DAVID ARNOLD - Ups and downs of the Bottom line

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There is a marvelous multitude of Bottoms to be found up on the South Downs.

They have splendid and often delightfully irreverent names. Here are a few: Devilsrest Bottom, Bible Bottom, Stickingspit Bottom, Poverty Bottom, Bushy Bottom, Oxteddle Bottom, Bracky Bottom and Breaky Bottom.

I do believe Bottom is the term for the dry valleys on the flanks of the Downs. Unlike a river valley that runs more or less at ground level, a Bottom spills down the hillside from the vicinity of the top all the way, more or less, to the, err, bottom. Strangely enough, the biggest and best example of a Bottom is known by an entirely different description; at nearly a mile long,

Devil’s Dyke is the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain.

Bottoms have their followers. For example, a “Friends of Landport Bottom” group has recently been formed. Landport Bottom begins just below the remains of one-time Lewes Racecourse and occupies part of the site of the Battle of Lewes. The group already has its own website and holds regular meetings where all sorts of things to do with the nurturing and protection of the landscape are discussed.

The minutes are then published online. The most recent meeting had an item concerning a surge in the growth of thistles that one member felt could be harmful to children playing around them.

Lewes Park Ranger Dan Fagan pointed out that the breed of sheep currently browsing Landport Bottom greatly preferred grass; he added that there were other breeds who would quite happily eat thistles. But if proof were needed that this was indeed quite a thorny issue, Dan added that cutting back the thistles might not be such a good idea as the plants produced plenty of nectar and were thus of benefit to our beleaguered bee population.

I have to confess to a wry smile in respect of the fearful thistles.

Fifty or so years ago I was regularly rambling around Landport Bottom, often with a gaggle of much younger siblings in tow. We felt cheated if we didn’t see at least one adder. I remember the blackberries were quite nice too and well worth the cost of scratched hands.