Steyning, West Sussex, February 2023
A walk from Steyning, along the field edge with those lumpy Downs caught in a smoke-like haze. The sun beat over the hilltops, the trees naked, grey and brown without leaves. Hazel catkins were the only decorations.
We walked through an old farm replete with buildings that seemed to be crumbling. The ground underneath was churned up with that grey gloop where the downland chalk meets the Wealden mud, a Sussex special.
The woods were cold and quiet except when labourers felled a tree somewhere in the shade of the Downs. It crashed down and broke into pieces. No doubt an ash tree, dead or dying like so many of them across this once ashy landscape.
On the banks there were the first signs of woodland spring, with dogs mercury leafing and some flowering.
Rising up towards Chanctonbury Ring, the views north were dulled by a dense grey fog that looked like London’s winter pollution belt.
A stand of dead ash trees led to the top of the Downs, where a pair of marsh tit passed between the brittle branches, calling as they moved from tree to tree.
A new vista opened out with the views south, hills folding away into the haze. Black trees breaking the lines.
Further along the South Downs Way a great roaring emerged from the south and an Apache helicopter flew low overhead. It felt too low. A flock of what I thought were starlings were spooked and seemed to fly right at the helicopter.
A second helicopter appeared, banking north and turning 90 degrees as it slid over the edge of the Downs and dropped out of view into the Weald beyond.
A man came past on a bike and stopped to speak to us, registering our surprise: ‘Have you never been here when they do that? I just hope they’re training Ukrainian soldiers and that they’ll be sending them out there.’
We heard stories of accidents that had happened when the appearance of sudden, low-flying military aircraft had disrupted the flow of civil life in the wider landscape.
Up ahead beyond the enclosed South Downs Way, cattle grazed the green hill, unperturbed by the helicopters. In the valley to the south one of the few hedgerows to be seen jangled with the key-song of corn buntings.
Thanks for reading.
You can support my work here: https://ko-fi.com/djgwild