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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Cissbury Ring




Near the car park conspiratorial ravens chatter in electronic voices, mattock beaks silhouetted against the skyline . A magpie argues angrily with them before alighting in a conifer which flexes as he scolds me for too close an approach, I salute him theatrically and he turns his back in disgust.

As I toil up the steep slope night falls like a shroud slowly covering the sleeping land. Cobalt slides into slate into black.

Sulphur, magnesium and neon sparkle in the valley below, while to the north all is black, all is silent. Man is emasculated, stripped of a sense. The vulnerability of the apex hunter is absolute here. Darkness is everything.

Senses become muddled, the air tastes of spring; but smells of autumn. Smoke rises from backyard fires as christmas smoulders and drifts away on the breeze. A cloud of blue tits trills a lullaby from shrubs hard by the path, where sad posters beg for news of lost friends.

An woodland trackway lives with the sound of the night as feet slide in a muddy gravy, feeling for friction,  the incline increasing before giving way to springy downland turf. Here and there under skeletal trees a smattering of freshly dug chalk sparkles like fresh snow in the moonlight. A barn owl screeches as it wakes, ravenous, the sound is everywhere, without sight the ears are sharpened.

The only other sound is the breathless labour of ascent. 

Ancient ramparts rear up into the black, the prows of chalky ships against a black sea. In the northwest corner the remnants of flint mines sink into the earth, their shrubby hollows tempt unwary ankles to twist.

Once there was no turf on these ramparts, stripped bare the chalk would have shone like a beacon for miles around on nights like these; this capital of an ancient downland kingdom.

Far below downland sheep pick over a brown field, white felt on a children's playmat. On the horizon Chanctonbury's regal crown of beech crests the horizon. In a coombe below a solitary green woodpecker laughs manically at some hidden joke, before flying drunkenly into the nearby copse. A tawny owl welcomes the night with it's horror-movie call.

Suddeny, just below the rampart, Chalkpit Wood erupts as the owl wheels and stalls, hovers and plunges, bringing terror in a thrashing of feathers and fur, a slicing of dagger-talons, and then: silence.

A horse's head of cloud canters across a full moon, and trees become human, stalking in the night, with fingery roots grasping up intent on harm.

This is an old landscape, a place of ancestors, long since swept away on a tide of revolution, a place of life and industry, of loves and losses; now reclaimed by nature.

Protected now, preserved forever, no-one will punch a high-speed rail line through here, destroying all that matters for the benefit of the few who chose to live far away from their employment, to the detriment of those that chose the simplicity of a slower life.

Far away someone ignores a car alarm.  In this moment I live forever.

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