April flowers at Nymans ๐ŸŒน

My partner and I made a couple of visits to Nyman’s in West Sussex recently to drown our sorrows after the death of our lovely rescue cat. We drowned those sorrows in flowers. Nymans is one of the jewels in the Sussex Weald, with amazing views across woodlands towards the South Downs.

I usually photograph less formal landscapes than National Trust gardens, but perhaps I am too particular sometimes. The stark colours against the grey backdrop of the day (literally) make for really pleasing images. All the pics here are ‘straight out the camera’ and I haven’t edited them. Olympus cameras produce beautiful jpeg files which my experience with Nikon equipment has never matched.

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The homefires burn in the mountains of Mayo ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช

Here are some landscape images from a March visit to Mayo which I’ve been posting a bit of recently. This landscape fascinates me in many ways: the cultural history (of which my family has links), the ecology and geology. My family’s cottage is located near a mountain range that would probably be classified as hills… Continue reading The homefires burn in the mountains of Mayo ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ช

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The bluebell trespass

One of the most beautiful sights in English nature is a Low Weald bluebell woodland. The shimmer of blue in the evening sun pocked by the white stars of wood anemones. These are my favourite evenings of the year, the promise of spring but still delivering on all you had hoped to see in the darker months. Summer just can’t match this.


This square of woodland in the Sussex Low Weald was not officially open access, but we kept to the paths and no bluebells were harmed in the making of these images. There is a lot of conversation about access to the countryside at the moment in England, and how power and privilege resonates in the landscape. These are important conversations and the issues are complex.

It was my first visit to this woodland, much like another picturesque bluebell wood a little further north that has now been completely closed to public visitors. A look at the maps shows how a larger landscape of natural woodland had been chomped up by farmers to become fields, leaving this section completely isolated. That will have occurred over the past few hundred years.

However, it had all the key indicators of ancient woodland, as seen here: English bluebell, wood anemones, greater stitchwort, dog’s mercury, wood spurge, and all under a shrub layer of hazel and high canopy of oak.

This kind of habitat is very much human-made, with centuries of coppicing hazel and felling of oak standards. That doesn’t stop it from being good for wildlife, coppice woodland is one of the richer landscapes in the UK.

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The Sussex Weald

Oak timbers: All Saints Lane, Canterbury

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All Saints Lane is a residential cul-de-sac (apologies to anyone living there who saw me peering in) which has one incredible stretch of timber framing. Turns out you can rent one of the cottages and they have their own website. Possibly the least information you’ll find on any website, however.

All Saints Cottage is dated to the 1500s and is described on the Historic England website as an “L-shaped timber-framed range.” According to this TripAdvisor review, it “was a pilgrims’ rest associated with Eastbridge Hospital. It later became cottages. At one time, a school of dancing operated on its upper level, which comprises one, very long room.”

I hope those dancers didn’t bang their heads too often on those low-hanging oak beams! Looking at these these buildings from the outside, it’s the squiffy-ness that can give a sense of their age. This is not a technical term, but if it’s neat and tidy it’s probably from the 1900s.

I think a lot of people consider all doors in England to look like this. They don’t.

These are the other demons I mentioned in a previous post. The one on the left hand side has hoofs, the one on the right seems to be a lion with a mane. It seems the hoofs are indicative of a demonic or devilish nature.

In this photo from the AirBnB page you can see how it’s been swallowed up by a side extension. Poor timbers.

If you’re not staying for the night, All Saints Lane is a dead-end, so your only option is to head back out onto St. Peter’s Street.

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Fungi ๐Ÿ„: March smatterings

Last week I went for a walk in rather grey and glowery weather. It was in hope of seeing some earlier spring signs but was more a reminder that winter persists.

I found a small collection of glistening inkcaps, along with one of my favourite large brackets. Those are pictured here with my hand for scale.

Otherwise there were some small polypores (probably turkey tail) and a few lichens that had been enriched by recent rain.

Life is rather full-on at the moment so Iโ€™m not finding the time or energy to write something longer or more detailed. Itโ€™s also a mental thing, just donโ€™t have a lot to say. Photography will be the focus in posts for a little while.

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Solidarity with the people of Ukraine ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

More mushrooms

Early spring at Petworth Park

A series of photos from a sunny late winter/early spring afternoon in Petworth Park. Though it’s located in the South Downs National Park, it’s a Wealden landscape of huge ancient oak and sweet chestnut trees. The views of the South Downs from Petworth are heavenly.

The oaks and chestnuts seen here are very old. The wider landscape contains some of the oldest oaks in Britain.

Photos taken with an Olympus E-M5 MIII + 12-45mm f4 lens, lightly enhanced in Adobe Lightroom.

