Ashdown Forest to Forest Row

We sing in Crowborough, and then spend the evening singing in the Cooper’s Arms, where we meet many fine people. Then we stay the night in a kind man’s summer house.

From here we head back to the woods, and spend the day washing in the lake, and then walking toward Forest Row. We score a surprising gig in a pub in Hartlake, which is a lot of fun. Then we sleep alongside a dismantled railway line.

The morning comes, and we walk into Forest Row, where we sing in a cafe, and then in the town market. We are invited from here to come and meet the good people of Plaw Hatch Farm. Ginger goes off with his girlfriend, and we two go sing some more.


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At Plaw Hatch we sing to a few lovely people, and help out with the cows, and learn a lot about farming and biodynamics. Then we walk off, with a new walker Sam, and a retrieved Ginger, toward Windy Ridge.

With our friends now left us, we three wander up the hills into the town of Crowborough, intent on busking. The two songs sung in the Half Moon pub were surprisingly well received, with many grumpy-seeming folk stepping forward with shining kind words.

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Our musical appetites well whetted, up and into town we go, to sing in the concrete.

We pass a statue of Conan Doyle, the creator and writer of the Sherlock Holmes (and of course Watson) stories. He lived and wrote here for 23 years.

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As we stroll deeper into the small town, we hear lads screaming from distant bus-stops, which gives us a warm feeling of sorts.

It starts to rain very soon, but it a cooling downpour, that evaporates from our warm shoulders as soon as it lands. We sit and bathe in its gentle down-tumbling, on a bench in the town centre. Many of the local shops are closed, the Crowborough high street being road-worked for gas or water, along its entire length. The main form of commerce, and the only apparently thriving shops, are beauty parlours. Does this mean the people here are very beautiful, or does it mean that they have a strong need to buy aesthetic compensation for their lack of comeliness? Either way, the town does not seem to be in boom-mode. is not a hub of bustling commerce. It’s pleasantly peaceful.

So we sit and rest awhile, preparing to sing, when out of the dentists shop pops a white-coated lady, who tells us: “I saw you on TV. I’m coming back in just a minute with three cups of tea.” Will feels a compulsion to be dishonest when asked how many sugars he’d like, but trusts that the dentist will give him less than his preferred two anyhow.

Tea arrives, and the dental lady hurries back to the business of teeth, and we sit there, like wandering Kings, all tea-filled and contented, cooled by the rain, comforted by good wooden seats, laughing at no jokes, enjoying how it relaxes our burdened shoulders.

Then we step to it, and start singing. Within minutes we have a fellow afront of us, throwing his money in like confetti, his accompanying compliments heavy in our ears. This man tells us of the day when he first moved to Crowborough.

“I went straight up to the first man I met, and said: ‘Excuse me sir, can you direct me to the ecclesiastical centre of this town?’ He looked back at me, and said: ‘you what, mate?’”

He laughs for a good while, and we can’t help but join in. “It hasn’t changed either” he tells us. Then he tells us to get on with it, and sing a song. We give him a John Barleycorn, and a few drifting school-kids are drawn over to listen. The Sherlock man turns to them, and berates their idle audience: “where’s your money for the hat boys?” The youngsters hold out tuppence – “it’s all i’ve got!” The old fellow states “put it in then, boys.”, and they do so. It’s an oddly graceful exchange to witness, and we are grateful to be recipients of such well-given pennies.

We then sing to a group of three people from a local Christian media group. The ‘Leaves of Life’ is coming into its time. A big man with a broken arm wanders over, and tells us we are the best buskers Crowborough has ever seen. He is wistful for the future of the town, but genuinely grateful for our presence. “Hopefully you’ll bring the place luck. Thank you so much for coming.” It is a unique busk.

A man then throws in a note to the hat, and gazes piercingly at Ed and Ginger – “You two brothers, then?” Will happily cries “Yes they are! Very few people guess that.” Satisfied at this proof of his clear-sightedness, the man disappears, to be replaced by a BMX man, who recommends us a community living near to Forest Row. We write down their address, and vow to look out for them.

We then pack away the sign, and decide on a drink. The rain has stopped, but the cold is growing, and Will has left his hat in the woods. So he pops into a Sue Ryder shop, and emerges with a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, which is essentially a tweed twin peaked cap. It seems suitable, like two baseball caps atop each other.

We are recommended a good pub, and ask locals for directions. “Oh, it’s just down there, but its not a big place, or really popular.” That sounds perfect, and we wonder why anyone would want to go sit in a pub that is massive and overpopulated.

So down to the Cooper’s Arms we go, and no-one is really there, but a quiz is on later.

So we enact the classic dichotomy of wanting to relax, while wanting to tell tales, and this inevitably leads along the path of the curious questions. We soon sing a song, and the classic pub night begins, with ales and pies being bought for us, with singing between every 10 questions of the quiz, with an 87 year old man telling us his wartime stories, and with a lovely barmaid.

