Monday, 31 January 2022

Ashdown Forest

I've seen most parts of England, Wales and Scotland by now, and still think that as an all-round likeable place Sussex is hard to beat. It's got plenty of towns large and small, some of them very historic. It's got shops. It's got museums. It's got galleries. It's got some magnificent National Trust properties. Not that I want them, it's got theatres too. If you like getting out and around in retirement, it's one of the best counties I know. 

Strangely, the rest of the country isn't greatly aware of Sussex. Or they think Brighton (aka London-on-Sea) is Sussex, and that the county has nothing else to show. It is true that coastal Sussex is largely a string of built-up beach resorts, one or two of them smart, many of them dull, and none of them rivalling the picturesque resorts of Devon and Cornwall and elsewhere. But they are all different from Brighton. And all share the same gorgeous sunsets, for all the Sussex coastline faces the English Channel. 

'Sussex by the sea' is rather a cliché, but nevertheless the county is sea-orientated, and looks south, and does not look northwards to London. Thousands commute daily to the capital, of course; but, if not of working age, it's very easy to forget that London exists. The Big City's pull is weak compared to that felt by the poor souls who live in Surrey and Kent. And what happens in London has no bearing on what happens in Sussex. Sussex goes its own way. And Sussex won't be druv, as the saying goes.

I love the Sussex coast. I also love the Sussex countryside, and there is an astonishing amount of it to enjoy. However, I would be the first to admit that Sussex doesn't have everything. It has the South Downs, but no mountains. It has the sea, but no large natural lakes. It is very well wooded in parts, but there is no proper forest, like Hampshire has the New Forest. 

And it has no proper moorland. The nearest equivalent is an upland area in the centre of the county called Ashdown Forest. It's pretty small - say six miles by six miles. It's undulating heathland: ferns, bracken, little woods, lots of gorse, and some sandy or muddy tracks. There's enough space to avoid meeting another person, but other people are never totally out of sight. There are certainly wild animals and birds, and there may be cattle and other larger animals too, although I never seem to see any wandering around, like you might commonly see ponies and cows in the New Forest, or on Dartmoor, although at night deer abound and may cross the road as you drive along - and need watching out for. 

All this said, it's a pleasant place for a rough ramble, although one might cover most of Ashdown Forest in a few hours' walking. There are very few 'tourist sights', and none of them are truly compelling. There's a nice windmill - a rare post-mill, I think - near Nutley:

A A Milne made Ashdown Forest the setting for the bear Winnie-the-Pooh. At Gill's Lap, a high point with a great view, is a memorial to this:

I can't say that Winnie-the-Pooh played any role in my childhood life. I was more for Beatrix Potter and her creations - until I discovered Dad's growing collection of James Bond books. Suddenly I was far more interested in spies and exotic locations and what Bond liked about his women than the unlikely antics of animals that wore clothes and could talk. 

And there's the Airman's Grave, really just a memorial rather then an actual burial-place:

But that's about it. The main attraction is the heathland itself, and the beauty of the views, which, to the south, extend as far as the South Downs. 

There is one distinctive feature, however, that Ashdown Forest possesses: its 'clumps'. These are small circular groves of tall trees on the tops of hills. They form little landmarks, as well as providing some kind of shelter within for deer and other animals, although they generally lack any undergrowth and on the whole are rather draughty! These clumps are very characteristic of Ashdown Forest, and have become iconic, appearing on posters for instance - such as this one I saw at Crowborough station:

I would say the real trees are typically darker, and more densely planted, than the poster above suggests. But they do indeed sit on hilltops, and I have pictures in my Photo Archive which bring that out, such as this one:

The sky is a big part of the appeal of Ashdown Forest. The place is wide open to the heavens, and clouds are common, and - especially at sunset - the combination of trees, the horizon, bands of cloud, and the setting sun often create a moody, brooding atmosphere.

One of the clumps is called Friends Clump. I went to see it yesterday. 

It was very breezy! I didn't linger. I wanted to have a walk south of Friends Clump before the sun set. This being late January, the heathland wasn't very colourful. I have seen it looking like this is the past, although usually with colours warmed by late-afternoon sunshine:

Still, yesterday's heathland had a certain understated beauty, livened up here and there with bright yellow gorse flowers:

I wanted to venture down there, perhaps finding a way to the Airman's Grave, but it was very rough underfoot, and the ground very soft in places, and (stupidly) I'd left my stick in Fiona. Although adequately booted, I decided not to risk it. Instead, I returned to higher, drier ground and explored the photographic possibilities of the setting sun.

Ashdown Forest is a cheerless place in winter, once the sun has gone down. I could see Friends Clump not far off and headed back to where I'd left Fiona. It was quite dark when I got home.

