I treated myself to a lie in until near 9 o clock. By then I was ready for a short stroll to the Little Chef for breakfast.
The interior had a curiously dilapidated air and there didn’t seem to be any customers. It was because they were closing down and today was their last day! I was told this by a staff member about to lose her job but who took good care of me with a good fry up. One of the treats of hiking is not worrying about gorging and quaffing stuff that’s supposed to be unhealthy without exercise when one can burn it off on the road, ‘specially when one thinks of a day like yesterday. All depends on lifestyle anyway. Piece of luck though me being at this Little Chef today rather than tomorrow.
I felt as though my body had maintained a skeleton crew working through the night to prepare me for today’s hike. Now I should just about be up for it. It should be easier than yesterday anyway although at first sight it looked the opposite for it was main road nearly all the way! It looked worse than it was though for 4 reasons:
The distance was something like 12 miles. About 2 thirds of yesterday. Less actually, because of those landowner diversions.
One good thing about main roads is that it’s harder to be diverted from them.
Another was that mapreading would be easier. Something I would find boring on a normal hike but after yesterday that would be welcome. The main road was Stane Street all the way apart from the last few miles.
There were 3 small towns or large villages on this road. That meant more chance of pavements and places for liquid replenishment. Yesterday I’d crossed a desert in that respect between Oakwoodhill and here. That coke they gave me at the pub had proved crucial.
There was a problem though. My mobile phone told me it was on it’s last legs when I got back to the room (it really picks its moments!) which gave me the morale building feeling that I’d been daft enough to forget the recharging equipment. The travelodge staff found stuff that would do the job and I’d like to make it clear at this point that I heartily recommend Travelodge staff! The ones at the place I was at anyway, which makes the odds good enough to take a bet on the others I feel.
Then I thought I hadn’t turned the connection on. Later I found I had and I’d turned it off instead. After correcting that a buildup of boredom with daytime television and running out of time prompted me to take a chance and leave with a mobile phone that assured me of ‘limited’ service. I’ve been accused of being impractical. I try to be thorough but there’s always that maddening something. I hoped that wouldn’t rob me of decisive success this time when the time was right to contact the press.
There was no pavement south of the Travelodge. For a mere mile. Then I was at a roundabout with a heraldic sign proclaiming the first of those 3 places I was to hike through: Billingshurst. The main road went into a bypass here but the Roman road just kept right on as they often do, through the centre of this place.
Billingshurst was a lively little town with shops that enabled one to replenish supplies and a nicely placed bench on an embankment above the road, where one could have a break for a drink and a map check.
Then there was another roundabout on the other side of Billingshurst where the bypassing main road joined Stane Street again.
After that it looked like the road was losing its pavement and becoming dangerous again with walls of foliage hemming one into an incline of killer traffic. Instead of ending though the pavement went into a hedge and continued up the other side of it. It was a cool sensation wandering along what looked like a woodland path with the illusion only spoilt by the occasional truck thundering by feet from me on the other side of the hedge. As well as that traffic noise of course. Still, if only more of this road was designed like this.
After it had ascended the incline the path emerged to become roadside pavement again and just continued; until it came to the village of Adversane, complete with villlage green and lovely looking pub on the other side of that.
The Blacksmiths Arms was a quarter of the way towards Pulborough. I took shelter from the buildup of another hot day in its shadowy interior. The barmaid was a school leaver about to go into teaching. Very interested in my job with Special Needs children. I took care never to divulge any personal information but still might have given her enough for a career adjustment. Meanwhile along with a meal I had what had become my most frequent drink for this walk: orange juice with lots of ice, the cubes of which I would swallow when they became small enough. Well it was one way of keeping cool and another way of avoiding dehydration.
There was no pavement after the Blacksmiths Arms.
Before long though there was. For a short distance before ending again.
Not far after that though there was another. Intermittent pavements. I see. Fair enough.
This one though just kept on. And on. And on. Past fields, farms, woods, houses, down tree lined vistas of road. All the way to Codmore Hill and beyond. That was as good as Pulborough for Codmore Hill was just north of there. There were more places to buy drinks too. The weather was the same as yesterday: too much of a good thing; but I hadn’t expected there to be this much pavement. Compared to yesterday this was a piece of cake.
Codmore Hill itself – which I’d been warned about – left me with the feeling ‘was that it?’ Granted it was a hill but it seemed hardly more so than those I’d crossed yesterday flattening myself into hedges rather than strolling down this pavement.
I crossed a bridge over the first railway I’d seen since Dorking. Soon after that a heraldic sign announced I was about to enter Pulborough.
Pulborough had a lovely church but that was up a steep incline so I didn’t visit. The town lay lengthwise along a river and I crossed one end of it. Maybe that was why I didn’t see much in the way of places that were to my mind people friendly; like shops selling drinks, snacks to eat and pubs of course. Instead there were estate agents which to my mind weren’t.
