Dongas and Dragons

On a May morning, twenty-eight summers ago, I first walked on Twyford Down.

At the top of the Down I slipped off my boots, for to walk on this land with shoes on seemed a sacrilege, such was the diversity of life on the high chalk hill. I trained as an ecologist, but science alone was not enough to explain the deep resonance of place evoked on Twyford Down. Perhaps it was the mix of peace and space, wildness and history and the curious ruts of the long abandoned tracks that were known as the Dongas.

dragon I Clarke

 

Look closely at the picture and you can see the hollow ways of the old tracks.  They drop away between the people and the thorn bushes behind them, leaving rounded ridge between. Like most of the photos collected for the book, this is a snapshot someone took.  It isn’t posed, it is a little blurry. It shows nothing more than a few people sat in a circle, a tipi behind them in the sun.

The cloth and stick creature in the foreground is a dragon – a foil for direct action, as people would walk onto the motorway construction site underneath it, dancing and chanting to stop work.  There are memories of these actions in the Twyford Rising book.

There are other mentions of dragons in the book: these include the ritual landscape of the South Downs, with its burial mounds and lost stone circles, which was said to represent a mighty dragon. A dragon-shaped ditch defended the camp and later, the huge machines used to excavate the Down were likened to mechanical dragons.

This is rare picture of Britain’s first road protest camp. The hill, that place of sunshine and flowers, is gone now. Instead there is a chasm, half a mile wide and almost as deep, echoing with noise.  There is also a legacy that continues, for that summer on the Down casts a long shadow on radical politics today.  This legacy is where Twyford Rising ends….but more of that another day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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