Kingley Vale, yew trees and Viking ghosts


When we were students in Sussex in the early Nineties, my friends and I would sometimes drive up to Kingley Vale, just outside Chichester, on the South Downs, to work off our indolence with a bracing walk, and possibly an extra strong cigarette or two. On one memorable occasion we were surprised by members of Her Majesty’s Constabulary, who drove up to our van in the car park one Saturday evening, and shone their torches in our faces, on the spurious grounds that the van was a diesel and someone had been stealing similar ones in the area. Personally I think they were just bored of rounding up drunks in Chichester that night. But I digress.

Kingley Vale is a National Nature Reserve and SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), and is looked after by Natural England. As well as being a diverse habitat for flora and fauna, it contains 14 scheduled ancient monuments, including an Iron Age earthwork (Goosehill Camp), the remains of a Roman temple, and, at the top of the Vale, on Bow Hill, four Bronze Age barrows. These are colloquially known as the Devil’s Humps, or otherwise the Kings’ Graves, and are said to be the burial site of Viking lords defeated by local men in the Ninth Century. Further down the hill is a large area of yew woodland, with some trees thought to be over five hundred years old, and the ghosts of the dead Vikings are supposed to haunt them. Having been there myself after dark, I can testify that this is indeed a spooky and atmospheric place at night, the trunks and branches of the old yew trees twisted into strange and wild shapes by the wind, and the passing of the years.

Photo: Jessica Ann


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