My writing for this project is taking all kinds of different directions. I’m writing lyric poems and prose poems, but I’m also writing extended ‘captions’ – short documentary pieces that explain things or make links between places and their watery stories. And I’m writing a working journal of course… as well as a record number of emails!
Dewponds, or dieu-ponds, are as enigmatic as the mist from which their waters are said to be distilled. Found on chalk downland, and invaluable to stock in these areas of dry grazing, they are traditionally constructed from an excavation in the chalk thirty to forty feet in diameter, four to five feet deep at the centre. The bottom is covered with a clay and lime mix which in turn is layered with straw to prevent the rise of heat from the earth after nightfall. A layer of broken chalk is spread over the straw and finally layers of puddled chalk or clay which set like cement but provide a much more effective lining. The trampling of sheep or cattle helps consolidate the base and keeps weeds down.
Despite the popular belief that dewponds never fail, many do eventually dry up in times of drought or when the base cracks, but there seems no doubt that a carefully constructed and well-maintained dewpond, kept clear of weed and overgrowth, retains water longer than other ponds, and replenishes itself effectively from rain, dew and mist.
Unfortunately many of the dewponds on the South Downs have been badly repaired, or neglected and allowed to become overgrown. Others are fenced off and no longer serve their purpose of providing water for stock. However, some have been restored and maintained by the South Downs Society and by responsible farmers. One of the finest working dewponds lies half a mile west of Ditchling Beacon. It was this pond, on Standean Farm, that inspired our work on the subject.
I am a dent in the ancient Downs –
shallow crater, unhealed wound. I am lens,
bright coin on the dip slope’s tongue.
I am the shock of water
filling the hollow left by the hoof.
I am found at the heart of a midnight storm,
in the pause after the snow’s rough song.
Sink to your knees in my summer dew,
winter rain and sleet.
Held by chalk-light between sky and hill,
I mirror the dark
through countless nights. I am thought
by earth and air, gorse and hawthorn.
Under the sun, I shrink
to a sliver of platinum. I am gone.
50º 54’ 02” N. 0º 06’ 25” W