, euphemistically called the Newhaven Energy Recovery Facility. Newhaven Energy Recovery Facility | Veolia South Downs


Inside, speaking at the launch ceremony, Peter Jones, leader of East Sussex council, referred angrily to the "voodoo science" peddled by campaigners, and talked of "the triumph of fact-based evidence over wilful ignorance" that has led to the facility opening. "It is a great shame that due to the misleading information, the liberal population of Newhaven just won't engage with this incinerator as they might."


Incinerators take residual waste – whatever is left over after recycling and compost collections – and turn it into fuel, using the rubbish in place of coal or gas to drive turbines and produce electricity. ...


Campaigners claim numerous problems with incinerators as a solution to the UK's waste problems. Shlomo Dowen, of UK Without Incineration Network believes that incinerators are disastrous in terms of climate, cost and efficiency. "There are far more exciting and useful waste disposal technologies coming through now, and incineration is stifling their development." 'This is the end for Newhaven' – controversial incinerator fires up | Incineration | The Guardian


An Eagle Totem Pole on the roadside at Piddinghoe


... a recent arrival of note is inanimate and in the form of a totem pole. Jim has been at it again and this 12’ high specimen erected with the help of five strong men, a lot of cement and a glass or two of something drinkable is to be found at the roadside below ‘Headland’. It is not an easy place for a close inspection but the carvings represent a number of fur and feathered friends including an amazing likeness of two much loved cats who occupied special places in the lives of James and Diana but sadly are not with them any more. What a memorial! the_villager_december_2016_issue_2016-12-14.pdf (piddinghoe-pc.org.uk)


Piddinghoe Kiln Round building in the shape of but not an oasthouse. Red brick. Conical roof. The lower portion of the building is surrounded by a flint wall. KILN IN THE GROUNDS OF KILN COTTAGE, Piddinghoe - 1238369 | Historic England Piddinghoe is also famous for having the only remaining bottle-shaped brick kiln in the country. Piddinghoe - Towns & Villages in East Sussex - Visit South East England


St John the Evangelist, Piddinghoe. It is a Grade 1 listed building dating from the early 12th century. It is one of only three round-towered churches in Sussex. St John Church, Piddinghoe (cofeatpeacehaven.org.uk)


The curious fish weathervane on the church. Trout, Salmon, Bass, Dolphin, Merman, or Christians Ichthys symbol


A vane effort to solve this very fishy story, Hastings and St Leonards Observer, Thursday, 29th September 2016, 6:28 pm; Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 11:36 pm


... Harriet Ansell was responding to previous letters in the “Downland Post” concerning Ouse Valley weather vanes at Piddinghoe as well as Southover churches. The month before Mr. A.G. Wade of Henfield had written: “A discussion has arisen once more as to the true nature of the beast swinging over Piddinghoe Church. (Rudyard) Kipling describes it as a ‘begilded dolphin’. Three years ago it was referred to in the ‘Post’ as being representative of an Ouse salmon. Mr. Royle of Streatham Hill in South London thought it was a haddock! He did add that locally it is believed to be a salmon trout.


“That eminent Sussex historian Horsfield leaves the subject severely alone and dismisses Piddinghoe Church as containing nothing of interest. I myself suggest that as the benefice was once held by the monks of Saint Pancras in Lewes, the fish is actually a golden carp, a favourite of monasteries.”


The editorial team of the “Post” pondered long and hard and consulted many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten Sussex folklore: “We also studied more than one photograph and drawing of the Piddinghoe fish and truly could discern no resemblance of a dolphin”.

Their diligence in the search was rewarded with the discovery of a report in the “Sussex County Herald” from a date unknown: “Many have sought to solve the mystery of the fish which acts as a weathervane at the top of the Piddinghoe steeple. Some have held it to be representative of an Ouse salmon. Others say it is a bass.“


The “Herald” seems to go on to conclusively settle the matter with proof that the weathervane is definitely a salmon. They tracked down the man who actually fashioned the fish in 1882, when the church was restored: “The fish was made by Mr. Edward Lewis Blaber who is still working as an employee of Messrs. Whiteman & Parrish, ironmongers of High Street, Lewes.