The river on the other side of Pulborough was a fully fledged one and it had a huge catchment area. The stream I’d crossed at the foot of the tree tunnel hill before the Oakwoodhill pub, the brown offering I’d been misled to, also the stream crossed by the bridge I’d sat on before that final long haul down Stane Street yesterday: that was all the same stream which grew into this river, with the help of some others.
From the bridge over it one could see the South Downs again. These hills were more of a long ridge cresting the horizon now, like a huge static ocean wave heaving up before breaking on to a beach.
There was a floodplain beyond the bridge which meant level going. There was less traffic. Pulborough was a main road junction so that must be the reason. It turned out there was a pavement or footpath by the road all the way to Coldwaltham too. There was even something of an avenue of trees along this road. Trees were much sought after to avoid the heat. It all should have meant easier going but for some perverse reason I felt my strength flagging. Maybe it was blisters. They were beginning to make themselves felt. I’d expected their appearance earlier but those new boots I’d bought were good ones and the blisters had held off until now.
Coldwaltham – the third village/town – was ahead. A pub was marked there on the map and that would be most welcome on the fourth day of my march. It was the third hot one and the first day in London hadn’t been much cooler. The distance from Pulborough to Coldwaltham was much shorter than from Billingshurst to Pulborough but it seemed to take a long time to get to Coldwaltham.
Eventually I was there but it seemed to take a long time to get to the pub. At last! There was its sign. But it turned out to be the sign for Coldwaltham itself! Instead of being on the edge of town like Billingshurst and Pulborough this sign was placed well within Coldwaltham for some perverse reason.
I never found the pub. Checking Google recently I found it tucked down a side street. I never found any kind of shop either. Just plenty of properties amidst the village greenery which although well kept were not actually picturesque. It looked as though I’d wound up in 2nd home zone land; hobbling my way along the length of an architectural version of a manicured corpse. It was a village or small town only in name. There was hardly anyone around either. Coldwaltham was dead. There was another lovely church though.
On a hill beyond was a view of the South Downs. Much closer now. A rampart of hills I would cross tomorrow. The southern edge of the Wealden anticline.
Further on the main road curved to the left and I carried on into country lanes again. Always a real relief from a main road. People quietly fishing by a network of ponds on the left seemed to sum it all up. The lanes led into a landscape of idyllic fields and hills past a signpost that hadn’t changed since World War 2. Then up a tree shaded hill past tennis courts with people playing tennis in this paradise. It looked as though I’d entered the ‘sceptred isle’ version of England that people imagine should exist. The idealised England sought after by foreign tourists such as Americans. It was all real enough here. No wonder this was part of a national park, although I’d crossed its border back at Pulborough.
The hill was actually the edge of a terrace of land at the foot of the downs. A lower level of strata but more recent than everything back to Leith Hill. I was coming up out of Dinosaur country.
The paradise feeling continued past a gate between a hedge and garage which gave a glimpse of dazzling gardens beyond. HG Wells once wrote a short story about a door in a wall that led into another world of endless gardens and parks that left one with a sense of longing. That’s what it reminded me of.
I’d reached the edge of the village of West Burton. An unremarkable name but what a visual treat of a village! Maybe there was no village shop commerce here either but historic architectural gems were tucked away amidst variegated greenery. Roadside borders of flowers such as roses and geraniums, grass too as neat as newly mown lawns. A privet hedge sculpted intensely enough to look solid. West Burton was in fact half village half garden. Maybe it was getting towards that world HG Wells imagined. The grass invited me to just sit for awhile in all this beauty, but I couldn’t stay long. I was due at my bed and breakfast and although I had just one more mile to go I wasn’t there yet.
A track off to the right beyond a hedge with distant poplars formed the border of West Burton and the lane wandered on parallel to the South Downs. Only a few fields away now. Its scarp slope walling in the southern horizon, clothed in woods hazy with the summer sunshine, contrasting with the fields of golden wheat ripe for harvesting before it.
My feet were sore but I knew – rambling through this countryside – why I wanted to have the freedom to ramble for as long as possible. It wasn’t just keeping fit. It was getting out there and really seeing what sort of world we exist in, exploring it, experiencing it. Experiencing the adventure of wandering through a land such as this, or foreign parts strange enough to be other worlds, along with the challenges of what I’d been through, never being sure of what one will discover, the pleasures along with the perils, while having time to take memorable photos of the whole thing. Being an incurable fantasist I’d always wanted to be physically up for a Lord of the Rings type trek, or any good journey in an SF novel, in the unlikely event of the occasion calling for it. Rather than the usual mundane dash from A to B in motorised comfort that walls one off from sensation and experience. Besides I was also into geology and the natural world generally and would have loved fieldwork had I been able to go professional.
