THE LEGEND OF DEVIL’S DYKE
Poynings Devils Dyke Image
It all began with St Cuthman (of pushing his old mother in a wheelbarrow to Steyning fame) overhearing the Devil plotting to himself. At this point, Sussex had just gone Christian with a vengeance, having been one of the last places to be converted. Churches were springing up all over the Weald and the Devil vowed to flood them, letting the sea in by digging a deep trench through the South Downs, close to what is now the village of Poynings.
St Cuthman visited his old friend Sister Ursula who lived alone in a small dwelling in the vicinity, possibly a tiny chapel in nearby Saddlescombe, urging her to be vigilant and discussing a plan of action. At this point they both admitted a long and deep attraction to each other, for which she for one had been continually punishing herself.
The dreaded night arrives and the Prince Of Darkness sets to work with his shovel. Sister Ursula spies him and knowing he can only work under the cover of night, puts a sieve in her window, placing a lighted candle in front of it, to create a false dawn. She wakes up her cockerel, it crows and Old Nick, thinking it is daybreak, runs off, shovel in hand. His job is unfinished but the Devil’s Dyke is created and Sussex is saved! Her work completed, Sister Ursula dies.
Some say that the Dyke valley was created by the run off from glaciers as an underground stream, but The International Metal And Flint Convention, meeting in Brighton a good few years ago, used a machine to dig a deep trench across the gully and couldn’t find an explanation! This pleased the villagers of Poynings of that time and they have recently depicted the legend on their village sign.
Others would say that with global warming, the sea could flood the Weald after all and that the ancient battle between light and dark continues.
by Sheila Marshall