This photo of the chalk horse is for Steph, DCD walked as hard as Les Miserables for Kelly, he went with gentle irony for Justin, he spread his wings for Yasmin, he watched kites for Sol, he told stories for Jonathan, he quoted Stevenson for Di, he kept talking and trying for Sheila and he applauded the Ice Bucket challenge for Laura, all of whom have kept standing up for him, when others didn’t. You’ve really made the Street Team and those needed thanks to others too is yet to come.
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Hooray! It’s a really glorious feeling crossing those great white hunchbacks that edge the bleached blue sea at Eastbourne, those rightly named Seven Sisters, that end at the steadily eroding Burling Gap, to stop at last on Beachy Head and look back on another brilliantly clear blue day. It seemed as if I could really see back across all those hundred miles traversed and straight to Winchester, in the West, once a capital town of ancient Wessex and the Treasury of England. Now I should study the maps, fill out the blogs (with so much missed), put up three little films I made to Facebook and The Indiegogo Gallery too and leave some kind of useful or perhaps inspiring record for anyone wanting to walk the South Downs Way themselves. I think I’ll try to ‘publish it’ and keep on trying to raise money for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Meanwhile, on the way I came up with a new term for what crowd funding might be about, in the future and an age of such impossible capital differentials. Not America’s hated socialism, not just a shop front window on the internet for the same as ever, but some new idea for a way forward where money is an inevitable part of the scenery but where some new spirit and awareness needs to develop alongside- Crowd Capitalism. What do you think?
But I did it, pack on back, hazel staff in hand, trying to have a go with Dragon In The Post too and I’m chuffed. I blogged it all as I went, even if few were reading, which you can read now by scrolling down or clicking on the page above – “The Winchester Chronicles”. Of course the lack of a ticker-tape parade at the end, or any thronging, cheering supporters, dressed in Dragon costumes, (I call it the James and The Giant Peach Syndrome) can lead to a little deflation. Or perhaps it’s a lack of contributions from folk I encountered on the walk, for a book or charity, who I told my story to. Or that’s mostly coming back into the dizzy, preoccupied world, that really started after winding out from Dean’s Place hotel, after a super-powered, fuller-than-English breakfast, meaning I ate everything. Along the little river Cuckmere, passed that mysterious chalk horse no one knows the name of, through aptly named Litlington and down to the estuary where the Seven Sisters National Park begins and the green fields suddenly exploded with bank holiday trippers, chasing dogs, children, kayakers and of course the cars and buses rattling noisesomely between Eastbourne and Brighton – nyawwwwwgn!
You start to dissolve back into the unremittingly ordinary, dare I say humdrum, the doplar shift of time and life and death. Which every traveller knows the sigh of on their return, like that Stevenson inscription on the Toby Stone on Stanes ‘Street’ – “home is the sailor home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill”. Yet especially from real walkers, there’s a knowing smile or greeting if you are carrying a pack and walking stick and look a little foot sore and many “well done’s” from folk I told, with a real glint of admiration in their eyes. No time for laughing, trendy Japanese tourists then finding the sight of windswept me very griggly – which means a bit of raughing at a weary sigh. “I’m not weary,” I cried indignantly “I just came 100 bloody miles!” No time for the irritating scruff of the traveller at Eastbourne Station either, as I asked about the absurdly long Sunday service, (over three hours, with two changes, although partly because I refused to go back more expensively to London to get to Winchester) and who quipped “Walk it the mate, will only take a week.” “I’m not your mate, mate, and I just did, in six days.” But that put me back in the world too, as did the genteel Eastbourne ticket lady objecting to my cussing. “Oh please, I wasn’t bloody swearing at you and don’t be so bloody provincial.” Still, it was good to stop half an hour in Brighton, since I’ve never been and to touch the still fizzy, saucy picture postcard, Quadrophenia feel of the merry place.
