Posts Tagged ‘chalk’

On Salisbury Plain

April 4, 2016

Remembering – the poppy and the cornflower

My home looks out onto the chalk downland area known as Salisbury Plain. I am so lucky for I love chalk scenery and the plants and wildlife associated with it.

But unfortunately for me (although not for wildlife) most of my local area is a no go zone, being an artillery range. You tend to get faced with signs like this.


If firing is in progress that wonderful system of flying a red flag warns you.

image004But there are areas with access when flags aren’t flying and the ridgeway path is open and that allows you to see plenty of marvels.

Here we have a dry valley which would have pleased my inspirational geography teacher, Mr Cole.

image006The valley formed in an ice age. Water normally seeps through chalk to emerge at the spring line lower down, but when the water in the chalk froze then rainwater did form streams which cut valleys. And here we have a youthful valley with interlocking spurs – in fact everything but the stream.

But this was a flower spotting trip and just look at these cornflowers.

image008What beauties.

image010But it was another flower that had caught my eye from afar and I had set out to see – the poppy.

image012And there they are, en masse, in a field nominally of oil seed rape. But what a sight these were just above the village of Urchfont.

image014This was back in June 2007. As was discovered in World war One, poppies grow well when soil is disturbed for the first time.

Oh, as a little extra, where we in the UK use the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, in France their equivalent flower is the cornflower. So we have a double dose of remembrance here.


Old Harry Rocks

September 21, 2015

I suppose this post could be about my dad – who was called Harry – sitting in a rocking chair. But it isn’t. The Old Harry Rocks are a cliff formation near Studland on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. And for those who don’t know, the Isle of Purbeck isn’t an island. It is a peninsula.

And it is a great place for a chalk lover like me to get to. There are no roads nearer than a mile away but there’s a footpath which a disabled person was getting along on a mobility vehicle. So a good view of the rocks is accessible but a one mile walk puts many people off and makes it all the more likely that those who do go there will chat and be friendly.

Let’s start with what I regard as an ugly fast ferry passing by the end of the Harry headland as it approaches Poole Harbour.


image004And then look at a bit of chalkland flora


Old Harry Rocks belong to the National Trust. In the background you see the western end of the Isle of Wight.


The cliffs near Old Harry are quite high. The people up on top give some scale.


And there, just separated from the mainland is a new Old Harry.


In the opposite direction there are a couple of stacks.


The nearer one is providing a perch for a black backed gull and a cormorant.


In past times, the maps tell us, there was Old Harry and also Old Harry’s wife. The wife got worn away and the stack we see here is the real Old Harry.


Erosion continues as the action of moving sea and trapped air enlarge cracks and then produce arches as seen in the above photo. In time more will fall in this continually changing landscape.

Oliver’s Camp

January 31, 2015

Back in 1970 I came for a job interview in Wiltshire. I had no car then and I found that Chippenham was the nearest available station. From there I was given a lift to Devizes for the interview.

Regular readers will know of my love of chalk downland, so that car journey absolutely captivated me, for we passed some glorious chalk hills. One in particular stood out. It was steep sided with a clearly earth worked plateau on which a few gaunt trees struggled to survive. This was, I was led to understand, called Oliver’s Camp or Castle.


With such a hill so close by, I had to get this job, and I did, beginning what is now a 45 year association with Wiltshire. This photo of Oliver’s Camp dates from 1973.

It is a fairly unchanging scene – except with the seasons. This similar picture was taken in 2006. It is amazing how little those gaunt trees have changed in over thirty years.


Things would have looked different back on 13th June 1643. That was when a civil war battle took place in the area – the Battle of Roundway Down.

Cromwell’s men had camped on the headland the photos show although Oliver himself was not amongst them. The hill’s name comes from that day. Although it would seem that Cromwell’s men had all the advantages when the King’s men arrived from Oxford, it turned out to be a huge victory for the Royalist side. They won this battle, but in the end, of course, Cromwell won the war.

