'Shepherds arise, be not afraid, with hasty steps prepareTo David's city, sin on earth,With our blest Infant-with our blest Infant there,With our blest Infant there, with our blest Infant there.Sing, sing, all earth, sing, sing, all earth eternal praises singTo our Redeemer, to our Redeemer and our heavenly King.'
My Brother had booked a break in a shepherds hut in the East Sussex Weald. He'd been looking forward to it, he told me, but alas he'd come down with a heavy cold. Our great-grandfathers were quarry men and miners and I felt embarrassed on their behalf. But.... I am made of sterner stuff and said that I'd step into the sheepfold and take his place. My wife didn't need much convincing as we'd often strolled past those abandoned relics on our downland walks and wondered what life would be like for a besmocked herder in harder times. I was, therefore, prepared to spend a couple of days whittling my own shoes and weaving a pair of slacks from woodland flax. I took down my field guide of edible fungi and researched hedgerow fruits.
The next morning we set off for a drive through the wonderful Sussex countryside. The low slung Autumn sun was treacherously low and made the narrow lanes shine like endless rivers. Dappled visions of the Devils fight with Dunstan the blacksmith were visible through golden hedgerows. Soon enough we arrived at Manor Stud Farm in Frant. It is a nicely sized village on the East Sussex / Kent border. The village green is bisected by a slightly sunken road, on one side sits ancient common land where ghosts of archers and gentle may-dancers might haunt. On the other is a cricket pitch and it is said that a well struck ball would land in Kent and be lost for ever in that wilderness.
Manor Stud is reached via a quarter mile drive and we were met by Henry, an aged Collie, and Plum a tiny Jack Russell. Both had impeccable manners and welcomed us generously. They introduced us to Mopps (she was born with a mop of curly hair) who runs the place with her sister Issie. Mopps first showed us to our own bathroom and kitchen and then, with such a light spring in her step that made our leaden town strides seem even heavier, led us to Skylark. A wonderful sight to behold. Deer scattered in front of this iron shod, curved roofed, wooden sanctuary overlooking the weald that fits the landscape perfectly. Chickens and ducks root and scuffle behind, horses and sheep graze to the right and the odd knowing nod was offered by those canny sheep as we climbed the steps into our little caravan. A comfy bed, a settle, Welsh dresser and small table were accompanied by a tiny wood burning stove. I could be happy here and I knew it instantly. We settled in quickly and took a short stroll along an abandoned coach road to a clearing which has swings, for both children and adults, hanging from vast and ancient trees. Slightly exhilarated by the swinging we returned to Skylark for a welcomed cream tea which was provided by our hosts. We lit the stove, read, relaxed, walked a little, relaxed, ate, relaxed and watched the sun drop sleepily into West Sussex.
I haven't slept that well in ages, the bed was very comfy and the duvet engulfed us and pinned us down. The stove chugged away and whispered, crackled and gossiped lullabies that spun dreams of fairy tales. I woke just before dawn by some ancient built in alarm and toddled off to our kitchen to make a cup of strong tea. As I returned all the animals around me were waking and I noticed that my steps had become much lighter and less clumsy. I sat on Skylark's steps and watched the sun rise above fields and hills of rolling mists and smelt the last ghost of smoke drift from our fire. The birds from the wood woke too and sang and chattered, deer made tentative circles of our hut but flitted every time I blinked, the sheep nodded and stared and the horses just carried on grazing. They get to enjoy this scene every morning and I felt a little jealous.
Breakfast was brought down to us by Mopps, golden scrambled eggs from the chickens behind us, sausages, bacon and tomatoes. Fresh blackberries and thick creamy yoghurt, a pot of coffee and lots of toast and preserves... Replenished from relaxing we ambled off into the woods, had a brief swing in the sunny glade and then ambled reluctantly back to pack up and leave.
There are two Shepherds Huts, Skylark and Mollydishwasher, and both are served by their own facilities a short walk away. They are named for Mopps' and Issie's parents favourite birds, Mollydishwasher being a local name for a pied wagtail. Both enjoy sensational views and can sleep two adults and two children. There is also a BBQ / firepit and plenty of wood and kindling.
by Warren O'Brien