pre-Crawley Down to Horsham

We walk into Crawley, which is nasty, through Crawley Down, which is lovely. The next bit, Buchan Park, is lovely too, though the memory of nasty Crawley is still strong.

Busking and meeting people in Crawley, however, is a surprising series of events, and we learn not to judge a place entirely on its horrid appearance.

Then toward Horsham we walk, and we sing there late in the evening, before staying in the municipal park. We wake, and sing again, early in the morning. It is a pleasing place, this Horsham.

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tea in the park?

Along the railway tracks, from East Grinsted toward Crawley we go. We find Coltsfoot beginning to flower. The day is fine, hot and welcome. But as we approach the town, we sense a change in air, an increase in noise, and our walking instincts tell us ‘turn back’. Ginger is particularly sensitive to this, and continually questions the group’s intentions in heading to this new town. “It’s important to take the old songs to the new places. That’s the nature of this game…” we say.

Crawley Down village appears before the main feature, and is a refreshing and calm island of suburbia. Ed says “Let us sing here” and we all agree. Our sign has been lost, so we set to making another. We enquire in the local shops for spare cardboard, and the lady in the pet shop there asks us: ‘were you on the news?’. “Yes”, we say, and she launches into gratitude and thanks that we should have chosen her village to stop and sing in. It is a surprising and touching response to a 2 minute telly clip.

We enjoy a classic busk, with hardly anyone about, but tea and vegetables forthcoming. A little old Welsh lady buys us a mars bar each, which go deep into the bags as emergency fare.

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sleek and velvety, ginger preens...

And then away, and in toward terrible Crawley we do walk. Railway tracks turn into pavements, an environment of trees and flowers gives way to coaches and cars, and cars, and more cars. The odour is ugly, an envelope of road and electricity.

ceci n'est pas un wild flower verge

ceci n'est pas un wild flower verge

Even the wild flower verges are covered in silly signs, and speak of European funding groups. There is more project than flowers here.

We start to lose motivation. “Jesus hung out with the tax-collectors and prostitutes” we say, and hoping to convince the others. But surely if there is anywhere to take our small message of free movement and traditional song, it is here.

As soon as we get deep into this town, past the junctions and roundabouts, traffic lights and clubs, shops, car-parks and showrooms, we feel much weariness. It is not nice here. People of Crawley, we are sorry to be rude, but your town is difficult for us.

Ginger accumulates a nasty headache as soon as we get through the long, hot and blustery run-up. We wonder if these roads are designed to double up as an emergency airport landing strip.

So in the centre, we resolve to sing, and manage to persuade Ginger that it is a good thing to do. He feels terrible, but swallows his pain awhile. Kids step to us, and ask us if we are tramps. We explain a little, and are given a milky bar by an amazing gang of young-uns, who steadily grow into mob. A hundred queries are thrown, and we do answer them all with increasing happiness. This is the work…

Then we fall to singing. The square in which we sing is huge, shaded and windy, sun-blinded but chilly. We go for it, and it is great. Office workers stop (at a safe distance) and listen to two or three songs. The audience sits still a sporadic big circle, and keep themselves invisible and anonymous. Sitting and listening is not quite sanctioned in this place of recreational commerce. But the confident youth have less qualms about stepping close by, although they too do not linger. Instead their walking turns to dancing, their pasted scowls open into laughter, as they pass by, each following the leader’s example and throwing silver in our hat.

An old fellow circles about us. He seems out of place here, liminal to the consumption-focussed crowds. We silently conjecture whether he might be drunk, as he lingers at the periphery of the songs, and slowly makes a wide circle round us. Suddenly he is standing right in front of us, and as a song ends, and he steps forward to speak. We admit to assuming we were about to be berated for stealing his begging patch. But he steps forward instead with a ten-pound note, saying: “Here, take this lads, its got Terry Wogan’s address on the back.” We are stunned, and start to turn it over, just as he launches into his rant: “No, not really, sod that Terry Wogan, with his stupid little voice all over the radio just when the only thing you don’t want to hear is Terry Wogan, and there he is…lovely singing, by the way. This town needs more people like you. They don’t like me here, think i’m trouble, but i’m the only one doing any good work. Everyone’s scared of each other, and they think that’s the normal way to be”. And then he leaves.

We sing another number or two, then go to pick up some veg for the cookpot tonight. We are all very hungry after our Crawley trials. And we still have to get out. None of us want to sleep anywhere near this place. So we search a little while for a small grocer, any sort of local business run by local people. But such a thing cannot be found. Crawley is a new town, built from scratch in the mid 20th century (it sounds so very long ago), and has no old family anythings, really. We find only the food department of Mark’s and Spenser’s trading company. Inside, a big glamorous African lady, hair all braided, approaches us forcefully and tells us we have caused her daughter to take fright. “Explain who you are, so she will not be scared, please”

Her daughter shies away at the end of an arm, and we step to: “well, you see, we’re walking all over Britain, and singing old songs…” as it goes.