Today what was once a scene of utter carnage is quiet and peaceful.


It is wonderful walking country with fine views over the Vale of Avon, the Vale of Pewsey and, with a short walk the vale to the north.


The Hunt on the Hill

June 7, 2014

I do not ask anyone to approve or disapprove of fox hunting. I guess I am basically a countryman and one who has kept poultry. My keeping of poultry was ended by foxes that ‘broke the rules’. Foxes at night were one thing, but when they came in the middle of the day I felt powerless. My poultry was carried away to feed a fox family.

Yet despite this I am not in favour of hunting. I can’t call the killing of animals sport. I can’t object to the killing of animals for food. I don’t think people should get pleasure from it.

But hunting used to take place and 60 years ago my dad caught (on camera) a bit of a hunt riding up the track just above our camp.


I suspect that with just three riders – and the one on the grey horse looks too small for it – these were youngsters just exercising the hounds.

I’m going to compare this picture with another one – a painting by Eric Ravilious.


I think, and so do other members of my family, that the track in this painting is the one the hunt is on in my dad’s photo. Eric has, of course, used some artistic freedom and perhaps exaggerated the height of the hills. We know there was a chalk pit alongside the track near the hill top. It doesn’t show in Dad’s photo. Of course, I absolutely love the painting which Ravilious just called ‘Chalk Paths’ with no location given.

Living in the past – not for me!

August 25, 2013

I must have my Flamborough Head on!

It may sometimes seem that I live in the past. I sometimes describe what I thought was a wonderful childhood, full of fun and freedom.

But no, I wouldn’t return to those days. Maybe that is because I approach what might get called old age and present day comforts make life so much easier for us adults than was the life of 60 years ago.

But mainly, I love the information revolution there has been in that time although that isn’t all to the good. For starters there are far too many people, like me, who have decided they have something to say and so they publish it on the web. Finding real information using search engines gets ever harder because so much banal rubbish is posted amongst the huge amount of good stuff.

It must have been frustrating for somebody who wanted to find out about cottages in Great Crosby to arrive at my blog. I have never been to Great Crosby and know almost nothing about the place and have certainly never written about it. But I do have ancestors called Crosby and I have written about them and I’m bound to have used the words ‘great’ and ‘cottages’ somewhere in the blog so my blog gets returned as a site for the search. If only the searcher had put ‘Great Crosby’ in quote marks, he or she would never have found me. I’d have been one down on the stats, but maybe a searcher would have found more useful pages. I suspect they found my one about my great grandparents’ cottage in Ringmer in Sussex.

But this is all digression. I set out with the intention of saying something about Flamborough Head in Yorkshire and I came across this slide, taken on the old Canon Demi camera back in 1974.


‘Well what is that rather delightful tower?’ I thought, and of course, using the internet I could identify it as the oldest surviving lighthouse tower in England. It was erected in 1674. Without the internet I’d have been driving to the local town to visit the library to look it up – or more probably, I’d have just shrugged my shoulders and given up. Do you know, I have no memory of seeing this and the photo hasn’t prompted memory at all. But I remember loving Flamborough head. It’s a chalk headland, where the Yorkshire Wolds reach the sea and I thought it a glorious place. Any time we have been in Yorkshire, I have wanted to go back but we never have. Here’s the scenery that made a big impact on me.


Now that’s just magical for me, Maybe next year I’ll get back there.

By the way, my wife just walked past this as I was writing and she saw the tower picture. She looked baffled and decided it wasn’t Rattoo Round Tower. She’s right there!

Kids Camping

March 9, 2013

Our camp, on the downs quite near Lewes, was a truly memorable annual event. I feel that those weeks on the downs have had an enormous influence over my life. I love chalkland and feel some kind of harmony with the world when I set foot on chalk downland.

