If, as it has been suggested by William Blake in his 1804 poem, Jesus not only visited England but specifically the South Downs it seems unlikely that the son of God would've fallen down a rabbit hole, got lost whilst trying to navigate his way round a chalk pit, or have been daft enough to wear a cardigan while ascending a fairly steep escarpment on a muggy June day.
On the other hand, I'm willing to wager that I enjoyed my visit to the area more than JC. In his day the wonderful Shepherd and Dog wouldn't have been built and the idea of getting a decent curry in Hove would still be nearly a couple of thousand years away. TADS 2 Jesus 0.
Not that the day started off particularly smoothly for me. With time to spare, and plans to meet my friend Dan for a cuppa in Hassocks before heading off, I managed to get on the wrong train. I ended up in Horsham heading towards Portsmouth. I had to get off, go back to Three Bridges, and from there to Hassocks where six patient TADS were waiting for me outside a coffee shop.
If I couldn't organise myself to get the correct train to the starting point of the walk what chance did I have of guiding TADS across the South Downs and in to Brighton without getting lost? After last month's successful, and pretty easy, stroll along the Itchen in to Winchester I'd warned the troops that this walk was going to be tougher, steeper, and longer. I'd been a bit ambitious, born of a confidence that people coming back, by using an OS Explorer map to plot what would, at times, prove to be a tricky route to follow.
In Hassocks I loaded up with a packet of Bobby's Spirals and me, Shep, Teresa, Adam, Pam, Neil, and Eamon set off. Kathy and Rachael were, unfortunately, both unwell, Bee was bogged down with work, Tina took a raincheck, and Virginie is still on long term maternity leave. We hope to see them all back in the fold soon.
Hassocks (a large village, not a town) is believed to take its name from the tufts of grass in the nearby fields. Fields like Butcher's Wood and Lag's Wood that we passed alongside. Hassocks came into being when Hassocks Gate station opened in 1841 and, heading south not long after Hassocks, the train enters the Clayton Tunnel. We crossed the railway line on the A273 Brighton Road which afforded us great views and photo opportunities of said tunnel.
The Clayton tunnel is over 2k long and took three years to build. It's probably an easier way to get through the South Downs but it's certainly not such a pretty one. In 1861 two trains collided in the tunnel killing twenty three people.
Notable Hassocks residents include football commentator Jonathan Pearce and graphic novelist Raymond Briggs (Fungus the Bogeyman, When the Wind Blows, The Snowman) and Hangover Square author Patrick Hamilton was born in the village in 1904.
We passed the Jack & Jill pub (where some of us had spent a boozy afternoon last summer) and carried on down New Way Lane past Little Danny Farm. Eventually the road turned right and north and we headed straight on down what was now a footpath.
The footpath curved south and eventually we reached a junction of various different tracks. A quick consultation of the map confirmed we didn't need to take the high road and nor did we need to take the low road. Instead of going over the top of Wolstonbury Hill (or round it) we were cutting through the side of it.
It was still relatively steep but that didn't seem to be deterring the local hash house harriers, some of whom were jogging up it, who were already 10k and one pint into their constitutional. They trotted out the hoary old line about being a "drinking club with a running problem" but they seemed a decent bunch of coves. It's something to do on a Saturday afternoon. Like going on a walk.
It seemed a good point to take a breather and to recite Rudyard Kipling's poem 'The Run of the Downs' so that was what I did.
The Weald is good, the Downs are best
I'll give you the run of 'em, East to West
Beachy Head and Winddoor Hill
They were once and they are still
Firle, Mount Caburn, and Mount Harry
Ditchling Beacon and Chanctonbury Ring
They have looked on many a thing
And what those two have missed between 'em
I reckon Truleigh Hill had seen 'em
Highden, Bignor, and Duncton Down
Knew Old England before the Crown
Linch Down, Treyfood, and Sumwood
Knew Old England before the flood
And when you end on Hampshire side
Butser's as old as time and tide
The Downs are sheep, the Weald is corn
You be glad you are Sussex born
The South Downs cover 260 square miles from the Itchen Valley to Beachy Head with, at 270m, Butser Hill near Peterborough, the highest point and it's not just Rudyard Kipling they inspired. Edward Elgar, Arnold Bax, and Frank Bridge all wrote music influenced by the area, Hilaire Belloc called them "the great hills of the South country", Algernon Charles Swinburne rhapsodised about "the green smooth swelling unending downs", and Graham Greene set the majority of his first published novel, The Man Within, here. And then, of course, there's William Blake.
It's easy to see why they've so affected people. The views are outstanding and the air, even on a pretty 'close' day, seems clearer, lighter up here.
Wolstonbury Hill led us to Round Hill and some heated discussion about what route we had to take. We could see the A23 in front of us but how did we get down to it. Everywhere looked a bit, er, steep! Eamon had a look over the side of a very vertiginous looking drop before we decided to head back and go down a marginally less steep incline. At this point my foot fell down a rabbit hole. I was in up to my knee but, fortunately, no harm was done. I'm actually surprised I've never fallen down a rabbit hole before.
