“As the sun slips over the burial mounds like melted butter and the shadows under the yew trees yawn, I rise from the dimpled summit of the central barrow. Shouldering my rucksack, I scramble down the bank, breathing in the scent of the wild thyme crushed beneath my boots.”
High on the South Downs, the Devil’s Jumps tumuli rise like islands in a sea of bracken. The largest linear barrow formation in West Sussex, this bronze age cemetery consists of five large bell barrows running south-east to north-west, with two smaller outlying barrows. Constructed about 3,500 years ago, the alignment of these tumuli is said to be oriented upon the setting sun on Midsummer Day.
As the sun slips over the burial mounds like melted butter and the shadows under the yew trees yawn, I rise from the dimpled summit of the central barrow. Shouldering my rucksack, I scramble down the bank, breathing in the scent of the wild thyme crushed beneath my boots. Wings whirring, a pheasant erupts from the scorched bracken. Three fallow deer melt into the tree line and overhead a buzzard mewls.
On either side of the track, whinchats and wheatears top the fence like finials. They flit before me as I walk, post to post. These restless migrants have gathered here to wait for favourable winds, a clear weather window enabling them to cross the Channel en route to Africa. The close-cropped chalk heath habitat provides a rich refuelling stop before they reach the coast. Heads cocked, they scan for prey. A freshly hatched harvestman or crane fly in their sights, they dart into the lush sward to snatch up the morsel.
As I walk, I graze the first hedgerow fruit, pressing plump blackberries to the roof of my mouth so they scatterbomb my tongue with a strafe of pips and sticky sweet juice. Nearing the end of the path I notice a mottled wing trapped in a tangle of brambles and elder.
At first, I think it’s a butterfly, a small tortoiseshell perhaps, or a scallop-winged comma. Crouching down, I find that it’s a wren. I cup the still-warm body in my hand; the tiny corpse is as light and downy as a dandelion seed head.
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