Highways and Byways in Sussex - online book

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

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428                      FAIRY RINGS AND DEW PONDS                 chap.
wife's mother say, under de bank jest where de bed of snow-draps grows."
All who know the Downs must know the fairies' or Pharisees' rings, into which one so often steps. Science gives them a fun goid origin, but Shakespeare, as well as Master Fowington's grandmother, knew that Oberon and Titania's little people alone had the secret. Further proof is to be found in the testimony of John Aubrey, the Wiltshire antiquary, who records that Mr. Hart, curate at Yatton Keynel in 1633-4, coming home over the Downs one night witnessed with his own eyes an "in­numerable quantitie of pigmies " dancing round and round and singing, " making all manner of small, odd noises."
A word ought to have been said of the quiet and unex­pected dew ponds of the Downs, upon which one comes so often and always with a little surprise. Perfect rounds they are, reflecting the sky they are so near like circular mirrors set in a white frame. Gilbert White, who was interested in all in­teresting things, mentions the unfailing character of a little pond near Selborne, which "though never above three feet deep in the middle, and not more than thirty feet in diameter, . . . yet affords drink for three hundred or four hundred sheep, and for at least twenty head of cattle beside." He then asks, having noticed that in May, 1775, when the ponds of the valley were dry, the ponds of the hills were still " little affected," " have not these elevated pools some unnoticed recruits, which in the night-time counterbalance the waste of the day ? " The answer, which White supplies, is that the hill pools are recruited by dew. " Persons," he writes, " that are much abroad, and travel early and late, such as shepherds, fishermen, &c, can tell what prodigious fogs prevail in the night on elevated downs, even in the hottest part of summer; and how much the sur faces of things are drenched by those swimming vapours, though, to the senses, all the while, little moisture seems to fall."
Kingsley has a passage on the same subject in his essay,
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