A bird-focused walk from Craven Woods to Beacon Hill: historical & cultural resonances.
Like, I suspect, many people, after a year of covid-19, I often feel flat. Whilst the vaccination programme offers hope, the future will be very hard for many. In these uncertain times finding solace in nature is a source of resilience for many people. My encounters with nature are mostly planned, to some degree, in advance: I think ahead about where I am going each day of the week for my daily exercise (walking and cycling) in nature; and for three days my nature encounters have to fit around caring for my mother.
However, this walk was more spontaneous. I had planned to cycle to my mother's house in Rottingdean, as I usually do on Fridays, but I had to take my bike in for an emergency repair; the repair wasn't completed in time for me to use my bike. Because my mother is shielded (as she is currently having chemotherapy), I have stopped using Brighton and Hove Busses to get to Rottingdean, in order to minimise risk of covid-19 infection. Thus, to see my mother, meeting the demands if keeping my mother's safe (I don't use taxis or buses), I had no choice but to walk from my house, in Queen's Park (Brighton) to Rottingdean.
I have done this walk before covid, on special occasions, when I could have used the bus, but choose specifically to walk, thus I knew that from my house it is possible to walk to Rottingdean on footpaths, crossing just four roads, and with only one short bit of road walking; and I knew that this was the shortest way of walking to my mother's (ca. 90 minutes walking each way). Whilst I have some contact with nature when I cycle to my mother's along the Undercliff, that journey entails noting nature as a cycle past it, sometimes getting off my bike for a few minutes to take a photo). This Friday's necessary walk would for other people be a beautiful recreational nature walk. I am lucky that the geographical features of where my mother and I live makes the quickest walking route to my mother's house a stunning journey through nature and history.
All walks are embedded - unconsciously or unconsciously - in the historical, social and cultural background of the landscape walked through. The intention of this blog post is partly to make explicit this walk's historical, social and cultural background. The quickest way to walk to Rottingdean takes me through a landscape rich in history.
This walk from Sutherland Road, where I live, starts with the footpath (just north of Rochester Street) that leads into Craven Woods. 50 years ago Craven Woods, and what is now the Craven Vales Estate (immediately above my house), were allotments, the successor to the agricultural ecology and of the South Downs based around sheep and corn husbandry, with communal sheep grazing. When the allotments of Bakers Bottom were built over with the Craven Vale Estate (1951) the municipal allotments on the west side Whitehawk Hill degenerated into sycamore scrub. The wood was subsequently planted with hazel coppice, Sussex varieties of fruit trees, and plantations of native shrubs and trees, with wild-flower glades to improve its ecology and appearance,
"... Craven Vale is a strip of urban and inner suburban development that runs from the top of the Downs down towards the sea. Its location at the edge of the city has meant that, through history, the area has accommodated a range of urban fringe uses, including the racecourse, Brighton’s workhouse, allotments and a variety of sanatoriums, hospitals and asylums". UrbanStdy_Pankhurst_Craven_Vale_final.pdf (brighton-hove.gov.uk)
The first bird a saw was a Wren. The Wren is one of the commonest birds in the UK, but I rarely see them, mostly because of their skittish nature. This Wren was sitting in the fence that separates the southern boundary of the publicly owned Craven Wood with some private tennis courts. It is a boundary between public and private land; and, in a way, a boundary between the countryside and the city - although, in reality, much of the urban fringe of Brighton - with it's social housing - is liminal: it is part town, part countryside.
Much of the social housing - its big estates Moulsecoomb, Whitehawk, Coldean, Hollingbury - were built into the the chalk grassland Brighton Downs; thus much of Brighton's most precious nature - rare species of plants (e.g. Bastard Toadflax), bumblebees ( Brown-banded carder) and butterflies (the Adonis Blue) - can be found woven between social and private housing and green spaces. The motivation of planners building social housing into the Downs, was mostly to provide affordable housing to those previously living in slum conditions in inner-city Victorian housing. The housing in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean were spacious and had some of the character of "garden cities". Whilst the building of social housing may have had a detrimental impact on the ecology of the Downs surrounding Brighton it was necessary at the time, to alleviate the misery of those living in slum conditions. This also incidentally affords residents in these states wonderful opportunities to connect with nature.
