Sunday, 31 July 2016

TADS #5:The South Downs Way II (or Seven Sisters shooting skyways for the sun).

I said last month that the TADS would be back to Sussex to finish off the South Downs Way walk and I was true to my word. Alas, Adam was unable to complete the stretch he started and Teresa and Virginie, too, were both unavailable to take part. Imagine prioritising a visit to Cuba or giving birth over a TADS walk. Seriously though we all send a big welcome into the world out to Jamie.

So while some of the regulars weren't there we did have the pleasure of welcoming a new TAD into the fold. Rachel joined Shep, Pam, Kathy, and I for the first (though hopefully not last) time. We all convened on the train from East Croydon and alighted at Polegate before hopping into a couple of cabs to take us to Alfriston where the walk was cut short in June and would reconvene this time.

Alfriston looked lovely in the sunshine and we soon picked up the path along the banks of the Cuckmere. Again a much more pleasant experience when your shoes aren't full of water and you're not drenched to the bone. We saw snails and Pam identified some of the local butterflies for us.

There was a white chalk horse on the hillside to our right. Legend has it created by three brothers in 1924 over the course of one night so as to surprise the locals the next morning.

I was curtly dismissive of the Cuckmere river. In places it seemed barely more than a ditch. We even saw someone kayaking along it. There'd be more of that later on.

Leaving the Cuckmere for a while we entered into the cute little village of Litlington. There was a produce stall set up selling preserves, juices, and marrows to hungry villagers and walkers. We partook of an elderflower drink and stocked up on a selection of flapjacks whilst the young lad on the stall, warming to his front of house duties, advised on how to make best use of courgettes. Cakes and soup apparently.

Our first (but by no means last) climb of the day took us past a field of horses. Apparently the masks they wear are to keep the flies off. Not, as one of our party suggested, because they're fans of Mexican wrestling.

The horses were complemented by some shade loving sheep hanging out in a field load of tiles and a green telephone box in the 'secluded medieval' village of Westdean.

The steps leading up and out of Westdean were pretty steep and left me a little out of breath but, oh, the reward was worth it. On reaching the top a panorama of Cuckmere meanders was laid out in front of us leading all the way down to the sea.

I felt silly about dissing the Cuckmere now. There was a visitor centre, more kayaks, and tourists from all around the world. We heard an Indian visitor ask her tour guide if there was anything of historic interest in the area. He said the cliffs were a couple of million years old. Would they do?

The gentle stroll along the banks of the river took us to Cuckmere Haven and from there we walked up, up, and up some more. The beauty of the views making it all worthwhile.

Our party stopped for a snack and to enjoy the vistas. The Seven Sisters sat before us like a rollercoaster ride. We could see Beachy Head 7k ahead and knew we were in for both a scenic, and a strenuous, switchback stretch.

People had piled pieces of chalk on to the hillside to spell out messages. We assumed THE MORPISSEY MEN had begun life as THE MORRISSEY MEN. Although even that doesn't make much sense.

It didn't seem a bad spot to get some wedding snaps but we were worried about 'Selfie Stick Guy' who seemed to take great pleasure in standing near the edge of an eroding clifftop where people regularly plummet to their death. I could barely watch him when I took the photo.

This is the area French composer Debussy came to to complete his work La Mer. He was inspired by the wilderness of the surroundings. Despite the sea, the gulls, and the amount of people enjoying the spectactle it was remarkably quiet. As if each valley held in its own noise.

After an ice cream stop at the Birling Gap we headed up to the Belle Tout lighthouse.

Belle Tout was like a starter for the main course which was, of course, Beachy Head itself. It is, obviously, a beautiful spot but the crosses, memorials, and signs with Samaritans numbers on testify to its well known grisly and heartbreaking history.

Chaplains are stationed around the area and the pub has a huge phone mast outside it. Our assumption being that they may have some visitors who need use of their phone in an urgent, literally life or death, situation.

It was a nice pub though. Free water. Beer garden with predictably stunning views. A fine selection of ales but after those hills I craved a drink of that free water washed down with a cool, cold pint of Estrella lager.

Following the final stretch of the South Downs Way into Eastbourne Pam gave us a blast of Veronica Falls' Beachy Head followed by some Toots & The Maytals. For no other reason than it's bloody good. I was unable to access Kevin Coyne's Eastbourne Ladies or The Laughing Gnome.

We reached the end of the South Downs Way. 100 miles from Winchester. We'd only come a few of those miles but wouldn't it be great, to one day, walk the whole thing. I know of a man who ran it once. Don't think I'll be doing that.

Now it was time for an ale. Purity's Mad Goose. A zesty pale one enjoyed in Eastbourne's Buccaneer. Inside one of those seaside pubs with a lot of floor space and the potential for a dodgy live band. Outside seemingly influenced by the onion domes of a Muscovite cathedral.

A very short walk took us to Ashoka for Indian food. It's been a standing TADS joke that the best curry we ever had was in Salisbury's Anokaa. It seems to taste better every time the story is retold. General consensus was Ashoka ran it a close second. Plenty of poppadums, friendly service, and, for me, a veggie dhansak with some of the tastiest, crispest, naan breads this side of Dungeness.

It was, again, another success. The start of the day felt a long way away as we opened up our off-sales and had a crack at the Guardian crossword on the train home surrounded by opera fans returning from glistening Glyndebourne in their glad rags and finery. I'm sure they'd had a rewarding and cultured evening but I wouldn't have swapped it for the day I'd had.

Until next time.

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