Ann loves to write poetry and stories. Current poetry on Nature, Travel & beyond, including varied poetic structures.
Southern Counties of England
A Sussex Girl at Heart
The southern counties of England are close to my heart. I was born in Sussex, in just about the middle of the south of England, on the coast of the English Channel in a little town called Shoreham-by-Sea, near Brighton and Hove. Precious to me are childhood memories of weekend walks along the South Downs, of going to secondary school on the train and, later, of driving around the country lanes, learning every twist and turn as I revelled in the freedom. The sight of the folding, rolling South Downs weaving their southern border of the Weald stills my breath. Standing atop of them, looking out over that same Weald, makes you feel like king or queen of your own land.
I have lived in Hampshire too and now live in Somerset, still by the sea, the only place where I have felt at home since leaving Sussex.
Our southern counties do indeed have the beauties and attributes described in the following poem. Any one of them is worth a visit, as is any other part of England or Britain. Because these have always been a part of my life, they are a source of comfort, joy and pride; I visit them as often as I can.
(A little aside: Please allow me to clarify to those who are not British a small point that often creates confusion; England is not the same as Britain. Though I love all the nations of Britain (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), we are concentrating here on England, my country of birth.)
A Precious Find
It is my intention in this series to illustrate our countryside using poems and background information. Some years ago I took a book out of the library, amongst whose pages was this wonderful poem about the five counties of England I love the most, especially the Sussex of my youth and Somerset where I’ve settled, albeit via a circuitous route. It had no title so I’ve taken the liberty of adding my own:
Dorset & Devon
Sussex to Somerset; Roots and Home
The ideal England is south of Thames and Severn.
Very old is this land, very old, yet perennially fresh,
A land of infinite beauty and of infinite variety.
Each of the Southern Shires has something personal
to itself, its individuality.
Thus Sussex is Downland: land of chalk-hills,
land of sunshine and flying shadows of clouds,
and the passing of winds from the sea.
Hampshire is Wessex: full of the glory which tradition gives,
full of soft beauty too, of deep, willow-fringed rivers,
high beech woods, and with villages beyond compare.
Dorset is quiet and beautiful and lonely: a land old beyond telling,
full of colour in Autumn, in Spring lovely, but never gay.
Devon is known to all, Queen of the South,
with her wondrous colourings, her cliffs,
her moors, her lanes.
And Somerset is home:
It is here that the longest journeys end,
that the greatest wanderers come to rest at last.
The land of peace and stillness, this country, above all others,
has kept the spirit men call homeliness,
the spirit of warmth and welcoming.
Three things one finds here: an oldness, a kindness, and a wisdom.
Kind folk they are, with the kindest accent of any of our race,
wonderfully soft, yet firm, changeless.
Such is Somerset - a land full of a quiet, gentle beauty,
very old very close to Nature,
and so almost unchanging as the years slip by.
from ‘Somerset Ways’ published by Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton Ken & Co Ltd, in conjunction with the Great Western Railway.
Our Own Home
Strangely, we have a hill near my house in Somerset which, without knowing anything about this poem, my younger daughter christened ‘Home Hill’ because it was the landmark telling her we were nearly home when returning from high days and holidays.
Cue for another poem, mine this time, about our landmark of Somerset which tells us when we’re back to the comfort of our own home.
Brent Knoll aka Home Hill
Standing solemn, guarding the coastal plain,
Brent Knoll shifts in light and rain.
For sunlit slopes or distant mists enclosed
she’d watch, until home-fields rose
or peeped from the distance over flats and rhynes,
shouted stark ‘gainst black clouds’ dreams.
Little girl drawn ever back to base,
older now, her heart beats race
to see that steadfast knoll of green-clad stone,
reassuring keystone, home.
Brent Knoll and other sites in Somerset, an area of Contrasts
Brent Knoll is a hill, with an Iron Age fort clearly visible from the levels. It is easily accessed from the village of the same name. The path is not for the faint-hearted but is well worth the dogged determination to reach a view and a half. You will see a panorama of fields, sea and sky, with Brean Down promontory in the distance to the North and Glastonbury Tor rising from the levels to the East, sometimes piercing through a shroud of mist.
This lump of a hill stands on its own close to the M5 motorway, so is visible from all directions as one approaches. It is easily identified, therefore an obvious choice for a child who wants to know ‘are we nearly home yet?’ Now everyone in the family uses her personal allocation of ‘Home Hill’.
Somerset is an area of contrasts. There are the flats or levels, large swathes of meadow and pasture below sea-level, reclaimed many moons ago and regulated by a series of ditches, known as rhynes, and sluice-gates. There are the Mendip hills to the North, part of which and also standing alone, is Glastonbury Tor, the place of legends surrounding King Arthur as well as the story of Joseph of Aramathea bringing the boy Jesus here on their travels.
There is Brean Down, the final promontory at the end of the Mendips, which also houses a fort built to defend the coast from Napoleonic invasion, looking out over the Severn Estuary towards Wales and westward out to the Atlantic. Marconi conducted some of his tests from the fort.
Somerset also has some notable cities; the beautiful, stately Bath on the River Avon and the smaller, ancient city of Wells with its moated Bishop’s Palace next to the exquisite cathedral.