The Run of the Downs

(notes by Philip Holberton)


Thus poem accompanies “The Knife and the Naked Chalk” in Rewards and Fairies (1910).

Peter Bellamy’s rendition is here.


In September 1902 the Kiplings had moved into Bateman’s in the Weald of Sussex, the area of ancient oak forest below the South Downs. This poem is made by stringing together the names of fifteen of the most prominent heights along the crest of the Downs. For the geography, see Michael Smith’s article on “The Sussex Landscape”.

In “A Three-Part Song” in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) he writes:

I’m just in love with all these three,
The Weald and the Marsh and the Down country.
Nor I don’t know which I love the most,
The Weald or the Marsh or the white Chalk coast!

‘The Marsh’ is Romney Marsh, the low-lying area along the coast along the border between Susssex and Kent (see “Dymchurch Flit”); ‘the white Chalk coast’ is to the West where the Downs end in white cliffs above the English Channel, the highest of which is Beachy Head.

In this poem in Rewards and Fairies, published four years later (the collection in which “The Knife and the Naked Chalk” appears) he says:

The Weald is good, the Downs are best.

[Line 3]

Beachy Head: the easternmost point where the South Downs end in the sea.

Winddoor Hill: the local pronunciation. The modern map calls this Windover, so the proper spelling should strictly be Windo’er.

[Line 7]

Chanctonbury Ring:  used to be crowned with a grove of beech trees, sadly blown over in the great storm of 1987. In “They” (Traffics and Discoveries p. 304, line 4) Kipling writes of ‘that great Down whose ringed head is a landmark for fifty miles across the low countries.

[Line 9]

what those two have missed between ‘em: Truleigh Hill is halfway between Ditchling Beacon and Chanctonbury Ring. This is the only instance where Kipling departs from his promised run “East to West”.

[Line 16]

Butser: just out of Sussex, over into Hampshire


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved