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Take a Word.... CHALK: Etymology, Definitions, Idioms & Story of a Hike along the South Downs Way

Updated on August 9, 2017
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Ann likes to research the history of words, to experiment with them and to encourage others to use fresh words and idioms.

Chalk Cliffs of Beachy Head & Map of South Downs Way

Chalk Cliffs of Beachy Head, the East end of the South Downs Way
Chalk Cliffs of Beachy Head, the East end of the South Downs Way | Source
From Beachy Head to Winchester
From Beachy Head to Winchester | Source

Etymology of 'chalk'

Origin

Old English cealc (also denoting lime), related to Dutch kalk and German Kalk, from Latin calx.


Definition

chalk - noun:

  • a white soft earthy limestone (calcium carbonate) formed from the skeletal remains of sea creatures (shells)
  • a chalk-like substance (calcium sulphate) made into sticks used for writing or drawing on a blackboard
  • a series of strata consisting mainly of chalk

chalk - verb:

  • write or draw with chalk
  • draw or write on (a surface) with chalk
  • rub the tip of (a snooker cue) with chalk
  • (British) charge (drinks bought in a pub or bar) to a person’s account (chalk it up on a board)

Bedrock

I was brought up on chalk.

No, I wasn’t forced to eat a diet of white crumbly stone. I was literally brought up on it. Each step I took as a child, since birth and almost all the time until l was at least 18, was upon chalky soil, a land of luminescent green upon a chalk bed. I lived in Sussex, on or near the South Downs.


My Landscape of Words

Words are a hook to place, object and self. Words feed from those things and in turn nourish them. Without words, neither place nor object nor self have an image, a meaning, a soul.

So that word ‘chalk’ - I hear it and it is mine. It is my childhood, I am it. It gives a particular shade of green; is that why my favourite colour is green? I've been reminded of hopscotch, by Eric; I used any old piece of chalk often, to mark out the impulsive hopscotch game on the pavement.

Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to expansive grassland, wide vistas, woods, fields and trees. I delight in the free access to open downland, walks with views stretched afar. One glance at a childhood photo and I feel the breeze on my face, I smell the woodland floor, I see the swallows on the air and the blackbird in the shrubbery. I see the lofty panoramic, cloud-scudding skies.

I walk through the twitten between flint walls. I smell the English Channel and know it is just over those rolling hills. These specifics, these references, define my existence.


Folding Terrain, Vistas & Open Skies

Folds of the South Downs looking Westward
Folds of the South Downs looking Westward | Source
Eastward from the top of Devil's Dyke & out across the Sussex Weald
Eastward from the top of Devil's Dyke & out across the Sussex Weald | Source

The Downs

They are chalk-land, these magnificent South Downs. They fold, wrap around the lanes, are marked by historical cart-ruts making parallel chalk lines through and up pastures, round corners.

They hide soft blankets of delicate bluebell under their trees. Their banks show pockets of pale primrose basking in the sun. Their bases of wide fields yield fodder for the horses neighing and galloping in scattered farms.

An occasional sea-gull peeks over the top form the sea side, just to find out whether the grass is greener on the scarp. It is, but the sea lures him back. Tractors trundle and combine harvesters clatter; those sounds cradle me and I don’t want to stray. I will do one day but I’ll always come back.


Rutted Tracks

Chalk downland, Rutted Tracks with woods, fields & farmland below
Chalk downland, Rutted Tracks with woods, fields & farmland below | Source
Chalky track on top of the Downs
Chalky track on top of the Downs | Source

Devil's Dyke

There is Devil’s Dyke, a steep cut in the chalk, dug by Lucifer trying to allow access for the sea to flood the Weald, that wonderful stretch of open-floor country between South and North Downs.

It is said that, because the Devil had to complete his attempt in one night, a nun put a candle in her window to trick him into thinking it was dawn and he gave up.

Atop the Dyke, I have a twin treat; sea to the South, countryside to the North. The countryside is where I live, that which breathes within me.


Devil's Dyke

Looking East from the dead-end Wall. The Devil dug from the North, southwards, trying to let in the sea. He got no further than this.
Looking East from the dead-end Wall. The Devil dug from the North, southwards, trying to let in the sea. He got no further than this. | Source

Chalk Challenge - Short Account of a School Hike

Twenty-five miles! I’ve got to walk twenty-five miles in a day?!

