imageIt’s an oddly proud and almost schoolboy feeling when a bloke with a slight hunchback on Pycombe golf course, with greens as smooth and trim as a Brazillian Wax, asks you how many miles you’ve come and you get a “Good man!” For walking the whole of the South Downs, I mean, and effectively in six days. The three golfing blokes even smiled, when I hailed them with “I was going to joke that you’re ruining a good walk, mates, until I realised your clubs are bigger than mine!” As I jokingly tried to stand up to five cyclists pouring down a narrow bit of the track, barring their racy road with my stick, though we all got it. Then many people on the way are admiring or interested to know you’re doing the entire thing on foot. If people, not being so time rich themselves, perhaps, or in a fit enough state, or wanting that kind of effort, often just do intermittent stretches and break the South Downs up into manageable chunks. I’m referring, of course, and with the increasingly confident tap of my tall hazzle staff on flint and white chalk, along these truly ravishing escarpments, through wooded groves or across occasionally murderous main metalled roads, to what I now see as ‘My Way’, as ol’ blue eyes had it – the magnificent South Downs Way. Which, in perfect weather almost throughout, since setting out on Monday, has surprised and delighted yet again.

Of course any presumptuous invitation to the good people of Hampshire, and West and a tiny bit of East Sussex here, nay to the very Nation, to throw off their chains of mounting illiteracy, or individual indifference, to read my blasted blog and even walk with me, for a personal protest against the machine, for crowd funding artists, for charity, for old style travel writing or whatever, has naturally fallen on deaf ears (though not entirely, because the Swiss professor from the Sustainability Centre has kindly backed). Then everyone has their own thang. Indeed though I’ve singularly failed to part the Red Sea of growing Internet miscommunication, or lead the Israelites to the promised land of real books, sent once again, in the post, I’m very near the end of two finishing lines now, with Eastbourne beckoning by Sunday and the Dragon In The Post campaign drawing to an end this Wednesday too, August 27th. Can we do it, still.

Despite the gloom of not breaking through with the Katie Martin show on Thursday then, here at least I’ve had a splendid try, along with an astonishing and still to be enjoyed walk. While it ain’t over till the Fat Lady sings, and I hope I’ve done some small service in writing up the lot too, as it happens. I have also ensured very personally that the good word of stories, dragons or Phoenix Ark Press is now echoing (well, perhaps whispering) from here back to Old Winchester hill, like news in the old days of French Invasion, or the price of corn in London. Not without a certain sense of fun and shared adventure too, I hope, but it means I have been telling virtually everyone I meet, of me, of dragons or the RNIB.

Then, like the pylons suddenly beginning to march worryingly overhead across the working farms, over the sheep and cows, gorse and wild poppies, from centres of so called Civilisation like Peace-haven or Brighton on the sea, and in what is one of the most thickly inhabited areas of England, today I’ve also met more people than ever before; always both good and bad, but mostly very good. It’s precisely getting closer and closer to bigger centres now and because folk use the South Downs National park in so many individual ways, to make it their beloved way too; from route marching it, mountain biking it, jogging and rambling it, to daily dog walking, wild picnics, orchid hunting or the hang gliders that soar out off the dramatic Devil’s Dyke, on this section of my walk between Upper Beeding and Blackcap (to be explained). The Devil’s Dyke of course has a devilish legend about it, but was in fact carved out of the downs as water melted out of the glacier Ice Age ten thousand years ago. It helps everyone approaching the way who start to wonder where they’d like to be, when time is blowing all our bones like chalk dust through the heather.

With talk at dinner in my B&B of the raves up there too, or the grizzly motorbikes that churn up soft ground and are thankfully banned, I bet it’s enjoyed for a lot else besides. Although I had got today’s planning wrong then, with little Pycombe being far closer than I thought from the House of The Rising Sun, making a hike to Alfriston of near 23 miles tomorrow muh more than I wanted, my own pure, exhilarated enjoyment was aided by the fact that at Hobb’s Cottage my hostess and I came up with a nifty contingency plan – Namely to leave an over-heavy rucksack with her just after lunch and walk on for seven miles, in the end to an appealing pub called The Half Moon in Plumpton, where she picked me up, to be returned there again tomorrow I hope – to the Way, not the pub!

It led to the loveliest uninhibited afternoon walk too, with sweeping views out across the richly wooded Weild to the East and the North downs in the distance, a growing sense of expansion, that almost makes me want to take the Monarch’s Way too, and a pace of a very decent four miles an hour. Parallel I went, past Pycombe Church, still needing £14,000 for their crowd funded restoration, to that Golf Course, up passed two wind mills that crown the hills, Jack and Jill. Jill, though not reached directly on the Way, in her sparkling Randal-and-Hopkerk White is open to the public on Saturdays. Then out across watery Ditchling Beacon and then to a sudden drop down near enchanted Harry’s Hill, at Black Cap, haunt of woodpeckers, badger and some former writer who rises to pure lyrical poetry in hhis description on the useful notice board. There to meet both a bearded Hungarian bicyclist and a couple learning the nearing middle aged freedom of travelling the world light, planning the Downs next year, but India too, lucky things. Whose son had crowded funded as well and not only reached his large goal of over £40,000 but in just six days! Then he was blessed by some patron who put in £20,000.

