Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Hilaire Belloc Day in Amberley, Sussex...

Chris Hare in full flow

We enjoyed a wonderful day in Amberley, Sussex, a week last Saturday. It started with Chris Hare's  presentation on the great writer which captured, as well as one could hope, the essence of the man in the space of about sixty minutes. The meeting was well attended by around seventy people and our hosts, the staff at the George and Dragon, were very hospitable. The George is a splendid venue for talks. This medieval pub has a lovely, and atmospheric, function room which can comfortably seat a sizeable gathering. If there is one criticism of this particular hostelry it's that they don't sell Harveys (my favourite Sussex pint). But I was able to satiate my appetite for its earthy flavour later in the day. On a weightier note, we will be publishing excerpts from Chris' talk in due course.

After the talk we walked into the village via the Downs. It was cold, but dry, and although the valley was not in full bloom or (for that matter) any bloom at all nothing could detract from its soft beauty.

The walkers!

Amberley Village is a very interesting corner of England although because it is beautiful and within commuting distance of London, needless to say,  the real locals moved out years ago. This is largely a bad thing. One of the few advantages is that the Yuppies, who have moved in, have spent significant sums on maintaining the character of a number of properties.

The assembled mob
Architecturally speaking, everything seems to blend together in a most pleasing manner. The over-worked Chris Hare shared his knowledge of the village and the local castle. We were truly regaled with stories of Sussex past. This very much coloured our encounter with a truly beautiful part of the County.

Amberley Castle. You can just see the toilet chute at the bottom of the wall!
By the end of our ramble we had truly worked up a healthy thirst and there are few better places in England to quench it than the Sportsman Inn. From the pub, one can enjoy stunning views of the Amberley Wild Brooks: a wetland site of special scientific interest in the flood plain of the River Arun. The Brooks are managed as a nature reserve by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The wet woodland and marsh form an excellent habitat for all sorts of different birds, insects and plants. In fact over half of Britain's indigenous aquatic plants can be found here. It was also here that the composer John Ireland found inspiration, in 1921, for his piano piece the 'Amberley Wild Brooks'.

Hannah, clearly enjoying the view of the Brooks
Inside the Sportsman the conversation was wide ranging. Dare I say it, the locals were at first surprised and then amused (in an enigmatic way!). The good thing about Belloc is that he attracts people who refuse to be pigeon holed into the square pegs of Mundane Britain. This virtually guarantees entertaining conversation wherever Bellocians gather.

Sid, are you related?
After enhancing the cultural life of the pub we returned to the The George and Dragon where we polished off the day with English Folk music and the occasional Scots Gaelic song. All in all a good time was had by all and we look forward to gallivanting in, and around, Gumber Corner (Belloc's favourite) this coming May. Here is a poetic appetiser penned by HB:

Lift up your hearts in Gumber, laugh the Weald And 
you most ancient Valley of Arun sing. 
Here am I homeward from my wandering, 
Here am I homeward and my heart is healed. 
If I was thirsty, I have heard a spring. 
If I was dusty, I have found a field.

The dying art of posing

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