Sunday, 12 June 2016

TADS #4:The South Downs Way I (or A Cuckmere cutoff)

The first attempt at a two day TADS walk may not have seen the walkers reach their destination but it didn't feel like a complete failure. There was laughter. There were sights. There was ale and there is expectancy that the rest of the walk will be completed sooner rather than later.

It's a pity the inclement weather brought an abrupt end to proceedings but it seemed pointless to soldier on past the point of enjoyment. Getting out of breath trudging up a hill is one thing. Pouring water out of your shoe like it's a jug quite another.

It had all started so promisingly too. Reduced in numbers (both of people and genders) to just myself, Shep, and Adam we stopped for a panini and a toastie in Lewes' station award-winning Runaway Cafe. These simple requests took at least four staff, and a great deal of panic, to deal with. But they tasted good and they set us up nicely for the first little stretch out of Lewes.

We were moving so fast we barely had time to register the remains of the Cluniac St Pancras Priory. Under concrete tunnel and over kissing gate we marched. Soon we were in the village of Itford before finally reaching the South Downs Way itself.

Cyclists and several other walkers passed us by but we soon took a detour into Rodmell. Not to see Virginia Woolf's former dwelling Monk's House but to stop for a pint of Harvey's in the beer garden of the delightful Abergavenny Arms.

Dodging, by our own volition, a two pint mistake we headed on to Southease, past the Saxon church, and eventally crossing the Ouse (where, in 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself), a railway track, and the busy A26.

From here we started a steep ascent to the ridge of the downs. To the north Mount Caburn stood proud. To the south Newhaven, a town Shep reported unfavourably on, came into clear view. In both directions you could make out the meander of the Ouse. The water, bizarrely, flowing upstream. Is it a tidal thing!?

It was a 10k stretch along the ridge of the downs. Cyclists passed us who'd started 5am that morning in Winchester. We passed cows, sheep, dead rabbits, and the Bronze Age barrows where the Beaker Folk buried their dead. It was a glorious undulating stretch and, mild chafing aside, all was well with the world as we breathed the clean fresh air of the hilltops.

After numerous false peaks we eventually started our descent into Alfriston. The loose gravel on the path proving something of a challenge. I watched Adam skid about but keep his footing. I was less fortunate. I went 'for a burton' and ended up with some minor grazes to my hand and a slightly bigger dent to my pride.

Alfriston is a picturesque village that styles itself as the Eastern gateway to the South Downs and would appear to have a problem with nimbyism. Forget the EU referendum. Forget ISIS. The big story there is the campaign to keep traffic lights out of Alfriston. Didn't realise improved traffic calming measures could cause such concern.

The pubs were nice though. We firstly tried a couple of Hopheads in The George Inn. Adam and I ate there too. Puy lentils with halloumi, shaved asparagus and sun dried tomatoes.

Later we popped over to The Star (directly across the road). There was a wedding reception going on but we nursed another Harvey's and watched England and Russia play out a predictable 1-1 draw in their first game of Euro 2016. Shep, who'd steered clear of the 'poncey' food in The George, had a cheese sandwich. It looked pretty good though - and so it should've been for the price.

We'd booked ourselves a night in Flint Barns, a hotel-cum-vineyard on the outskirts of Alfriston. A jolly fat man from Seaford Cabs drove us out there. We had bunkbeds! The room slept 8 but there were only 3 of us. I slept pretty bloody well.

In the morning we had a chance to look around Flint Barns. What a gorgeous spot. A good place to go to read books, play board games, and sample the local wine. We contented ourselves with a hearty breakfast. Vegetarian sausages, hash browns, fried mushrooms, scrambled egg, and toast. But no beans. Why no beans? Shep, clearly having gotten over the previous evening's aversion to haute cuisine, risked a spiced plum. He didn't like it though.

Breakfast finished we packed our things and set off with the aim of hitting Eastborne some time between 3 and 4. The skies opened up. At first we laughed it off. I optimistically spotted breaks in the cloud on the horizon. Blue threatened to appear in the firmament.

It was a bit of a schlep back into Alfriston before we could even get started on part 2 of the walk. Between the Church of St Andrews (known as the Cathedral of the Downs) and the 14th century Alfriston Clergy House we picked up the course of the Cuckmere river.

It wasn't much of a river. More a brook. More a ditch. I felt like I'd be able to wring more water out of my sodden jeans than was in the Cuckmere. The path was overgrown. There were stinging nettles everywhere. Our clothes were covered in pollen. The weather wasn't improving any time soon. This really was the day the rain came down.

The three of us looked at each other, remembered we'd come here to have some kind of fun, had a quick vote and decided to knock it on the head and come back another time.

Back in Alfriston we took tea and cake (coffee cake for me, lemon and blueberry for Adam) in The Apiary Cafe. So soaked were we we kindly untied the cushions from the chairs before we sat down. When we left there were puddles where we'd sat. Even though we'd all gamely controlled our bladders.

We took the bus to Polegate and, there, picked up trains back to London and Basingstoke. South Downs Way - you have won a battle but the TADS army will win the war. We'll be back.

No comments:

Post a Comment