Solidarity with the people of Ukraine ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ

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The Sussex Weald

The Weald: misty views from Leith Hill

Leith Hill, Surrey, January 2022

When you talk about the highest point in south-east England, I wonder what people living far away must think. We’re not talking great peaks here, but instead a stone tower on a modest 313m-high hill. And this tower of course sells tea.

I’m referring here to Leith Hill, a hilltop managed by the National Trust. Leith Hill has stood out to me over the past two years, most tantalisingly during lockdowns when I could see it from the furthest I could legally walk from my house in the most extreme lockdown times.

The tower is built from sandstone that was probably quarried nearby. This stone, if it is said material, is often a sign locally of wealth and status, when local materials indicated as much. This part of the world is geologically rich, with the landscape having so many stories to tell about the Earth and deep time.

“This tower together with 5 acres of land was presented to The National Trust for places of historic interest or natural beauty by W.T(?) MacAndrew Esq. of Reigate on 5th October 1923 to be held for the public”

Leith Hill sits on the Greensand, distinct from the Weald Clay to the south and the chalk of the North Downs seen here in the distance looking north towards London.

Leith Hill seen from the Sussex Weald (looking north) in May 2020 when England was under strict lockdown

Throughout the lockdowns I would see this distant hill from where I lived in Sussex. Though I hadn’t seen them for several months, I knew that my family were locked down on the other side in London. It was a strange comfort. My dad would sometimes send a photo of the North Downs that he could see far in the distance on clear days. Even when kept apart the landscape seemed to connect us.

When visiting Leith Hill and looking to the south, there were misty views of the Surrey and Sussex Weald. Millions of years ago this would not have been visible, with everything instead being covered by a dome of chalk that connected as far as NW France. This is the land bridge that megafauna like wolves, bears and mammoths would have used to enter what we now call Britain. Don’t tell the Priti Patel.

The chalk was eroded over millions of years and exposed the Weald Clay, which soon was covered by wildwood. That woodland lingers today in more formal oak, hornbeam and hazel woods that are now managed as coppices or nature reserves. Beyond the picnicking couple (above) you can see Leith Hill Place, originally built in 1600.

There is a unique pine tree up on the hill, a survivor from some of the first trees to arrive in this landscape after the last glacial period some 14,000 years ago. Though there was probably a more Anglicised pine species, the Scots pine is the only UK variety remaining. It thrives in this heathy landscape of the Greensand Hills.

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The Weald

The Sussex Weald: the little chimney bird

The other morning I was heading downstairs to do the annual Big Garden Birdwatch. This annual event is one I’ve been partaking in since 2011 when my interest in birdwatching got real.

I opened the curtains as I do each day (obviously?) and saw a lovely sunny winter’s morning out there. The street was filled with sunshine and, down by the tyre of a parked car, I noticed a small grey bird basking in the sun.

Sparrow, I thought.

As the seconds passed I thought of how usually there are more of them together, usually they make noise. Their markings are different, too.

A dunnock, then, I thought.

But then it flew up onto a wall and I picked up my binoculars. It was neither of those birds.

The other day I had been visiting a churchyard in the Sussex Weald when I noticed another sparrow-like bird perched in an unusual place – on the corner of one of the lower roofs. When travelling in France, Germany, Spain and Czechia, I had become used to seeing a little bird in this spot. It was then that I realised what the bird in the churchyard and, subsequently, the street was.

Black redstart.

A male black redstart in an old Czech town

This is bird very close to a robin in appearance but they are rare in Britain. In winter they spend time here if pushed across to Plague/Brexit Island by extreme cold weather. On the continent, robins are more scarce, a role-reversal of sorts and they spend more of their time in woodlands, rather than gardens or parks in towns. This is thought to be because robins established themselves in Britain before black redstarts could get a foothold after the end of the last glacial period some 14,000 years ago. I can’t back that theory up here unfortunately.

A male black redstart in Mikulov, Czechia

In Czechia the name for black redstart is a beautiful one: rehek domรกcรญ. They are known as ‘little chimney men’, as my friend translated it, because they appear covered in soot and they spend their time on chimneys. I don’t think we have bird names in the English language that can match that.

The ‘start’ refers to the tail of the bird, an old English word in the way that ‘shank’ means leg (rather than its more grisly modern meaning). Its tail is indeed red.

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The Sussex Weald

The Sussex Weald: Pulborrrough Brooks ๐Ÿฅถ

I spent a frosty olde morning at the foot of the South Downs where the Sussex Weald dissolves into the wetlands of the Arun Valley. I’m no early riser, so these experiences of frosty landscapes are to be treasured.

