Monday, January 15, 2018

The Beautiful South Downs

We set off one splendid sunny October morning by train to Brighton.  Just a short distance outside the station we were met by our guide Lawrence for a trip to the South Downs (Downs is from Old English dun, meaning hill).

As you drive out of the quaint town of Brighton and Hove you suddenly notice the landscape changing.  South Downs is characterized by rolling chalk downlands, with close cropped turf and dry valleys.  It was hard to imagine that 80-90 million years ago, the whole area was a tropical sea and the chalky ridge was formed by layer after layer of marine deposits that were laid down.  The  weathering and erosion over the years would have resulted in the present landscape consisting of hills, valleys and ridges.

The hills were popular with paragliders

Our first stop was the Devil's Dyke, the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain - a 100m deep, a kilometer long and 400m wide from rim to rim.  Scientific explanation goes back to the Ice Age where the cold froze the chalk and made it impermeable.  When the weather warmed up the top layers thawed and due to gravity the sludgy earth, rock and particles flowed across the frozen ground underneath and carved steep valleys.  Later on as it got warmer the chalk became porous and water percolated through them leaving the valleys all dry.

Devil's Dyke - the longest, deepest and widest valley in Britain
That apart, the legend (obviously the more popular one with the locals)  has it that the Devil was upset about the spread of Christanity and that at night he stealthily  created a ditch to flood the area with water.  However an old lady heard the digging and lit a candle, and fooled the rooster into thinking it was dawn and it crowed.  On hearing the rooster, the devil fled after creating the valley but unable to flood it !

We had a brief stop at the 625 acre working family farm, in Sussex, the Middle Farm with a collection of cheese, wines, cider, perry and vegetable produce.  It was time for some coffee and lunch. 

Once refreshed, we moved along through winding lanes, sharp turns, past beautiful houses built with flint and brick, some with thatched roofs till we got to the Long Man of Wilmington.  It was so named because the illustration appears stretched, however it is in proportion when viewed from below. The figure was carved in the 16-17th century on the chalky steep slope of the Windover Hill.

The Long Man of Wilmington
The Litlington White Horse
It is because of the chalky and steep hills and short grass that there are more hill figures in this region.  We saw a figure of the white horse carved by four men in 1836.  In the 1920s the grandson of one of the four men recarved it.  

View of Eastbourne on the way to Beachy Head.  Eastbourne was the most bombed town in the SE of England in WW II
The drive continued towards Eastbourne and to Beachy Head, the chalk headland in East Sussex.  The cliff rises 162 m above sea level and is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain.  It offers beautiful views.
The lighthouse was built in the sea and was operational from 1902
In the distance one can see the original lighthouse - the Belle Tout built in 1834 , but fog obscured the light and it was replaced by the newer one (above) built in the sea in 1902.  Belle Tout is now a private residence.

Tree at Beachy Head - all trees are bent due to constant wind
It is hard to imagine that many use these beautiful cliffs to end their lives.  The Beachy Head has a notorious reputation of being a suicide point.  There are also visitors who move to the edge of the cliff for a selfie.  These cliffs are unstable and are known to collapse frequently and many mishaps have occured. There are warning boards all over the area.

It is scary to watch people go up to the edge of the cliffs
Our guide cautioned us before we got off not to go too close to the edge.  He tells us as we get back that he is always relieved when all his passengers have returned ! 

We proceeded onward to Birling Gap.  And then on to Seaford Head. 

We stopped just as we approached Birling Gap , looking back to get another view of the Beachy Head
Somewhere along the way we pass by the Cuckamere Lake ( meaning fast flowing) since it is descends 100m and flows into the English Channel
Cuckamere Lake
We reach the Seaford Head and there you have the most beautiful view of the Cuckamere Haven, where the river Cuckamere meets the English Channel, the old Coastguard cottages and the Seven Sisters.

First view of the Seven Sisters

You can see heaps of chalk below the cliffs due to erosion
The Seven Sisters are chalk cliffs that are part of the coastline by the English Channel between Seaford and Eastbourne (including Beachy Head).  Every year at least 30-40 cms is being lost due to erosion.  We spent around an hour walking here before heading back.  