All goes well. We are not last in the quiz, but neither are we far from it. The night ends with a ‘song-off’ with two Irish gentlemen at the other end of the bar, who sing Paddy Maginty’s donkey (“they do this every Friday” the barmaid laments), to which we can only reply with the Barley Mow. It is perhaps the only time this song has been utterly and perfectly suitable.

Ed having left his bag in the woods, an act of debatable wisdom, we are forced to head to camp, when we’d perhaps rather find a closer spot. But on the point of setting out into the frosty cold, the owner of Speldhurst Sausages invites us to stay in  his Summer House, just up the road. We somewhat drunkenly accept.

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There we head, after great and merry farewells, and there we sleep. Ed is freezing cold without his sturdy sleeping bag, as he has been offered a 1-season replacement by our sausage friend (“a plastic bag” Ed laments). In the night, while others sleep, he delves into their bags to pull out any clothing he can find. He sleeps, nonetheless, not a wink.

Morning comes, and the sun burns sweet through the sky’s frosty clarity.

We take a coffee (but alas, no sausages from our Speldhurst pal, despite our best greedy efforts to summon and manifest), and head back to the woods to fetch Ed’s bag from its hidey-hole.

As we are achily walking up the hill, we hear the clack of something falling onto the road – and looking down, we see an item of uncertain symbolism, lying there:

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On the way, Ginger glances to the sky, and sees something odd at the very top of a pine tree:

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Is this a ghost? We cannot be sure.

Then, on our way to camp, Will strikes upon a great idea. “Anyone fancy a swim?”

The sun being hot, and our bodies being tired, we fall to, and the icey water cures all our woes. We then wash our clothes, and hang them to dry in the new spiced heat.

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The next hour is spent in stretching and standing still, until a gang of schoolboys appears, with fishing rods and a disposable BBQ.

So we up and away, and cook in the camp where Ed’s bag is found to still remain. We also find, ascending the hill, a geometric plate of bubbles gathered in the hillside brook.

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Then decision is reached, that we shall walk on. Everyone is pretty fatigued, and we walk into the setting sun, Ed plucking his mandolin as we stroll. We cross lovely old bridges, past stunning beeches, and Ginger finds an odd companion.

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Then we get lost, which liberates our expectations for a while. We then scramble down a bank, and are on a rushing country lane, with blind corners, good cause for real fear.

But soon we are found, just as darkness falls hard. A little village, once an important coaching spot, and now primarily known for its Winnie the Pooh shop, is where we sit to rest. Hartbridge is its name, and at the Waggon Inn we refresh ourselves. It has an excellent veranda onto the front road, but unfortunately there is little but onrushing cars to witness.

We pop inside, and almost immediately fall to talking with a couple who saw the BBC news clip of our Tunbridge Wells interview. This leads Will to chat with the landlord, who gives permission to sing. This leads, as it does, to ale and chatter. All is well, but we cannot get used to this lifestyle. We had all vowed top avoid the ale, to be quick and brief here. But the opportunity arising, and the fact that we shall not come this way again, leads us to sing and talk and do our thing merrily, which is not physically sustainable.

So after one pint, we get all subsequent rounds converted into fruit-juice and food, which befuddles donors with its non-traditional aspect. Still, we have livers to keep happy.

After 4 or 5 songs, the landlord then approaches with a hatful of gold coins, which is utterly unexpected. It is a good place to have taken a quick rest.

Well fed, we bid farewell to the pub, and head off out toward the railway line path which runs directly into Forest Row. We dive into the woods just off the path, and fall asleep almost instantly. A very soft rain falls, which means the night is cloudy and warm, into which we nestle deeply.

Come morning, we wake later than normal. Bicyclists, horse-riders, and walkers are already passing, but from where we lie, all green and silent, we can tell that we’re invisible.

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We up and away, and follow the trail into town. We’re intent on busking, and down the straight paths we walk. These railway paths we follow are the remnants of lines closed by Beeching in the 60’s, which is sad on a certain level, but makes for peace and good walking.

We arrive in town, and pass by a small local market, thinking there may be a far better place in the heart of the place. We take tea in a classic pre-war cafe, where cakes are in cupboards, and sweet pastries are kept in drawers, with bare walls and wartime-quality coffee.

It is just right, exactly what we had hoped to find, the sort of tea shop that shouldn’t still exist, but triumphantly does. It is called Angelas, in the heart of Forest Row, and we recommend it heartily.

We talk to everyone there, and take great pleasure in turning our initial cold welcome into curious chat and solid information flow.

Then we are invited to sing in another cafe, where we happily give a pair of maritime classices, the Rambling Sailor and Grey Funnel Line. Singing this latter song is always a good idea, and makes us feel very good indeed.

Seeking a place to busk in this town, which is full of good energy and informative people, we decide the market we earlier passed would be the best bet. This is a decision well made, for amongst the bread and cheese makers we encounter a solid welcome, and as the market is closing, there are plenty of leftover samples.

