Book review: works on the South Downs and Sussex

So much has been written about our glorious South Downs, the National Park which forms the beautiful backbone of our county.

Thursday, 8th June 2017, 5:30 pm
The front covers of 'A Sussex Alphabet' and 'A South Downs Alphabet'

Who does not fall in love with our rolling green hills?

Have you noted how they seem to change, not only with the weather, but depending on the time of day? I have been re-reading Arthur Beckett’s ‘Spirit of the Downs’, first published in 1909.

Although the Downs have lost many of their shepherds and ruddy-faced locals, that spirit of the Downs lives on after over 100 years.

Another author who lived in and adored the Downs was Hilaire Belloc whose grave at West Grinstead I recently visited. He thought Sussex was the ‘crown of England’ and that Sussex was a jewel in that crown.

Eleanor Farjeon also loved the Sussex Downs. Although today she is best known for writing the hymn ‘Morning has Broken’, famously sung by Cat Stevens in 1971, she also wrote poems. Her rambles across the South Downs motivated her to write ‘A Sussex Alphabet’, an amusing selection of short poems inspired by her travels. (“Mister Belloc lives in Sussex, and don’t you dare to doubt it. He makes good cheer, and drinks good beer – and tells us all about it!”)

These poems have now been collated by Peter Robinson who has also included her poem ‘All the Way to Alfriston’ in a delightful book ‘A Sussex Alphabet’ published by our local ‘Snake River Press’. The book is beautifully illustrated by Sheila Thompson’s lovely woodcuts.

Poetry is still being composed in Sussex and, following Eleanor Farjeon’s example, Sussex-lovers both old and young have been inspired to write about our county. June Goodfield, the president of the local history society, persuaded local school children and members of the University of the Third Age (U3A) to write poems with a South Downs theme. She even managed to get a poem from broadcaster Clare Balding who took time from her busy schedule to walk with June and other locals, and follow in the footsteps of the poet.

The result of this collaboration is a sister volume to ‘A Sussex Alphabet’ called ‘A South Downs Alphabet’. How splendid that our young are still inspired by our countryside. Blatchington Schoolboy Joseph Hodgkins sums up the eternal magic of the Downs… “across an amazing ever-changing world, a vision of a new land – a memory of old”. Wise words indeed.

These two books are available for £8.99 or as a set for £11.99. You can find them at Much Ado Books in Alfriston and all good book shops. They are books you will want to keep and re-visit; they contain the spirit of the Downs.