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Sussex Day 2012: Part 2 – Chasing butterflies

19 Jun

Sussex Day 2012

Across the road from the bus shelter the footpath leads across a wheat field, still green at the moment, but if the sun stays out long enough it will soon be turning golden-yellow.

The path follows a more or less straight path south towards the parish church at Poynings, but a little less than halfway it splits in two with one path continuing south and the other path heading west.

I followed the path west, this field was of grass, kept short by the sheep. A simple wooden bridge took me over a ditch, over a stile into a field of taller grass.

It was here that I spent a couple of minutes trying to capture an image of a little butterfly, a Common Blue I believe. It flitted here and there, almost getting trodden on once or twice and no sooner had it settled on a clover flower than it was off again.

Some of this was my fault and the approach of my camera, but some of this was also down to the wind which was buffeting everything in sight. Eventually I caught it.

Catching butterflies

Not far away to the south the huge bulk of South Downs dominated the skyline, but my attention had briefly been captured by this tiny little creature.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Sussex Day 2012: Part 1 – One of my favourite bus stops

18 Jun

Sussex Day 2012

I knew I had to take the opportunity presented by Sussex Day to get out onto the South Downs, but when I set off I hadn’t really decided where to go.

I was on the bus heading to Brighton, which narrowed down the range of options, but still with another bus and/or train ride I could pretty much be anywhere in Sussex. Not only that but if I got the right bus I could even be on top of the Downs with minimal effort, but what would be the fun in that.

The South Downs didn’t look terribly inviting it has to be said. The weather was overcast, it looked and felt like there could be rain any minute, even though the forecast said it would stay dry. I could see the odd break in the cloud, but even as we got nearer the Downs remained hazy and indistinct, not the crisp clearness that I had longed for.

As the bus headed towards Brighton I formulated a plan, I would get off before Brighton near the village of Poynings, by the roundabout, and make my way along the foot of the hills and then when the time was right I could ascend the hills and continue along the ridge.

This would not only give me a different view of the hills, getting up close to the northern face of the hills that I normally only see from a distance, but would also give me the opportunity to have a quick look around some of the villages that lay at the foot of the hills.

As I stepped off the packed bus at Poynings, leaving the shoppers to continue their journey to Brighton, I stood and admired the Downs. The bus stop is well within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park, and practically on the foot of the hills. It is the closeness to the hills that makes this one of my favourite bus stops.

One of my favourite bus stops

In the background of picture above is Newtimber Hill. To the left, albeit some way off, is my old favourite Wolstonbury Hill. To the right is Devil’s Dyke and the range of hills stretching all the way out to the west and Chanctonbury Hill with its distinctive crown of trees.

I will be the first to admit that the bus shelter may not be much to look at, but for me it represents an important gateway to the South Downs and the start of my Sussex Day walk.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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Wandering: Box Hill, Surrey

14 Jun

The recent extended Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend gave my friend Chris and I chance to get out for a walk, unfortunately the less than ideal weather conditions meant that it was only going to be a brief walk.

Short of time we decided to head to Box Hill near the town of Dorking, Surrey. Box Hill is just a short train ride from Horsham and situated on the North Downs. If we didn’t have time to get out onto the South Downs then the North Downs would have to do.

Box Hill is also going to be playing its part in the London Olympics. It is hosting part of the cycling road race (both the womens and mens races) and we were interested to see how preparations were going. The cyclists will be racing up and down Box Hill as part of the road race before heading back into London from whence they came.

They will no doubt appreciate the newly re-surfaced road, but the freshly erected signs will probably be no more than a blur as they whizz past, on the way from Dorking to the top of the hill.

Apart from the new road surface and signs there didn’t seem to be a great deal to indicate that the Olympics were coming. There has been a bit of clearance along the roadside, where spectators will be crowded, but apart from that you could be forgiven for not noticing the approaching furore.

Of course the cyclists will not have time to enjoy the view from the top of Box Hill over the town of Dorking, Surrey. A view made all the better for the presence of a trig point. Nor will they have to experience the steep and slightly treacherous descent down the side of the hill, which was nice and slippery after the recent rainfall. Unfortunately that all means they will miss the joy of having to pick their way across the River Mole on the concrete stepping-stones.