From the calm, quiet and beautiful winding roads we meet the evening traffic as we make our way back to Brighton.  On route we stopped at Rottingdean, the coastal village. 
The Old Mill at Rottingdean - from the van- used to grind corn from 1802-1881
The Elms - once the home of Rudyard Kipling

Rottingdean is a prefered place of residence of those who want to be away from the busy town of Brighton. It developed as a community across the pond in Saxon time meaning village of Rota's people.  It has been the home to painters and writers,  noted among them was Rudyard Kipling. 
St. Margaret's Church - parts of the structure date from the 13th century

The Whipping Post house - the tree stands on the spot where the Whipping Post stood. 
The Whipping Post Lane has the Whipping Post house, a Tudor home which is a listed building from the 16th century.  It was the home of Captain Dunk who was a butcher by the day and smuggler at night.  Where the tree stands used to be a whipping post where people were whipped and most often for minor offences.

That brought our trip to the South Downs to an end.  We could not have chosen a better day with sunshine throughout !  Lawrence dropped us off at the Brighton Pier where we just sat around and took in the sights and walked our way to the station to catch the train back to Horley.

The sleepy fishing village of Brighton, was transformed to a fashionable town once it was patronised by Royalty and the high society

Picture from the vibrant Brighton Pier

The Royal/Brighton Pavilion was the seaside resort of George, Prince of Wales.  Built in the Indo-Saracenic style

October 2017

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Stepping Stones Walk across the River Mole

On a pleasant Sunday, A took us to Box Hill, in the North Downs in Surrey.  The hill takes its name from the Box woodland – Box – a species of flowering shrub/small tree. We decided to do the Stepping Stone walking trail down to the River Mole and up.  It was categorized a moderate walk of about 2 hours and at the visitors centre we picked up a leaflet with the map of the trail and set out.

Salomon's Memorial Viewpoint - pic credit Wiki - there were so many people there that I did not take a picture.

We walked up to the Salomon’s memorial viewpoint.  Leopold Salomon was a financier, who  in 1914 purchased Box Hill to prevent it from development.  Wish we had someone like him in India. He really does deserve a memorial for such a noble act !    From here one gets a glorious view right across to the South Downs.

 As we set off there were steps and more steps that were cut into the ground.  275 of them said the leaflet.  Some were very steep.  Since there had been rain the preceding days one had to be really careful.  

275 steps in all

As we proceeded downhill, we could see the river and had to make a choice whether to take the stepping stones or use the bridge. We chose the stones.  The stones were slippery and we needed to be alert and cautious as we crossed the river. 

Stepping Stones across the River Mole , they were removed in World War II in case of an invasion - pic credit A
A bridge just in case you did not want to use the stepping stones

We walked to a gate which led to a large open space called the Burford Meadow.  As we continued across the meadow, one could see the wooded chalk cliffs.  These are the Whites.

Wooded chalk cliffs - the Whites
At the end of the meadow, we got on to the road and crossed over to a little opening just past a hotel, that took us on a steep track up the hill.  As we proceed uphill the ridge was chalky white. 

We then took a turn that was not on our trail (unintentional) but went past an interesting grave of Labilliere that read An eccentric resident of Dorking was buried here head downwards.  Labilliere was of French descent, he joined the British Army and rose to be a major. He then became a political agitator and moved to Dorking to meditate. He was known for his eccentric ways. 

The memorial stone of Labilliere

The trail then led us back to the Visitor's Centre.  From there we took a path that led us to the Box Hill Fort. The fort ( not a fort in the real sense) was built in the 1800s when mobilization centres were constructed to protect London from the threat of invasion from continental Europe.  It was part of the London Defence Scheme that stretched for 116 kms on the North Downs with 13 military installations.  It was one of the earliest examples of reinforced cement being used in construction of these structures. The fort was never meant for artillery but as a concrete rampart to protect nearby trenches from which the infantry would fight.
Box Hill Fort

The fort was never used.  The tunnels that were meant for ammunition storage are now inhabited by bats and since they are a protected species in the UK,  the interiors are not opened for public.

Just as we walked back to the parking lot the skies opened up and there was a heavy downpour.  What a lovely walk this was. 

(October 2017)

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A heritage walk at Kashmere Gate, Delhi

We set out on a cold foggy day for a heritage walk with Sohail Hashmi.  A walk that covered the Kashmere Gate and the landmarks that were associated with the Indian rebellion of 1857 and thereabouts. Ideally, we should have started off at the Nicholson Cemetery.  For some inexplicable reason we did not and had I known then that it was just a few feet from where we stood at the Metro station gate, we would have gone there on our own.

Pic credit - Huffington Post and DNA India

When the rebellion ( the British would prefer to call it the Indian Mutiny) of 1857 began in Meerut on May 10 of that year, as the sepoys of the East India Company's army revolted against the British,  the rebels arrived in Delhi and approached the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah for support. John Nicholson who was the deputy commissioner of Peshawar, lead the British assault and is regarded as a British hero. Nicholson died of the wounds received in the revolt and the cemetery is the resting place for him and many of the Delhi residents of the Colonial era.

