So here I am in glorious Sussex and make no mistake I love it but bonds of steel attach me to my Common where for 40 years I laughed, I cried, I ran, I walked, I ruminated, I basked in the sun on the cricket-pitch and watched the bowling: there my heart lies.
Will it cease to do so? Shall I find another special place? I am an optimist. I might do. I haven’t yet.
There too, in the adjacent East Sheen Cemetery, my parents are buried. Visiting their graves is problematic but for that at least I have found a place, the Memorial Garden attached to St Margaret’s, Rottingdean. I somewhat take the view that if they are anywhere they are everywhere, not limited to a couple of square miles of SW14.
The special place has to be woodland. I spent part of my childhood in Walberton and Slindon Common then was my haunt. Someone recently referred to the ‘bald Downs’ and indeed much of them are. I have somewhat concluded I’m in the wrong part of the county to find my true spiritual home!
A towpath should be wooded, should be akin to the towpath from Richmond to Kew, where it’s hard to believe you are anywhere near London, wood on one side and a small stream, beyond which lies first a golf course and then the glory of Kew, and on the other high grasses and the River You cannot live by the Thames for 40 years without needing a river in your life; about this I am prone to getting like Ratty in the Wind in the Willows. I have discovered the Cuckmere and the Adur. They too seem pretty ‘bald’ but my mobility is limited so perhaps I have yet to discover the wooded upper reaches.
Paradoxically, I love the Arun. When more agile, I would get the train to Amberley and walk across the Downs into Arundel, but that was a day out, not home. The bluebells are out on the Common now. If you get up at dawn, the rabbits are scuttering busily around. No need to leave the house to see foxes which would patter busily up and down my street, or indeed to hear the supposedly quintessentially rural sounds of predation, and Ratty is readily seen scurrying across the towpath. Thee hedgehogs vanished from the garden and once there was a small toad. I have seen more wildlife in Greater London than I have so far in Sussex.
I want to see an otter in the wild and I want to see an owl. Otters have returned to the Thames, though not my bit, I think, and the Sussex Willdlife Trust reports the sighting of one.