A Day on the Downs

About once a year, in the summer, I take a day off just for myself, away from work and family – some time alone to pray, walk and enjoy nature. A solitary retreat, to take stock, connect with God and nature, and enjoy what I love.

For some, church worship or other spiritual practices are the gateway to blessing.
For me, solitude in nature is a gateway to heaven.

For this introvert/contemplative/Christian/nature-lover with a normally busy schedule, it’s a perfect combination. Today was no exception.

Near Jevington

Actually, today I wasn’t alone – I took Gorka. And spent the first part of the day worrying that I was taking him out for too long in the heat!


We were out walking for 5 hours on the South Downs, from Wannock, over Butts Brow, through Jevington, to Lullington Heath, and back.

Whitethroat, at Butts Brow

About 9 miles in all. But he was fine.

We took a few respite breaks in the shade, including a stop at the Eight Bells, just for Gorka’s sake of course….

But, mmm, that Harvey’s Best was DE-licious!

Small Tortoiseshell (now unfortunately scarce), at Lullington Heath

When I lived nearer the Downs many years ago, I didn’t take it for granted. But I sure appreciate it a whole lot more now. Its flowery meadows, inhabited by swirls of butterflies and filled with the sweet aroma of wild marjoram and the call of skylarks, are the kind of thing normally only talked about in hushed tones of fond nostalgia these days.

Viper’s Bugloss

Here on the Downs those meadows, as you can see from the above photos, still exist!

Marbled White: one of the delights of the South Downs.
They were abundant here today.

I counted at least 16 species of butterfly in the small area I covered today, not to mention the incredible array of other flora and fauna, including wild orchids and a few interesting moths.

Today was the first day this year that I’ve seen Burnet moths. Their metallic sheen and their tendency to stay for some periods of time on thistles and other flowers made them a prime target for my camera….

Six-spot Burnet

…not that they were always all sitting ducks, and I quite like these in-flight shots, showing off the red hind wings:

Of some excitement to me, though, was seeing another member of the Burnet family for the first time ever: the Forester, of which there were quite a number at Butts Brow:

Forester moth on wild marjoram

This Brown Argus butterfly was also a rare treat:

But perhaps the greatest delight of all was seeing and capturing on camera one of those butterflies seen only on chalk hills: the aptly named Chalkhill Blue, which seems, for me, to perfectly symbolise the rare beauty of the South Downs.

Chalkhill Blue

Life Out Of Death

Wildflowers growing up against a gravestone

Life and death seem inextricably linked.

All the time our body cells are dying, giving way to new, living cells.

Last autumn, as I watched leaves falling and plants dying back, I reflected on the fact that it’s all a process of renewal. The fallen vegetation simply turns into life-giving compost for new shoots.

Death often means loss and heartache, but it’s also rarely, if ever, the end.

A life well-lived leaves a legacy of hope and thanks – and hearts of positive momentum.

I read an article by Richard Rohr recently, in which the Franciscan friar stated that we shouldn’t be surprised at Jesus’ resurrection, because dying and rebirth seems to be the pattern written into the very fabric of the universe.

This principle seems to be borne out in one of my favourite local nature haunts: fittingly, the grounds of an old church, whose ruined building and neglected graveyard have become a haven for wildlife.

Last summer, when I visited with my family, it was an absolute delight to see the graveyard teeming with Common Blue butterflies. Because it was evening, when the butterflies become less active, they could be picked up in my young daughter’s hands, and I could get up close with a short-range zoom and take pictures like this one:

Common Blue, July 2018, Old St Helen’s Church

Today we visited Old St Helen’s Church but the sun had gone in and perhaps it was a little too early in the year for the Common Blues. In fact, disappointingly, we didn’t see a single butterfly. However, I did spot this Common Marbled Carpet. A blurry photo (because it settled on a tree branch in very low light), but a rather beautiful and unusual moth:

Common Marbled Carpet moth
Life out of death

Read About Spirit of Nature here.