My Nan lived in social housing in Whitehawk just before and after the Second World War, as a result of becoming homeless when her father left her mother and her for another woman; she lived on land that had once been used for arable crops; my grandfather's family lived in Brading Road; where the less expensive Victorian private-rented property met the Racehill (historically called Sheep Down) which was part, pre-enclosure act, of a system of ancient communal sheep-grazing.
On the fence, in which the Wren sat, between the private tennis court and the publicly-owned wood is a warning sign, informing walkers that is beyond the public land is private land monitored by a security firm. The Wren can not read this sign and cares not whether she sits in a tree in a public wood or in a private tree that surrounds the private tennis court; nor does the Wren care whether the tree in which she typically sits is described as a town tree or a countryside tree, but the designation of public and private land greatly impacts on citizen's experience of nature. We are lucky that we have many public footpaths through public land around Brighton; this is something to cherish and conserve.
At the turn of the 19th century, housing for the expanding town encroached upon the farmland of the historic sheep-arable economy; but housing did not reach Craven Vale until 1951. Craven Wood is now a managed woodland space: some of the sycamore scrub was removed and replaced with hazel coppice, and an an orchard of Sussex varieties of fruit trees, were planted ( see Friends of Craven Wood - About - Friends of Craven Wood (weebly.com). Whilst Craven Woods have always been popular for socialisation, in the pandemic lockdown Craven Woods have been more used than ever as a space for socialisation, legally and illicitly, as outside exercise (with ne other person) is one of the only reasons to leave your home. Sadly this increased use of Craven Wood for socialisation has resulted in a great deal of litter being left in the wood; there are many beer cans, wine bottles, cigarette and marijuana joint butts, condemns, and plastic bags of dog facies tied to tree branches in the wood. Many people have appreciated nature in the lockdowns, sadly not everyone has respected their natural heritage.
Craven Wood is home to many birds. Here is a Blue Tit I saw on the Friday. Walking through the Craven Woods (which I do at least once a week, normally for planned bird watching, as it is one of my British Ornithological Society BirdTrack patches) I typically see Robins, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Great Tits, sometimes Greenfinches and Goldfinches, and always many Magpies, Carrion Crows and Woodpigeons; flying above me I frequently hear the calls of Herring Gulls. It is also the home to Green Woodpeckers, but I have never seen them
At the TV transmitter on top the hill, before I turned left along the path the crosses the site of the Neolithic Whitehawk Camp, I looked around the more dispersed shrubs and trees near the TV transmitter and Whitehawk Allotments. Because of the bird feeding by allotment holders, these trees and shrubs are often full of birds; I frequently see there Dunnocks, Green finches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, and once a Coal Tit. But today there were no birds that I could see as a walked past
The Whitehawk Camp causewayed enclosure, is bisected Manor Hill Road (one of the only four road I have to cross to get to Rottingdean). Causewayed enclosures are a type of earthwork that was built in the south of Britain in the early Neolithic period. Causewayed enclosures are enclosed by ditches, unexcavated ground, earthworks and palisades. It is uncertain what the causewayed enclosures were used for. The shape of the remaining parts of the camp (much of it is under the Racecourse, the TV transmitter and the new housing development of Monument View) is barely visible. Whitehawk Camp causewayed enclosure, The City of Brighton and Hove - 1010929 | Historic England. Some people find some deep historical connection to prehistoric sites "magical"; see Whitehawk Camp Causewayed Enclosure – The Modern Antiquarian.com; it doesn't feel that magical to but I am pleased that some people find it magical.
