Hacked out of Cliffe Hill and Malling Down, near Lewes, are a number of defunct chalk quarries. One, now an industrial estate, still preserves the Middle Chalk succession with its key marker bands of marl. Another, the Southerham Grey Pit (in the Lower Chalk), preserves alternating bands of limestone and marl, produced by the Milankovitch cycles and their associated rhythms of climatic change, and evidence of a channel scoured in the Chalk by an undersea torrent. After an extremely wet morning fossil-hunting in these two pits, a pub lunch seemed to improve the weather sufficiently for a visit to the Bridgewick (Lower Lewes Chalk) Pit for some botanical advice and serious scrambling.
With boots on, and macs, and dishevelled rucksacks,
We admire the disused quarry face.
It’s quite special, that’s why it’s an SSSI,
Hid behind an industrial base.
We now understand how a soft, marly band,
If its fossils are right, makes a tag
That can pinpoint a stage in the Middle Chalk’s age,
Making mapping much less of a fag.
In Southerham Grey, on this rain-sodden day,
We observe what the climate can do
In the banding of rocks (and our waterlogged socks);
Then we go to the pub for a brew.
In the old Trevor Arms, we succumb to the charms
Of their fine Sunday lunches and beer.
By the time we are done, a glimpse of the sun
Makes the gloom of the day disappear.
In Bridgewick we quiver, as we learn how our liver
Reacts to the Ragwort’s foul touch;
And, for eyes that aren’t right, how a bunch of Eyebright,
When crushed and infused, can do much.
We clamber with hope up the steep talus slope,
And we find there are fossils galore;
So it isn’t surprisin’ we soon get our eyes in,
And vow we will come back for more . . .