Country lane tells a tale of country life

Hylters Lane.
Hylters Lane.

THIS is Hylters Lane near Chilgrove with snow clouds over the South Downs beyond. The afternoon sun is lighting up the hedges and grass verges, the beech, oaks and ashes in the middle distance.

Just this one simple little country lane but how much I have seen along it over forty years or more.

I often see birders with their telescopes or binoculars pausing on the grass, looking longingly into the sheep fields. Red kites and buzzards patrol the farm.

One young buzzard sits almost every day on the right hand hedge waiting for something to appear.

During shoots the kites find occasional partridge or pheasant remains.

Driving back home along this road I have many times flushed a woodcock that comes to feed on earthworms at night, flighting out here at dusk over my home half an hour after sunset.

This is the road where I often see a leveret. Then I have to slow right down in the car, to let it find a gap in the hedge to escape.

Until ten years ago lapwings nested every year in the arable fields over the left-hand hedge. Not any more.

I should think the badgers and the foxes have taken them as they brooded eggs or young on pitch black nights.

Still, these thick hedges tended so carefully by West Dean Estate, are better than they have ever been, for small birds nesting.

If I stop to look in the hedge in winter I shall find the old nests of yellowhammer, blackbird, linnet, chaffinch and long tailed tit.

You can see these birds in the spring singing on the top of the hedge. 80 year old Jessie Carpenter used to live along this lane by herself for decades, twenty years ago.

She knew all the songs of the wild birds and she had some wonderful memories too.

Back in the 1930s she used to listen on summer nights, to the stone curlews that nested everywhere on what then was a vast downland heath.

Stonechats and whinchats nested in every gorse bush almost, she told me.

Then there were the nightjars and grasshopper warblers, humming all night long if the weather was warm.

She remembered too the RAF Hawker Hart fighter planes with their silver sings, and the cheeky pilots who buzzed the valleys and hedges then would drive out from Tangmere in their MG Midgets to have a cup of tea with her in her cottage.

She loved them and they thought the world of her and brought her slab cake for Christmas, with sultanas and raisins, which they had borrowed in the Mess.

Last summer or was it the one before, I photographed a lone Lancaster bomber flying low over these hedges after an air display at Goodwood.

A peregrine falcon was not far below.

A place of magic, no doubt like one you know, have enjoyed for decades, like me.

Richard Williamson