Having passed the causewayed enclosure, I continued along the path runs below the Race Course stand; one side of the track side is planted non-native conifers, and the other side is typical chalk grassland, described by"the late naturalist David Bellamy described them as Europe’s rainforests. ... Some of the rarest habitats in the UK, the result of forest clearing as far back as Neolithic and Bronze Age times. Grazed by sheep for centuries, they are home to a remarkable array of plants and creatures." Our Chalk Grassland - South Downs National Park Authority. In the indigenous invasive trees to the my left and the non-indigenous conifers to my right I saw many Greenfinches, either in the trees or flying between tree in small groups.
"Its twittering, wheezing song and flash of yellow and green as it flies, make this finch a truly colourful character. Nesting in a garden conifer, or feasting on black sunflower seeds, the greenfinch is a regular garden visitor, able to take advantage of food in rural and urban gardens. Although quite sociable, they may squabble among themselves or with other birds at the bird table. Greenfinch populations declined during the late 1970s and early 1980s, but increased dramatically during the 1990s. A recent decline in numbers has been linked to an outbreak of trichomonosis, a parasite-induced disease which prevents the birds from feeding properly. Greenfinch Bird Facts | Carduelis Chloris - The RSPB
It always brings me great pleasure to see Greenfinches; the flashes of green and yellow, and the style of their flight. make them both beautiful and very distinguishable.
I continued walking on the path, below Brighton Racecourse stadium, parallel with the race course, to Wilson Avenue. To the right is the1967 Swanborough Drive Flats, an area of 10--story much-needed social housing, that sadly damaged the landscape and sightlines of Whitehawk Hill and Whitehawk Bottom. The flats here are locally know as the "bird blocks" (Kestrel, Kingfisher etc.), this is slightly ironic as the land on which they were built was previously a bird-friendly habitat, although doesn't seem to bother the Herring Gulls which fly around the blocks and perch, along with Carrion Crows, on their roofs.
Further on, to the right, is the Racehill Community Orchard, which engages local people in permaculture: "Community orchards are places where varieties of fruit are grown by and for local people. They provide healthy fruit to share, as well as a green haven for simple contemplation and enjoyment. They are also excellent wildlife habitats. The combination of fruit trees, grassland, scrub and other features offer a range of habitats. For example, a range of animals and insect life have been recorded within several hundred meters of the Racehill site. These include slow worms, adders and dunnocks. Community orchards can also help save vulnerable varieties of local apple, pear, cherry, plum and damson. In a similar way to community gardens, community orchards can revive interest in growing and providing a way of sharing knowledge and horticultural skills." About Racehill | Brighton Permaculture Trust The engagement of the local community in the community orchard offers hope for more environmentally-friendly food production.
Once across Wilson Avenue (the second road that I have to cross to get to Rottingdean's Beacon Hill from Sutherland Road), I walked the path through the most northerly field of Sheepcote Valley, toward the Sheepcote Valley car park. Until the 1980s the lower part Sheepcote Valley was a municipal waste tip in the Black Rock Valley; but it has been transformed into a local nature reserve, which is often used as a stopping point by migratory birds. Sheepcote Valley is grazed by sheep at various points in the year, as part of Brighton and Hove City Council's aim to restore Brighton's Downs to their historic chalk grassland habitat (which supports many rare flowers and insects). The purpose of the formation of the South Downs National Park in which most of this route is located) was to restore as much land as possible to chalk grassland, after years of destruction of this rare habitat.
After walking 100m into the top field of Sheepcote Valley I realised that I was in the presence of many Skylarks; there characteristic singing was everywhere around me. It was wonderful, Soon I saw the famed song-flights of Skylarks: males ascending from the ground almost vertically - singing while the fly, to demonstrate their superior singing skills and flying skills to perspective mates. The Skylarks form the subject of a blog post of their own, which can be accessed here: Skylarks: photos & birdsong; poetry & music. Nature and art in troubling times.
A Skylark in Sheepcote Valley
A male Skylark in a song flight.
