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1887 'The Saunterer' walks by Ockenden House and Cuckfield Park

Updated: Oct 18, 2020



Yes, I am fond of sauntering about in the woods and fields around my native place, which I am not ashamed to say is Cuckfield, and though the little old place has gone back, and keeps going back until by-and-by it will have nothing to boast of but the Church steeple and the Union House, I have an affection for it on account of old times and reminiscences that even the transfer of the Bench, the County Court, and the Rifles won’t wean me of. And as I have said, I am fond of a saunter, and being so hail with pleasure the solitude that will then ensue, for who likes to be interrupted by groups of gay somebodies, and noisy children, when in a meditative mood?

I am not like the Sussex Daily News "Rambler" who over his breakfast table fancies he has travelled that morning from Brighton to Haywards Heath by rail, although the length of passage and staircase has been the utmost extent of his journeyings, and then sets forth on his rambles along dusty lanes and well-frequented places, that, having borrowed description of from some one’s book—most likely CLARKE’S DIRECTORY— he describes in his jaunty fashion, that as he sees nothing new in them, there is nothing new or exciting in his description.

Then his productive brain conjures up imaginative characters with whom he holds converse, but in a jargon he fancies to be real Sussex idiom, as spoken by the denizens of the Weald, but which smacks too much of Cockneyism or some garbled lingo of his own invention, his inventive powers being very acute, as may be recognised by the tales he introduces about cabbages and other matters he fancied he heard when riding solus in the 'bus.

It may be very convenient to be gifted with such marvellous powers as Colonel Crocket and Gulliver were possessed of, and such may his fate, but unfortunately for myself it is not my lot to participate in “Fancy’s wanderings” or weave fascinating tales out of "airy nothings,” or in my sauntering with ideal beings and converse with them. It is true, however, that I do meet often with homespun characters, farmers and farmer’s men, who talk sensibly and reasonably about what they really know something of—the crops and the cattle, the hay and the harvest, the hounds, the game, the weather, and such things—and a good deal is to learned from them, for they are not such nonentities as “Rambler” makes out, nor do they pretend to grasp at anything beyond their sphere.

But let him ramble on; l am off for a saunter with my ground ash stick in my hand down by the Park pales, and glancing as I go down the old Spinning Field at the lovely lawn and gardens of Ockenden House keep the footpath down the Cricket Field to the rustic bridge at the corner of New England Wood.

But before I enter that portion of the Park, just one word what is certain to strike you as you wander down the pales, and now for a bit of fancy a la Rambler. Harrison Ainsworth wrote “Rookwood,” a romance he tells us which is descriptive of the scenery around Cuckfield Park, so it is only stretch of the imagination to suppose that he, too, rambled or sauntered along the same footpath years ago, looked over the paling and admired a broadside view of the fine old avenue leading to the old clock house.

Nor is it at all improbable that in his rambles his ever active brain created the scene he has depicted in the work. Strong minds are subject to delusions! Harrison Ainsworth had a strong mind and highly romantic one, but there is no romance in fancying you are riding in a train when you are snoozing in bed so I thought, as I leaned over the rustic bridge, that comparison between the writings of Mr. Ainsworth and the “Rambler” would be like comparing a moss rose to a dandelion, and went my way across the Park.

Catching a sight of that very ancient tree called the Owl’s oak, once a monarch of the forest when the deer ran wild and the wolf roamed free amid its fastnesses, I could but wish that trees could talk. What tales could that shrivelled old trunk tell of a thousand years byegone, when in its pride the painted warriors of Britain assembled beneath its branches in the vain hope of repelling the host of invaders from foreign land! How they fled before the Invincible legions led by Caesar, nor rested until they reached the far-away mountains of Wales, where they felt secure from their rapacious conquerors! How the Saxon tribes came howling through the land, and appropriated it until driven away by the Norman interlopers, who did the same!

And it could tell of the time when the noble trees of the forest fell beneath the stroke of the woodman’s axe to supply the insatiable greed of the iron foundries then so numerous around. It might have heard, in pre-historic days, resounding through the forest the boom of the bittern, the bleating of the hart, the howl of the wolf, the lowing of the wild bull, and have seen the ancient Britons in full ardour of the chase of these wild beasts with which the forest is said to have abounded. Such were my thoughts as I sat at the foot of the old tree, but a passing shower destroyed my musings, and I had to put off my sauntering further for a period.

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 16 August 1887

An enquiry for Saunterer - letter to the Editor of the Mid Sussex Times

I am rather anxious to know what has become of “Saunterer,” a late contributor to this journal. He left off his first and last saunter, if I remember rightly, in the neighbourhood of the Owl's Oak in Cuckfield Park, and I am afraid that the sight of that antique monarch of the woods must have had such an awe-inspiring effect that “Saunterer" has remained spell-bound in its neighbourhood ever since, or else become engulfed in some bog of the locality. Whether this be the explanation or not it seems likely that the origin and length of his travels will somewhat resemble the history of the gourd associated with the name of the prophet Jonah, of old.

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