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A Sussex folktale

The Devil was angry at the conversion of Sussex, one of the last counties to be converted from Paganism, and especially at the way churches were being built in every Sussex village. So he decided to dig right through the South Downs, a range of hills along the south of Britain. He swore that he would dig all the way through the hills to let the sea flood Sussex in a single night and drown the new Christians. He started inland near the village of Poynings and dug furiously sending huge clods of earth everywhere. One became Chanctonbury hill, another Cissbury hill, another Rackham Hill and yet another Mount Caburn.

Towards midnight, the noise he was making disturbed an old woman, who looked out to see what was happening. When she realized what the Devil was doing, she lit a candle and set it on her windowsill, holding up a metal sieve in front of it to create a dimly glowing globe. The Devil could barely believe that the sun had already risen, but the old woman had woken her rooster who let out a loud crowing and Satan fled believing that the morning had already come. Some say, that as he fled out over the English Channel, a great lump of earth fell from his cloven hoof, and that became the Isle of Wight; others say that he bounded northwards into Surrey, where his heavy landing formed the hollow called the Devil's Punch Bowl.

Jacqueline Simpson. The Folklore of Sussex. B.T. Batsford Ltd: London, 1973.


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