I read Watership Down many years ago and was absolutely captivated by it. I’m sure you all know the book I am speaking of—the one about the brave bunnies who set out from their doomed warren to found a new colony in order to provide a much-needed boost to Art Garfunkel’s career.
I’m not certain what prompted me to pick up a book about bunnies back then, other than the fact that we used to raise (and eat) rabbits, so I had more than a casual interest in them. I expect I anticipated a pleasant, if somewhat bland, story, but it turned out to be a wonderful tale that was intensely interesting, surprisingly exciting and strangely disturbing all at the same time.
The bunnies, as you know, overcame some pretty horrific obstacles, and the story ended in a bloody, drawn out fight to the death.
But, it was only a story, all made up, with no basis in the real world. Or was it? Some weeks ago, I caught a snippet on the news (I generally avoid watching the news as it invariably ends up with me shouting at the telly; really, no good comes out of it) about an activist group protesting the council’s plan to put a housing development on Watership Down (which would provide an interesting symmetry as it was a housing development that resulted in the destruction of the original warren).
Anyway, this surprised me; not that locals were getting their knickers in a knot over the council’s plans (that happens all the time) but that Watership Down was a real place.
“Of course it is,” my wife told me when I queried her. (I might also add that she said it with a total lack of chagrin at having failed to notify me of this important bit of intelligence during the past decade.) Apparently it is common knowledge over here, but somehow ten years have gone by without it having come up in casual conversation. Never mind; the fact was eventually revealed (and just in time, it seems) so I proposed that we spend Saturday driving up to the northern edges of Hampshire to have a wander around the bunny warrens before they disappeared for good.
The map led us to one of those idyllic areas where impossibly narrow roads sweep through verdant vistas and the air is rich with the scent of money. The houses were large, the grounds well-tended, the security impressive. The locals remained reclusive, however, though they probably give us a glance as we wandered across their security monitors and thought, “Bloody tourists! Crawling around looking for that sodding rabbit hill that never existed. It was a bloody book, you fools! Well, at least they help us keep the Council at bay; otherwise we might have an estate filled with working class people nearby, and that simply wouldn’t do.”
Or something like that.
The actual Down itself was scenic and looked, well, like a Down. I mean, really, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. The walk was pleasant, however, and took us past an ancient hill fort that was, unfortunately, fenced off so I couldn’t get any good photos of it.
It was nice to get out into the countryside again after a long and sedentary winter, and I was chuffed to bits at getting to see the real location of the made up story about the rabbits, and get a photo of it:
At least I think it’s the real thing; it was on the map but I might have been looking in the wrong direction. As I said, they all pretty much look the same so, while I can be fairly certain that one of the green bumps I looked at was the true Watership Down, I cannot swear that this particular one is it, though the odds are favorable.
One thing I am certain of however, however; I didn’t see a single rabbit.