I'll have to go back. There are plenty of good walks just off the main heathland. Something for the spring then. 

Sunday, 30 January 2022

A trip to London 2 - Nelson nearly takes a header

I'd just left Buckingham Palace. The next item was a stroll through nearby St James's Park. 

I rate London parks highly. They are always attractive. St James's Park especially so, because of its central position and particularly because of the lake that runs its length, between the Palace and the seat of government at Whitehall. On the day I was there (12th January) the weather was spring-like - sunshine and a blue sky. 

Halfway through the park was a bridge over the lake, which I took. So did quite a lot of other people, slightly too many for Covid-comfort, but I threaded my way through unscathed.

I'd left behind the soaring new buildings around London Victoria station, and the London ahead was much more traditional, a district of white mansions on quiet streets, once the homes of the rich and the noble. But first, The Mall, that straight, broad avenue that links the Palace to Admiralty Arch. My park path brought me out halfway along this impressive boulevard.

It was almost empty of traffic. An effect of the Congestion Charge, I suppose. 

That last shot recalled an office outing by coach from Southampton to London, to see an evening show. It was on Saturday 6th March 1971 (gosh, fifty-one years ago, when I was only nineteen). I think the show was Charlie Girl. Paul McCartney's Another Day was in the pop charts, reaching number 2 on 14th March, but pipped by Mungo Jerry's Baby Jump. 

I had most of that March 1971 afternoon to wander off and see what sights I could find. It was bitterly cold, and occasionally snowflakes drifted down, and it was snowing when - near the very spot shown in the last photo - I attempted to take a picture looking down a rather busier road with my teenage Kodak Instamatic 50 camera. One of the guys from the office, an Australian chap called Len Timmins, was with me, and my records show that I snapped him as well, under a lamp-post, before we wandered off in different directions (I went down The Mall to see the Palace). 

Of course both shots came out poorly. The light was bad, the snow was blurred. I kept them for years, but eventually, with space to find in my slide boxes for later and much better shots, I threw these two wintry snaps away. I regret it now. Nowadays I would easily be able to transform and revive any badly-exposed or badly-composed shot with my computer skills. So many pictures like them could have been saved if only I'd had the right equipment and techniques at the time. Oh well. 

As you might guess, Lili, my current favourite camera, gives me winners nearly every time. (All but one or two of the pictures in this and the other London trip posts were taken with Lili)

Kerb Drill was hardly necessary to cross The Mall in 2022. I was now looking for some steps to take me up into that world of big white-stoned mansions. Ah, there they were. Steps made into a memorial to the late Queen Mother (who died in 2002) and her even later husband, the present Queen's father, George VI (who died in 1952, the year I was born). 

There's the Queen Mum with her beloved corgis. The two panels showed typical events in her round of engagements, mostly formal, but making the point that she had a lovely smile and enjoyed meeting all kinds of people, not just top-hatted toffs at the races. I liked the way the artist brought out some individuality in the faces.

Up the steps was Carlton Gardens. Now I was really into Mansion-land. 

How elegant these big houses were! No wonder Charles de Gaulle, over here in exile from 1940 to 1944, had made numbers 3 and 4 Carlton Gardens his Free French HQ. I think he insisted in his usual manner on having an imposing address provided gratis for his private office, despite being then only a junior general in the defeated French Army. 

He was given it. Churchill was impressed by his unquenchable patriotism and determination to fight - which echoed his own spirit - and he indulged de Gaulle, despite the latter's questionable right to represent all of France, and the notorious arrogance of his later behaviour. But de Gaulle had the unarguable credentials of having given battle to the advancing Germans. He had not simply given up and melted away, accepting defeat and disgrace. 

He embodied the restless military man of honour, who knew his duty and loved his country; and if he was also stiff and proud and unreasonable, then these were qualities not unsuitable for the times and the task he had set himself. 

And if ever there were a man of destiny, a man fit to lead the reconquest of France, to free France from Nazi tyranny, and later still, to heal the gaping post-war wounds left by ineffective pre-war politicians and criminally culpable war-time Vichy collaborationists, then de Gaulle was that man. There was a blue plaque that mentioned his residence at Carlton Gardens. And another that reproduced his famous broadcast of 18th June 1940, in which he appealed to all free French people everywhere to join him in his apparently-hopeless defiance of the German Occupation, and help him restore the honour, dignity and independence of France.

