Midhurst to Petersfield, Petersfield, Petersfield…

We walk into Midhurst, sing, and then head off to meet Paul Kingsnorth, the world famous super-writer who did us so proud in the weekend Telegraph.

Then we spend serious time beneath the South Downs, singing for boy scouts, and meeting old friends.

Parting comes soon after, as we three seperate, to come a 2 and a 1.

Read on, reader…

Waking in the woods, beside the lake of rhododendron, we pack and voice clear unified aims to walk swiftly to Midhurst, to busk awhile. But plans always give way to happenings, and we find instead the journey slow and ponderous into this wealthy little town.

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Be ye therefore ready also - words from the church at Lodsworth

For there is much to see between here and there. This land is dedicated to horses, and upon the hilled meadows they stand powerful and calm, to run when the wind takes them (within barbed wire confines), or to sit and warm their flanks in the Spring sun.

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The steeds of Rohan-Midhurst

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When the beacons are lit, the girls of Rohan-Midhurst will ride...

We learn from a chuckling old gardener that thousands of 17 – 26 year old women descend here yearly to work as grooms for polo-playing society, and indeed, impeccable lawns dedicated to the game can be seen on all sides. We will, alas, miss the onslaught of grooming girls, but we find the idea cheering.

We find Butterbur carpeting the ground beside a river.

Past Cowdray Castle we walk, along footpaths lined by ancient beeches.

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Old Cowdray Castle

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the alleyway of beeches

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Ed in the thick of it

We find a small roadside bantam egg sale-point, and take a few for later in the day.

Midhurst, when we get there, offers a loud and rainy high street. A Romanian lady with few teeth is selling the Big Issue, which we buy, read and return to her. She shows us to the castle pathway, “good for sing” she assures us, but there’s no-one here in the rain but us.

We retreat to a hostelry, to read write and eat. Paul Kingsnorth is going to come and meet us tomorrow, to which we look forward very much. He is a writer (not a journo), who is doing a piece for the Telegraph (“to pay the bills”). He has recently published a potent book about this land, called Real England: The Battle Against the Bland

Having done our research, we find he was once listed as “one of the ten most dangerous men in England”. This leaves us quite unsure what to expect.

We have to find somewhere to meet him up the road tomorrow, so with only a few songs flung to the air and ears of Midhurst, we walk on.

The pathways from here follow good strong land, approaching the South Downs, and make beautiful walking. Deer are everywhere, alert and vigilant, ready to bounce away as soon as they see/smell/hear our trudging gait through the muddy fields.

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they were here...

Soon enough, as the light begins its fair fade to dark, we approach the village of Elsted. Just before we do, a field of self-seeded oil-seed rape is found, which makes a great pot-green, and we take liberally from this agricultural escapee. It is a delicious plant, like cabbage, and is guaranteed to be pesticide/fertiliser free, as it is not part of the farmer’s crop, but an accidental fieldside growth.

We also find other strange sights.

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up or down?

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Ed and Will approach the ups

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we near the heights

Our maps tell us that Elsted boasts one PH, a public hostelry. We pop in, find it closed, so wait till the place opens. We are hopeful; the Three Horseshoes looks like a classic place to spend an evening.

And indeed, our constantly improving nose for this sort of thing is proven right. It is a very good pub. We find ourselves sat in the corner chair where the pub rules dictate ‘anyone can say anything’ – a safe chair. So we meet sundry good folk, including the head of the Hilaire Belloc society, and the local landowner who has provided the village with playparks and cricket fields, young vets in training, and other interesting people with stories to tell.

We sing a few songs as a pair, as Ginger has retired early with a headache. Ed is losing his voice, which bodes rather ill, but those few songs we do sing give rise to a plate of good hot food.

We tell the landlady about the Telegraph article, and Paul Kingsnorth. “He’s very dangerous, but we’ll keep an eye on him” we assure her. She agrees kindly to let him park here for 2 days, and then offers us the pub garden as a hotel for the night. Well chuffed with this kindness, we fall to, and snore till morn.

And when Will wakes at first light, there is an open pub, with electricity, coffee, toast, and all the benefits of modernity to enjoy.

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early morning pub hospitality in Elsted

By mid-morning, we are all arisen, and Paul, armed with John Lawrence, photographer, soon appears, all bagged and jambed and greaved in his full walking regalia. It is most well, and he is straightway a welcome addition to our small gang.

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this is here

Bidding a most fond farewell to the 3 Horseshoes, with a goody bag which will be lunch later, we walk up the downs (it’s fun saying that). The photographer follows (John Lawrence – a fine fellow), and asks us to pause and sing at obscure moments during the sharp ascent (for which we are quietly grateful).

