Note: I am leading Lamar University’s study abroad group to my home town, Brighton, to study travel writing and photojournalism. As well as writing features about Brighton and beyond, I’m keeping a diary, of sorts, about the class experience. Here is part 14.
BRIGHTON, England — The final day of the study abroad trip was a day for taking it easy. I had worked them hard for the 15-day excursion, but I wanted the students to leave with a final sense of awe. So, we hopped on the bus to Devil’s Dyke, a 100-meter-high “V” cut into the hills of the Sussex Weald on South Downs Way.
Fittingly half of the students missed the bus and arrived shortly before meal time at The Dyke restaurant (there’s only so many times I am prepared to wait for stragglers. Besides, there was plenty of time after the meal to look around).
The dyke is thing of natural beauty, offering a 360-degree panorama of the Weald. On a clear day which, admittedly, is rare, one can see the Isle of Wight 46 miles away. But even on a decent sunny day, with the ever-present wind buffeting the viewer, the chalk hills 30 miles away are clearly visible.
While all the hills are steeply curved, the Devil’s Dyke truly looks as though it has been carved with a knife. The rolling hills at the top suddenly give way to a smooth sharp incline on either side.
There is a myth, of course, to explain away the formation. Legend has it that the Devil decided to carve a channel to the English Channel to flood the churches of the Weald. As he dug the trench, he made so much noise that he woke an old lady who lived in a nearby cottage. She got old of bed, lit a candle and opened the curtain to see what was making such a row. A cockerel saw the candle and thought it was the dawning of the sun so he crowed as hard as he could. The Devil, thinking he had run out of time, gave up the job and ran. Another legend adds that the last shovel full he threw over his shoulder landed in the sea and formed the aforementioned Isle of Wight.
If one eschews the myth and looks to pesky science, the V is a dry valley caused by solifluction, a process where the top soil moves as a result of frozen subsoil, and river erosion. The Dyke was formed more than 14,000 years ago from cold, but not glacial, conditions, that caused the chalk to freeze. When the summer came, melting snowfields saturated the top soil and it slid off the frozen chalk below. At the end of the Ice Age, the snowfields melted and formed rivers all over Sussex, completing the process.
The restaurant at the top of the world featured a diverse group as my family joined us for our last English meal. Fish and chips and pies were consumed with glee. Vy, our food writer, said she loved the English food (she was the only one who attacked the cockles with gusto). Claire, our resident vegetarian, said English food suffered from a branding problem as she chowed down on a vegetarian pasty one day.
After the meal, the students walked off the calories by wandering up and down the hills, taking pictures of everything and filming themselves. They played in the ever-present strong winds that blow from the English Channel, a mere five miles away.
I left on the second-to-last bus as I had been there long enough. The students stayed for the last bus. I sat upstairs on the front and enjoyed a bit of peace and quiet, watching the streets come and go before me. I thought about my home town, and the effect it has had on the students. I thought about how seeing the area through their eyes had affected me.
I can’t wait to see the stories and blogs they produce.