Let’s go back to 1954.  My impoverished parents had somehow acquired a motley collection of camping equipment of quite extraordinary proportions. We had three main tents. One was a standard ridge tent in which we had a toilet – that being, in early days, a seat over a trench my dad dug. One was the childrens’ zone – an old heavy square bell tent and the third was the main living room which doubled up as parents’ room. It was a frame tent with a huge, heavy wooden frame which got covered in huge, heavy canvas. When erected it was about 10 feet square.

But here we look at kids camping, and here we are all seemingly trying to escape from the bell tent at the same time.


I’m at the bottom with my brother making the sandwich filling between me and my sister. That bell tent was a dark and gloomy tent with no windows although the door could be pulled open to above child height. On those dull days of incessant drizzle we had to amuse ourselves with games played in that tent. We had no wireless or any other kind of entertainment. We had to amuse ourselves with what games we had brought from home and those we could invent in our heads. Altogether, I spent about 6 months of my life living from that tent. The effect on my life far outweighs the comparatively short time spent on those South Downs.

Now a close up on those kids.



December 1, 2012

I suspect an awful lot of people won’t know and won’t much care about geology. Yes, they’ll like pretty rocks but it’s the material that lies under the soil that matters to me. It makes so much difference to the way places look.

The plants that grow well vary according to the soil and that, in its turn, alters the animals – all of the fauna – that lives in a place.

The man made environment will vary too. I live in a place without surface rocks and stones so we don’t have walls as field boundaries. Neither do we have much that’s suitable for buildings, without some work first. Again, we have nothing found native for wall building and there are no slates or rag-stones for roofing. Local housing tends to be of cob – that unlikely mix of straw and dung with earth and sand – or of brick. Traditionally, the roofing material was thatch but much of this is now replaced with tiles or imported slate.

Of course, farming is different too. The phrase ‘as different as chalk and cheese’ comes from geology. It is very difficult to keep dairy cows on chalk land – it’s too dry. Dairying – and therefore cheese making tends to be on lower ground with a higher moisture level

Parts of my village are on chalk land – and how I love it. Chalk is alkaline. The plants that grow can cope with that and with the free draining nature of chalk. You just don’t get surface water on chalk uplands

In this photo – a welcome to the year 2002 – the chalk hills form the backdrop.

I’m on the sandstone ridge which, again, is free draining, but slightly acid. A different range of plants grow.

The bulk of the village nestles on the clay. There’s water there and without water no community could survive.

How lucky to live in a place which offers such variety in a short walk.


November 3, 2012

This is another page from my original website. There are no updates since the start of the 21st century apart from a decision to add a 1960 camp photo.

I was brought up at Crawley, in Sussex, but the South Downs, to the East of Lewes, were always a kind of spiritual home, for it was here that the family took its annual camping holiday.

This was where we camped, down in that valley on Furlongs Farm, between the villages of Beddingham, Glynde and Firle. It may look ordinary to you, the reader and viewer, but to members of my family that spot brings back the happiest of memories. I took this picture in 1997.

And this is my sister, down in the valley on the very spot where we used to pitch our tents. Her husband took this one in 1999.

And a camp scene. My father was also a happy nerd and he experimented quite early with colour slide film which he processed himself. This is from about 1960.

The love of chalkland was born in me as a child. These days I am truly fortunate for I can sit (as now), tapping at my computer, but a glance up brings the chalkland of Salisbury Plain into view which, I hope, inspires my writing just a bit.

That is the view, but I can’t guarantee the frost or the stunning sun rise.

Of course, much of my delight in chalk is on a small scale – the flora and fauna. Avid readers of my site will know that I love scabious and they are common on the chalk. So too are delightful thistles, complete with cinnabar moths and knapweed.

These were all taken in 1999 near to my home.

Further afield and back on to the big scale. The chalk downs may not be very high, but they afford superb views. Near Westbury, the hills also offer first rate launch sides for those eager to leap off the side of a hill.