Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Just a little more about Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest was actually established by the Normans very soon after the conquest. It's only a few miles from Battle, where the actual Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. There are a lot of prehistoric sites there and also the Romans had some iron works there.

Today, it's still a very large protected area for walkers, horse-back riding etc. It's also a Special Protection Area for birds. And it's a designated Area of Special Beauty, or some such.

It's on The Weald, which is the area between the chalk escarpments forming the South Downs and the North Downs. The name 'The Weald' is from the old English word for woodland, 'wold' in Anglo-Saxon (as in Cotswolds). The whole area was once filled with royal hunting preserves - mostly on the higher ground.

One of the villages we passed through, Chelwood Gate, interested me. Chelwood is Old English for 'Hill Wood,' which makes sense since it was on the edge of the hilly Ashdown Forest. The 'Gate' of course, refers to the gate for horsemen to pass through the pales of Ashdown Forest 500 years ago. En Route, we passed something called Chelwood Vachery. Now a remarkable garden created in the 1920's, but it's named after a medieval manor on the same spot. What interested me was the word 'Vachery'and I'm assuming that it was from the Norman word for 'cow' which has become the word 'vache' in modern French, and that the manor had pastures for grazing cows.

England is so amazing this way - only 10% or so is inhabited so the population is very dense in some areas, but there are still huge empty tracts of land with ancient public rights of way criss-crossing them and so many names referring back to ancient words and usages that are now forgotten.

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