“Seen by a ‘Herald’ representative, Mr. Blaber said he was 27 years of age when his firm received an order for a representation of a salmon to be placed on the vane of Piddinghoe Church. The order came from Mr. Geoffrey Baker, blacksmith, of Rodmell. The work was given to Mr Blaber to execute. To ensure realism Mr.Blaber went with his foreman, the late Mr. Thomas Corner, to Messrs. Coppard and Likeman’s fish shop in Lewes High Street and there took the necessary measurements from a real salmon.


“Asked if he could give the reason for placing a representation of a salmon as a weathervane on Piddinghoe Church, Mr. Blaber said that he could not, but pointed out that Southover Church, Lewes, also has a fish as weathervane. Perhaps someone will solve the identity of that fish which is no less than eight feet long?”


Mr. Blaber’s testimony must surely establish beyond doubt that Piddinghoe’s fish is a salmon, even though it is a pity he hadn’t enquired as to why it was chosen. Yet confusion still persists; the usually authoritative website “Sussex Parish Churches” currently describes the weathervane in question thus: “Large and shaped like a fish. It is probably 18th Century. Kipling described it as a dolphin but on page 154 of the Shell Guide it is identified as a sea trout.”


OK – they are well out with the date but have got the fish bit right so credit where credit’s due. To be fair there is not much difference to the layman’s eye between a true salmon and a large sea trout. The Ouse is mainly a haunt of sea trout – some of which can be bigger than salmon – but I understand a few of the latter do occasionally come upriver. Maybe they were once much more common and an important source of food deserving of recognition with an honoured perch (no pun intended!) on the church steeple high above the river.

Incidentally, the earliest known weathervane paid homage to the Greek sea god Triton from the top of the Tower of the Winds in Athens in 48BC. It featured a figure with the head and torso of a man but the tail of a … fish! A veritable ancient merman.


As another aside, Kipling’s dolphin description occurs in his celebrated poem “Sussex” penned by the writer in 1902. This was the same year he moved from Rottingdean to the quiet village of Burwash on the High Weald of East Sussex where he took up residence in Batemans, a house dating back to 1634. Here’s the verse from the poem that concerns the dolphin:


“… Or south where windy Piddinghoe’s


Begilded dolphin veers

And red beside wide-banked Ouse

Lie down our Sussex steers.”

The poem is full of wonderful phrases such as “Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs” and “The wise turf cloaks the white cliff edge as when the Romans came”. Here is the final verse with some familiar and now immortal words right at the end:


“God gives all men all earth to love,

But since man’s heart is small,

Ordains for each one spot to prove

Beloved over all.


Each to his choice, and I rejoice

The lot has fallen to me

In a fair ground - in a fair ground –

Yea, Sussex by the Sea!


In closing here’s a piece of intriguing local folklore: A saying goes: “Piddinghoe people shoe their magpies.” It sounds like nonsense but in fact the magpies in question are not the bird variety but are oxen who were once common domesticated animals on Downland farms. They were strong and hardy enough to haul ploughs and drag heavy loads through the notoriously gelatinous Sussex mud. Like the county’s cattle, oxen could be black and white and were usually shoed by blacksmiths to give their cloven hooves better purchase in the fields and on rutted tracks. A vane effort to solve this very fishy story | Hastings and St. Leonards Observer (hastingsobserver.co.uk)


A Great Crested Grebe on Piddinghoe Pond, a fishing lake


A Cormorant fling north up the Ouse Valley


Herring Gulls on Piddinghoe Pond


Two juvenile Mute Swans on Piddinghoe Pond


Entering Newhaven


A sculpture marking the start/end of the river path in Newhaven


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