Littlehampton bonfire was a huge success in spite of ‘bitter cold spell’

Last week I took a day off to enjoy what was direly promised to be, the last day of the Indian summer we have all been so enjoying.

I headed inland to Shipley Mill to see where the famous – some might say infamous – novelist, poet, songwriter, humourist and sometime politician, Hilaire Belloc, once lived.

Whispering Smith: Fire ship, the Sea Spray on her final voyage, Viking style

Whispering Smith: Fire ship, the Sea Spray on her final voyage, Viking style

I wanted to walk his pathway and see the trees of his beloved Sussex countryside, perhaps sing his Winged Horse in my tuneless voice and scare the blackbirds out of the oak trees there.

I wanted to catch a falling autumn leaf for luck, talk to other walkers and visit the lovely Shipley Church and, apart from the leaves which eluded my every effort, I did all of those things.

This renewed interest in Belloc, his works and his time, was inspired by my enrolment into the monthly course of a group financed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and led by local historian Chris Hare with the music side being left to the mellow voiced Emily Longhurst.

Informative, entertaining and a pure joy, should you get the opportunity to join such a group and have an interest in the life and times of this man and his Sussex, I urge you not to pass it up. Even if you are not that interested in Belloc – although heaven knows why not – a visit to the mill, the hidden pathways and the Countryman Pub for some lunch and well-kept ale should be a good enough of an excuse to take a day off. It’s local, it’s a delight, it is pure Sussex and right on your doorstep.

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I WATCHED the great bonfire grow on the green as we locals took the opportunity to rid ourselves of almost anything that would burn, but it saddened me a little to see Alan Rockall’s old river boat, the Sea Spray, sitting atop the pile. An undignified end to the old girl.

I can remember, several years ago now, watching Alan working on her at fisherman’s quay when she was sort of river worthy. He started the engine and to the delight of we watchers, the heavy brass propeller fell off and buried itself in the mud. He smiled, sheepishly, said he would fetch it out at low tide and, when fixed, would I fancy a run up the river? I declined the generous offer, wisely, I feel.

Now she is a pile of ash amid the ashes of the rubbish consumed by the roaring Saturday night blaze. A rotten end and I think she deserved better, maybe filled to the gunnels with straw, towed out to Hurd’s Deep and fired Viking style, that would have been something to see.

Good news is though, the Three Brothers is being repaired and although it will take a long while it will be good to see her riding the tides at the quay once again.

THE bonfire procession and display in spite of the sudden bitter cold spell was the huge success it always is and raised one shed load of money for various charities.

Well done all who worked very hard to make it so. Work has already started on next year’s event.

• If you would like to get in touch with Whispering Smith, please email: whisperingsmith1@gmail.com

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