Friday, May 31, 2013

Sheer Folly

Coming toward the end of the Whitsun half-term week, I had had my relaxing and enjoyable fill of reading, family time and working on the allotment; but I needed to get out in the open country, feel the wind on my face and the sun on my back. My plan was to take a dog and walk along the ridge of the Downs from Firle down to Alfriston and back up again.

After the steep climb from Firle village up to the beacon, the panorama was a just reward: at Hastings in the east I could just make out the 16-storey Hollington tower blocks, like four fat white follies perched above the town; in the south, Newhaven harbour and the glacial curves of the infamous incinerator; in the west, nestling primly and properly, the town of Lewes; and to the north, the binary beacon of Crowborough and the land in between: Sussex spread out in the sun, its squares of wheat packed like London postal districts (oh! the glory of a reversed Larkin simile).

It was busy on the South Downs Way and there were too many distractions for Blackjack the dog: not people, but grazing sheep. So I eschewed the pint of Harveys – it was probably better that the solitary crumpled ten pound note stayed in my pocket anyway - and stopped short of Alfriston, slipping down to the safety of the green lanes and holloways, hard in the shade of the Downs, for the return walk. Coming down a steep chalk and flint bridleway we were met at the bottom by a sharp contrast: a boggy field hosting a swathe of flowering yellow flag irises.

The quiet of the byways was disturbed only once: an industrial-sized tractor, no doubt tending to one of the giant agri-business fields becoming more prevalent here, had us pinned into the cow parsley as it passed. As we neared Firle again, the tower kept appearing intermittently through the hedgerow. Unlike the Hollington tower blocks, Firle Tower is a real folly – it was never intended that anyone would have to live in it permanently. Built by the third Viscount Gage in 1819, the three-storey castellated turret was used as a gamekeeper’s lodge and a watchtower. Gage owned a similar building at Isfield to the north, and the two towers were able to signal to each other across the Laughton Levels; just to let each other know they were there, probably.

Back in the village of Firle, a group of decorators were eating their sandwiches, taking a break from re-painting the Reading Room. I tried to catch the conversation of these modern day ragged trousered philanthropists to see who amongst them was Owen, but they seemed to be discussing Britain’s Got Talent. I got Blackjack a drink of water, but resisted the lure of the Ram Inn myself and hung on to the tenner - as the Valentine Brothers sang thirty years ago, money’s too tight to mention.

Going back home through Laughton, I noticed that the Roebuck Inn had closed down. This not drinking is sheer folly.

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