Everything was iced over.

Last year’s daisy heads were encrusted with ice, lit by the sun as it broke over the tree line.

Wiggonholt Common resides next to Pulborough Brooks the RSPB reserve. It’s a heathland nature reserve home to nightjar, woodlark and other uncommon birds. The views you can get of the heathland and its smattering of pines give it a look of real vulnerability. That’s about right though, as heathland in England is a rare habitat now.

The sun just began to break through the trees and light the trunks of these five pines.

Over on the other side of the common, the sun hadn’t arrived yet. The muddy paths were frozen still and the hoar frost decorated the birch trees growing at the heathland edge.

In the reserve proper, a single oak can be seen at the edge of the farmland where the Arun’s wetlands begin.

Pulborough is a good place to see communities of lichens like cladonia where they splash out across the green timber fencing. No chemicals are in the timber which means the lichens and other fungi proliferate.

The upturned chandeliers of hogweed flowerheads.

Spider silk hung from the twigs of the trees like silly string.

Yellow brain or witches butter, a fungus, looked like a proper tree-bogey.

The spiders webs that remained were laced with frost, as this L-shaped twig displayed so well.

Bracken looking somewhat birdlike, like the back of a golden eagle as it surveys the landscape. Or just some bracken.

The lagoons were glassily calm, marked by the winter calls of waders like redshank. I’m not very good with wading birds, I’m better in the woods. In the distance you will see the South Downs on a clearer day. The mist still sat there to hide them from lowland eyes, with temperatures as low as at least -3.

On my way in a couple had stood for minutes staring through binoculars at a song thrush on the path. I was waiting for them to look away so I could nip by, but it went on for so long I started to wonder if they were statues paid for by Swarovski. Their song thrush was enjoying a moment in the sun as I made my way back up to the exit. A worthy perch for this mighty songster.

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The Sussex Weald

Macro ๐Ÿ“ท: the glowing bracken

One morning recently, I spent a couple of hours wandering around my local tract of the Sussex Weald. The bracken and beech were glowing as the sun edged its way up through trees. The sun had blown the world wide open. After a personal self-imposed Omicron lockdown to protect a significant event, it felt like the sun had ripped up that anxious feeling of being locked away. Life was in full flow:

Sun rising, melting the frost and ice in the woods. Winter bird flocks – blue tit, nuthatch, siskin, lesser redpoll. Great spotted woodpecker hammering to mark out its territory. The chirp of a skylark passing over the canopy, perhaps on migration, maybe heading to the South Downs. The hollow sound of the M23 and aeroplanes connected to nearby Gatwick. The strategic calls of crows. A jay screeching. Gunshots pop beyond the woods.

The light in January and February appears at a fairly sociable hour, and after frost the landscape glistens even more. At this time I seek out beech leaves, with their patchworks of fading cells and arrowing veins.

I was using my 12-100mm f4 zoom lens, with more a mind for landscapes, when I spotted this bracken frond dangling down with a droplet of water at its tip. The sun was creeping up through the pines in the distance. The melting frost in its path upon reaching the bracken providing the lush bokeh circles that bed the image down.

I read recently that the photons of sunlight that touch our skin take 200,000 years to travel from the sun itself. That’s around the time that our ancient Homo sapiens ancestors were evolving. So often we can barely see weeks or months ahead when the world we live in is so ancient in its making, it can feel impossible to comprehend. Taking the time to stop and think about it makes life so much richer.

Thanks for reading.

More macro

Unlocking Landscapes podcast: looking for cuckoos in the Sussex Weald

Hi everyone! After a bit of a break from podcasting, it’s great to release a new episode of Unlocking Landscapes. This has taken a while to edit but it’s a really relaxing one I think. So much so that I actually fell asleep when listening to one of the drafts a few months ago.

In May 2021 I walked 8 miles into the Sussex Weald to see if I could hear a cuckoo. The weather was fine and there were loads of birds out, many of them in full song. This is an episode best listened to through headphones so you can hear the birdsong, the wind through the trees and the buzzing of bees in the woodland landscape of the High Weald. It’s an immersive episode with a guided walk feel, focusing on listening to the surrounding landscape.

Birds identified here include:

  • Goldcrest
  • Chiffchaff
  • Blackcap
  • Willow warbler
  • Garden warbler
  • Blackbird
  • Crow
  • Buzzard
  • Blue tit
  • Coal tit
  • Great tit

Please support this podcast by ‘buying me a coffee’ on Ko-fi: https://ko-fi.com/djgwild

Thanks for listening and I hope you enjoy the episode.

Relevant podcasts: octopus beech tree in the Sussex Weald

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