The closest railway station is Box Hill and Westhumble, Westhumble is the village to west of the railway line and Box Hill is east of the station. It is a delightful little station which although short on facilities has quite a reasonable service. It’s survival is probably down to its role as a gateway to the North Downs.

When we visited it was receiving the attention of railworkers, who were busy excavating the southern end of the station, presumably to enable extension of the platforms in anticipation of the increase in traffic that the Olympics will bring.

In a fitting tribute to forthcoming Olympic games the workers were taking part in a their own relay. Taking it in turns to push wheelbarrows full of stones and soil along the length of the platform the skip waiting outside the station.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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The importance of Betley

29 May

One thing I didn’t mention yesterday when I wrote about my short walk to Betley Bridge was that the area has an important role in my family history.

Just south of the River Adur are two properties, to the west of the old railway line is Great Betley and to the east is Little Betley. The river itself marks the parish boundary between Henfield and West Grinstead in West Sussex so both these properties are just inside the parish of Henfield.

The family connection begins in the 1861 census, when my 3x great-grandfather John Fairs is to be found at Betley (presumably Great Betley) employed as a cowman. Prior to this he had been living “across the river” in West Grinstead, but I can’t pin down when he did start work at Betley.

The railway from Horsham to Shoreham was opened in 1861 and cut through the farmland on which John must have worked. A far more important event however was John’s marriage in 1862 to Mary Ann Weller.

By 1871 the couple had five daughters and were living at Little Betley, probably sharing the small cottage with Henry and Emma Nye and their three young children.

A decade later in 1881 the couple were still at Little Betley, with two of their daughters and sharing the cottage with William and Elizabeth Pierce and their daughter. Just across the fields however at Betley is the 15 year old Ebenezer Trower, my 2x great-grandfather, working as an agricultural labourer.

Although John’s daughter Annie wasn’t living with them in 1881, she obviously wasn’t away that long because in 1889 the she and Ebenezer were married in Henfield Church.

In 1891 the widowed John is still at Little Betley working as an agricultural labourer, and sharing the house with Annie and Ebenezer (also an agricultural labourer) and their two children. One of these was the newly born Henry John Trower my great-grandfather.

By 1901 the families had split up, Ebenezer and Annie with their children to Sayers Common and John had moved closer to the village of Henfield itself.

It is easy for me to forget just how lucky I am to live so close to the house were my great-grandfather (Henry John Trower) and my 2x great-grandmother (Annie Fairs) were probably born and where my 3x great-grandfather (John Fairs) lived for at least 20 years and not forgetting of course my 2x great-grandfather (Ebenezer Trower) and 3x great-grandmother (Mary Ann Weller). And they are just my direct ancestors.

I probably ought to devote some more time to studying this house and the farm on which they lived and worked, it only seems right that I knew more about this particular area, especially considering it is practically on my door step.

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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The Opportunistic Wanderer

28 May

For the second time in two days I have seized the opportunity and gone for a walk. Yesterday morning I took advantage of the fact that my wife had to work and got a lift to work with her and walked home, about four and a half miles.

This evening as I made my way home on the bus I could see the South Downs as clear as they had been for weeks, and instantly I knew I had to go and get a closer look.

So when I got home I swapped my work shoes for walking boots and headed out the door. I didn’t have time this evening to go far, so no need for a map or rucksack, only a mobile phone and digital camera.

My destination was Betley Bridge, which once took the railway over the River Adur between Partridge Green and Henfield, West Sussex. From just north of the bridge the southern horizon is dominated by the South Downs, from east to west.

I mentally named the hills one by one as I scanned the skyline from left to right and straining to see them disappearing to the west. I recalled the many hours spent walking along the ridge in the last two years and looked forward to the chance to walk them once again this year.

It felt so good, such freedom. I could quite easily have carried on walking, within a couple of hours I could have been up on the hills, but it would have been getting dark by then and I have to get up early tomorrow so I retraced my steps home.

It was probably only about three miles in all, so no great physical challenge, but standing in the warmth of the evening sunshine and admiring the Downs did a great deal for my sense of wellbeing.

WW2 gun emplacement north of Betley Bridge near Henfield, West Sussex

Copyright © 2012 John Gasson.
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