Continuing the account of my latest South Downs Way walk. Part one can be found here
The first thing I wanted to experience on this walk was sleeping in the open as the sun went down and waking with the dawn. That and to sleep under the stars. I had achieved this wonderfully on my first night, so the rest of my time was just going to be a bonus. But first I needed coffee… and to get coffee I had to find somewhere that sold lighters or matches. But before that, I had to get out of the bivvy bag!. If getting in was awkward, getting out was just plain cumbersome and comical! The advantage of camping in the middle of nowhere is that no one can see you as roll and wriggle around.. I wonder if Ray mears has this problem? Eventually though I was out and all packed and ready to look for fire!
I thought about walking to Kingston near Lewes, but it was not yet 6am and I did not want to go out of my way to a town and wait for a shop to open. So I looked at my map and saw a large campsite about 4 miles away. They would surely have a camp shop and it would be open by the time I arrived? So Mr Wind md myself set off back along the track. (Mr Wind , for those of you who did not read part 1 Was my constant companion on this walk and he veered from being a gentle breeze to full on gusting. )
I reached the campsite without further incident and was indeed able to by some matches. By 8.30 I was able to stop and brew a cup of coffee. This was possibly one of the best cups of coffee I have ever had, Coffee has never tasted so good! After that, true to its word the night before Mr Wind returned a strong as ever, and I continued along the way.
The second days walking was a good one, I covered just under 20 miles. Mr Wind was always with me, but the Sun shone brightly and strongly all day. This walk was never about covering the miles or being a “yomp” But I found myself in a steady rhythm for much of the day. In between ejoying the views of the Sussex Weald from a high vantage point, I was able to meditate and do some thinking about the up and coming Man camp that I am facilitating. I have never been someone who find traditional meditation easy, I can never quite still my mind enough. However when walking, I find it easy to zone out and focus more. The solitude away from the daily grind certainly helps too.
It was a hard days walk despite the good weather. There was a fair bit of going up and down. I have said before that the Downs are incongruously named. The track is not always smooth grass or chalk but often very rocky or slippery. This constant turning of the ankle can take its a toll and I had the beginnings of a blister on my left foot and found I was trying to favour my right foot as a result, which is never a good idea. The good news was that I really did not feel the strain of having a full kit on my back. It was heavy and I was glad to put it down on occasions, but it was well balanced and well adjusted when I was wearing it, so that caused me very few issues. Despite the hard going, I was a happy hiker. The scenery from Kingston was as wonderful as the first day and included landmarks such as Ditchling Beacon and the Devils Dyke. The wild flower along the way were beautiful, mainly yellow and white, with the odd patch of lilac and then the bold red of a wild poppy. As in day one the birdsong was constant, loud and lovely to hear. Skylarks I am led to believe. However by the time I reached my end point for the day I was ready for the break.
The second night under the stars was every bit as wonderful as the first. This time I set up camp in a beautiful wild flower meadow and lay in my bed watching a stunning sunset, marvelling at how the clouds changed and moved as the the daylight slipped away. Once again the wind had dropped and just caressed me with a gentle breeze. I lay in my bed watching the daylight slowly slipping away and I slipped into sleep. I awoke several times and looked up at the stars , the big sky with no light pollution. It was just an amazing feeling of calm and peace, a moment when the pause button of life had been well and truly pressed. Like the previous day I awoke to the sunset and just let the light of the new day wash over me.
The final days walking was a day of two very different halves. The morning was bright sunshine and warm (even though Mr Wind was still tagging along) I had intended for a leisurely walk, before spending one more night under the stars. I reached Chanctonbury Ring in good time and made myself a brew in the middle of the ring. A strange place indeed. Many people say it makes them uncomfortable with tts connections to the Devil and witchcraft. I just found it very peaceful. a place of the ancestors. An outpost along the Way with far reaching views of the surrounding countryside. An old friend who waits for you as you approach and watches your back as you depart.
By the time I was ready to walk again, Mr Wind had competition, the rain had arrived and as it was late to this party it insisted on sticking around and showing me what it could do. I tried to think of a Celtic God of weather to appeal to but could not think of one. (Thor , Odin, Zeus , Taranis etc crossed my mind but not did not seem appropriate) so I just called out to the great God “Awfuckit! Unfortunately I think my entreaties to him were taken as a sign that I wanted him to stay . I considered walking back down the hill towards Shoreham station to get home. But I did not want to retrace my steps, going back seemed wrong, I wanted to move forward. I knew Amberley station was ahead and so I went that way. I had not realised quite how far Amberly was by foot from Chanctonbury. Nor had I realised quite ho much Mr Wind and Awfuckit would be trying to outdo each other to get my attention!
Eventually, I reached the point just West of Chantry Post near Springhead Hill, where two years ago I had my encounter with the Goddess. At this point two years ago I was at a very low point on my walk, and felt that I could not carry on. A brief encounter with the Goddess gave me the strength and inspiration to carry on. Standing at the same point this year, I was not in the same state. Although I was tired and very wet, my spirits were high and I was in good shape. I thought it would be right to acknowledge her help so I stopped, raised my arms and said a few words of thanks to the Lady. At this point I could have sworn that Mr Wind and Awfuckit briefly ceased their attempts to get my attention, I could be wrong, I could have just been having a quick moment with the Goddess and so all else just faded to the background. However, once the thanks were spoken aloud, my two companions continued their work with as much gusto as before.
A few hours later I reached Amberley, totally soaked from head to toe with blisters now well and truly forming on both feet. I was cold, I was exhausted I was hungry, but I was happy, I really was. Each of the three SDW walks I have done recently have all had their own theme. the first was about finding me, meeting the Goddess, The second was about really making a connection to the land and this one was about endings and new beginnings. Sunset to sunrise and new days. Each three of those walks have left indelible memories and each has given me something to cherish.
As I stepped onto the train to head home, I bid a fond farewell to Mr Wind and Awfuckit! and the words of that Old Irish blessing went through my head
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
Not sure what I will do next year,Maybe I am getting too old for these long walks. but for now I am happy to say that I have walked the entire South Downs Way and despite the aches and blisters, its been just wonderful.