Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Up on the Downs

A brief pause for emails, tennis results, the sandwich the Spyglass couldn’t provide and a small Guinness, and I set out on part two of my day’s plan. A trip back up on to the downs to investigate the two ‘monuments’ which I’d spotted in the distance and the mist yesterday.
‘Follies’ might be a better word. For both of them are indeed weird objects.

The first is known as St Catherine’s Oratory. I’m not sure why, because it’s a small 13th century lighthouse. The story goes that a local lordling once plundered a shipwreck of wine intended for the Catholic Church and was condemned as popish penance to build the light to prevent further wrecks. It looks a funny wee ‘pepperpot’ now, up there on its mound, and a gentleman I met at the site wondered where the monk had lived who had to light the watchfire each night. I suggested he might have muled in at dusk, but I was wrong. Wikipedia says (not that I usually trust Wikipedia after reading its curious article on myself!) that the tower was only part of a larger building, so I guess that’s where the oratory bit comes from.
Anyway, it’s a fun object with a fun history, and you get splendid views from around it, around and across the island.

From the Oratory, it is only a kilometre or so across the downs to an even more curious object, exactly five hundred years younger. In 1814 (a good year), to celebrate the visit of the Czar Alexander of all the Russias, a local gentleman by name Michael Hoy saw fit to erect, on a prominent point, a tall stone pillar with a ball on top, the whole suitably inscribed and making mention of the happy times Mr Hoy had spent dwelling in his Czarship’s regions. Well, I guess it was his money to spend.
But it gets better.
Forty-some years later, as the Crimean War raged, Russia’s Czar was no longer a friend but an enemy. Fortunately, instead of knocking Mr Hoy’s folly down, Mr W H Dawes simply replaced the inscription, and the very visible pillar-and-ball affair became instead a monument to those soldiers killed fighting the Russian forces at Alma and Sebastopol.
Nowadays, the original inscription has been re-added on the verso, so this particular folly tells two stories with very different attitudes. A splendid bit of history which now, nearly 200 years down the line, has its humorous side.

Five o’clock draws near. The sun is still out, but it’s not so hot as before … I think the picnic on the lawn may end up being a picnic on my bed..

Gosh, I’d better uncork the Chateauneuf du Pape …

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