Friday, 6 January 2012


When Capability Brown landscaped the grounds around Ashdown House in the 1770s one thing he could not introduce was a water feature. Until Ashdown was connected to mains water in the 1940s the only fresh water supply was from the wells derived from springs on the estate. There was also a "dew pond" by the old stables and a dip in the field shows the spot where this used to be.

The villages along the Portway, the old Roman road from Wanborough to Wantage, grew up along the spring line. This is where the water that had percolated through the chalk came out, forming streams and springs. At Upper Mill in Kingston Winslow they dammed the stream to power both the upper and lower mills. There was a spring in the garden of one of the cottages that was used by the entire village. In Ashbury the springs fed the watercress beds below the Manor.

Higher up along the Ridgeway there has never been a water source which was one of the reasons that the Romans preferred the lower route. At Lambourn, site of one of King Alfred's palaces, there is a "winter bourn" a river that is supposed to be seasonal, flowing in the winter and drying up in the summer. Its source is in the woodlands and it derives from a series of springs. The water falling on the Downs takes three months to work its way through the chalk and emerge as a river. It's water is beautifully clear.