This morning (being Sunday), instead of Botanizing, I walked over to
Brighton, where I spent the day, and returned home late in the
evening. The distance from Lewes to the entrance to the town of
Brighton is 8 miles. The road passes over a bleak, open, dreary
country, and possess but little interest to the traveller, except at
Stanmer, the seat of the Earl of Chichester, whose park and grounds
stand isolated in the midst of the Downs, and are exceedingly pretty.
In the hedges about here Stellaria graminea was very abundant: I also
found a single specimen of Papaver hybridum which is not a common
Brighton is a long straggling town containing an immense number of houses, which are all of modern and very recent structure, and built in order to accommodate the yearly increasing numbers of visitants at this fashionable watering-place. The Pavilion as far as respects the outside (for I did not go in) is the ugliest thing I ever saw in my life; it is one mass of Chinese pagoda's, turrets, domes, and glazed skylights, arranged in so whimsical and absurd a manner, as to bear comparison with nothing that I am acquainted with, except it is some child's plaything run to seed. The houses in Brighton are mostly glazed over on the outside as they are in Lewes, and the foot pavement is also brick.
The handsomest thing in Brighton, and what is most worthy of a strangers notice is the Chain Pier. This beautiful piece of workmanship, which has been but very lately erected at an enormous expense, projects to a great distance into the sea, and affords a very ready means of delivering goods and passengers from the vessels which cannot approach nearer to the coast. The sides are composed of a series of suspended iron chains, whose links are immensely strong: to these the floor is secured at the lowest point in the curve by means of large nuts and bolts etc. so that it is entirely supported by them. At the extremity is a large open circular area capable of holding a great many persons. The chain pier is much resorted to by the fashionable part of the town, who, particularly on a Sunday evening, promenade it up and down in great crowds. On such occasions, when the number of individuals walking on it at the same time is considerable, the floor of the pier acquires a slight oscillating motion which to some persons is very unpleasant.
Dined with some friends at the Norfolk Hotel, West Cliff, had a Piper served at table, an excellent fish. After dinner, returned to Lewes at nine o'clock in one of the Brighton pony-carts. These pleasant and commodious vehicles, which I believe are common at many watering-places, are little low four-wheel chaises, capable of holding from two to four persons, and drawn by a single horse which is rode by a boy. They ply for hire about the streets like the hackney coaches in London, and appear to get plenty of employment, as it is rare to see any standing idle. The ponies which are well accustomed to their work go at an immense pace, and whisk you along in a delightful manner. They are supposed to go, on the average, twenty miles a day, and though the one which I had secured, did not call for me till its day's work was over, it took me home within the hour. The distance, reckoning from the Norfolk Hotel, Brighton to the Crown Inn Lewes, could have been little short of ten miles!
It being a fine clear day, I once more ascended the highest part of the Downs at the back of Lewes to the S.E. of the town, from whence with a small pocket telescope. the view was beautiful. At my back was the sea, to the left (west) the wide range of towns between Lewes and Brighton, to my right the valley of low lands of Sussex and Kent, interspersed with woods, cultivated lands etc., while the view in front to the North was bounded by the Surrey Hills: at my feet lay the town of Lewes. The temperature of this elevated spot at 11h.30'a.m. was 65. Wind S.S.W..
When I came down from the Downs, I took the
road to Ringmer a pretty little village distant about two miles from
Lewes, which I was induced to visit from the perusal of White's
Selborne, in which book it is frequently mentioned by its entertaining
and aimiable author, who spent much of his time there from year to
year, and has recorded various observations with respect to the
Natural History of its neighbourhood. Many of his letters are dated
from that place. In my way thither found Hypericum hirsutum
sparingly: Helix cantiana was abundant in the hedges. One cannot help
feeling a degree of secret satisfaction and delight at visiting those
spots which are, as it were, rendered sacred, from having been the
residence of those persons to whom we look back with reverence and
attachment, nor on the present occasion did I shew myself a stranger
to sensations of this nature: A small and neat looking house situated
to the left of the road just before one enters the village, I could
not help picturing to my imagination as having been the one at which
White was in the habit of visiting. Perhaps I had no great reason for
thinking this: fancy however will have her flight, and why should I
attempt to stop her, when she innocently makes me a happier man!
