Forest Row to East Grinsted

We leave Plaw Hatch farm, head to a community place called Windy Ridge, where Will gets ill, and cannot spend any time with our visiting friend Sam. While Will recovers, the others go forth, to ramble and sing.

Sam leaves, Ayla joins, and we move to East Grinsted, staying in the woods, and walking the ex-railway lines for swift pace.

East Grinsted is a difficult busk, as the beautiful places are all empty, and the busy places foul.

But it comes together fine, and we spend a raucous night of song in Dormersland, before being put up in a manor house. All is well.

Plaw Hatch farm gives us wonderful welcome, and we meet fine folk here. We would dearly love to list and describe them all, but we shall not. It is enough, we hope, to say “they are there”, and to trust that you will yourself go and make meeting.

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We decide to walk to a place called Windy Ridge, where our new farm-friends tell us fine folk live, custodians of land and music.
We are accompanied now by the newly-arrived Sam Lee, a gifted singer and catalyst, who has come to walk awhile, and share his music and skill. He is as knowledgeable and vibrant a singer as we have yet met, self-disappearingly humble in his singing, fluent in his ability to allow song and story to lift through and soar.

Sam works for the English Folk Dance and Song Society, in Cecil Sharp House, London, and puts on many a fine night and event to celebrate the cultures of this land. He is also the apprentice to a Gypsy gentleman, and is preparing to become a lineage-holder for a strain of ancient songs.

So jolly in new company, off we stamp, planning to meet Ginger on the way. We traipse roadside awhile, looking for best way into the wooded valley below. Roads, as we may have mentioned before, are probably the second-most dangerous places in the land, after hospitals.

So we soon dive the fence, and follow the buzzards to the stream that follows and cuts the valley.

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We are heading toward Windy Ridge, the place recommended by a bmx-ing man in Crowborough. To get there, we pass over a golf course, and find an unclaimed ball. With only the clubs short of a game, we take on this par 4.

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About 12 staff-strokes later, we sink the putt, and move right on.

At Windy Ridge we stumble on a post-apocalyptic feminist road-block. Girls armed with rifles block our path, but to our dismay, they let us pass; it is all but a film-set.

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The time-machine turns out to be no more than a digital clock in the front of their van. We cannot reach agreement where we’d have gone to in it, anyroad.

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A fine afternoon of un-burdened, bag-free exploration follows. We skulk the woods with Sam, finding deer-skulls and ants-hills. Sam teaches us how edible wood-ants are – “just roll their heads a little, and chew them up. Indeed, they have a sweet lemon-like flavour. Fire and song are discussed and shared.

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Back to the Ridge as light fades, and under our feet we find a small thatched colony of clumps. They sit in the boggy land around a small spring, as likely a place as any for the small folk to be found, we guess. We step carefully around them, and sink in the soggy mud; but you can’t tread on a gnome’s home, can you?

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A merry evening follows. Until late in the moonlight do we all sing and tell histories, to each other and the fire, with good new friends all about.

Sam’s song of Flash Company leads us to talk of the silver-noses that were customarily made for people whose noses had dropped off, due to exotic venereal diseases.

Singing sailing songs of Nancy, brings conversation of the disadvantage of beards, since the chief advantage of human hair-loss was the gift of an ability to lose heat quicker than the prey we were chasing. By getting less hairy, we became fitter than our supper, and could catch it.

It is a good night. But the last song we sing, a Diggers, is so very output-ful, that it leaves us all quite drained. Will in particular feels spent.

We make plans in the morning to meet Shirley Collins, a lady whose recorded songs have influenced the dreams of English folk for a generation. It is a 20 mile walk there, and will be 20 miles back the next day. But we’re all up for this long journey, at this time, and are keen to make the acquaintance of this lady whose song knowledge must be resonant and uniquely conscious.

So to bed we go.

The morning does its usual magic, and round rolls the sun once more.

We each arise, but Will is not well. He is shaky, unable to return fully into his body from sleep. He stumbles up to the house, for last night we slept in a canvas covered round-house, and finds the others there drinking tea and merrily planning the day’s walk.

He tells them he is fevered, and straightway Kath, the woman of the house, blankets him and sends him to sleep upstairs. Will sleeps for the rest of the day, and the night too, occasionally walking from his fever dreams to confirm this plain is still present, before sliding off again into the jagged flows of fever.

Ed, Ginger and Sam cannot leave for the next 2 days, so decide instead to walk in a big circle around the surrounding area.

The go on many adventures, finding and fixing a zip-wire in the woods, foraging ‘jews-ears’ mushrooms, merrily chattering and learning songs.

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The village pub is visited that night, and much good singing is brought into the world while Will sleeps on, immovably dormant. The barmaid in the public house cannot get enough of those good old songs, and requests song after song; a good night.

And in the morning, Will is up, and we move the 2 miles, slowly, to Plaw Hatch Farm, where Sam will part, and return to his London life. We are full of new songs to learn, and hope to focus on this in the next few days.

But as the world spins into shade, Will gets cold again, and goes to sleep for another 18 hours. He also loses his voice, which is difficult for all, as we had arranged a whole host of concerts and events while we were in this area.

So Ginger and Ed go to work in the milk-parlour, tend the pigs and the cows, sing and tell tales to the home schooling network, and for visiting tv crews, while Will staya still, getting well. This is the right place to lie low. Plaw Hatch farm have just cleaned out their meditation room, and they have an internet computer, so Will can venture from his bed to do some lucid work, body-permitting.

