The Spring Equinox in Kingston, an old Sussex village

I used to dream about the flint buildings and chalk grasslands of Sussex when work took me away for a few years from the county of my youth. I have been back, thankfully, for some time now and, on Sunday, the day of the Spring or Vernal Equinox, I spent some inspiring moments in the sunshine in the surroundings of my Northern daydreams.

I had been buying compost, flower pots and seeds in a local garden centre and broke my journey home in the old village of Kingston just a handful of miles from my home town, Lewes, in East Sussex.

Here below is the fine 11th. Century church of St Pancras, built from Sussex flint nearly a thousand years ago in the good/bad old days of King William the Conqueror.

You enter the churchyard by what is called a tapsel gate, unique to East Sussex, with only six remaining and all of them within ten miles of Lewes.

Tapsel gates have a swivel post in the middle so that it can be opened 90 degrees in either direction, with enough space for human beings carrying coffins but not enough for roaming cattle.

This gate, and its fellows, was invented by one John Tapsel, a bell-founder and restorer, who roamed these parts in the early 18th. Century. The one here in Kingston is the earliest, installed in 1727. This is a piece of pure Sussex – beautiful, eccentric and practical in one delightful push of the hand.

Beyond the gate I saw a clump of this weekend’s much delayed but very welcome trumpeters of Spring, a host, as Wordsworth called them, of golden daffodils. They too, when not in Wordsworth’s Lake District, look perfect against Sussex flint.

Just as well that the tapsel gate stopped any passing cattle from eating them, if cattle ever do eat daffodils.

They might well have chewed up this fine bank of newly flowering violets too given the chance. It is right that old English churchyards were known as God’s Acres. They are still, when allowed to be, splendid nature reserves.

Walking down the lane from the church, there are some attractively scrubby verges and under-played and tiny cottage front gardens with their own crop of daffodils and the fading remains of snowdrops. Kingston village was just a single street from Norman times until the 1920s when the builders came in to expand/ruin what had been a classic medieval village. Some of those old cottages remain, hanging onto their charm under the eyes of grander, more pretentious households which give away their origins with house names such as “Brambles” – what country person would want his house named after a pernicious weed?

There are also some fine flint buildings further down the lane too; in some ways every bit as fine as the old church of St Pancras.

These two wonderful and traditional Sussex barns are unembarrassed by the everyday clutter of working farms and they are fantastic buildings and, sadly, too often these days most of them are converted into homes and given names like, well, Brambles.

There is a very grand house too with tall chimneys and a lot of bedrooms but, sadly, the unfriendly and very tall but beautiful flint wall serves as a good deterrent to nosy wolves. I had seen enough though to go home feeling that Spring had well and truly arrived in these parts. I went back to my own daffodils but more about them some other time. Happy Vernal Equinox everyone.

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