Highdown Gardens

This is the place where I first caught my breath on snowdrops.

I didn’t know what I was expecting to see and experience in this random place Worthing, that I chose to stay for a month. I had been warned of the gloomy days with strong winds and rain that awaits me in winter.

I came here on a sunny day and the days that followed were bright too. Sun was taking slow hesitant steps towards the west and so was I down the deserted paths of this garden.

There, towards the chalk pit, a cluster of snowdrops, nodding their heads to the rhythm of the wind…just as described by Enid Blyton in her poems that first filled me with a longing that I cannot describe.

Then I saw crocus, hellebore, viburnum, camelias, cherry blossoms all come alive from the pages of books. If this is what February offers, then what would be spring like?

Highdown Gardens became another of my favorite places to be.

This 8.5 acres of neglected old chalk pits in South Downs National Park with poor conditions for plants was changed into a garden with exotic flowering species, by Sir Frederick Stern and Lady Sybil Stern.

Sir Frederick’s quest to know what would thrive in a chalk pit, led him to hire plant hunters to collect specimens from around the world. Some from Himalayas and China are over 100 years old.

Sir Frederick who was a botanist and a horticulturist created new hybrids of hellebores, magnolias , rose and snowdrops. The original plants collected still provide the genetic material for the breeding of new hybrids in the Garden’s greenhouse.

After Sir Frederick’s death, Lady Sybil donated the garden to Worthing Town Council. This Garden was recognized as a natural plant collection in 1989 by Plant Heritage. It is one of the only eight unique collections of multiple plant species of UK and Ireland.

It is visited by botanists and plant lovers from all over the world. Highdown Gardens would always remain, that place in my heart, where I go to see snowdrops even when I am back home.

All information provided collected from the plaques placed in the garden.

Of Blue Sky and Bare Trees

This is my third week in Worthing. There are two things here that I can’t take my eyes off.

The blue sky and bare trees.

I compared the photographs of sky that I have taken from my home town with that of here. There is a remarkable difference in their blueness. Or is it just that there are no towering buildings or skyscrapers here to steal the edges of the firmament ?

Then the bare trees.

People tell me I am here during the wrong season. I should be here during summer.
Now there are only trees that have given up their leaves. Naked and cold and depressing.
Strangely, that’s not what I see.
I see the soul of the trees. Every gnarled knot & scar revealed. Nothing to conceal under a pretentious foliage.
The branches like penitent lacerations of remorse & regrets extending further on and further on towards the sky, waiting for something.
Just like me.

They are imploring to look at them. To know them as they are.

Silent. Here everything is disrobed.

Highdown Hill , Worthing

My most favorite place to visit in Worthing is the Highdown Hill and Southdown National Park. Two weeks into my stay here and I find myself walking up the hill at least three times a week for obvious reasons.

Highdown Hill is a small hill 226 feet high that stands just north of Ferring.It overlooks Littlehampton, Angmering, Ferring and Worthing .

The plaque at the entrance tells you that, when you walk up the hill, you will be following the footsteps of pre- historic traders, Romans, Saxons, shepherds, farmers, jockeys, archaeologists, plant hunters and soldiers.

The Hill itself was an Iron- Age Fort and a Saxon cemetery.

The earliest permanent settlement here was an enclosure dating back to 1000BC. Around 600BV there used to be a hill fort consisting of an earthwork with a rampart and a ditch. This was used subsequently as an Anglo-Saxon Cemetery from AD 450. All the objects excavated is now displayed in Worthing Museum.

This landscape is chalk grasslands that were formed by ancient sea algae called cocoliths. Over millions of years they were transformed into calcium carbonate forming limestone chalk. There is still a chalk pit here as seen in the below picture.

The most distinguishing feature of the hill is a copse of trees at the summit, that can be seen from anywhere in Worthing, Cissbury, Angmering and Lancing.

Southdown National Park encircles the Hill. There are 40 different plant species growing here . Towards the far-end, I saw something that resembled the part of a mill, though I am not sure if it is connected to John Oliver, the famous miller whose tomb, you can find here.

There is another interesting story that is merged in the history of this hill. The Miller’s Tale.

In 18th century, a miller John Oliver built his tomb on Highdown Hill 27 years before his death in 1793. He is reputed to have stored contraband gained from illegal activities in his tomb. It is said that he set the sails of his wind mill in a particular angle as a signal to smugglers about the absence of customs officials.

John Olliver was famed as an eccentric and extraordinary individual. The story says that his coffin was painted white and was drawn to his tomb by 8 ladies dressed in white robes. Whatever people speak about his craziness, he is believed to have been a benefactor of poor in the neighborhood.

Highdown Hill is a beautiful place to be whether to explore the woods, to sit on the wooden benches with a book, or to lie on the meadow to watch the shape- shifting clouds or to just lean back on the trunk of a tree and dream away.

The information for the blog is taken from the plaques found on the Hill.

Whitebeam Woods

Today, I thought of walking to Whitebeam woods. I have read that it is the last site of ancient woodland within the Borough of Worthing and wanted to feel its essence. This is what greeted me.

Whitebeam woods

A path leading into its depth. Dark and silent with the stillness interrupted by birdsongs and wingbeats.

I hesitated for a moment, first time as a traveller without my partner whose watchful eyes would be all on me to protect me from getting hurt from the wild things I generally do in the woods. I believe that I was a bird in my last life, or a squirrel or something that lived in the forests, among the trees. That is the only way, I can explain the oneness I feel with places like this.

There were many well trodden paths towards my right. I took the straight one . The first turn brought me to a clearing. What!!! Out of the woods already!!!

I lingered back watching the ducks in a pond that gets deep with flood waters.

Whitebeam Woods

There is a walkway that circles the clearing with a children’s park to its right. The place had many dogwalkers. The trees do not have a label on them. But I believe most of them are Whitebeams, though I found a hazelnut tree.

Hazelnut tree- Whitebeam woods
Whitebeam woods
Whitebeam Woods

I didn’t come here to watch the dogs. So I went back, sat on a fallen trunk and listened to the birds.

Whitebeam Woods.
The Wandering Dryad

Would I come here again? No. I couldn’t hear the call of the trees. But there is another place I would go again and again Highdown Hill and Highdown garden. After I get the names of all ( or almost) flowers and trees, I will chronicle them.

A Palimpsest

We were on a road trip to Goa, this past week.

The beauty of road trip is the freedom to halt and enjoy the landscape that arrests your eye while you drive.

We had the Western Ghats keeping us company for the major part of the trip.

This part of the range looked like a palimpsest.

The mountain ranges forming layers behind the film of early morning fog. The blue sky painting it in different shades of blue.

The farthest layer is barely visible but for its tiny grey crest.

The middle layer with its barren patches in brown, capturing all your attention.

Then the final layer indented with shrubs and trees, reflecting the bright sun.

We did spent quite some time here.