My PE teacher confirmed it. It was ok for her, staying at the chalkface, just popping out to welcome us back later.

She knew her faithful students would do it, some of us might even enjoy it, but we protested nonetheless. Miss Burrows had soft, fine curly hair, as white as chalk. Occasionally that chalk turned pale pink or assumed a tinge of purple. We loved her because she was strict but fair and had a twinkle in her eye. We could never pull the wool over her eyes, not by a long chalk.

There were fifteen of us; five teams of three. We had maps, drinks, thick socks and ‘stout’ shoes, the ‘jolly hockey-sticks’ type which didn’t give way to the bend of your foot. Walking over chalk downland at a pace would not be a sinch.


Chalky & Syd

Our leader, Chalky, was a sixth-former. She had a premature white streak in her otherwise shiny jet hair. It was striking but she hated it and so hated her nickname even more. We liked her but she never escaped the name.

Her sister, two years younger, was in my group of walkers. As different as chalk and cheese, they were, Chalky being long-legged and athletic, Syd having been given her father’s genes, short and she got short of breath walking to the dinner queue. In case you’re wondering, ‘Syd’ was named after Sydney, Australia, presumably where she was conceived, we decided.


The Hike

Off we set, on a fine day; a great view, with a mixture of terrain over open field and through copse and wood, meant that at least we wouldn’t have to cope with slippery, muddy paths.

We chalked up the miles as we progressed. Wolstonbury Hill was left behind to the east and the ridge of the Downs pointed westward to Chanctonbury Hill’s arboreal crown.


Wolstonbury & Chanctonbury

The north face of Wolstonbury Hill across the weald from just south of Hurstpierpoint (where I lived). The picture clearly shows the plateau jutting out to the West which is believed to be an Iron Age Fort.
The north face of Wolstonbury Hill across the weald from just south of Hurstpierpoint (where I lived). The picture clearly shows the plateau jutting out to the West which is believed to be an Iron Age Fort. | Source
Chanctonbury Ring is a prehistoric hill fort on Chanctonbury Hill, on the South Downs
Chanctonbury Ring is a prehistoric hill fort on Chanctonbury Hill, on the South Downs | Source

Winners!

Despite our misgivings, the day went well. A few blisters didn’t go unnoticed but all in all we enjoyed it. Our group arrived first. We swapped stories with the others and chalked the whole thing up to experience. I’d had a great day out in my favourite place so I couldn’t grumble.

...................................................................................................................................

Practical & Artistic

To ‘chalk up’ comes from chalking up the bill in public houses (pubs) when a client is well known and has an account. It’s added up at the end of the night, or maybe the week or month for a well-trusted gent, then paid in a lump sum. I’m guessing it was originally done on a small blackboard.

Apart from using 'chalky' as a nickname for someone with white hair, it's also used for anyone with a surname 'White', usually in full, so we get 'Chalky White'.

A seamstress would chalk material, that is she would mark out the patterns. Many a time I’ve watched my mother do so when she was making interior furnishings or adding a beautiful dress to my wardrobe.

Chalk can be used for carving sculptures or pictures. Another famous use of the medium are the chalk figures made by exposing the hillside substance itself; there are ancient and modern, such as the Long Man of Wilmington and the Litlington White Horse in Sussex, as well as the better known White Horse in Wiltshire.

Children love using chalk to draw on their own boards. The large pieces are easy for small hands to use and boards allow them to sweep across in expansive strokes, creating their own art.

The snooker player uses a small round of chalk to 'chalk' his cue, stop it sliding on the ball, for more precision on his strike.


Long Man of Wilmington

Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex.  Chalk picture.
Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex. Chalk picture. | Source

Litlington White Horse

Litlington White Horse, in the Cuckmere valley, East Sussex
Litlington White Horse, in the Cuckmere valley, East Sussex | Source

Nostalgia

It makes me smile to think of the chalkface. I’ve used many a blackboard in the classroom, ending up with dusty fingers and chalk marks on my face where I’ve brushed away my hair or attended to an itch!

One thing makes me cringe, though: the stomach-twisting squeaky edge of chalk scratched down a blackboard - aaggh!