The village of Ringmer is overrun with wild celery (Apium graveolens). The church is very pretty and picturesque; and its beauty is much heightened by a luxuriant growth of ferns, which ornament its walls in every direction: these consisted of remarkably fine specimens of Asplenium trichomanes, and one or two other species which I have not yet examined. From Ringmer, I went across country in a pretty straight direction to Isfield, ( Field appears to be a favourite termination in this part of Sussex, as we find Maresfield, Uckfield, Cuckfield, Isfield etc..) without meeting with anything to attract my notice, till I fell in with a little wood about half a mile on the Lewes side of that village, in which I found several interesting plants. Of these the most acceptable was Galium witheringii, which alone amply repaid me for a long, hot and up to that time almost unprofitable walk, at least in a Botanical point of view. The other plants which I met with in abundance were, Melica uniflora, Digitalis purpurea, Melampyrum pratense, Betonica officinalis, orobus tuberosus, and Hypericum pulchrum.
Immense quantities of gypsies frequent the whole of this country and appear to be particularly populous in the environs of Isfield, leading a vagrant lawless life, and carrying their depredations to an extent, which ye good people in the neighbourhood find difficult to check. On leaving the wood I went down to the village to refresh myself with a luncheon, after which I returned to Lewes by the direct road.
Left Lewes at 10.a.m. for Hastings. My conveyance was a coach which
runs from Brighton to that place three times a week, and without
exception the slowest I ever travelled by, not arriving at Hastings
till 5 p.m. seven hours going a distance of only 32 miles. Certainly
many hills, and the road was heavy with deep sand; nothing however
will warrant such unpardonable laziness; here we see the want of
opposition: I lamented that I had not walked, which I had prepared to
do in case of my not being able to get a place. The chief places
passed thro' were Ringmer, Stonecross, Horsebridge, Gardener's Street,
Catsfield Green, and Battel. The road is exceedingly pretty the whole
way, especially from Horsebridge to Battel; skirting the outside of
the Downs, which are left about a mile to the right nearly all the
distance. Battel which is 9 miles from Hastings is a considerable
place, and wears the appearance of neatness and gentility. Its chief
lion is the Old Abbey which is a fine ancient building covered with
ivy and ferns, that appears to be well worth the attention of the
traveller, but as I only passed it on the top of a coach, I could not
see much of it. Went to the Crown Hotel, Hastings.
Hastings in situated completely in a hollow, apparently scooped out of the cliff, which rises almost perpendicularly on either side, to a considerably greater elevation than the town. Nor is it less sheltered at the back by the country from which it is approached, this being nearly on the same level with the tops of the cliffs, or at any rate so much higher than the level of the sea, that in order to enter the town, you are obliged to descend a steep hill of more than a mile in length. From these circumstances, we find in Hastings a spot so retired and secluded, so warm and sunny, that on seeing it one ceases to wonder at the numbers who flock thither in the winter, in order to escape the rigours of a Northern climate.
The town of Hastings is not very large, the streets are mostly narrow and dirty, the houses small and crowded; the latter part of this censure however will not apply to the more modern buildings which have been erected in great quantities as lodging houses for the accommodation of strangers, all along the edge of the coast under the cliff, to the right of the town; where indeed they seemed still busy in prosecuting their speculations, as I observed numbers of workmen employed in even pulling down a great part of the impending cliff, to afford more room for their operations. Hastings thus walled in, as it were, to the North, West and East, in the manner I have described above, presents no opening to the eye, except in front to the full South, where the sea opens upon the view in a very bold and striking way.
The coast at high water consists
here entirely of loose shingles, which lie heaped upon one another in
large quantities to the great wear and tear of the shoes; at low water
however we have a pretty expanse of fine white sand, which is
delightfully pleasant for walking on, as it is quite firm under foot,
and though apparently wet, yet as soon as trod on becomes perfectly
dry. This last circumstance which is singular at first sight, appears
to be peculiar to the sands on the sea shore. In general, when one
walks upon wet ground, by the pressure of the foot, the earth become
more condensed, and in consequence the water oozes up to the surface;
but here the result appears just the contrary: the water is absorbed
by the neighbouring parts and the impression of the foot is left
thoroughly dry in the sand. The coast at low water looks bold and
interesting from the number of rocky fragments, scattered about here
and there in a promiscuous and irregular manner, which however are
entirely covered by every tide.
The genuine natives of the place, appear to centre the whole of their occupation in fishing which they carry to a very considerable and successful extent, importing every day a vast profusion of this commodity into the town, of which the best part finds a ready market both here and at London: the inferior sorts, particularly the smaller flat-fish are much esteemed by the poorer inhabitants and constitute a large portion of their food; these they string together on a cord, and suspend them outside of their doors, to dry in the sun, for consumption in the winter months. Almost all the smaller houses are ornamented with these trophies, in consequence of which the whole town stinks abominably of fish, emitting a smell which is not a little heightened in the warmer months.
