Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

An illustrated appreciation, of the most interesting districts in Sussex.

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whence it rolls straight for the sea, Beachy Head being the ultimate eminence. (The name Beachy has, by the way, nothing to do with the beach : it is derived probably from the Normans' description—" beau chef.") About Beachy Head one has the South Downs in perfection : the best turf, the best prospect, the best loneliness, and the best air. Richard Jefferies, in his fine essay, " The Breeze on Beachy Head," has a rapturous word to say of this air (poor Jefferies, destined to do so much for the health of others and so little for his own !).—" But the glory of these glorious Downs is the breeze. The air in the valleys immedi­ately beneath them is pure and pleasant; but the least climb, even a hundred feet, puts you on a plane with the atmosphere itself, uninterrupted by so much as the tree-tops. It is air without admixture. If it comes from the south, the waves refine it; if inland, the wheat and flowers and grass distil it. The great headland and the whole rib of the promontory is wind-swept and washed with air ; the billows of the atmosphere roll over it.
" The sun searches out every crevice amongst the grass, nor is there the smallest fragment of surface which is not sweetened by air and light. Underneath the chalk itself is pure, and the turf thus washed by wind and rain, sun-dried and dew-scented, is a couch prepared with thyme to rest on. Dis­cover some excuse to be up there always, to search for stray mushrooms—they will be stray, for the crop is gathered extremely early in the morning—or to make a list of flowers and grasses ; to do anything, and, if not, go always without any pretext. Lands of gold have been found, and lands of spices and precious merchandise : but this is the land of health."
Seated near the edge of the cliff one realises, as it is possible nowhere else to realise, except perhaps at Dover, the truth of Edgar's description of the headland in King Lear. It seems difficult to think of Shakespeare exploring these or any Downs, and yet the scene must have been in his own experience ;
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