"When people talk about “a lark”, they are almost invariably referring to just one species, the Skylark. This bird is a cultural icon, its song celebrated both in music (for example, Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending) and in poetry (for example, Shelley’s To a Skylark). Its habit of singing to the first dawn light is also proverbial, captured in English phrases such as “…up with the lark” and in the description of a person who is at their best in the mornings as a “lark” rather than an “owl”. To most people, there is simply one species of lark, and one only.
The reason for this familiarity is simple. As people have cleared forests and other habitats to make way for fields and farmland, the adaptable Skylark has followed along with them. Over the centuries this bird’s ecstatic song has poured down on to those working the land, so much so that it has become lodged in a common consciousness and sense of place.
The song is sweet enough on the ear, with its high pitch, exuberant tone and effortless delivery. It is varied, too, incorporating motifs from other birds as well as the Skylark’s own repertoire. But its special property is its sustained nature; when a lark is singing there is no break, no real phrasing, just a stream of unbroken sound like the flow of a small brook. It is usually sung in a display-flight. The sound starts just after the bird lifts off at a steep angle to the ground, continues on its rise to 50 m or more, is maintained for a period of hovering (at 10-12 wing-beats per second), and accompanies the display’s slow, spiralling descent. Only for the final plummet to earth does the Skylark’s song fall silent, so that the bird can reach the ground with a degree of privacy.
It is easy to imagine, when you walk along the edge of a field densely populated by these birds, that each song is interminable. But it isn’t true. The average song-flight goes on for just 2½ minutes, and even a more passionate performance rarely goes beyond 5. The reason, then, that one’s ears may ring with lark song at the end of a summer afternoon is that Skylarks often hold contiguous territories, and one male may simply follow another into the sky, without any interval." Dominic Couzens Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - www.birdwords.co.uk
The beautiful sights and sounds of Skylarks may not always be with us; their habitats require conservation:
"In the UK, the population halved during the 1990s, and is still declining. In the preferred habitat of farmland, skylarks declined by 75% between 1972 and 1996.
The main cause of this decline is considered to be the widespread switch from spring to autumn-sown cereals, which has resulted in a dramatic reduction in the number of chicks raised each year.
Autumn-sown cereals are taller and denser throughout the season. Fewer birds nest there, and those that do are unable to raise as many broods as birds in spring-sown crops. Many nesting attempts are on or close to tramlines (tractor tracks that are used to apply the many sprays to the crop), which makes the nests vulnerable to ground predators. Winter food supply is also scarce in the absence of stubbles, which are favourite feeding places. Increased use of insecticides and weedkillers are likely to remove an important part of the food source.
In grassland habitats intensification has also been detrimental. Increased stocking densities on grazing land have made the grass too short for skylarks, and increased the risk of nests being trampled. A switch from hay to silage has resulted in many nests being destroyed by the cutting machinery, since the period between cuts is often too short for successful nesting." Skylark Threats - The RSPB
At the Sheepcote Valley carpark I took the path that descends through the Ovingdean valley to Ovingdean Village (to the left is Mount Pleasant to the right East Brighton Gold Course and Cattle Hill). The path eventually reaches the early 12th-century St Wulfran's Church. At Ovingdean I walk a little way southwards on Greenways, a public road - the only road walking of the route - past the last houses of Ovingdean. I then turn left into Beacon Hill Road, and then join the footpath across Beacon Hill Local Nature Reserve, also grazed by sheep for part of the year.
On the first part of Greenway I pass a hedge that is always full of House Sparrows. I love House Sparrows, I will eulogise about House Sparrows elsewhere (in a blog post yet to be written). House Sparrows, like Skylarks, are "Red List Birds" (birds, according to the RSBP that have declining populations); however, in East Brighton, Woodingdean, Ovingdean and Rottingdean we appear to have a fairly large population in hedges, tress and around houses;
Starlings are also "Red List Birds" and when not seen in murmurations just before sunset, they are often seen on chimney stacks, TV aerials and telephone wires - as in the photos below taken on Greenway Geenway - suggesting that in East Brighton, Ovingdean and Rottingdean we appear to have a sustainable population of Starlings.
