David shares his love of Sussex with Festival of Chichester audiences

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Petworth author David Johnston celebrates his love and understanding of the Sussex countryside in two events for this year’s Festival of Chichester.

David will discuss his recently-published book A Sussex Wayfarer’s Nature Notes with prolific Sussex author David Arscott, illustrating his exploration of the county with a selection of vivid photographs from his extensive collection.

The talks will be on Thursday, June 29 at 7.30pm and Thursday, July 6 at 7.30pm in The Studio, New Park Community Centre, New Park Road, Chichester.

David is promising images of the 1987 great storm, followed by stunning pictures of our flora and fauna: “Then there are fascinating accounts of our old farm buildings, such as the story of a Sussex barn called Bone barn where 17th-century body snatchers carried out their gruesome tasks. This leads us on to meet some of the rustic characters I have recorded, like old Harry Gilbert, the last of the Sussex Mummers. And another, an elderly lady Erica Bowen, who loved to be in the company of artists, one of her closest friends being Andy Warhol. This true English eccentric lived up in Blackbush House, an isolation hospital where those suffering from smallpox scratched their names on the doors. My photographs show this rare and historically-important graffiti.

“On our illustrated journey through the years, we also discover several interesting Sussex follies, one of which is the old smugglers landmark Racton Tower and the stories attached to this eerie structure; another is the Belvadere Tower and Grotto, so remotely situated in the landscape that pictorial documents are rare: but I have this building fully recorded on film. And so the programme leads us on through to enchanting places where picturesque lakes are the only evidence that there once stood a busy corn mill driven by the ever-flowing waters. There are too, old sunken lanes that lead us up to the summit of the hills, where lingers the Spirit of the Downs, and the silent restful places still to be found in our beloved Sussex.”

David’s book brings together his diaries of his walks with his wife over the years in a portrait of a landscape he loves. A Sussex Wayfarer’s Nature Notes covers much of the Southdown’s National Park. In all, 147 villages and hamlets are mentioned in the book: “Sue and I had been going out walking in the countryside for some years, and seeing so much countryside and because of my great affection for the country, I felt I had to record it. I never had any idea that I might make a book out of it, but I started to keep a diary. It was just for us to be able to look back on all our wonderful country walks in later years, really because we were observing so much in the way of wildlife, birds and flowers and so on.

“I was brought up in the country from about the age of eight or nine years. My mother was absolutely brilliant. It was like a verbal tuition she gave me. If she saw any flowers, she would tell me what they were. She never actually sat down and taught me. She would just tell me. She would just say. When we heard a bird singing in the hedgerows, she would tell me what it was. And so I just started writing a diary in 1987...” It was a countryside soon to go through dramatic times: “There was the big storm in 1987, and I was shocked to see all the stark devastation in the whole of the countryside around where we were, so much destroyed.”

Tickets 01243 816525 or 775888.

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