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strolling itoward our small destinys

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will grins his lurid grin

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Ed sits around

Atop the South Downs, we are walking with the Gods. As far as the eagle sees, so do we. Counties pan out afront of us, and on each side the far distant north downs, or the sea, present our only boundary. England is rolled out like a picnic blanket, on which our eyes might nibble.

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sheep trails show...star of David...or anarchist A...?

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the view north

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Will and Paul - a glimmer of fraternal likeness?

We sing for some passing walkers, and John the photographer snaps hungrily.

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up, up, up

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too tired to move, Will makes an easy portrait

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Ed sings to the garlic

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We sing for you

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join in if you know the chorus

And then he disappears, leaving us 4 to walk and talk the merry day away.

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bidding John Lawrence, photographer, farewell

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soldiers 4

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pardonnez moi, je vous empris

Being a rare hot day, the downs are littered with other people enjoying the good things in life. Kite flyers, dog walkers, bicyclists, ramblers and glider pilots all make good their leisure time with full aplomb. Here, we feel, are the pleasant heights of southern England.

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Ed surveys the kingdom

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Ginger gets winky

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abundance

We find ourselves walking a route we have passed before, which is odd. Down into Buriton we go, as it is a fine village. Last time we were here we met a funny little duck, who we called Art Ducko. That was over 2 years ago, but he’s still here.

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the art ducko of Buriton

We take a liquid rest as light rain turns to sudden hail. Drinks, Paul assures us, are on the Telegraph. All is well. We are interviewed, the formality of which leaves us all shuffling about in awkward silences. We wonder why the act of recording a conversation can stem its flow so thoroughly. It’s probably something to do with quantum physics…

Then down the muddy tracks into Petersfield. We like this town, and have been boasting to Paul about the superb pub that is the Harrow Inn, who we hope to visit later tonight.

With Ed’s voice at its weakest, we sing a few songs outside a now dilapidated Woolworths. It is a good place to sing, as it represents a habitual point of spending that is now frustrated. People need something to throw their money at, so we put down the hat.

The best response we get is from a man who doesn’t want us to know he’s listening. He wears sports clothes, and has two small kids with him. He might (we conjecture) dabble in featherweight boxing. He passes in front of us, across the road, then back again, and then sidles along the street, in the shadows, where he and his children stand for 20 minutes listening intently to the old songs. It is a good singsong, if only for this man who, we are sure, knows the old songs, and the old ways too we feel.

Then we explore a little. The local church is locked, so with Paul we try to walk north to Steep, where the Harrow Inn can be found.

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we point, we stare

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the grave wave - an urban archaeiological horticultural reclamation venture

But Petersfield is notoriously hard to leave. Peter is the holder of the keys, and he will not allow us a swift exit. We walk in circles under railway lines, through dilapidated pockets of town we are sure the locals rarely see. Smashed glass, burned sofas…you know the scene.

And when we finally find ourselves on a road, it is 100 metres from where we started an hour ago.

When we do eventually find our way clear, we walk to the wrong pub, a final straw almost. But all is well, and we turn around a final time, and heavy under our baggage we finally arrive at the sign we’ve been waiting to see.

The Harrow Inn.

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a sign that says "you're welcome"

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the inn's outside

We were here a couple of years back, and it was truly a most welcome break for us. Passing by pubs that have re-branded themselves as traditional, whose gastro-aspirations make them closer to pub-themed restaurants than proper hostelries, it is refreshing to the utmost to find an inn that knows what it is, and that is secure in its traditions as a place of welcome for travellers and strangers.

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inside the merry place of song and play

The locals remember us most prompthly, despite the thousands of newcomers that must have passed by since we were here last. A good memory is fine indicator of a tradition in full-swing, and we settle to sing, talk and drink beside the roaring fire. There are 2 tables in here, and both are filled by strangers and old friends alike. We are told stories of Polish bicyclists who the locals found shivering under pine trees, who were taken into homes and fed, and who confessed plans to go and pitch their tents in regents park, London. We are told about Claire, the landlady, receiving new year’s honours for her services to British hospitality, which seems a rare example of honours given that are well deserved.

We sing for the people, eat the pea and ham soup that has been cooked in the same way for over an hundred years, and at the end of the night we are led out to the hay barn to make our mattresses from the bales. And here we sleep, Paul and the three of us, till the early morning frost dances in the sunlight, and we are called to wake.

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Will lies in...

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Ed wakes right up

A fire is already burning in the hearth, and with Paul we go and take the gifted breakfast of thick toast, butter and rich preserves.