When the houses on Greenway end I turned left up Beacon Hill Road to reach Beacon Hill, which was the site of one of the coastal chain of warning beacon established by Henry VIII. There is a Neolithic long barrow here, found from aerial photographs, located in what was part of the old pitch and putt golf course; but it invisible to the naked eye. Long Barrow on Beacon Hill, Rottingdean Coastal, Brighton and Hove (ancientmonuments.uk). On Beacon Hill is a 1802 smock-mill, which produced the flour for the bread eaten in Rottingdean in the 19th century,
On Beacon Hill I was greeted with the marvellous sights and sounds of Skylarks again.
Behind the Mill is the Hoggs Platt Path down to the Falmer Road, my mothers house is very near the bottom of the path.
The following photos are from my walk back home (after being with my mother for a few hours). I retraced my steps, but with a slight detour: after I had crossed Greenway, after descending Beacon Hill, I walked up path on Cattle Hill (instead of walking up Greenway) to the path behind the small woods at the back of St Wulfran's Church.
This is a photograph of Hoggs Platt, the path that leads up to Beacon Hill, turning off the on the right from the Falmer Road just after the house in which Edward Burne-Jones, Pre-Raphaelite painter, lived from 1880-1898 (Prospect Cottage/Aubrey Cottage, previously both "Prospect House"). Allegedly, "a staunch traditionalist, Burne-Jones was unhappy with efforts to modernise Rottingdean. He was particularly unhappy about the intrusion of Magnus Volk’s Daddy Long Legs railway. When the railway was smashed in a great storm, Burne-Jones was reported to be very pleased". A famous Rottingdean resident | Where they lived | My Brighton and Hove
Hoggs Platt path runs between the Hoggs Platt allotments, which are rich environments for birds. I captured this Blackbird mid hop
At the top of the Higgs Path I spotted a Goldcrest. Whilst Goldcrests are very common birds, they are hard to spot as they are flighty and move continually, looking for insects to eat. "With the firecrest, the goldcrest is the UK's smallest bird. They're dull greyish-green with a pale belly and a black and yellow stripe on their heads, which has an orange centre in males. Their thin beak is ideally suited for picking insects out from between pine needles". Goldcrest Bird Facts | Regulus Regulus - The RSPB
The Windmill "has stood on Beacon Hill for over 200 years and has become a symbol of the village, overlooks both the village and the sea and can itself be seen from at least two miles away. Rottingdean mill was built for Thomas Beard, a member of an old Rottingdean family and used to grind local corn into flour for village bakers. In 1877 the miller was George Nicholls. His young son Harry went around the village each day delivering hot rolls before going to school, It has been known internationally since the artist Sir William Nicholson produced a woodcut of it and this design was used as the trademark for Heinemann publishers that has appeared on their books since 1897." Rottingdean Windmill | Rottingdean (rottingdeanvillage.org.uk)
Beacon Hill was created a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) in 2004 and now falls within the South Downs National Park
The east side of Beacon Hill is wooded,
which provide a habitat for many woodland birds. "With declining woodland bird populations, protecting woodland habitats is more important than ever, from the lush canopy to the leaf litter below" Birds – British Animals - Woodland Trust;
In these woods I spotted another Wren. "Plump, short and loud-mouthed, the wren is one of our most common breeding birds. Though it’s small in size, it makes up for it with its powerful song". Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) - Woodland Trust
and at the top of one the trees was this Goldfinch a "seed-eating specialists with a bright red face. Goldfinches are perfectly adapted to access food other birds can’t reach". Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - British Birds - Woodland Trust
Magpies are very common birds which I see (along with Carrion Crows, Woodpigeons, Feral Pigeon and Herring Gills) on every local walk; but their commonness often leads to them being considered to be of little interest, but their plumage is stunning beautiful; the black and white bird from a distance turns out to be a blue, green, black and white bird when observed closely.