À tous les français
La France a perdu une bataille!
Mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre!
Des gouvernants de rencontre ont pu capituler, cédant à la panique, oubliant l'honneur, livrant le pays à la servitude. Cependant, rien n'est perdu!
Rien n'est perdu, parce que cette guerre est une guerre mondiale. Dans l'univers libre, des forces immenses n'ont pas encore donné. Un jour, ces forces écraseront l'ennemi. Il faut que la France, ce jour la, soit présente à la victoire. Alors, elle retrouvera sa liberté et sa grandeur. Tel est mon but, mon seul but!
Voilà pourquoi je convie, tous les français où qu'ils se trouvent, à s'unir à moi dans l'action, dans le sacrifice et dans l'espérance.
Notre patrie est en péril de mort.
Luttons tous pour la sauver!
Vive la France!

I moved on, and a column came into view, dedicated to the Duke of York. It was an imposing sight. Could this be the Grand Old Duke of York of the nursery rhyme? 

I was now looking at Waterloo Place. It seemed full of monuments. 

In the centre, a big one to the fallen of the Crimea War. 

But other martial figures were commemorated with fine statues. Such as this one to Field Marshal Lord Clyde - or rather Britannia and her best lion:

And this one of Air Chief Marshall Sir Keith Park:

Opposite to Sir Keith was this statue of Captain Scott of the Antarctic - not exactly a man known for his skills in war, although braver than most, who shared a desperate death in a doomed attempt on the South Pole:

Hmm. It looks very, very similar to the Scott statue I saw in Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand in April 2007:

I reckon they did a job lot and scattered them around the world. 

And so on to Trafalgar Square, passing on the way two theatres, the first of several I'd see that day. Her Majesty's Theatre and the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, both of them looking grand and important.


They faced each other, and you can imagine them vying for business in every way imaginable. Such as poaching theatregoers from each other's queues with inducements in cash or kind, or yanking them across the road with those long poles with hooks on them that they use to get unfunny acts off the stage.

Trafalgar Square next. At first you see only the fine frontage of the National Gallery, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, and the flags outside the Canadian embassy; then the Square opens up, and fountains and Nelson's Column are revealed. 

There was a curious artwork that consisted of a mound of ice cream topped with a cherry, adorned with a fly and a drone:

Clearly you were supposed to reflect on the similarity between the fly and the drone, and possibly there was something significant in the drone having possession of the cherry; but otherwise the meaning or message escaped me. 

I hadn't stood in the Square for a very long time. For me it was the very heart of London. I decided to go close up to Nelson's Column, and examine it carefully. 

It seemed that the Column, and Nelson himself, had had a clean-up, as all was spic and span and Bristol fashion. No pigeons perched on his cocked hat. Actually, I didn't notice any pigeons at all. Where had they gone? Had they fled, sensing possible doom with my arrival? 

I examined the panels at the base of the Column. They were all scenes from Nelson's best sea battles. This one was in the sunshine, and I could get a good shot with nice modelling. Cape St Vincent, 1797. 

The panel for Cape Trafalgar in 1805 - the one where Nelson was killed for kissing Captain Hardy - was in deep shadow, and my tentative picture wasn't a success. I got some good shots of the lions though. 

As you can see, this particular lion was a right haughty beast, absolutely refusing to acknowledge my presence. I was wondering how best to attract its attention (a drone on its nose?) when disaster struck. The lions were perched up on granite bases that bulged out at the bottom, and, as I sashayed left to get a better shot, I cracked my right shin on the stone. 

Now I can't say what an ordinary person would have done, for being a Melford female I am not an ordinary person. All I can do is reiterate the obvious: that all the Melfords are noted for their resilience in adversity, their unflinching bravery, and their fortitude in anguish. Melford women are Iron Ladies, no argument, with astonishing powers of self-control and endurance. So I did not cry out, nor faint, nor limp. I just carried on shooting with Lili as if nothing had happened. 

Just as well. The shock wave from that fateful contact must have shaken the Column. Fighting back tears of pain, I couldn't see well enough to be sure, but surely the Column wobbled, and Nelson teetered. For a second, the lions lost their cool and seemed ready to bolt for it if Nelson fell head-first into the Square. Gosh, that would have attracted some attention, the Hero of Trafalgar taking a header into one of the fountains! It would have dented his cocked hat. Plenty of tourists would have been drenched. And dozens more would have pouted, not now being able to get a selfie with Nelson up there on his Column. 

But all was well. 

Professional in spirit, as befits a Leica owner, I kept shooting and got a couple more nice shots. 

Nobody remarked on the gore that I must be leaving behind as a kind of trail. Oddly enough, there wasn't any. I put this down to the Melfords' amazing powers of blood-coagulation. We have a gene for everything.

Furthermore, when I examined my wounded shin later that day at home, I found that the damage was less ghastly than feared. Here is the traumatised shin two days later:

It looks much the same two weeks on. I suppose the flesh got crushed and will take time to rebuild. 

Next post on my London trip: I make my way (still without a visible limp) to the British Museum and admire the exhibits.