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Brass Monkeys on the Lewes Tump

I visited this site again today, on a mad impulse, having not been there for over a year.

This is far too long.

It was a little cold (!!!) and I was fresh from work, so not exactly dressed for it. My new digi-cam is truly a wondrous thing though, and at last I have taken all the shots of the place I have meant to for a long time, two of which can only be obtained in Winter.

As I write this the snow is on its way, so I seem to have timed it quite well.


The Tump, Lewes — Images

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The Tump, Lewes — Fieldnotes

As a Sussex schoolboy I was always told that the Tump was a Calvary Hill, used by the monks of the nearby Priory as a punishment, the idea being that they had to carry a cross to the top. However, apparently a fragment of Neolithic bone was found when the new path was created, so that puts paid to yet another "lazy monk" theory of ancient-site creation, as far as this druid is concerned.

At some point in the late 19th or early 20th century Lewes Bowling Club, who own the site, decided to carve a huge chunk out of the side of the mound, in order to accommodate a bowling green. This act of vandalism also cut into the original spiral path, which originally began around the northwest sector and ran anti-clockwise to a small platform on the summit.

Most of the spiral path is still intact, and can be reached via the new tarmac path, which runs clockwise from the southeast sector. Once on the spiral path, you can leave the world of tarmac behind, and what remains of the spiral is a gentle and beautifully simple short stroll. However, the fact remains that this site is right on the edge of a built up area, and technically in the town, all the land to the south being taken up with sports pitches. Expect to find the evidence of teenage drinking at the top, as I have most of the times I have visited.

…Which brings us neatly on to the Hole.

The Hole is a square concrete-sided monstrosity which was dug into the top of the Tump at some point (I can only assume in the sixties) in order to hold the cross that Lewes Christians carry to the summit every Good Friday.

The rest of the year it holds empty lager cans (see picture).

I actually don't begrudge them this tradition that much (The cross that is). It only stands there for a few days and actually looks quite impressive. In 2000 they re-enacted the crucifixion up there, leading "Jesus" through the town from Lewes Castle. I tagged along and found it fascinating, as an outsider.

What does really anger me is the way they leave this ugly concrete thing exposed for the rest of the year. A few years back local Pagans used to go up there, once the cross was gone, and fill in the hole again. Unfortunately this has to be a covert activity, due to the Bowling Club locking the gate from the car park in the evening, so I am naturally not advocating such action. That would, clearly, be wrong.

If you visit the Tump during the day you will not be hassled at all. Many people climb it in the daytime and this does not seem to be a problem. However, I remember climbing it to watch the midwinter sunset a few years back. Sitting there, minding my own business, I heard an upper class voice shout from below:

"Excuse me! What are you doing?!"

Two instincts fought for supremacy. The first said "Apologise at once and get orf their land!" The other said "What the hell does it LOOK like I'm doing?"

I looked at her as if she was mad and asked her what she meant, which she didn't seem to have an answer for. She disappeared.

I have to admit to having not stayed too much longer after that. She had succeeded in spooking me, and the moment was lost. As I drove away I saw her again. She looked at me as if memorising my face for a police line-up. I looked back, I hope in the same way.

Another time, during the day, I faced the four quarters on the summit as part of a private druid working. No robes. No chanting. Just a bloke in jeans and t-shirt, facing four directions and lost in his own little world.

That was until I noticed a man who broke off from the bowling taking place below (On the green that cuts into the Tump) and, hands on hips, stared at me as if I was smeared in goat's blood and howling to Satan.

Just be warned: this is the attitude you risk encountering if you stray onto the Lewes Tump after sundown or looking remotely "alternative".

In summary the site is a bloody disgrace (albeit delightfully manicured), but sitting on the summit on your own, feeling the wind on your face, it is possible to forget that, for a little while at least.
Cursuswalker Posted by Cursuswalker
28th January 2004ce
Edited 28th January 2004ce

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