It was my birthday a couple of days ago, and I went to a local (Sussex) landmark called Devil’s Dyke with my lovely boyfriend.
The Dyke is the largest dry valley (I assume this means one without a river) in Britain, and it’s really cool to walk down, mostly because when you walk down the middle of it, there is no suggestion that the modern world exists. You can completely imagine that you are in the Middle Ages and that at any second bandits will leap down at you, or an army on horseback could charge through. You can pronounce lines such as “And My Axe!” with perfect confidence, but this is mostly because no-one will hear you.
The slightly mystical feel of the Dyke is only increased by the discovery of a large lump of rusty iron embedded in the earth. What could it be? Was the earth struck by lightening in an advantageous manner? Was there a wizard involved? Alas, no. There was still an interesting cause for it though, as it was a track for a funicular railway built in 1897 for day trippers to travel down the sides.The same day-trippers could also take a cable car, the first in Britain built in 1894, across the dyke, having taken a train from Hove to get there. It seems they would never have had to walk at all, which sadly reinforces my steriotyped idea of static Victorian ladies in corsets.
The Dyke was also created in a moderately static manner, by a glacier in the last Ice Age (which as we all know moved very, very slowly). Now, for those of you familiar with the low slopes and sunny-ish, warmish climate of South-East England, the idea of a glacier that was around long enough to carve out a valley is awesome enough – we usually have snow and ice for five or six days a year at most. However, the medieval people living in the area had a far more interesting explanation, which was that it had been dug out by the devil to flood and drown the people of the Weald, or that it was the devil’s hoofprint. Hence Devil’s Dyke.