It was another warm hearted and interesting encounter, with a promise to have a look or spread the word, from here to the Himalayas. So perhaps I will see about it this Bank Holiday Weekend. Which had all really begun first thing with the old gent walking his Labradoodles, just above Upper Beeding and the river Arun, as I was thinking of Sue’s troubles at The Rising Sun, in trying to escape the clutches of her Brewery and morph into a Free House, one solution perhaps being a kind of local Crowd funding too, in making it a communal pub. Beyond the State Acquisition Notice flapping on a farm fencing, the man on Beeding hill touched another age by calling me ‘Sir’, and not with any shame. Then he told me about the new Power Plant at coastal Peacehaven, but also of that vast Victorian Cathedral-thing in the distance, that first crowned the skyline as I got to that pig farm of yesterday, perhaps to challenge or suppress so many pagan spots that line the Way with a Victorian certainty. Not in fact a Cathedral though, but Lancing College, where a mate of his had once worked and so knew that the piles for the foundations reach as deep into the soft chalk as those rather pompous flying buttresses climb to heaven! Apparently one of the reason it still stands though, after that War that is still such a deep part of the Way’s story too, and Britain and the World’s, is that the Germans used to use it as a handy grid point on their bombing runs to Portsmouth and Southampton.

“Be inspired” cried the motto from the very uninspiring breeze block Youth Hostel just up the way, and rather unconvincingly because we so often seem to do things with so little style in Britain. I was thinking of the brilliantly imaginative and part State sponsored Parador system in Spain. But there, perching on the verge before Perching Hill, as a cow led her calf up Fulking escarpment,came the very inspiring sight of five redoubtable ladies who call themselves The Blythe Spirits Book Club! Well, one seemed to have a reading club of more criminal interest, but we chatted about how scandal and gossip are the very life blood of any decent book club. Since one came from the bizarrely named Warning Lid though, where a gruesome murder happened a few years ago, we shared a little touch of Brighton Rock and the darker, sadder side of life, or the South East. Like the poor woman found hanged in the loos at Hampshire’s recent Boom Town Fair. As they spoke of real shootings and even a headless torso. Then, Elvira-like, these fine damsels, who got a bit irritated with my calling them Ladies and also turned out to be dedicated Orchid hunters, seemed to haunt my day’s walk, very pleasantly. In fact they were making for Pycombe too and so we met up around lunch again in a cafe called The Hiker’s Rest, where I advised them to look out for a film called Adaptation, all about writers and orchids and things.

Some sage advice, if you are on this part if the way, especially around lunchtime – miss out the dreary Devil’s Dyke pub beyond the broken down WWII pill box and forge on to Saddlescombe. What a little surprise that is, with its restaurant cafe, Elderflower and Raspberry sponge cake to commit murder for, home farm produce and jams. Also a settlement that stretches back to The Doomsday Book and one where there was a small Templar Monastery, and the near unthinkable record of a request for acceptance of a Lady Knight called Joan. It, like the Downs, stayed the same for thousands of years, until technology revolutionised everything and swept the old order aside. Now it’s kept up by The National Trust, not least because they bought it to protect a major aquifer into Brighton. It has a useful Information centre, a donkey wheel, even it’s own prison for transgressors, but is a place of special magic. I was talking of my encounters though, so, dear walkers, and not at all just for the money, as I had joked, but the constituency too and the sheer crac of it, I address this blessed blog to you! You,Blythe Spirits, you the fine hearted team just setting out through the litch gate to the Stud at Pycombe, you parents of successful crowd funders too – I and Dragons and Phoenix Ark hath need of thee, in this very hour! So come support, and help a little dragon story fly, because I have only five days left! Thank you, and if you take the higher pledge I’ll stride forth again and talk books to you all.

Communicating though is what has kicked off recently at Hobbs Cottage, with the most atrocious review left on the dreaded Trip Advisor, after one a couple of years back about a run in with the cat, among many that are very good. Vituperative doesn’t do it, although it’s length and passion certainly undermines itself. All I can say is I found the place, which stretches back to 1605, very nice, thoughtfully done, with a great breakfast and if Wendy’s husband Terry is a shoe in for Lez Dawson, a tad Forthright at times for us wayfarers, although with interesting tales of being country billeted as a boy during the war, humour is perhaps needed in these dark times and a reminder that that Way is 8000 years old, to give us all a sense of perspective. I couldn’t run a B&B or quite live the small village gossip life. But perspective is what comes again driving up the hill, among so many magpiesthat probably gave Pycombe it’s name, magpie valley, to look out through sweeping purple clouds at giant sunsets and free yourself into the journey of the Way. The problem with Trip Advisor is that people can say anything and it stays there, haunting you, although I’m sure others read through the noise and do what they do. The Half Moon pub is suffering from the very same Trip advisor phenomenon, which since I didn’t experience enough, I can’t say much more about than I like their style and menu, although a certain snootiness does waft about these genteel parts. So to waking early in the night to see gnarled trees and moonlit shapes and shadows worthy of a witch’s bothy and blogging this piece too, then to setting out again for the final race to the Seven Sisters and home. Even if it’s only in reading the word, I hope you come and join me for the next two days.

David Clement-Davies stayed courtesy of Wendy and Terry Desborough at Hobbs Cottage, very conveniently located on the edge of Pycombe, with a nice conservatory and very big garden. They have two twin bed rooms, though with pull down bed facilities too, at a very reasonable £30-£40 per head, breakfast and tea and coffee included. Contact 01273846150

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