Wight Life

Brighstone Man




Like a conjurer's canary, the black and white chick in her egg-shaped world pecked it from my dictionary: n act of surrounding.

A no-good fortune for that minister!

And now a Liver bird has hopped out from the Federation of Housing and Planning congress with a gleam in her keen eye, with her notes taken and a sharpened pencil ready for ministerectomy.

Worse, this Judy has printed them:
Environmental education was bound to challenge the establishment. In the meantime, the establishment was trying to take over and tame the issues. *

It has recently been suspected, if not established, that a Crown department will seldom let its right hand know where its left foot is treading. Still more rarely will one department have liaison with another. That must be avoided; for preference, banned — no co-operation, like; nor anything suggestive.

The Forestry Commission is in an unenviable position, where one shall plant and another fell.Behind Brighstone, along the chine of Wight, they planted conifers. Years later, some Peck-sniffian writer, with an environmental splinter turning sceptic in his conscience, comes questioning. It says much for civility that the Head Forester, after blowing off dust accumulated on the files, came back with all the answers.

This search began after our seeing the resurrection men untombing dusty Tutankhamun; and became emotional through ceremonial over the draped coffin of our King Edward.

The British have this irrational way with death. Brought up decently to cry 'Hi!' to a hearse, we bury our dead respectfully and leave them in peace — for a while. When a drowned soulless thing was left by the tide, great-grandfather Joel would drag it above high-water mark. With his long-handled shovel he would dig a shallow grave; and always he, lined it with a handful of sweet straw. 'So the poor dear should lie comfortable', he explained.

But with time-licensed vandalism we open Bronze Age barrows, rake through Egypt's tomb, stack village gravestones against the pissing wall behind a church. For convenience of traffic and the yield of taxation, we would disturb grandmother's bones. We take a skull from where it was laid to rest on an Island hill top, and have the eye sockets gaze reproachfully from a sealed case in a pay-as-you-learn museum.

For about 35 years there have been more men moving over Brighstone Down than the oldest muster roll records. Their work screened a trail that might have been trodden by Adam's sons, after seeing No Entry rusting outside Eden (which, according to Cardanus Rider, was 5,723 years before his Royal Kalendar for 1774).

Looking down on and across the multitudinous changing silver seas — which Shakespeare's Southampton surely praised to him — the foresters hid half that view from Island tourists; and from young lovers more keen to learn of animal life than to identify flowers from the Jubilee Walk guide.

Vexation greyed older heads. It was tepid comfort to be told by the Commission, when they came around to releasing the information — along with Cabinet papers, perhaps — that pines die off in two or three decades, after their acting Mary Poppins to the beeches. By 2000 AD there will be 1000 acres of pure forest. Not even that encouragement — their estimating so much purity may be around by then — is likely to keep me waiting.

Maybe, in lieu of compensation, the Commission will let grandsons scatter my ashes among their autumn mast.As things have gone, some day it may be only on the cover of the forest guide that the chalky line of the ancient road can be seen to wind along the down below Five Barrows — in curves that will draw and hold a man's eye, as they did when Islanders buried up here the bravest and most cherished from their villages.

This is perhaps the last grassed section of a bridle road that led from end to end of the Island; an unspoilt monument, to which no Crown department has as yet granted the accolade of a green finger-post.

When reproducing the Ordnance Survey map, the Commission censored it by blotting out Ancient Road and defacing Harboro. They have put no sign that, for Islanders, this should be venerated ground, where Old Men passed up and down, going to and fro in their days.

Remains of villages that sheltered these Island folk have been undervalued. In the West Country, off the B3311 road, a hut village has been excavated, where the early tinners made homes. They built as masons; and Ancient Monuments has res-tored their work. Summer long, a changing three-four of cars wait in the lane, while nickel trinkles into the collection box.Chysauster is a gem among the heather; yet we do have semi-precious chips of the sort, lost on Brighstone Down.

The first village site is within a mile from the National Trust car park. The group marks a significant spur on the parish boundary and almost encloses Gallibury Fields. Eight lie in a wide V, open to the north-east on Little Down and Idlecombe Down. In the Gothic script reserved for antiquities, they were marked by the Ordnance Survey edition of 1908. Some are named — Rowboroughdown, Bunkers and Rowborough Bottoms. The ancient track bisects this angle, and serves as foundation for a forest road.From a reckoning of evidence, another site may exist. If it should be found, it might prove the easiest to visit.Calbourne Bottom boundary stone marks the peculiar point which Brighstone thrusts into Calbourne Parish. Here bridle-roads and foot paths intersect on a major road. Three of these form parish boundaries — a recognizable clue to their antiq-uity.

The saddle between Brighstone and Mottistone Downs is a typical boat-pass, for portage from the Bay to Shalfleet River. It is the obvious course for avoiding danger in the channel south of Hurst Castle. Calbourne Bottom, for all its being out of the world, has had its old homestead, its goat and fruit trees until within the memory of many Islanders.

Remains of villages can be seen as depressions in the ground. In common with the majority of Island villages still inhabited, they are unimportant historically. But they are evidence of our remote gregariousness.

Because Brighstone Man could not have left a few coins — as Romans did by Buddlehole —his villages remained, familiar and contemptible. His descendants had moved on, most likely to be nearer Buddlehole spring. They needed a water-mill. They forgot the morning sun striking the pock-marked face of their Long Stone; theybuilt a church, and had no further use for his reclining mate, the ancient Corpse Stone.

The Commission has not ignored the sites entirely. Several are not on forest ground; those that are, they keep mainly free of trees. But the villages are not marked, for benefit to those archaeologically short-sighted (I only know such men worked where I now live on their hill, because I find their flint artefacts on my garden). The sites are of interest to the foresters and, in addition, a responsibility. It may be best to leave the remains of these villages much as they are, in the care of Island men. Who else can we trust with our forefathers' dust? The churchyard and grave commissioners? The National Parks, and national interest, men? Or the devious, establishment-serving boys of Environment?

Suppose Tourism stirred, to realise that folk from the New World share antiquity with us? It might mean that these Brighstone villages could be developed, to become another Gosh ...!
You know where.

*The Guardian, 2nd June 1972