After singing a few songs, including a rousing Nutting Girl, a lady steps forward asking us of Dominigo the Donkey – she read our Permaculture Article. This is always a pleasing surprise, and it is further ameliorated when her mother also steps forward, saying: “And i was there in Corfe Castle, 2 years ago, when you sung for everybody. It made our holiday.” Co-inciding our travels like this confirms we are right-tracking it.

An invitation is then forthcoming to a farm up the road – Plaw Hatch it is called – and we agree that it sounds the perfect place to go.

So we take a luncheon, of tahini and houmous (the best we’ve tasted – from Stuart Goodwin – [email protected]) Our busking sign is leaning beside our bag, and a bunch of kids having a rest from a coach journey all shout out to us: “Are you really walking to Wales?” Oh disbelief. But “yes” we cry, “of course we are. What else could there possibly be to do?”

Then Ginger goes to meet his girl, who is visiting with a van for the weekend. They scoot off together, and Ed and Will wander slowly through the darkening woods toward the farm. We dip onto the road again for a moment, which is increasingly a dangerous thing to do. As more cars pile on past, we jump into the hedge, and sit for 10 minutes in silence, so invisible to the many driving folk, but so close also. It is a good ten minutes.

Then we meet the farm, and are welcomed into the warm parlour. We sing, and are fed deeply. It is very well, and a beautiful surprise. A night of music and tale follows, and we’re told all about how one of the owners here has bicycled around the world, and the troubles and joys that brings. A plan is being made to cycle a Pakistani Rickshaw back from its factory, to be a delivery vehicle for the farm’s produce. It sounds like a very good plan.

We are also taught all about the best flour available to buy – apparently – which is called Bacheldre white flour – organic unbleached, and it bakes a perfect loaf, either alone or mixed with other flours.
We then sleep in the offered accommodation, normally reserved for WWoofers. It is good to find a bed.

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We sleep soundly, and in the morning we learn about the farm, and make the bed for the cows. It is a lot of fun.

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Then we meet Ginger again, and we all set off for Windy Ridge, with our new guest Sam, from the EFDSS, who is into bushcraft and traditional song, as is exceptionally knowledgable about both. But that is another tale…

9 Responses to “Ashdown Forest to Forest Row”

  1. sally eastwood says:

    my daughter introduced me to your web site and its been lovely to read of your walks. I love the idea of the freedom of the day although I know it is frought with some dangers of the modern world. I find that with cycling. Hope to see you

  2. hugh inkpen says:

    Seriously entertaining reading and viewing there boys! Must be making for an amazing journey! Particularly enjoyed learning of the hour spent ‘stretching and standing still’… Great stuff.
    Needless to say, keep up t’good work and excellent documentation.. Much respect x

  3. Lisa says:

    Just loved this entry–wonderful to read. I like to check in on your website once a month or so. Wishing you all the best and continued success—-great stories and songs. I too am inspired. Glad to see that you are getting attention, but I hope it doesn’t alter your course too much.

  4. Chloe says:

    The Telegraph is clearly bringing you a lot of publicity, because that’s also where i encountered your story.
    I love what you’re doing. It’s funny, i actually spent my first few years being raised in an orchard in evesham living alongside gypsies and travellers, but now i spend so much time talking about how drastically things have changed, and how that way of life just isn’t possible anymore. But i see that you three have proved me wrong.
    Just glancing at your website, and especially at folk’s comments, demonstrates what an inspiration you’re proving to the nation. Keep on, and keep enjoying every step.
    Thank you for sharing.

  5. Angela Plowman says:

    Like Hannah, I also read about you guys in the telegraph supplement last week-end and was very impressed by what you are doing and wish you all the very best for your journeying and adventures across our beautiful old country. It will be great to follow your experiences via the web.
    Take care and make the most of this special time in your lives. Angie x

  6. Hannah says:

    I don’t usually read newspapers or watch tv but I saw a picture of you three on the front of a telegraph supplement and got more intrigued by it the more I read; I think what you’re doing is absolutly brilliant, kind of what my heart has longed to do for years but not known how to do.
    good luck and wishes, maybe meet you on the road someday : )
    Hannah x

  7. Jim Wessel Walker says:

    It was fun to meet you outside Winchester Cathedral as we were winding up our walk on the Clarendon Way from Salisbury. Did you get your wayfarers portion at the Hospital of St. Cross? Good luck on your travels. Stay warm.
    Jim, Donna, and Margaret

  8. Sean says:

    Hi Guys,

    Thanks for your wonderful adventure and for sharing it. I’ve sent you an email elsewhere on your site to say that if you are up around the Lakes, we will gladly put you up and feed you,

    Sean

  9. Shirley Leyshon says:

    You three are simply inspirational! I wish you well on your journey, and I hope to meet you at some point.

    Music brings everyone joy – and you are out there, walking the land, and bringing it to us. More power to your collective elbows!

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