Friday 7 October 2011

Cannon Heath Down: Background (part one)

This is a rather poorly made panorama of Cannon Heath Down, based on photographs that I took during my painting expedition of the 24th of August, 2011. I assembled it manually using Corel Photobook. You can, no doubt, see a whole host of discrepancies between this and the painting made on that date.

But this post isn't about a painting. It's about a hill.

Cannon Heath Down (OS grid reference SU5056) is part of the Hampshire Downs. It is a near neighbour of one of the most famous downs - Watership Down. In fact, Cannon Heath Down is contiguous with Watership Down; it is literally just around the corner (you turn left if you're walking; in the picture, the bend is on the right hand side of the hill).

The two hollows in the side of Cannon Heath Down, which I think help to make this hill so attractive, have names; they are, as you look at the view presented above, The Warren and Coombe Hole respectively. Both names refer to rabbits, which were once an important part of the local economy. The same animal was also, of course, the inspiration for Richard Adams' book, "Watership Down".

Photograph of selected text from
the White Hill sign.
In addition to the footpath that follows the ridge along Cannon Heath Down and Watership Down (part of a long distance path, the Wayfarers Walk), there are also some gallops. A "gallop" is an exercise track for racehorses. The horse racing industry has a prominent presence in this part of England; Newbury, with its well known racecourse, is about 10 miles away, and there are several large racing stables in the vicinity. An information board by the car park and view point on White Hill (which affords easy access to the footpath over Cannon Heath Down) notes that the racing industry has helped to preserve traces of Celtic occupation:
"Fortunately horse racing has preserved some areas and the remains of [Celtic] field systems can still be seen on the edge of the gallops."
However, a report issued by Hampshire County Council, the "Integrated Character Assessment" of "Willesley and Litchfield Dipslope Open Downs" (Cannon Heath Down is in this area) expresses concern about "Continuing localised visual intrusion from [...] fencing of racehorse gallops which interrupt the smooth skyline."

There will be more about horse racing, and the history of Cannon Heath Down, in a future post.

But for now, I shall leave you with a curiosity - a song by a band who appear to be named after the hill (Edit: according to this they picked the name out of Richard Adams' book, Watership Down. Despite not having read it). I haven't managed to discover anything much about them, but they produce a rather nice indie sort of sound.

And yes, that initial still does look like it might have been taken on Cannon Heath Down - the hill.

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