Friday, February 10, 2012
So … Washington. Not DC and not the President, but the small village that describes itself as nestling gently in the side of the Chanctonbury Ring. Maybe it did once. Today it huddles alongside the A24, like a dog kicked out of a car at speed, sprawling and shivering in the wake of the incessant traffic.
I really wanted to like Washington after my positive experience of Adversane. I wanted to because it is a central feature of the book and the first tale which features a series of locations. But I couldn’t.
Anyway, back to the book. The tale Martin Pippin tells is of the King’s Barn and it has a number of places within it: Wapping Thorp, the Huddle Stone, the Bush Hovel, and the Guess Gate. Wapping Thorp has entirely disappeared, Huddlestone now exists only as a farm business and Bushovel is but a cottage in a former ancient woodland recently visited by an archaeological TV programme.
Guess Gate is a cottage too, and the Doves and the Hawking Sopers remain as place names only. The Doves (now Monks Gate) and the Hawking Sopers present differing views of the world to the young King who sets out to find his fortune. The Doves want him to become a contemplative monk and the Hawking Sopers (a bit of a tautology as Soper means falconer) want him to dance and hunt and carouse.
The King’s horse throws all its shoes and he goes to a forge in Washington to have the poor beast re-shod. I don’t want to spoil the story for those who haven’t read the book, so suffice it to say it includes a vow of silence, nudity, extreme filthiness, cross-dressing and physical abuse!
So, in a way, the effect of the A24 upon Washington fits quite well with the story, although the end of the tale is redemptive and the traffic noise is not! We thought about walking up to the Chanctonbury Ring, but it was as muddy a day as can be imagined anywhere outside of Glastonbury in festival week, so we decided it would wait for another visit.
I could not find a forge, although there are thatched cottages, one of which houses Chardonnay, a superb restaurant deeply marred by the blaring presence of the road which runs about 200 metres past the double glazed windows of the dining room. I had a smoked mackerel salad that was as good as anything I have eaten in Michelin starred establishments, duck confit and a wonderful chocolate and ginger pot for pudding… but the traffic and constant beetling of vehicles along the A24 made it an experience enjoyed against the prevailing conditions.
Alan Garner in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, talks about an ancient location which has become a modern housing estate as being ‘garlanded about with moss and mean dwellings’ – the phrase always stayed with me, and now I have found a location to which I can apply my own version: not moss and mean dwellings but racket and ruined vistas.
So much for Washington. I hope future visits are more appealing!