But people’s approval at coming a 100 milles reminded me of that wunderlust back in Tich, something very deep in the blood, from friends who suddenly wished they were coming too, or were out there having their own adventure, an instinct as old and primitive as being free, or wanting to conquer the world. Before you do such a thing, a kind of imagined map in the head develops of possibilities, dangers, ‘anything could happens‘, needed kit or warning notes, but the best is gaining the experience and knowledge of it all and sharing it too. Which is why I was annoyed with myself for moments of un-self-reliance, when I stopped thinking and looking and asked others instead. It seemed to lead to two big mistakes. First the day before yesterday when I went storming off too far south towards the sea, after a cracking and perhaps over confident morning. It had brought me back up to Black Cap, then to the sharp turn south ,above Ashcombe Bottom, to the campsite and weird blue-tied security guards sitting reading The Sun in their unmarked car, outside Housedean Farm. Were they spotting for drugs, protecting the Telscombe’s judge’s family out for a night’s wild camping or trying to cheer up the lonely looking fellow humping his solitary tent back to Brighton. The truth is you can sense a lot of loneliness in people too in their travels and wrestles with the wild. I saw my first seagulls tipping down that hill, and several often sullen looking young camping groups, as well as a pure white cow, not quite as noble as Shadowfax or the deer in Fire Bringer. That farm lies on the thundering A27, where I took a photo of the South Downs Way sign for Facebook, backed by the nasty motorway, then crossed the bridge. So up and out again onto the escarpment, blustery now with a more threatening breath of the sea, and massing clouds, un-wondering whether or not there was any ominous meaning in cows half standing up, half lying down. It’s sitting back in doors in the remorselsy damp of Winchester’s chilly, pre-autumn drizzle that I realise how incredibly lucky I was last week with the weather, and how miserable those downs could very quickly become, caught in a storm, or blown into over emotional shapes on the way, like the trees on the down-tops sculpted into wave forms by the wind. That’s how they grow and how we grow sometimes too, since all exists in its element.
So out passed Loose Bottom, down Jugg’s Road, by Slump Bottom, with posh Lewes to the East, reminding me of the nice bloke in the George and Dragon that lovely sunny lunchtime in Houghton and thoughts of Black Tie picnics at Glyndebourne too, to Swanborough Hill by Home and Long Bottom. That made me think of a children’s series years back about War Time refugee kids in long grey shorts meeting a Mrs Gotobed, in a place called Granny’s Bottom – so coming up with the laughing cry “Go to bed, in Granny’s bottom!” Tee hee. That made me ponder my flatmate Norm’s puns back home though and hurry on to Beachy head. I am almost sure now it was at Swanborough Hill I must have missed the sign and tipped off too far south, after some guy on his Mobile Ap said Southease was 2.8 miles away, but all down hill from here. The truth is I was really trying to tell him about Dragon In the Post, but I took the wrong Down, down the wrong hill! That extended bit of the Way was repaired by Roger and Hazel though, elder walkers as tough as ferrets, who marched me back passed the young stud horses, through the charming village of Telscombe, where that important security guarded judge lives, according to Roger, though centred for big cases in Lewes, and where there is also a neglected Youth Hostel. They kindly pointed out the road again at the motor cross circuit on the hill. Looking at the map now it is 2 miles, so my total detour must have been six. Yet any irritation I’d got it wrong so close to the end, or that long metalled roads just hurt more, was eased by eating wild apples o, and the fact that the sun seemed to blaze again and the weather clear as soon as I got back on The South Downs Way. It felt like magic. It snaked me towards the River Ouse in the valley and so to really charming Southease, with its little railway line beyond, worthy of the Watercress Line back in Arlesford. It wasn’t the newness of the hostel there that appealed, although it was built last year, but the pleasant farm barn style and its busy energy; the original way it’s done too, for adults and children. Like the giant Connect Four set in the garden or the interesting information about nearby Ramdeen, haunt of Virginia Wolf and that Bloomsbury Set we are clearly failing (though not entirely) to re-start back home in Tichborne. So, after the sweet girl in the cafe extended her hours to make me a delicious toasted ham and cheese banquette, with a bottle of larger, irritating her grumpy, plump table wiping colleague and my continued struggles with my draining mobile phone, trying to contact a friend, at 5pm came the momentous decision whether to stay here, or march on over the top for the six and a half miles to Alfriston.