Leg retrieved we descended between a chalk pit and Round Hill and passed under the A23. The path we needed to follow here was too overgrown so we headed along the side of a dual carriageway. I was a little anxious here as we seemed to be heading in the wrong direction and losing more time (time I'd already cost the group in Hassocks and later on Round Hill). Fortunately a path appeared and took us back on a quiet lane that led us towards Poynings.
Before we reached Poynings we cut through some fields until we reached Clappers Lane and followed that until we reached the handsome village sign that welcomed us to Fulking. Fulking is one of those quintessentially English villages that most of us could never hope to have enough money to live in.
Large white houses and beautiful lawns flanked each side of the road as we passed by a spring with a tiled inscription from a psalm in honour of John Ruskin. We paused briefly but our main stop was to be The Shepherd and Dog pub. Truth be told I based this entire walk on getting a chance to visit this pub. Some months ago I Googled "South East England's best beer gardens" and this came up in the list. When I looked at its location the walk began to write itself.
I was so pleased that neither the pub nor the weather let us down. There was an apple and swine festival on but we took pints of Yulu and Wanderlust to one of the pub's two beer gardens, the one by the babbling brook had no tables free, and sat in the sunshine. Two hours later than planned but enjoying great beers, great sunshine, and great company. Children ate toffee apples, pop music was piped out at an agreeable volume, and strategically placed hay bales gave the garden a delightful rustic feel. The only concern was the looming escarpment of Fulking Hill towering behind us. Some were unsure regarding how ready they were for the ascent. I tried to salve their concerns by saying once we were up the coast, and Brighton, would be laid out in front of us and that this would be a great psychological boost. I'm not sure if that worked.
But, after the inevitable and well earned (it was nearly 4pm by the time we reached the pub) 'two pint mistake', we had no option. We had to ascend. So we did. Pam and Teresa even had a little lie down at one point as we gathered altitude and looked down on seagulls flying below us.
Hill runners who'd started in Winchester at the crack of dawn that morning ran past, coming to the end of their one hundred mile run, which put our exertions into perspective. There was some more frenzied map reading before we crossed past Devil's Dyke Farm on to Devil's Dyke Road. To our left stood The Dyke Golf Club. It seems this area, like so much countryside, is scarred by golf courses. As well as The Dyke Golf Club we passed Brighton & Hove Golf Club, West Hove Golf Club, and Benfield Valley Golf Course all in a two to three mile stretch.
At least it meant some of us could empty our bladders. While toilet breaks were being taken I looked up the set Half Man Half Biscuit played at the Forum in Kentish Town the previous night. It was a gig I'd like to go to but I couldn't trust myself not to get drunk and didn't fancy attempting Fulking Hill with a hangover. It turned out HMHB began their set with 'Fucking Hell, It's Fred Titmus'. I considered this a good omen.
We descended past a house where a lively looking party was going on and also saw some tumuli before eventually reaching the A27 Shoreham Bypass. There we followed, briefly, the Monarch's Way, a frankly ludicrous 615 mile path that approximates the very peculiar route that Charles II took when he went into exile to escape probable execution by Oliver Cromwell's army after losing the 1651 Battle of Worcester to the New Model Army. No rest for the wicked indeed.
Luckily the section we followed was reasonably straight and short. We arrived in West Blatchington, part of Hove, and soon passed the West Blatchington windmill (a Grade II listed smock mill, named because it looks like a farmer's smock apparently) that looked fairly incongruous in a Hove suburb. It was built in the 1820s and painted by John Constable in 1825 (he did a painting of it, he wasn't, to the best of my knowledge, a painter and decorator). Mostly these windmills are octagonal but in Blatchington we were fortunate enough to see a rare hexagonal example. They use it as a polling station these days.
Past Hove dog track and across Hove Recreation Ground it was getting late and if we were to make Brighton we'd have to sacrifice a curry. We were hungry and, after agreeing we'd all been to Brighton many times and this day was about walking more than anything, we decided to stop in the Spice Tandoori in Hove. It had had good reviews and it didn't disappoint.
Location wise it was on a very unassuming row of shops on the busy A270 Old Shoreham Road but once inside it was great. Pretty busy too. They had Bangla as well. Five of us had a Bangla. Teresa opted out of beer completely and Neil decided that drinking beer from bottles is for 'girls' and had a pint or four of Cobra.
My paneer shashlik and chapati combo worked for me too. So much so that a second Bangla was required to wash it down. Settled up we wandered to Hove station. Pam, Neil, Eamon, and I took a train to Brighton and changed for London and Shep, Adam, and Teresa managed to find a direct train to Clapham Junction.
The TADS may not have reached Brighton but Hove actually turned out to be a more than adequate ending point. It'd been a long day and yet it still seemed to be coming to an end too soon. Part of me wanted to head out in to the Brighton night and 'get on it' but it was good that I didn't. I got home not long after midnight and I think I was probably asleep before my head hit the pillow. It was nice to wake up the next day free from a hangover and it was even better, as ever, to share the day with such lovely friends. Next month it's the annual TADS two day trek, this year from Wareham to Bournemouth overnighting in Swanage, and though it can be logistically tricky for some to do it'd be great to see as many faces, familiar and new, sat in a pub garden underneath Corfe Castle as possible.