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Monday, 11 May 2009

A lovely day out

Yesterday I went for a walk near Seven Sisters Country Park, just east of Seaford, East Sussex. With my friend Sophie, I got the bus to the stop outside the Golden Galleon pub (whose slogan could be "not that great but in the right place") at the Cuckmere Estuary. We walked to Litlington, mostly on the South Downs Way, where I had been told I could find wild garlic (not found around Brighton probably because of the dry chalky soil). I didn't find any wild garlic but it was a lovely walk. We stopped in a meadow just before Litlington for lunch. Then we decided to continue to the Long Man of Wilmington, a giant chalk figure on the South Downs escarpment. It is ancient in origin (thought by some researchers to date back to Neolithic times) and was almost lost, visible only as a different shade of grass in certain lights, until it was restored and made permanent in recent times. The restorers may have got one of the feet wrong, giving it the 'walk like an Egyptian' look. Some people think the giant is holding two staves or spears; some think he is opening a gateway to the Otherworld. We found it slightly elusive (which may seem unusual for an enormous chalk figure, but in keeping with the nature of archetypal symbols) and walked right past it a couple of times, as it's not really visible from above unless you walk right out over the steep slope, until some friendly local walkers told us how to find it.

Out of much plant and animal life, I particularly noticed the following interesting species. They're not excitingly rare but also not species that a city dweller sees in town from day to day, and each rather charming.

Early Purple Orchid
Grey Heron
Jackdaw (interesting as I learned more about distinguishing the British corvid species today)
Yellowhammer (my favourite of the day).

I don't mention skylarks in my list because, although they are wonderful, I see and hear them frequently in the excellent semi-wild areas around Brighton race course.

Another enchanting phenomenon was seeing sycamore seed cases (flurrying around like snow at this time of year) apparently floating and spinning in mid-air, stuck to single strands of spider silk that were streaming out from a line of alders.

CORRECTION: thanks to Sophie for finding out that they were actually elm seeds floating on spider silk attached to a line of elms. With the elm so scarce in England, how much more sad that so many of those thousands of seeds fall on concrete and tarmac.

Quote: "One of the most prolific of deciduous trees in Britain before the onset of Dutch Elm disease. It grows in hedgerows and sends up many suckers to form lines of trees. The tree can be identified by its rough surfaced dark green leaves which have one side longer at the base. Until the number of elms crashed after Dutch Elm Disease, the English Elm supported a greater variety of wildlife than any other British tree species."