The roads I’d rambled along had left the course of the Roman road around Pulborough. Now it had altered course more towards the west, only existing as a dotted line on the map through fields and across lanes before slanting up the scarp slope of the downs near the lane I was to ascend tomorrow. There was more though: a Roman villa marked on the map just outside the village of Bignor.
My bed and breakfast was there and – I’d been told – was by the Roman villa.
I reached the track to the villa heading the other way from the Downs. The villa had just closed: the consequences of starting late from the Travelodge.
Beyond that on the villa side was a vineyard. Talk about Roman influence. No house though. The edge of Bignor could be seen not far away though with a prominent house. Try that one.
Success. Stane House. That’s what I was looking for. They’d named it after the Roman road. Victorian in vintage but not ostentatiously so. I knocked at the door and just stood there, not minding waiting, just content that another days hike was at an end.
Eventually the door was opened. The lady opening it told me it was the first time anyone had knocked at the front of the house. I briefly filled her in about the adventure I was attempting by way of explanation.
They took me through the house which looked of average size from the front but went back a long way. The couple here were old but I’ve never seen such healthy looking old people. Would I like a bath – I’m sorry we don’t have a shower – or be shown around? A bath would be just fine! Normally I shower but I prefer a bath by way of relaxation if I’ve had a day of hard graft.
Up a flight of stairs at the back of the house was my room with en suite bathroom. Everything there – including the brass bed – was in Victorian style. Beautifully maintained. Later I realised that was true of the rest of the house I saw. A sash window offered a view looking back towards the Roman villa over the sunlight vineyard and the lane I’d made my way down.
Some time later I got out of the bath, into clean clothes, and went downstairs. Nobody around. I emerged into the garden. Nobody there either. There was that Marie Celeste feeling. It was a good time to explore.
Initially the garden seemed to run along the side of the house in small straight paths between rectangular walled flowerbeds. I think there was a water tank too.
The more I explored though the more I wondered how far this garden extended? There was a lawn beyond to the edge of a generous sized pond backed into masses of garden foliage and subtropical plants. At the back of that on a higher level was another lawn. Everything picked out in that quality of light I love: the overwhelming amount of sunlit detail, of foliage of all sorts. Like a never never land made up of organic glittering green jewellery where it’s impossible not to feel at peace. No wonder the couple here looked healthy.
Wandering back down the side of the house there was sudden mutual surprise when I passed an open window. The man of the house was there with a computer: a surprise in this place in itself.
We chatted and the lady made me tea. Though I complimented them on their garden I can’t remember if they said they maintained it all themselves. They had the occasional event at their local church when – from their description – they’d tried to insert a jungle into the church. Eventually a combination of British apathy and the odd killjoy killed off this enterprise, which I would like to have seen.
A photo was taken of me in that garden with the South Downs as a backdrop for the journalist who wanted photos of me in memorable places.
Would I like to be driven to a pub in a neighbouring village? They were driving off to see friends and could drop me there, but I would have to walk back though. Thanking them I declined the offer. Chances are the pub and village would have been lovely, together with the evening stroll of a mile or two through this countryside, but although it might have been laziness after walking 12 miles there was the logic of not bothering to go out for a drink when I was high already. I guess I’m no alcoholic.
What time would I like breakfast in the morning? My indecision on that led to an offer of 9 which I accepted. Maybe it should have been 8 but the dice was rolled.
They left and I did what I preferred to the pub: savour that garden. After all, pubs were part of my normal life but this kind of garden wasn’t. I explored further. There was a pergola leading to the lawns. That and the only side of the house I hadn’t seen was festooned in greenery and flowers, along with Union Jack bunting down the side of the house to celebrate the Olympics. All bathed in soft evening light. Anyway I took a nice photo of horses grazing blissfully in this light beyond the garden, in fields going back towards the South Downs ¼ of a mile away. Something for the children at the school perhaps. Then I read my paperback sitting in a garden chair.
As long ago as when I was a teenager I felt it was a privilege to be British after all when the weather was like this in summer and there were these long sunlit evenings flooding the landscape with golden light. Indeed there’s hardly any land like this on Earth. The only place in the northern hemisphere outside Western Europe with this combination of climate and length of summer day is around Vancouver, Canada. Even there the scenery is different. As for the southern hemisphere there’s no land at all at comparable latitudes, apart from Tierra del Fuego. One day I really must make a planet where what I was seeing is the rule.
Maybe this kind of environment was why the couple here wanted a cheque instead of online payment: they’d made a marvellous job of living in a different time zone. The computer was just about their only concession along with their website. Otherwise this house and garden were not of this frenetic world as I know it: just on the other side of the South Downs, so close now.
I retired to my room and sumptuous bed. The TV was one other concession. I surfed that as the sun went down.
© D Angus 01 13