The fishing vessels appear to be most out at evening, and in calm
weather the whole sea as far as the eye can reach is sometimes covered
with parties of these boats, each stationed on his respective post in
pursuit of his laborious occupation. Vessels of other sorts are but
rarely seen off Hastings. Nothing pleased me more during my short
stay at this place than to observe the zeal and earnestness with which
these persons enter upon their daily avocations: they not only shew
great industry and activity in the peculiar trade to which they are
all as it were born and bred, but their attention seems so rivetted to
the business and employment in which they are engaged, so abstracted
from what is going on around them, that nothing unconnected with
themselves and their own concerns appears to attract their notice, or
rouse the slightest degree of curiosity. In consequence of this trait
in their character, a stranger feels a sort of independence and
liberty of doing what he pleases, which cannot always be exercised
elsewhere: he may stroll here or there according as the whim carries
him, he may stop to look at this, or pick up that, not only without
the least molestation, but even without exciting any attention or
surmises on the part of the inhabitants. How different this, from an
inland town in the country, where one's motions and behaviour are
watched with the most annoying minuteness; where it is impossible to
pursue one's own devices, without drawing upon oneself the vacant
stare of an inquisitive multitude, and exciting an impertinent grin in
the face of every idle lumpkin by the way.
Proceeded immediately after breakfast to examine the cliffs for plants and dedicated the morning to Flora. Though this day's Botanizing certainly added many interesting species to my collection, in as much as a county will never fail to enrich the stores of a young and untravelled naturalist, yet on the whole, I must confess that I was rather disappointed at not finding more maritime plants in the environs of Hastings, of which I had been led to expect a great variety. Several species represented by authors as growing here, I was not able anywhere to discover; amongst others I may mention the Eryngium maritimum, Pisum maritimum, and Tamarix gallica, all of which evaded my most diligent researches.
Let us not however pine for what we dont get, but be thankful for what we do. The first thing which I met with on the cliffs to the left of the town was the Beta maritima in the most luxuriant profusion : immediately filled my box with choice specimens in full flower, determined not to throw any out till something better turned up to supply its place. In the course of a short time however, a far more valuable prize offered itself, which was nothing less than the rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum). To obtain this however was a service of considerable danger, as none was observable but on the steepest and highest parts of the cliff nor was it without much labour and difficulty that I was successful in gathering two specimens, which when procured, I was not a little dismayed at finding not in flower, though full of bud. This plant therefore cannot be in perfection before the middle of August. The Crithmum maritimum is in general rather highly prized by Botanists, on account of its always growing in such inaccessible spots. I am sure that here nineteen specimens in twenty would bid defiance to the boldest attempts of the most adventurous collector. The green succulent stalks of this plant are in great request for pickling, and hence arises another cause of its scarcity; since whereever it can be got at, it is seldom suffered to remain long by the poor people, who greedily gather it for this purpose.
In many parts of the sea coast, the common Samphire or jointed glass-wort, (Salicornia herbacea) is mistaken for it, and collected in vast abundance by ignorant persons who confound these two species together, so widely different in nature and habits, because they have the same name. I would be bound to say, however, that one is just as good as another to the taste: Fancy goes a great way in such matters. Amongst the herbage and long grass as the foot of the cliff, I found Linum angustifolium, several specimens; a rare species, but the tender petals of this elegant little plant, like those of the Glaucium luteum, fall on the slightest touch; this species appears to have a succession of blossom throughout the summer, as on the same specimens, both bud, flower and ripe seed was observable. On the same spot occurred what at first I took for Vicia Bythynica , but a closer examination proved it to be nothing more than a singular variety of V. sativa probably much influenced by the situation in which it grew, and proximity to the sea. Its chief peculiarity consisted in its having the leaflets so narrow as to be completely strapshaped the flowers were axillary, single, slightly pedicellated, small, and of a beautiful crimson colour: the impresses mark on the stipula was almost obsolete. Arenaria marina, Statice armeria, and Plantago coronopus were in abundance everywhere.
On the cliffs to the right of the town, I did not find much. The prevailing species were Ornithopus perpusillus, Trifolium arvense, Medicago maculata, Oenanthe crocata, and Apium graveolens. The specimens of Oenanthe crocata were miserably bad. Got however one good thing, the Asplenium marinum: this rare and elegant fern, which is entirely confined to maritime rocks, I found exactly in the same situation in which it was found by Forster some years back, who furnished Sowerby with specimens from thence for his English Botany. The rocks here are covered with a great variety of beautiful lichens, of which I made a considerable collection. I also observed them in some places to swarm with a large species of Lepisma which collected themselves together in such quantities as to discolour the stone. These are at all times very nimble and active insects, but when the rock was struck with a hammer they all leapt up perpendicularly together at the same instant, which had a very laughable and singular appearance. In the crevices and fissures of the cliff, were immense quantities of Porcellis scaber of Leach.