The colour and patterns of woodland have to me an interest in their own right
As I reached the top of the Hill, I saw many Carrion Crows; like their corvid-cousins, Magpies, they often overlooked because of their ubiquity. But their chic sheer back plumage Crows is beautiful and their behaviour reveals a keen animal intelligence, see: Like humans, these big-brained birds may owe their smarts to long childhoods | Science | AAAS (sciencemag.org)
After descending Beacon Hill, I walked up the path on Cattle Hill to the woods behind St Wulfrans. This is the view from Cattle Hill, the on the other side of Ovingdean valley, opposite Beacon Hill, towards St Dunstan's (now Blind Veterans UK). St Dunstan's is an extraordinary building; a bold and ambitious and rare use of 1930s European Modernist architecture on the South Coast: "Many convalescent homes were built in the mid-19th century for those recovering from illness or surgery. St Dunstan's, Rottingdean, was a home for the blind from 1939. Designed by Burnet Tait and Lorne, it is a tour de force of International Modernism" St Dunstan's Home, Rottingdean, East Sussex | Educational Images | Historic England. The other tour to force of International Modernism is the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill, which I used to visit often, is sadly unvisitable in Lockdown III. The "peoples palace" of the De La Warr Pavilion was designed Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff. Our heritage - DLWP, The De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, East Sussex
On Cattle Hill there is small wood behind St Wulfran's Church which provides another woodland habitat for birds.
Although common, Great Tits, are beautiful, and are common is this wood, and they bring much-needed colour to the grey of winter and lockdown
As I walked down the path by St Wulfran's Church, a huge flock of Herring Gulls flew through Ovingdean. The cries of Herring Gull (and Carrion Crow and Magpies) punctuates any walk around Brighton.
St Wulfran, Ovingdean, is a beautiful grade-one listed Norman church built entirely of flint. "To a nave and chancel of c1100, a south aisle (now gone) and tower were added in the late C12. A south chapel may never have been completed. Some windows are later. Though now within Brighton, Ovingdean remains rural, in a valley running down to the coast. An ecclesiola is mentioned in Domesday Book (12,11) but this is unlikely to be the present church. The north wall of the nave, flint like the rest, has some herringbone masonry and a relatively broad round-headed doorway of two stepped orders. The round-headed window above, its head made from one stone, is relatively long. Taken together, these suggest a date not before c1100. Nave and chancel are probably of one build, for the north and south windows of the latter are similar; the renewed south one opens into a later chapel. The smaller east one, like the others, has a deep rere-arch. It shows the chancel was never lengthened and an apparent join to the north is probably a repair". Brighton and Hove – St Wulfran, Ovingdean – Sussex Parish Churches
The decorated ceiling of the church depicts stylised birds and foliage, and was designed by Charles Kempe, in 1867, and recognises the importance of nature in rural worship.
"Charles Eamer Kempe (he added the ‘e’ in his thirties) was the fifth son and youngest of seven children of Nathaniel Kemp (1759-1843) of Ovingdean House. The Kemp family were a wealthy and important land-owning family around Brighton and Lewes in the late 18th century. They were descended from an old Saxon family that produced John Kemp(e) (1308?-1454) who was Lord Chancellor and Archbishop successively of York and Canterbury. As a young man Charles wanted to enter the church but thought his speech impediment would be a drawback. Instead he studied architecture and learned the techniques of stained glass. Having inherited a substantial income at 21 from his father’s will, Kempe started the ‘Kempe Studio for Stained Glass and Church Furniture’. This was a very successful venture and the studio was responsible for 3,141 windows from 1869 to 1907.
His first independent commission was the astonishing ceiling in St Wulfran’s chancel. The restoration of this ceiling by Ruth McNeilage and team took place in October 2005.
