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Strolling within the air: Snowman creator Raymond Briggs’s favorite Sussex paths | Journey



There aren’t many individuals who can declare to have seen a snowman fly over their home. It might sound fantastical, however each Christmas I calm down to observe The Snowman, Raymond Briggs’s best-loved work, and watch because the red-haired boy and the plump, tangerine-nosed snowman swoop over the downs that encompass the village the place I reside earlier than gliding above the Royal Pavilion and Brighton Pier and on out to sea.

Decrease East Sussex

The Snowman, like lots of Briggs’s works, unfolds in opposition to a backdrop of the East Sussex landscapes he liked, and the place he lived for greater than 50 years. So it’s becoming that the primary exhibition of his life and work since his loss of life in 2022 is being held not in a London gallery however at Ditchling Museum of Artwork + Craft, simply a few miles from his home within the village of Westmeston. Authentic drawings and illustrations, memorabilia, images and framed fan letters (together with one from an American pastor enraged to find that Father Christmas included pictures of Santa on the john) give a novel perception into one of many biggest illustrators Britain has ever produced.

One of the crucial attention-grabbing displays is Briggs’s desk, nonetheless cluttered with all of the ephemera he labored amongst whereas creating When the Wind Blows, Fungus the Bogeyman and Ethel and Ernest. Pictures of him on the desk present the view he referred to as “an incredible privilege”, stretching north throughout the Sussex Weald to the faint haze of Ashdown Forest within the distance. Each morning he walked the quiet footpaths and shady bridleways that knit the farmers’ fields to the low inexperienced hills, and recreated this countryside within the pages of his books.

Raymond Briggs at his desk, which options, nonetheless cluttered, within the exhibition at Ditchling Museum of Artwork + Craft. {Photograph}: Felix Clay

I perceive his love of this quiet nook of Sussex, as a result of his footpaths and fields are mine too. There’s one thing barely miraculous about this broad swathe of countryside sandwiched between the built-up coastal strip and the belt of commuter cities – Burgess Hill, Haywards Heath and Crawley that deceive the north of Briggs’ nook of the nationwide park. The cities could also be rising, however the South Downs lies between the city sprawl like an incredible inexperienced lung. Strike out on to one of many centuries-old bridleways, and solely the newly planted vineyards advancing throughout the fields like silent armies are proof of the world turning in any respect.

“It’s very Briggs – grounding his work in particular locations to make it really feel very actual and genuine,” says Steph Fuller, director of Ditchling Museum. “His household talks about how a lot he liked the downland landscapes – it’s great to see how tuned in he was, how a lot he understood the countryside and performed it again into his drawings.”

The South Downs nationwide park, during which Raymond Briggs, lived, labored and walked. {Photograph}: Maurice Savage/Alamy

The fantastic thing about holding the exhibition so near the place Briggs lived is that it provides the chance to observe in his footsteps and stroll by the landscapes on present in his work. Most guests to this a part of the world head up on to the downs to stroll a stretch of the South Downs Approach, with the ocean shimmering to the south, and the villages of Ditchling, Westmeston and East Chiltington – the place Briggs is buried – on the north facet of the escarpment.

I want to observe Lodge Hill Lane previous the museum, take a proper on to Boddington’s Lane after which observe the footpath on to the low hill behind the village. From right here, Ditchling’s medieval homes – most famously Wings Place, given to Anne of Cleves as a part of her divorce settlement from Henry VIII – and the picturesque excessive road roll out in the direction of the downs, the ridge of hills rising like a khaki-hued tsunami, dwarfing the homes dotted by the fields beneath. If I’ve extra time, I’ll stroll the three miles from Ditchling to East Chiltington, following the route of the previous Roman street – the Greensand Approach – that when ran from Barcombe Mills, close to Lewes, to Pulborough in West Sussex.

Cattle drink from a frozen fishpond because the solar rises over the South Downs Approach at Ditchling Beacon, a mile from Briggs’s house. {Photograph}: Simon Dack Information/Alamy

Better of all, any stroll on this a part of the world tends to finish up – or no less than pause – in one of many unspoilt pubs that lie on quiet lanes. Briggs was usually seen on the Half Moon in Plumpton, set straight reverse a byway main up on to the downs, or on the Bull in Ditchling, with its medieval, low-beamed bar. My favorite is the Jolly Sportsman in East Chiltington – the type of pub you’d by no means discover in the event you didn’t realize it was there, with a sunlit, flower-filled backyard and chic, candlelit eating rooms.

The Half Moon pub in Plumpton, considered one of Raymond Briggs’s favorite locations for a drink. {Photograph}: V Dorosz/Alamy

A stroll on the downs, a pint within the pub – such easy pleasures are the essence of Briggs’s work. “His books are finely noticed portraits of day-to-day life,” says Fuller, “however these lives type the backdrop to one thing extraordinary, whether or not it’s a snowman coming to life or the specter of a nuclear explosion. I feel that’s why his work is so liked, so uniquely partaking: it encourages us to search out the extraordinary within the on a regular basis, simply as Briggs did himself.”

Bloomin’ Good: The Life and Work of Raymond Briggs runs from 27 April to 27 October at Ditchling Museum of Artwork + Craft.

A brief break in Snowman nation

Eat The Nutmeg Tree in Ditchling serves wonderful lunches, espresso and cake in its fairly walled backyard and conventional tearoom, whereas the Half Moon in Plumpton presents small plates – welsh rarebit, mushrooms on toast – alongside pub classics. For a correct splurge, e-book a desk on the Jolly Sportsman – specify if you wish to be exterior.

‘Wonderful lunches’: The Nutmeg Tree cafe and tea room in Ditchling additionally has a walled backyard. {Photograph}: Grant Rooney/Alamy

Keep The Bull has stylish doubles from £143, room-only.

Stroll (about 8½ miles, fairly taxing) Start at Hassocks station, the place the signposted footpath from the automobile park leads throughout fields and up on to the downs. Go the Clayton Windmills (featured in The Snowman) and observe the South Downs Approach to Ditchling Beacon. Cross the street and preserve to the ridge, on the lookout for the footpath signal all the way down to Westmeston. Observe the indicators north out of the village, throughout the fields and thru (often very muddy) woods to Ditchling. Observe Lodge Hill Lane previous the museum and on as much as Oldland Windmill earlier than following the street all the way down to Keymer village and again by Hassocks to the station.

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