Chalked Hopscotch - Quickly Made, Fun to Play

One of a variety of 'courts' for Hopscotch
One of a variety of 'courts' for Hopscotch | Source

Rules of Hopscotch

Have fun with your children/grandchildren!
Have fun with your children/grandchildren! | Source

Information: Chalk & Flint

Chalk is a soft, white, porous, sedimentary carbonate rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite. Calcite is an ionic salt called calcium carbonate or CaCO3. It forms under reasonably deep marine conditions from the gradual accumulation of minute calcite shells shed from micro-organisms called coccolithophores.


Flint is very common as bands parallel to the bedding or as nodules embedded in chalk. It is probably derived from sponge spicules or other siliceous organisms as water is expelled upwards during compaction. Flint is often deposited around larger fossils which may be silicified, meaning replaced molecule by molecule by flint.


Chalk has greater resistance to weathering and slumping than the clays with which it is usually associated (such as the clay in the Sussex Weald), thus forming tall steep cliffs where chalk ridges meet the sea (such as Beachy Head above, near Eastbourne). Chalk hills, known as chalk downland, usually form where bands of chalk reach the surface at an angle, so forming a scarp slope. Because chalk is well jointed it can hold a large volume of ground water, providing a natural reservoir that releases water slowly through dry seasons.


Fllint

Flint wall in Lewes, Sussex.  You can see the hard, shiny inner & some of the outer stone.
Flint wall in Lewes, Sussex. You can see the hard, shiny inner & some of the outer stone. | Source

The South Downs Way & National Park

We hiked a part of the South Downs Way which stretches westward from Beachy Head, just west of Eastbourne, to a spot just east of Winchester, traversing East and West Sussex and then into Hampshire.

It is in the area now designated as the South Downs National Park, the newest national park, opened on 1st April 2011.


Using Chalk to Draw or Sculpt

Do you use chalk as an artistic medium?

See results

Chalk & Downland

Do you live on or near Downland?

See results

© 2017 Ann Carr

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    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Hello again, Flourish! We do have some beautiful places around our British Isles; I'm biased of course but my adopted home of Somerset is wonderful too.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      S Maree: Thanks for coming back. It's amazing what we can learn about our fellow hubbers from the comments! I too was intrigued.

      Ann

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 months ago from USA

      How beautiful and how I wish I'd have spent more time in the English countryside. I much enjoyed your descriptions here and the photos are marvelous. I'm not much of an artist myself but I am an admirer of those who are. And I do recall playing hopscotch as a child. Loved the childhood past time.

    • profile image

      S Maree 4 months ago from North/Central Indiana

      Hello again, Ann! I love reading the responses from so many far away places. Am very much intrigued by Mr. Venkatachari's description of his uses for chalk. I hope this gentleman may one day show us his work. I'd also like to know how he uses his holy basil in his worship. The more we know of others the less we fear them and their ways.

      Thank you for helping me learn more about others!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Hi, Jo! Brighton was my old stomping ground; changed a little now but not all that much. The South Downs just behind it are the best! That's not a bad trek from Dover to Hampshire; have lived in the latter too. I just keep moving westward! (Stopped now though.)

      Ann :)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 months ago from Texas

      Thank you Ann. I don't make my clothes anymore after my 1st marriage to a childish man it left little to no time for my own interest.

      2nd marriage much better.

      I had planned to answer your challenge to write about a hike, but don't remember any in school.

      Blessings and hugs my friend.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 4 months ago from Tennessee

      Lovely, Ann. You make me want to visit England again. I usually only associate chalk with the school house of my youth.

      We drove from Dover over to Hampshire on our last trip to England, but went by way of Brighton. This looks life a lovely drive.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Venkatachari M: Thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Although I no longer live there I visit often and I live in a place in Somerset which has similar beauty. Sussex draws me back with a sense of being a part of me that nowhere else can do.

      I know you are an artist and it's good to read that you use chalk for designs.

      May I wish you a wonderful week.

      Ann

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 4 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very beautiful and informative article. You presented everything so clearly with nice images and a lovely story. Enjoyed it a lot (and felt even jealous) at your luck to have been born and living in such a wonderful place.

      And, yes, I use chalk for drawing the designs at my door entrance and at the place of the holy basil pot in my balcony on all festive occasions or get it done for me by my maid.

      Thank you for this rich sharing.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      What a lovely comment, Shyron! Thank you. I'm glad it brought back good memories for you.