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morning fires burn gentle

Paul tells us all about the word ‘Harrow’, which has etymological roots as both the common farming implement, and a holy hill. There is a small mound just outside the pub, upon which an ancient yew tree grows, so we surmise the relevant meaning here is the latter and greater.

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gang of 4

And then down and away we unwillingly stamp, for Paul has to return to write his article. “Be kind to us” we plead, and Paul smiles, before assuring us he has no intention to unmask our small ramblings as anything other than the simple joy that they are.

So we bid our new friend, Paul Kingsnorth, a fond farewell, and the three of us walk out of town.

Ed and Will stay awhile to do some website work, while Ginger hurries off to the woods, to carve his wood in the arboreal silence.

And late at night, our digital travails having lingered through the evening, we too head out of Petersfield, toward the South Downs once more, to make the acquaintance of a man who we have been recommended to meet.

Seeking Ginger, who we cannot find, we sleep under a mighty oak beside a ploughed field, and rest incredibly soundly.

And when morning comes, we head off once more, as the frost melts under glorious sunshine, toward the woodland where Ginger lays, with an apparently shocking headache. The footpath that we could not find last night, whose disappearance led us to sleep beneath this fine old oak, turns out to be 10 metres from where we slept. The disappearing pathway has blessed us yet again, and we gratefully follow the now well-lit path toward our suffering companion.

We hear the strangest birdsong we’ve yet met, and realize that the quasi-digital sound is in fact the lapwing, the bird Robert Graves named the master of concealment, for she sings elsewhere from her nest, to guide would-be egg-thieves astray. We watch and listen awhile, as the lapwings peculiar flying style amazes us. Up she flies, before she tumbles as though shot, down to the ground, before soaring up again, to repeat the performance.

We chase a pheasant, and lose it, find some Bittercress and eat it.

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hunting the microwaved meal for 2

Then the footpath leads us to a small cottage, where we discern strange behaviour occurring. A man is ripping the trestles from the face of the house, and we are unsure whether he is a gardener or a robber. So we stalk closer, and eventually try the classic bumbling fool method of uncovering the truth. Stepping forward, with full English flair, Will demands: “Hello old chap, do you know anything about the birds in the field over yonder? We’re not sure if they are lapwings or not…”.

The younger of the two potential robbers steps forward, and replies in the friendly negative, while his companion keeps his head turned and out of sight. We are not convinced, still, of their legitimate occupation, so keep talking awhile longer, before we leave them be. If they were robbers, we hope to have foiled them, in this isolated little settlement. If not, well, no harm can have come.

We filter water from a small stream, to hopefully relieve Ginger’s aching skull, and then meet him deep in the woods. He is, indeed, not looking as well as when we left him.

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the iron bands of headache tighten

We three decide to stay the night here, but soon think better, as when Ginger goes out hunting for hazel to carve into walking sticks, he meets the landowner’s son, who is scared and affronted by his presence. “Are you lost?” Ginger is asked. “No” he curtly replies. “Well, this is private property” the youth stammers, and Ginger but nods, before disappearing into the trees.

Within half an hour we hear a 4×4 roaring and skidding through the woods, as the youngster has obviously told his papa that there are unwanted strangers in his trees. We feel safe in the green trees, but decide it is for the best if we do not linger here where we aren’t welcome. We clean a few trees of their constrictive protective sheaths, as a final gesture of goodwill.

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no tree left unsheathed...

So we pack our bags, and walk toward our as-yet-unmet contact, who lives near South Harting, at the foot of the South Downs.

We have been here before, and 2 years ago we enjoyed a night’s accommodation in the garden of the pub. But we were invited to return the next night, to sing for a cricketers’ tea, and we never did come back, which left us in small paroxyms of guilt and regret. Now, with this newfound opportunity to remedy our earlier lapse, we return to the same pub.

But we find the man who was here then, is here no more. His wife and child remain, but he has been banished by the family for some marital indiscretion. We take the opportunity to apologize anyway, and are kindly bought drinks for the thought.

Telling our tale to the locals, one man, with hard grey eyes and shaven head, steps up and asks us if we need any supplies, outdoor gear and all that. We say “yes, always”, and he disappears through the front door, to return in half an hour with a tesco bag full of assorted goodies. Small lanterns, water purification tablets, a knife, Ray Mears books, matches mirrors and other sundry semi-essentials are brough to the table. “If you want them, have them” he says.

We ask how and why such generosity is so freely given ,and his story emerges.