I’m glad I did, if it was quite a hike, because the girl’s remark that “I wouldn’t get the satisfaction” if I cheated a little with a cab was absolutely right. Besides, I wouldn’t have met a young man in a Macmillan Cancer t-shirt who had just run 48 Miles in a day from Woking, training for real charity raising, nor a sweet girl with her black mongrel about to walk up Beddingham Hill. Either youth, hope or memory stepped in there, because she was quite wrong that it was only twenty minutes over Firle Beacon to Alfriston – the long evening journey down Bostal Hill took a good forty minutes. But so to private recitations of Gray’s Elegy In A Country Churchyard about drowsing tinklings lulling the too-distant, bloody folds, among the fish eyed sheep, a warm, golden evening, that stealthy fox and the growing shadows of over Alfriston, long before the sun set on the hill, nestled as it is into the darkling folds of the valley. It is an odd place, surrounded with wealthy modern homes, several with Solar Panelled rooves, pompously named driveways and sleek, rich cars, but with a very old centre. So it was a delight to pass The George Inn and see a sign saying its beer licence had been granted back in 1597. That year Shakespeare bought New Place in Stratford, six months after his 11 year old son Hamnet’s death, his brother Edmund was just seventeen, and in the beery, bear-baiting, brothelly reaches of semi-outlaw Southwark, the Rose theatre was still working hard by Winchester Palace in London. While the Swan theatre in Paris Gardens was closed for the summer for staging that lewd and seditious Ben Jonson Play “The Isle of Dogges“. Shakespeare’s troupe had triumphed North of the river in Shoreditch though, their new patron Lord Carey had been enrolled in The Order of the Garter, to become Lord Chamberlain too and for which Will probably wrote The Merry Wives of Windsor, set with Falstaff at the Garter Inn. Two years later The Globe would go up in 1599, after the troupe dismantled the wood from The Theatre and took it south of the river. If the bod at Deans Place is right about the super rich Record Producer’s raves in his mansion nearby though, or the steamy inter marital goings on in the finest hotels, then England is as thankfully as lewd as ever, to be gently reprimanded by Shakespeare’s pricking Fairies. In Shakespeare lust is not the crime, betrayal is.
So to that astonishing purple-blue misty morning yesterday, on walking day six – allowing time out to return to Southampton, and the last push. Not exactly a push, because from Alfriston it all seems to hurry towards you instead and sweep you back into the tide – that was the river, this is the sea. The second irritation at asking the way though was the irritating nasal bloke who stopped with his mates and went on and on and on about what you might see or miss, as the South Downs Way seemed to split into many little tracks here, like its own estuary, then who came out with clunking guide-book phrases like “very historic Alfriston“, or the vital importance of the Long Man of Wilmington too. Which you can only do if you take the eastern track around the Seven Sisters Reserve. The choice of seeing that is balanced against that un-named chalk horse though and the beauty of meandering along the Cuckmere instead at the valley bottom. I confess to a mile’s cheat too by hopping a lift with a Swedish redhead, but even in times of yore they wanted an adventure and I like testing the hitch hiker spirit. So to the sea and up, up, onto those roller-coastal Downs again. As you look along of course, at the Dove- white edges and back along the snaking Down tops to Winchester too, with true pride, you again remember that’s what the Downs you have just crossed are – billions of years of steadily accreting crushed sea shells, chalk, eroded and sculpted by wave and then wind, and given a thin and so very recent layer of earth and grass, farm and housing, forms and passing meanings. Who can remember it all? All being eroded too, as everything is really moving and changing, like the houses at Burling Gap, below the little light House where they shot The Lives and Loves of a She Devil, that are year by year falling into the sea. No wonder the South Downs Way is so clearly marked with wooden signs, to give even more poignancy to those mournful wooden crosses and flowers memorialising sadder endings at Beachy Head, saying CLIFF EDGE. But there, it’s done and it was great.
David Clement-Davies set out on Monday last and reached the absurdly busy Beachy Head Pub on Sunday August 24th, 2014, around 4pm.