The painted ceiling is chief among the art treasures in our church. It was designed by Charles Kempe in 1867 to commemorate his father Nathaniel Kemp, who lived in Ovingdean Hall where Charles was born in 1837, and who was churchwarden at St Wulfran’s for many years.
The decorated ceiling also celebrated the completion of a major restoration of the church in that year. Although the church dates from the 11th century and is listed grade 1, little is known of its history until the 19th century, when two major restoration projects were carried out, the first at the beginning of the century and the second in the 1860s during the rectorship of the Revd Alfred Stead (1844-89). Substantial structural repairs were carried out at this time to the outside of the building, and inside the old box pews were replaced by the present-day pews, sash windows were removed and replaced with windows more in keeping with the medieval style, and the tower area re-opened to provide additional seating.
Charles Kempe’s decoration is painted directly on to the wooden barrel-vaulted ceiling. It consists of trailing floral designs of leaves and flowers, interspersed at regular intervals with a dove holding a scroll, inscribed with the word “alleluia”.
Kempe also designed a number of stained glass windows in the church, as well as the carved wooden reredos and rood.
Charles Kempe was heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and by the work of his contemporaries William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, in harking back to a romantic medievalism in his designs. Their ideals had much in common with those of the Anglo-Catholic movement developing within the Church of England at that time, and his work is of considerable significance in the development of Victorian church art and decoration. The Kempe Ceiling - St Wulfran's
(Photo from The Kempe Ceiling - St Wulfran's)
In the churchyard of St Wulfran's is buried the remains of Magnus Volk, Burne-Jone's least favourite Brightonian.
"The son of a German clockmaker Magnus Volk was born at 35 (now 40) Western Road, Brighton on 19th October 1851. Educated in the town he was eventually apprenticed to a scientific instrument maker but on the death of his father in 1869 he returned home to assist his mother run the family business.. Scientific and engineering events in the wider world were of great interest to Magnus and he was forever experimenting with electricity, telegraphy and telephony. His growing prowess as an inventor and engineer and the fact that he was the first person in Brighton to equip his house with electric light, led to him being awarded the contract for providing the famous Royal Pavilion with electric incandescent lighting. 1883-1900 | VERA | Volk's Electric Railway Association, Brighton Volk went on to build the eclectic railway which still runs from the Palace Pier to the Marina (in a much altered form to its origins in 1884)
The valley of Ovingdean on the left Cattle Hill; Mount Pleasant on the right is a beautiful landscape.
The area of hedge just above the barns of Bulstrode Farm, Ovingdean Valley, to the left when walking up the hill from Ovingdean toward the Race Course/East Brighton Gold Club, is a rich habitat for birds. I frequently see Stonechats on the fence posts but this Friday I saw only Robins and Dunnocks. The song of Robins I find heart warming; they sing away all year, although they are quite territorial birds "The UK's favourite bird - with its bright red breast it is familiar throughout the year and especially at Christmas! Males and females look identical, and young birds have no red breast and are spotted with golden brown. Robins sing nearly all year round and despite their cute appearance, they are aggressively territorial and are quick to drive away intruders. They will sing at night next to street lights" Robin Red Breast Bird Facts | Erithacus Rubecula - The RSPB.
I saw three Dunnucks, which in unusual, as they are usually solitary birds; all three foraged on the dung heap below the hedge. "The dunnock is a small brown and grey bird. Quiet and unobtrusive, it is often seen on its own, creeping along the edge of a flower bed or near to a bush, moving with a rather nervous, shuffling gait, often flicking its wings as it goes. When two rival males come together they become animated with lots of wing-flicking and loud calling." Dunnock Bird Facts | Prunella Modularis - The RSPB The three Dunocks that I saw seem to be happily coexisting within the same area, probably because the supply of food was sufficient for all three
Further on from the Dunnocks I saw the unmistakable hunting behaviour of a Kestrel hovering in the air.
