16 August 2018

The Red Arrows

As I mentioned in my last post, on Halnaker Windmill, ‘something quite momentous and thrilling happened’ during our walk.

Jill and I were stomping along the public footpath that traces the line of the ancient Roman Road of Stane Street, battling our way through overgrown bracken and scratchy brambles, imagining ourselves walking in the footsteps of ancient peoples, enjoying the twittering of birds and buzzing of birds, when ...


And boom again!

And again!

These were the Red Arrows, the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, performing one of their world-famous acrobatic displays for the ‘Festival of Speed’ taking place that day at nearby Goodwood. We’d had absolutely no idea to expect this but, by pure chance, we just happened to be in one of the very best possible places to watch their incredible manoeuvres. It was quite simply breath-taking!

15 August 2018

Halnaker Windmill

From Boxgrove Priory (see previous post), Jill and I headed north to find the building we’d really travelled across the county to see that day, Halnaker Windmill – we have a bit of a thing about windmills and this was one we’d been planning to visit for perhaps a year!

This was a Saturday so the roads were busy, in part due to a local event called ‘The Festival of Speed’ – not something we knew anything about, but we assumed that was why the first lay-by where we were hoping to park was full and so we carried on to the second. From there, we followed a public footpath alongside fields tall with golden cereal crops and, somewhat surprisingly, the symmetrical rows of grapevines. The footpath was ancient, part of the old Roman Road of Stane Street, which once carried legions, traders and assorted travellers from London to Chichester, just a few miles further south. Truth be known, this was probably an even more ancient path as many Roman Roads follow much older trackways where people have walked for thousands of years.

We could tell no Romans had walked this way for a while as the path was quite overgrown with brambles and bracken in parts, and we emerged at the other end with a few scratches for our trouble, but it was worth it. We had already gained some height in the landscape, and the views continued to improve as we pressed on up the wider, more well defined roadway to the windmill. (Something quite momentous and thrilling happened around this point but I’ll explain more in my next blog post.)

The top of Halnaker (pronounced Hanaker – the L is silent) Hill is a scheduled ancient monument as Neolthic people once constructed a causewayed enclosure here and, in more recent times, a World War Two observation post (for radio direction-finding) was also built here. But it was the windmill we wanted to see.

The first recorded windmill on this site was built in the 16th century, for the use of the Duke of Richmond’s local Goodwood Estate, though the present structure is not that old – it dates from the mid 1700s and continued to function until 1905, when it was struck by lightning.

The entry for the mill on the Historic England website explains its structure:
Red brick, covered with a thin coating of burnt Sussex tiles. Octagonal cap of beehive shape, made of sheets of metal, with finial. Sweeps intact. Fantail missing. The mill is only a shell with no internal floors or machinery.

The windmill was in a ruinous state when it was first restored in 1934, then needed restoration again in 1954 and once more in 2004. And it’s still being restored. An article in the Chichester Observer of 28 June 2018 notes that its tiles were replaced in October 2017, its white cap and balcony have just been repaired and repainted, and there is a photograph showing the recent refitting of the sails – so we were lucky to see it in such fine condition, though the building was still fenced off and lacked a proper door.

It’s wonderful to see this historic structure being so well cared for and conserved. Not only do visitors get a close-up look at this wonderful old building but, from its site so high on the South Downs, the panoramic views of the surrounding countryside are amazing. Both the windmill and those panoramas are well worth the climb up the hill to see.

12 August 2018

Boxgrove Priory and Church

As you approach the ruins of Boxgrove Priory, standing alone in a field, there’s an English Heritage sign. The text on the sign states:
Boxgrove Priory was founded in the 12th century. It replaced a small community of canons, probably associated with Boxgrove church since before the Norman Conquest in 1066. The priory has strong links with Lessay Abbey in Normandy with Boxgrove known as a ‘daughter house’ of Lessay. The priory was never large; by the 16th century it was responsible for a school and an almshouse. Along with many religious institutions, Boxgrove was disbanded during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Reading the sign you might easily assume that the ruins you now see on this site are the remains of the whole priory but this isn’t so. And, very helpfully, someone has stuck a notice on the sign pointing out its shortcomings:
This picture shows only the Guest House.
The Priory Church is open every day.
Walk through the archway.

The English Heritage website provides a little more information:
At the northern edge of the site the ruin of the 14th century lodging house stands alone. It is roofless, but the north and south gable ends still stand to their full height. The building originally had two storeys, with an undercroft, or vaulted cellar, used for storage. The support for the vault of the undercroft can be seen clearly at the north end of the building.

After we’d had a good look at the Guest House, where beautiful remnants of sculptural details still remain, we followed the advice of the notice-sticker and walked across the field to the Priory Church.

As we walked through the thigh-high wildflowers, I was particularly impressed by the additional bird – a Kestrel – that flew in to adorn the church’s weathervane.

Inside the beautiful old church not only was there more information about the priory, including a scale model (there’s a plan of the full site here), but the church itself was a beautiful sight to behold. Dedicated to St Mary and St Blaise and dating, in part, to the early 12th century, the building is ‘a fine example of Norman (Romanesque) and Early English (Gothic) architecture’.

The painted ceiling is a delightful mix of the flowers and foliage of various types of plants, interspersed with the heraldry of the family of Thomas West and his wife – as the website explains, West was ‘9th Lord de la Warr, Lord of the Manor of Halnaker and patron of the priory, in the 16th century’.

Outside the church, you can still see other remains of the extended church and priory’s chapter house. English Heritage again:
The north wall of the nave forms part of the wall of the churchyard, and the footings of the south wall and one bay of the south arcade from the interior of the church can also be seen in the churchyard. One wall of the chapter house, where the monks would have gathered daily to have a chapter of the rule of St Benedict read to them and to discuss business, is attached to the north transept of the church. It has a central doorway with a window to either side. The remaining monastery buildings lay to the north of the church, surrounding the cloister, but do not survive above ground.

This was a beautiful place to explore so, if you’re in the area, do stop for a wander ... and don’t forget to follow the notice-sticker’s advice.