MUCH of the forest on the great estates of Goodwood, Cowdray and West Dean was once farmland. Where ever I walk around here I come across the ancient field banks usually 55 yards apart which were the field boundaries of the Bronze, Iron and Roman Ages. Now they are quiet woodlands with birds and flowers, butterflies and deer. What a change. Three thousand years ago you would have seen sheep, pigs, barley and cattle and horses.
Today much of the conservation work that goes on across the South Downs national park is returning the rough woodland areas back to farmland: that is, sheep down. The wildlife we want today are orchids, chalkhill blue butterflies and stone curlews. As my old father used to say, having spent his life fighting wars, farming, and studying human behaviour in his 60 novels of country life: “All things fade away, yet come back again.”
So I find myself in this tiny envelope of history, spending my time clearing the Downs of woodland and studying the effects. I feel quite close to the ancients with their wide open windswept hilltops and I like nothing better than to see the places where they lived: the forts, the embankments, fields and burial mounds. One of the best cemeteries for instance, is known as the Devil’s Jumps, on top of the Downs at Monkton Farm, north of Chilgrove.
One of these tumuli is the tallest in Sussex. Surrounding these six or seven mini pyramids are the Celtic fields which made this particular clan wealthy There the chiefs were buried 3,500 years ago. Who were they? What were their names? All lost to us now, The whole place has a deep resonance of ancient time. Today, The Murray Downland Trust manage this nature reserve on behalf of West Dean Estate. They are opening the site to the public this Saturday, June 18. Why not come along and join us and have it all explained to you by archaeological experts. I shall be there too to lead groups around as we look for downland plants and butterflies. There will be light refreshments as well.
All you have to do is to turn up anytime between 1.30pm and 5pm at The Royal Oak Inn, Hooksway, on the road between Lavant and South Harting, NGR SU815163. Landrovers will ferry those who do not want to walk the mile up to the Devil’s Jumps, otherwise this is a nice, easy. steady walk through woodlands. If the weather is awful with lots of rain check first with David Petche on 01730 269905 to avoid a wasted journey. Come and meet the ancestors and also see modern nature conservation in action as well.