Friday, 9 June 2006

A Bellocian Day-Off

This Wednesday I stayed with my aunt and uncle in Steyning. It had all the ingredients of a satisfying dies non. A lazy morning (part of which was spent reading Asterix stories - it's amazing the books you find in people's guest rooms), followed by a hearty pub lunch at The Fountain Inn, located in the village of Ashurst. Not only has the inn counted Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Paul McCartney among its regulars, but it is briefly mentioned by Hilaire Belloc in The Four Men (an account of a boozy ramble through the Sussex countryside). With its sixteenth century interior and huge inglenook fireplace, it was the perfect place to guzzle down a Steak and Ale Pie and a pint of Harveys Best. Most importantly, it had no piped music - and is thus mentioned in my favourite pub guide, The Quiet Pint (see link below). You can see why Belloc liked the place.

After lunch I went for a ten mile ramble on the South Downs (those who know me will be amazed by this, since I'm not exactly 'Fr Sporty'). I made an epic ascent up the eastern face of Chanctonbury Ring, which stands at a majestic 700 feet (!). This hill, which was once an iron age fort and the site of a Roman temple, has a bad reputation, due to its more recent connection with UFO watchers and other strange goings-on.

According to one legend, it was created by the Devil, who was furious at the conversion of England thanks to 'apostles' like St Cuthman (see my separate post). The Devil became so angry that he decided to dig a channel by night to let in the sea and drown the Christians of Sussex. Fortunately, St Cuthman found out the Devil’s plan and tricked him by holding a candle behind a sieve and knocking the local cock off its perch. When the Devil saw the light and heard the cock crow, he fled the scene, leaving his great plan unfinished and giving us a complex of hills (the mounds of earth from his digging), including Chanctonbury Ring and the nearby ‘Devil’s Dyke.’

Still, on reaching the summit, I blessed the surroundings and then lay down in the sunshine to read the Venerable Bede - I'm preparing a talk on St Augustine of Canterbury for a conference, so I thought I'd better do some homework. It took several hours to get back - but it was a most satisfying day and I even felt strangely healthy after my exertions!


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