After 2 days here, we decide it is time to move on, with our group nearly mended, after an Africa party, and a good morning’s feasting on milk and honey.

Ayla arrives at mid-morning to walk with us,

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and the new 4 head north, toward East Grinsted, where we intend to busk.

We loop slowly into the night, in a fine woods, where Ginger hurriedly assembles a fine lean-to, to block his fire and bed from the insistent winds.

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Ed and Ayla loop off somewhere yonder, to make a shelter from two ponchos together, and we 4 meet again to make our tea later that evening.

Deer run through our camp in huge numbers, and the air stills as the sky clears. It is a cold but expansive night, safe and quiet and deep.

In the morning, we read and carve till all are ready to go.

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Will finishes his heavy book, and is happy to do so. Then into East Grinsted we stroll, along fine paths. We pass great ruined houses, polluted streams, and then we meet another ex-railway pathway. This allows us rapid movement into the fine oldsmall-12-small-ayla-ed-will-pre-east-grinsted2 town.


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East Grinsted is an ideal town in which to sing old songs, as it is built from stone and history.

Unfortunately, no-one was anywhere to be seen in this lovely old end of town. We sing into the walls, happy to let loose while no-one passes. Just as we are starting to despair (really enjoy ourselves?), a man, slouching along in tattered trainers, walks by. He looks slightly hungry, slightly bored, and is bouncing a tennis ball lazily as he walks on. He throws us 19p. “It’s the last of my money” he mutters, “but what good is 19p anyway?”. He reminds us of a 1930’s great-depression child, a man lapsed back to rebellious infancy, bitter from forsaken promises of gold and good work.

With this strange good start, we head into the thubbing commercial heart of the town, a land of sheet retailers and pastry shops. We find an underground shopping area, with concrete tunnels to enhance our still weak harmonies. Will needs every song to be sung just an inch lower, and has lost the sensitivity to know he is in-tune, and must guess, listen and adjust much more.

But we meet many fine people, and sing until an irate window-carpenter rolls up the passage to say “Look, you’re not meant to be singing, and we’ve left you for an hour now.” It is true, a whole hour has passed. Our repertoire must be growing, we muse happily, as we pack the sign away and walk on. We pop into a ‘Blacks’ shop, and are asked by the manager if we’re on a ‘sponsored low-tech walk’? We aren’t quite sure what he means. “Are you trying to sponsor us?” we ask. He isn’t. We try in vain to find something we want to buy…just to compliment him on his stock. But we cannot.

Leaving town, we pass a Mc Donald Family Restaurant, and are happily waylaid by the munching youth sat all around it. We sing a verse of the Nutting Girl, and they let us pass. “But why are you walking?” is the question? “We’ll nick you a car if you like!”. “No, thankyou, but we really like walking” we explain, and head off with cheering (definitely not jeering?) lads on their bicycles following. Then out of the town, through woods carved up for downhill bicycling, and we head toward the recommended pub out of town, where we are told singers often reside.

A great aqueduct and railway bridge is passed, as we hoop north toward Dormersland, with the light fading a notch with each twenty paces.

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Into the ‘House at Home’ pub we go, and a grand evening, singing with the good people, as the night burns on. We listen to two singers giving a classic called The Dun Cow, the tale of a pub burning down, and everyone sheltering in the cellar, drinking hard as the fireman struggle above them. When the pub is nothing but cooling embers, the drinkers emerge from their cellar of revelry. It is a good song, which we will endeavor to learn soon. Following a good lot of tale and song, soup and ale, we start to pack our things together to walk off to a hedge somewhere.

But before we can do so, a fellow named Ian then invites us to stay in his mansion, which is a great big farmhouse in the wealthiest corner of the village. We go along happily.

Ian is a very interesting man, with whom we talk until far beyond the small hours. He tells us of a childhood on a mountain, above a pub that never closed. He speaks of meeting Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards in a department store in Harare, in the 80’s. His biggest bodyguard had pushed past Ian in a lift, at which Ian started shouting and swearing. The bodyguard was a giant African man, who had picked Ian up with one arm while Ian swung for him. Then Mugabe swerved around the corner, with Ian still shouting that he’d fight the lot of them, for the lack of respect he’d been shown. “Doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are some things you don’t let pass.” he explained. This sentiment impressed the Zimbabwean PM, who calmed Ian down and shook his hand. As his entourage walked away, the shop-boy came up and touched Ian with something like reverence: “I have never seen that happen before. You should have been killed…”

Ian also tells tale of Forest Row as a centre of religious activity. There are more than 12 denominations of worship with a base in this oversize village. Forest Row is essentially a crossroads, with good food shops and temples. Ian tells us of its resident ghosts: A woman who had investigated Prince Albert’s illegitimate son was poisoned in a house in which Ian had once lived. Albert’s son was undesired, and yet lived a protected and invisible life, locked in a house nearby. He was said to be deformed, club-footed and all. The investigation into this knowledge was unwanted, the lady-investigator was fed arsenic by royal agents, and her ghost today walks lamentful.

Ian works till late in the night, and this was a rare day off.

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And bright, incongruous early in the morning, he is waking the house, brewing coffee and talking on his phone. So away we all go, back into East Grinsted where Ayla will leave us, to hitch-hike her way to Brighton for a gig.

With a gang of three once more, we walk away from East Grinsted, and head for a new type of challenge, toward the new town of Crawley, a great and dreadful place we fear…

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