He/she rested an a fence post
before resuming it's hunt. Kestrels mostly eat small mammals (e.g. voles). Kestrels are a familiar sight with their pointed wings and long tail, hovering beside a roadside verge. Numbers of kestrels declined in the 1970s, probably as a result of changes in farming and so it is included on the Amber List. They have adapted readily to man-made environments and can survive right in the centre of cities. Kestrel Bird Facts | Falco Tinnunculus - The RSPB
The distinctive Kestrels have have been the subject of important works of literature, from Gerard Manley Hopkins extraordinary sprung-rhythm sonnet, The Windhover, a symbol of Christ to Hopkins, to Barry Hine's A Kestrel for a Knave published in 1968 (filmed by Ken Loach as Kes) in 1969, in which natural imagery is used to express the difficulties of an impoverished working class schoolboy. Hine's title is taken from Harley MS 2340, a 15th-century collection of treatises on hawking. It is one of a number of English hunting and hawking manuals created during this period. A Kestrel for a Knave - Medieval manuscripts blog, which suggests that a Kestrel is a suitable hawk for the "lowest" of the social order
“An Eagle for an Emperor, a Gyrfalcon for a King; a Peregrine for a Prince, a Saker for a Knight, a Merlin for a Lady; a Goshawk for a Yeoman, a Sparrowhawk for a Priest, a Musket for a Holy water Clerk, a Kestrel for a Knave.”
The Windhover, Gerard Manley Hopkins (written 1877, first published 1918)
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.
I saw again Skylarks as I walked back past East Brighton golf course and through Sheepcote Valley and heard more of their wonderful song.
I then retraced the path along the top of Whitehawk, and along past the Race Course Looking toward the Bird Blocks of Swanborough Drive, from the top of the Race Hill, these Carrion Crows sitting on TV aerials were silhouetted in the setting sun. TV aerial are a favourite perching spot for Carrion Crows and Starlings at the end of the day.
Walking back to home entails passing the Whitehawk TV transmitter, which is in many ways an eyesore in a beautiful environment, but has some geometrical interest at dusk. This technological giant is situated next to Whitehawk Hill's allotments; when walking past it you hear a curious blend of a low electronic humming from its base and the sounds of many woodland song birds who perch in the trees around it.
"A radar station was opened on the high ground of Whitehawk Hill, to the east of central Brighton, during World War II. Meanwhile, television broadcasts first reached the town in 1953 when a relay transmitter was erected on Truleigh Hill, several miles to the west on the South Downs.. On 5 April 1959, after the wartime facility was demolished, a 148-foot (45 m) transmitter was opened at Whitehawk. ... The original mast was replaced in 1983 by the present structure, which stood alongside it for a short time until the earlier mast was demolished. The present mast is also 148 feet (45 m) tall; it reaches a height of 182 feet (55 m) when the UHF aerial is taken into account. Whitehawk Hill itself is 396 feet (121 m) above sea level. In 1990, the transmitting station was reported to serve 400,000 people and was supported by relay transmitters at several locations around Brighton" Whitehawk Hill transmitting station - Wikipedia
The wooded path that runs through Craven Woods (back to my house) has a magical feel to me, especially at twilight; a magic which to me the Whitehawk Camp causewayed enclosure lacks; it's "magic" is perhaps given to it by its unconscious echoing of the natural magical tunnels and portals of children's garden and magical landscape-based literature, that intrigued me as a child, specifically The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of The Chronicles of Narnia (1950–1956) by C. S. Lewi and The Secret Garden (1911) by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Walking through the wood at twilight is accompanied by the songs of woodland birds, particular Blackbirds, Robins, Blue and Great Tits, but their singing is often interrupted by loud Magpie chatter, like from these three Magpies in the trees on the stepped path back down through Craven Wood; non-breeding Magpies will often gather together in small flocks.
Magpie chatter is perhaps one of the most distinguishable bird call
The last tree of the path down Craven Woods, the ends in the south-east corner of the Craven Vale estate, had been transformed, since the beginning of my walk; the addition of clay and twigs produced an anonymous art intervention. There is always something artful going on in Brighton!