Country Mouse on the Hampshire Downs

At the top of the Hampshire Downs lies a strange, ancient wilderness. This is the home of the corpulent partridge, the lark’s song, chalk and flint.

The shallow-rooted beech trees provide the only break in the grassy vista and beneath their smooth trunks lie rustling depths of russet leaves, now and then punctuated by the flickering tongues of emerald-green wild garlic. In the 19th century, this land was thought so poor that it sold for £5 an acre. Black-bearded men walked south from the Lake District to farm its steep slopes with the fluffy mutton-whiskered Hampshire Down sheep. Generations later, those same families have grown rich.

Occasionally, you come across meres, inky puddles of water, possibly dewponds, which were used to water the flocks. Today, their ghastly blackness hints of Tolkien’s Dead Marshes. The partridges call to each other in a voice like the swing of a rusting gate and the constant kittenish mewing of the courting buzzards adds to the loneliness. It’s a land to be afraid in, where thoughts and imagination can run wild. It’s a world where Nature still holds the upper hand far above the roads, valleys and hamlets of Man.