Up by Jill’s Pond

Unable to sleep, I went up the hill.

Up through the field where nobility fought nobility via peasants in 1264, and where now despite being windless the air was still cold enough to pinch my skin as I approached Jill’s Pond. Grass was stiffened into waves, frozen dew capping each swell except where it had been flattened dark in the footprints of a man and a dog who had already gone this way, their stride shortening as the gradient steepened.

Man and dog

Man and dog

At the time the Battle of Lewes took place here the belief in revenants – the malignant returning dead – was strong. This area is often covered in dense, sound-swallowing fog and with the fading, shifting shadows of sheep and birds and trees it must have been saturated with nervous, half-imagined half-glimpsed horrors for a long time after.

I reached the top and the fence by where racehorses train, and though the stars were still bright in the soft half-light I turned to see those behind me that were closest to the horizon beginning to sink into the orange slick of sunrise, Lewes beneath in a shallow wash of mist, Newhaven and the sea to my right.

In summer I’d counted butterfly varieties up here with my daughter, then we took snagged wool from thorns and used it to bind broken twigs to make stick people with buds for heads. We’d put them in the ground hoping they still held enough life to flower, a gift for Titania. It’s hard to live in Lewes and not be alive to the seasons: wildflowers, butterflies, crickets, skylarks…all and more take turns as barometer, clock and calendar as the year goes on.

I walked to my left where the crucifix was a silhouette, not yet given detail by the sun. As I got closer I saw a man heading in my direction, looking like he’d come some distance rather than from any of the stables. His collar was turned up against the chill, hands visibly balled in coat pockets, and after pausing briefly to nod to the cross as if fulfilling a well practiced daily ritual, he looked my way, nodded again, and headed down the hill.

The cross on the hill

The cross on the hill

His footsteps arrowed towards Lewes as fresh imprints in the frost and I could just hear, soft in the air, the gentle whistling of a hymn.