The Real Watership Down Header

On Watership Down,

in 1983 and 1985.

Sorry, this should be on Watership Down looking towards Cannon Heath.
The top of Watership Down, looking east towards Cannon Heath Down.
From chapter 19, 'Fear in the Dark':

''There are some big trees there,' said Blackberry. 'the roots must have broken up the ground pretty deep. We could dig holes and be as well off as ever we were in the old warren. But if Bigwig and the others won't dig or say they can't - well, it's bare and bleak here. That's why it's lonely and safe, of course; but when bad weather comes we shall be driven off the hills for sure.'...'

Sorry, this should be the tree and the gallop.
On the other side of the line of low trees and bushes; the
beech hanger is just to the right.

'...During silflay, however, Hazel mentioned Blackberry's idea to no one but Fiver. Later on, when most of the rabbits had finished feeding and were either playing in the grass or lying on the sunshine, he suggested that they might go across to the hanger - 'just to see what sort of a wood it is'. Bigwig and Silver agreed at once and in the end no one stayed behind.'

Sorry, this should be the tree and the beech hanger.
The same scene, but from further away, the beech hanger lies off to the right.
This area is now fenced off and access is not as easy as it was in 1982.

'It was different from the meadow copses they had left: a narrow belt of trees, four of five hundred yards long but barely fifty wide; a kind of wind-break common on the downs.'

Watership Down, and indeed all of the downs so associated with southern England, may appear to be a natural place, wild and untouched by the hand of man. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorry, this should be the tree and the beech hanger.
A photo I wish I had taken.
this is Graham's shot of the beech hanger.
Downland is the product of thousands of years of human management. Once, practically all of England would have been covered in open forest such as the beech hanger on Watership, this hanger is possibly a remnant of that forest. Left, as Richard Adams describes, as a wind-break.

Watership Down is not quite ‘a high lonely
place where man hardly ever comes’ as Fiver describes it in the 1978 film. At times, particularly at the weekends, the down hums,
maybe even buzzes with human activity, not
to mention, which Adams doesn’t, the
racehorses that thunder along the gallops
most mornings. Watership Down is
not all that quiet at all!

Blackberry knows all sorts of interesting facts about Watership Down.
Chalk downland is formed by sedimentary rock; chalk being the remains of coral and other sea animal shells which died and fell to the bottom of a shallow tropical sea, such as surrounds the Florida Keys. Later the rock was covered with other sediments such as clay and sandstone and the forces of tectonics forces the flat chalk layer into a dome. The top is eroded away leaving two ridges where the chalk breaks surface. These chalk ridges are downs.

Watership Down lies some fifty miles north of my home, the other ridge of downs lies less than half a mile to the south of me as I sit and type this. The thin acidic, chalky and flinty soil (flint being formed as a metamorphic product of chalk when it is squeezed and crushed) make downs unsuitable for most crops, however they can support thin grass which is suitable for grazing of sheep. Indeed the name Watership is said to be derived from Water Sheep, i.e. a watering place for sheep. If you looked carefully at the soil at your feel you would find it full of chalk and flint fragments. The rabbits would have found it hard going to dig below about a foot, down there the chalk is often solid and impenetrable. The down is continually managed as it is used for racehorse training, as you can see in the top photograph and even today for sheep pasture, did you see them as you approached and climbed the down? No? Well its time to move on and examine the hanger a little more closely.

ReturnClick Bigwig here to return to select another location. It might be best to avoid his ears, his fleas live there!