The Kashmere Gate, the northern gate, one of the 14 built by Emperor Shah Jahan, so named because from here began the road to Kashmir.  The walls were initially made with mud but later reinforced with stone by the engineer Robert Smith ( those who have visited Qutub Minar, will recollect the Smith's folly - the very same person).  The British started settling in this area after they reinforced the walls.  The gate gained importance during 1857.  The rebels took over the city and the British fled.  They later gathered their resources and camped on the northern ridge and then the 'seige of Delhi' happened with very fierce fighting.  There is evidence of damage to the walls, presumably by canon balls.  There is still a plaque for the British soldiers who died there. It was here that the British gained advantage and reached the Red Fort.  

Walking towards barra bazar from Kashmere Gate - Nicholson Road

Following 1857, the British moved to the Civil Lines, and this area became a major commercial hub.  The lane along Kashmiri Gate takes us to Barra Bazar built by Lala Sultan Singh.  While there are hoardings that obstruct the buildings, one can still see traces of British style of architecture.

We go past a mosque built in 1782, called Fakhr-Ul-Masjid or Pride of Mosques also known as Lal Masjid (red mosque), built by Khaniz-e-Fatima in memory of her husband Sujath Khan who was a noble in Aurangazeb's army. 


At this stage we walked into a little sweetmeat shop to have the most amazing Bedmi puri and Dudh Jalebi.  Two juicy jalebis placed in a glass and thickened unsweetened milk from a huge cauldron that was being constantly boiled was poured into it with a layer of cream on top.  The sweetness from the jalebi seeping into the thick milk was a taste that I cannot describe. I know I never will step foot into that part of the city but I'm sure the memory of the Dudh Jalebi will remain forever.  

We walked into a government building where we saw the sign 'Purani Hindu College' and saw the dilapidated building which was once bustling with students of the Hindu College ( this is being demolished soon) and farther down the road to the 'old' Stephens College that is now the Office of the Delhi State Election Commission. 

Once upon a time - The Hindu College

We proceeded towards the St James' Church, which is opposite the old Stephen's College built in 1836 by James Skinner.  Skinner, was born in Calcutta, his father was a Scot and his mother a Rajasthani princess.  Because of his Indian heritage he could not serve in the East India Company army.  He had his own mercenary military band called the Skinner's Horse. It later became a regular regiment. In his later life, he came to be known as Sikandar Sahab. While seriously wounded in a battle he vowed to build a church if he survived.
St. James' Church, Kashmere Gate

The front pew of the church reserved for the Skinner family- Skinner had 14 wives
Beautiful stained glass 

The cemetery in the grounds of the Church

Since the church was representative of the British establishment, the church was often targeted in 1857.  The chaplain , Reverend Jennings, was killed at the Red Fort.  The church was badly damaged. The gilt cross and ball on top of the church was shot down.  It was replaced much later, and the older one that was damaged was stolen from the premises after independence.  Skinner died in Hansi, but later as per his wishes his coffin was laid to rest in the church premises. It also has the remains of the British officer, William Frazier, a close friend of Skinner.

We walked along till the road led us to the Ambedkar University campus to see the Dara Shikoh library. It was constructed in 1643. 
Dara Shikoh's Library

The slab reads - Once the Residency - and rest in Persian

 Dara Shikoh/Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan. He had a flair for literature. He translated several works from Sanskrit to Persian and vice versa. Texts like the Upanishads, New Testament were translated to Persian. In 1659 he was executed by his brother Aurangazeb for being a heretic.  The library was gifted to Ali Mardhan Khan, governor of Lahore.  In 1803 it was the residence of the British Resident, David Octerlony when another facade, stairway was added to the Library. The facade with the pillars and windows gives it the Colonial look.  The building was turned into the Delhi College till 1857.  Most books were destroyed in the Mutiny after which the building was used as Barracks by the British Army.  Sadly the books that remained were burnt or discarded at the time of independence. 

Right across the gate of the Ambedkar University on the Lothian Road are the British Magazine and the Telegraph Memorial that we saw across the road.  The magazine was manned by Lt. Willoughby and his men.  He thought that the rebels would take over the ammunition dump and decided to blow it up.  Next to it is an obelisk called Telegraph Memorial in honour of the post boys who risked their lives and sent a telegram to Ambala to warn others of the mutiny. 

That brought us to the end of this particular walk.  We will try to do the Northern Ridge walk sometime soon.  It is sad that some of the monuments, even though built by the British are in a sorry state.  

(January 2018)
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