« VorigeDoorgaan »
BATTLE OF ASHDOWN.
of the Lord before him, and wave on wave of the mysterious downs behind; and to the right and left the chalk hills running away into the distance, along which he can trace for miles the old Roman road, " the Ridgeway” (as the Rudge” as the country-folk call it,) keeping straight along the highest back of the hills ;—such a place as Balak brought Balaam to, and told him to prophesy against the people in the valley beneath. And he could not, neither shall you, for they are a people of the Lord who abide there.
And now we leave the camp, and descend towards the west, and are on the Ashdown. We are treading on heroes. It is sacred ground for Englishmen, more sacred than all but one or two fields where their bones lie whitening. For this is the actual place where our Alfred won his great battle, (the battle of Ashdown, “Æscendum” in the chroniclers,) which broke the Danish power, and made England a Christian land. The Danes held the camp, and the slope where we are standing, the whole crown of the hill in fact. “ The heathen had beforehand seized the higher ground," as old Asser says, having wasted everything behind them from London, and being just ready to burst down on the fair vale, Alfred's own birthplace and heritage. And up the heights came the Saxons, as they did at the Alma. “ The Christians led up their line from the lower ground. There stood also on that same spot a single thorn tree, marvellous stumpy (which we ourselves with our very own eyes have seen.)” Bless the old
BATTLE OF ASHDOWN.
chronicler! does he think nobody ever saw the “ single thorn tree” but himself? Why, there it stands to this very day, just on the edge of the slope, and I saw it not three weeks since; an old single thorn tree,“ marvellous stumpy.” At least if it isn't the same tree; it ought to have been, for it's just in the place where the battle must have been won or lost around which, as I was saying, the two lines of foemen came together in battle with a huge shout. And in this place, one of the two kings of the heathen and five of his earls fell down and died, and many thousands of the heathen side in the same place.”* After which crowning mercy, the pious king, that there might never be wanting a sign and a memorial to the country-side, carved out on the northern side of the chalk hill, under the camp, where it is almost precipitous, the great Saxon white horse, which he who will may see from the railway, and which gives its name to the vale, over which it has looked these thousand years and more.
Right down below the White Horse, is a curious deep and broad gully called “the Manger," into one side of which the hills fall with a series of the most lovely sweeping curves, known as “ the Giant's
**Pagani editiorem locum præoccupaverant. Christiani ab inferiori loco aciem dirigebant. Erat quoque in eodem loco unica spinosa arbor, brevis admodum, (quam nos ipsi nostris propriis oculis vidimus.) Circa quam ergo hostiles inter se acies cum ingenti clamore hostiliter conveniunt. Quo in loco alter de duobus Paganorum regibus et quinque comites occisi occubuerunt, et multa millia Paganæ partis in eodem loco. Cecidit illic ergo Boegsceg Rex, et Sidroc ille senex comes, et Sidroc unior comes, et obsbern comes, &c."— Annales Rerum Gestarum Ælfredi Magni, Auctore Asserio. Recensuit Franciscus Wise. Oxford, 1722, p. 23.
DRAGON'S will-WAYLAND SMITH'S CAVE. 13 Stairs ;" they are not a bit like stairs, but I never saw anything like them anywhere else, with their short green turf, and tender blue-bells, and gossamer and thistle down gleaming in the sun, and the sheeppaths running along their sides like ruled lines.
The other side of the Manger is formed by the Dragon's Hill, a curious little round self-confident fellow, thrown forward from the range, and utterly unlike every thing round him. On this hill, some deliverer of mankind, St. George, the country folk. used to tell me, killed a dragon. Whether it were St. George, I cannot say, but surely a dragon was killed there, for you may see the marks yet where his blood ran down, and more-by-token the place where it ran down is the easiest way up the hillside.
Passing along the Ridgeway to the west for about a mile, we come to a little clump of young beech and firs, with a growth of thorn and privet underwood. Here you may find nests of the strong down partridge and peewit, but take care that the keeper is’nt down upon you; and in the middle of it is an old cromlech, a huge flat stone raised on seven or eight others, and led up to by a path, with large single stones set up on each side. This is Wayland Smith's cave, a place of classic fame now; but as Sir Walter has touched it, I may as well let it alone, and refer you to Kenilworth for the legend.
The thick deep wood which you see in the hol. low, about a mile off, surrounds Ashdown Park,
THE SEVEN BARROWS.
built by Inigo Jones. Four broad alleys are cut through the wood from circumference to centre, and each leads to one face of the house. The mystery of the downs hangs about house and wood, as they stand there alone, so unlike all around, with the green slopes, studded with great stones just about this part, stretching away on all sides. It was a wise Lord Craven, I think, who pitched his tent there.
Passing along the Ridgeway to the east, we soon come to cultivated land. The downs, strictly so called, are no more; Lincolnshire farmers have been imported, and the long fresh slopes are sheep-walks no more, but grow famous turnips and barley. One of these improvers lives over there at the “ Seven Barrows" farm, another mystery of the great downs. There are the barrows still, solemn and silent, like ships in the calm sea, the sepulchres of some sons of men. But of whom? It is three miles from the White Horse, too far for the slain of Ashdown to be buried there—who shall say what heroes are waiting there ? But we must get down into the vale again, and so away by the Great Western Railway to town, for time and the printer's devil press, and it is a terrible long and slippery descent, and a shocking bad road. At the bottom, however, there is a pleasant public, whereat we must really take a modest quencher, for the down air is provocative of thirst. So we pull up under an old oak which stands before the door.
66 What is the name of your hill, landlord ?"
THE BLOWING STONE.
“ Blawing Srwun Hill, sir, to be sure.” [READER. “ Sturm ?” Author. “ Stone, stupid! the Blowing Stone."] “ And of your house? I can't make out the sign.” “ Blawing Stwun, sir," says the landlord, pouring out his old ale from a Toby Philpot jug, with a melodious crash, into the long-necked glass.
What queer names," say we, sighing at the end of our draught, and holding out the glass to be replenished.
“ Be’ant queer at all, as I can see, sir," says mine host, handing back our glass, “ seeing as this here is the Blawing Stwun his self,” putting his hand on a square lump of stone, some three feet and a half high, perforated with two or three queer holes, like petrified antediluvian rat-holes, which lies there close under the oak, under our very nose. We are more than ever puzzled, and drink our second glass of ale, wondering what will come next. “ Like to hear un, sir?” says mine host, setting down Toby Philpot on the tray, and resting both hands on the “Stwun.” We are ready for anything; and he, without waiting for a reply, applies his mouth to one of the rat-holes. Something must come of it, if he does'nt burst. Good heavens! I hope he has no apoplectic tendencies. Yes, here it comes, sure enough, a grewsome sound between a moan and a roar, and spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hill-side, and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful voice. “Um do say, sir," says mine host, rising purple-faced, while the moan