RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Walk across the history of area at the Trundle

THE Trundle banks always amaze me with their wealth of flowers. You don’t see anything richer than this in Sussex.

The photograph shows my wife walking along the rim of the Trundle with its hard chalk surface which was dug out of the bedrock over two thousand years ago.

In the whole of that time it has formed only the shallowest soil on its slopes: less than an inch.

This is just what downland flowers want. Behind her grows a tuft of hardhead, aka common knapweed, which is perfect for butterflies.

Actually just before I took the photo we had disturbed three painted ladies nectaring on those dense purple cushions of sugar. This is a must for your garden, if you want to attract butterflies.

You can buy Centaurea nigra in the garden centres but it is more fun to collect the seed and grow your own in a pot.

You’ll find it in hedgerows and road verges all over the county.

On the slope to the left, we saw cushions of ladies’ bedstraw. This looks like spun gold. Elephant hawk moth caterpillars feed on it. Tudor folk spread it on the floor of my lady’s bed chamber to scent the air.

Then there were myriads of common hawkbits, which look like thin hairy dandelions and which feed the solitary bees that nest in the ground with their nectar.

There was yarrow, with its white umbels of flowers like the smallest summer cloudlets.

We wandered on through the high haze of summer heat that sometimes settles on the hills.

We saw the remains of early purple orchids, now just black skeletons of their April colours. Hundreds of old spotted orchids had set seed successfully as well. This will blow away as fine as Saharan dust to colonise some distant chalky bank or meadow.

There were hundreds, too, of pyramidal orchids, each stacked in tight formation of flowerlets on a single stem like a flight of Red Arrows, which often sport around this hill on special days. We found the delicate thread stems of fairy flax flowers, with their minute white flowers.

Nearby was a mass of eyebright with its slightly larger white flowers. Old Culpeper in the Civil War recommended these in a decoction to relieve conjunction in the eyes.

Scores of other plants on this place were used in their many ways as herbal remedies.

We were walking across a carapace of history, both social and strategic, a medicinal treasure chest for the ancients as well as their refuge from war and famine.

Today it is just a place of relaxation and pleasure.