“I’m a mercenary, and I’ve fought in Sudan, Kenya, Iraq. I worked for a group called BlackWater, the largest private army in the world, and we are paid to do the dirty work for US and UK military. I’m going back to London to re-enlist, and if I travel into London with this knife, I’ll do 8 years for it.”

It is a vicious looking blade, in a leather sheath. “That’s a private soldiers last line of defence” he explains, his eyes becoming smaller and colder as he does. “If you can handle on of these, you’ll be alright. This one has saved my life many a time.” He goes on: “If you have to end a life, be it man, deer or any beast, you need a sharp stabbing weapon like this. Bring it down hard in the back of the neck, to sever the spinal column from the skull, and that’s the way to survive.”

We sing a song for thankyou, and none of us is sure if we want to take this knife that bears such potent and deadly mana. Still, we promise him that everything will be used well, and we head off out of the pub to meet our friend up the road.

On the way, we pass a house that looks haunted, but locals tell us it is not so, only it is the site of a proposed new development. We are still unsure if their easy words are covering ancient secrets. It is, after all, situated at the foot of an iron age hill fort…

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of course it's haunted...

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roadside teasel all around

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Ed in the lanes afore South Harting village

Here, at the foot of the south downs, we stay a while, for some few days. This area has just been granted National Park status, and the locals are in celebratory mood. We finaly can offload the bottle of mead we have been carrying since Lurgashall, and a fine gift it makes.

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the circle of trees we called home

Rupert, the man with whom we are staying, is an intensely kind man, and his family are likewise beautiful and highly intelligent. We spend many days discussing obscure Berber theologists, and enjoying the outdoor bath that has been dug into the ground.

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a clean outdoor life

We help dig and plant a new hedge.

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we hedge and ditch our time away

Ed has a sore throat, so song is limited till the honey, sage, ginger and various other decoctions we feed him do their good magic.

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the hut of dreams

We sing for the family, and for visitors, such as a visiting Boy Scout troupe who turn up to camp around the fire, in the circle of trees at the heart of Rupert’s great field.

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getting the scouts to work for you

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boy and girl scouts

We are told many tales, such as how the first Gore-tex jackets were given to a man who was exploring South America, and how a local tribe, hearing his rustling down a river path, thought him a demon, so shot and ate him. Death by Goretex, a delicious irony not used in their popular marketing drives.

We find Honesty in the garden.

We are also told of the Royal Geographical Society and it’s work with explorers, scientists and naturalists, and of the politics of media litigation in London. All in all, it is a fascinating time, and an entirely welcome and delightful stay for us all.

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Will in shepherd's hut happily

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the sleepy slow worm unearthed

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the early Ginger uncovers the wyrm

There are many deer here, more than were recorded in 1066, when the book of Domesday was first commissioned. They are a pest, we are told, as they come in packs and eat the farmer’s new growths, and dig up the vegetable gardens of many a smallholding. But no-on is culling them, and we are importing Argentian beef in huge quantities. So goes the strange English way…

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the deer ones

Lucinda, Will’s not-not girlfriend, also comes out to visit us while we’re here, and is made very welcome by the family. We eat fine food, go on good walks up the downs, and marvel at the wealth of good hospitality that we have stumbled across.

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Luce scrubs up good

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All in a hoody of purple

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Angus tinkers under the hood

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Rupe and the roller

There is also a great family tradition of green woodworking, as they have an oak barn that has been constructed with almost no metal at all. The assorted tools that remain from this epic work are plenty to keep Ginger thoroughly fascinated.

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the rung-shave inactive

And so, a week has passed since we met Paul Kingsnorth, and we are but 1 mile from where we started. Yet such learning, and such progress has been made, and such good new friends, that we feel very much that this time has been as educational as a journey of many many miles.

It is with sweet sorrow that we leave, and walk back again to Petersfield.

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fond farewells

Lucinda bids us farewell, and takes her train back to London.

And Ginger also departs, for reasons we shall explain presently.

It is the end of the middle of the beginning of this journey, and a time of self-evaluation, of good hard inner-watching, and we are very happy to have made it this far.

So we bid Ginger his farewell, as he has been accepted as an apprentice green woodworker for Mike Abbot, the legendary worker and bodger of the green woods.

And we sit in silence amongst this town that we have visited on our walk so often, and we sing a final song as a three, for a man who has come to sit beside us in a café.

And then we part, and our three becomes two, and so it must go.

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Yew, the tree of change...

One Response to “Midhurst to Petersfield, Petersfield, Petersfield…”

  1. ginger says:

    boys,boys,boys…I miss you both so very much, and by the way it’s not a rung shave it’s a rounder, a sort of tennon cutter. xx

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