      One thing I don't do is make my own clothes, a talent that I didn't inherit from my mother, sadly. I do, however, like drawing with pastels, chalk, and the like.

      Have a great week, Shyron!

      Ann

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 months ago from Texas

      Ann, this is so beautiful and it has awakened memories of my childhood that were dormant for such a long time.

      I do like to draw pictures with my chalk and I use chalk to draw patterns when I made my own clothes.

      I love you descriptions of your homeland with the pictures and the horse carved into the chalky hill-side.

      Chalk this up to one beautiful hub.

      Blessings my friend.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, Linda. I appreciate your kind comments. I have so many photos of my home county, almost as many as my adopted one, here in Somerset. They have many similarities.

      Ann

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your photos are beautiful, Ann. I loved reading this article and thinking about the places that you visit.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Linda: Thank you very much for the compliment and for your input.

      I think the rules of hopscotch are whatever you're brought up with. There seem to be so many variations, both of the layout and of the rules. I don't think I used to play it exactly like that but it's rather a long time ago to recall, sadly!

      Ann

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ann, what a wonderful excursion, and what a wonderful read. I know that I played hopscotch as a child, but not sure we were doing it correctly. (I don't think I've ever seen the rules in print).

      I love these articles on words--you do them well. I'm already looking forward to the next one.

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Dora! I don't know why I'd overlooked hopscotch before Eric reminded me, it was such a part of childhood.

      Lovely to see you and your comments are so kind.

      I hope your week is going well.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Victor: thank you very much, for reading and for your generous comment.

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Thanks, Eric; all down to you! I found that the rules vary quite a bit; I guess you just make up your own!

      Thanks for popping back. It's always great to see you.

      Ann

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thoroughly enjoyed this--the information and the stories. The pictures are invigorating. Played hop-scotch but never read the rules before. Entirely a good read!

    • newjerusalem profile image

      victor 4 months ago from India

      Information packed hub. Great work.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      You are so cool for adding that, and you did it just right. Very fun to read the rules.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, I don't say this because we are friends, although we are, but your articles in this series are among the most clever, informative, and creative of any written at HP. Seriously, this is very, very good writing. I just wish we could bottle this up and inject it into some other writers I've read.

      But alas,we can't!

      Have a chalky day, my friend!

      bill

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Thank you, Eric! I had forgotten about hopscotch! How could I? I used to do that when at Primary School in the very area I describe here. I'll add that in, just for you!

      Ann

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      S Maree: Thank you for your wonderful comments. I'm delighted you love England so much! Your poetic words should inspire everyone.

      Ann

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      What a wonderful escape. I have been to Dover twice but never to Sussex. The photos are just beautiful thanks. I have often referred to poorly cooked food as chalky. Hopscotch on a sidewalk from chalk. And trying to annoy everyone with making a horrible sound going backwards with chalk on a blackboard. Good things to remember.

    • profile image

      S Maree 4 months ago from North/Central Indiana

      Ah! Wonderful memories of visits to your green and watered land!

      I am amazed at a substance so seemingly fragile withstanding the forces of nature! I once picked up some chalk during a visit and crumbled it easily by rubbing two pieces together. How does it not wear into nothing?

      Doubtless my Celtic ancestors from your region must have been as mystified as I am. Surely they saw the incredible whiteness as a sign of something special! And the flints provided them with a means to build homes and defenses, as well as tools and weapons.

      And the water! So clear & beautiful where it seeps from outcroppings! Greens! Soft and velvety on the hills, yet deeper than evergreens in the wood and gorse.

      Thank you, Ann, for causing we to recall these lovely memories! Oh! Anyone who hasn't been there -- put it on your bucket list! England is a land of enchantments!

    • annart profile image
      Author

      Ann Carr 4 months ago from SW England

      Hi Jackie! Thanks for being the first, for voting and for your lovely comment!

      It's very unusual here to have such an edge and not have fencing round it. We're usually very 'health and safety'. I don't know why as it's a popular place for suicide! I don't like going near any edges, nor do I like it if someone else does. It's just as scary as it looks there!

      I wouldn't even think about 25 miles now but I was up for it then; oh to be young again!

      Ann

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Voted. Just loved this, so unique.

      Some of the photos could have been taken very near me here on the east coast. Those cliffs overlooking the sea though would be scary for me to walk near!

      Twenty-five miles? Whew, I cannot even imagine that!