“That is good” the woman declares, satisfied, and walks away with her daughter held close: “See, i told you not to afraid of them, and now you can see for yourself why this is true…”

We pop outside, after singing in the queue, to the wobbly bafflement of fellow payers.

Outside, an Indian taxi man approaches. “I want to help you. Please tell me what you are doing, and where you are going?”

We explain, and he nods away, listening. “That is a very good idea.” he says slowly. “I myself would come with you, but that I must continue to provide for my family. I have a wife and daughter, you see, and this work in the taxi makes food for us all.”

We are all taken aback by the freely given kindness of this gentle man. Soft lessons in truth are found even in the heart of Crawley, a place meticulously designed not to nurture dreams of human growth through beauty. And yet the spirit here, beneath the illusion of commercial dominance, is good, and knows itself.

We say cheerio to our new taxi friend, and set to walking out of town. There is no real way out west for walkers. There is only pavement, and always beside a wide and fast or narrow busy road. And toward our chosen destination, the nearest woods, a dual carriageway represents the only route of escape.

So along this ribbon of fast cars and assorted litter we stamp, until light is well dimmed, and we meet Buchan Park, a breathing space for the people of the town.

Buchan Park is an elaborate wooded parkland with a huge lake. It is a fine place, the strong wild land growing in the fertile shadow of Crawley’s expansive bright blindness.

So here we three dive deep into the darkness, to lay low, eat our stew, sit beside the fire, sing a gentle song, string up our tarps, carve some wood, read a few sentences, think about them, sit in quietness, and then go to sleep. You know the drill.

Morning drags spectral mists from the ground; from their thin dances we know this day will be hot.
And it is so. As we pack away our ponchos and sleeping bags, we realize we are without water in our bags. None of wanted to drink Crawley tap water. Call it superstition.

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it's down...

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and up.

So we go deeper into the woods, to find a brook, far from the road sounds and grey memories of the town. As the filter squeezes the water through narrow pipes, Will cuts an oak stave from a fallen sessile oak, a mighty tree whose straight boughs are well seasoned and stout. He whittles it till its natural curve and thickness are in a good way to carry on, and leaves behind his piece of flimsy but well-serving bamboo.

We leave our map in our pocket as we leave the woods, and head along deer paths, which tend to lead somewhere good – water, or hidden places.

Finding only a farm track, we follow it south, toward St Leonard’s Forest, where the last dragon in Britain was said to be slain.

No such wyrm is apparent, but we do find a honey bees’ nest, in a hollow oak tree, which is good to see. Bees are not thriving as they need to, these days.

St Leonard’s forest is really a medium sized woods, but it is fine and healthy. We stop in a local pub, and talk to a lady shepherd, and calm her fearsome dog. There is a good sign on the wall here:

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Through the forest, and into Horsham we go. The first person we stop and ask for directions tells us she read the Guardian article about this walk. She is lovely and friendly, and has her 2 little girls with her. She invites us to stay at her friend’s house (“I’m really sure he wouldn’t mind if you just turned up…”)

We jot down those details, and rumble into town, following the crowd of school-kids all fashionable and strutting. We pass by the hospital, built around a great church, and a man stops to question us.

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a healthy unity?

We talk and sing to him awhile, and he explains his job is to walk long-distances as a leaflet-deliverer. He is dressed in full shiny modern walk-wear, which makes our woolen weeds feel wholly out-dated.

Then into town we carry on, to the big square. This is unsuitable for song, as melodies can get lost in the open air of big spaces. So into the narrow lanes we go, and are pleased to see leisurely throngs of passing peoples, all strolling in the balmy evening. Spring is well grown, near sprung to summer, and the evenings are a pleasant time to promenade with a sweetheart.

We set up our sign, and sing to the couples and families.

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a sign of ed

Good meetings are made, and kind people offer support and advice. We later rest beneath a huge statue of a wounded world:

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under the soft outside lies a steely core...

The night coming quickly on, we spin a stick to decide where we should sleep. The options are the park in the centre of town, or in a woods just to the south. The stick decides on the former, and with a brisk chill in the air we head to the municipal gardens, to see if we can lay our heads and rest.

We find a fenced off area beside a lake, and set up our bivi bags. Not a soul stirs abroad, despite the warning given over ales, that robbers and rapists patrol the park nightly. It must be too cold for mugging tonight, we think, and we close our eyes to sleep.

Morning is early, and we wake with it. We boil some water on the twig stove, and make a little tea, before packing our bags and heading into town.

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cold early morning

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boiling the tea fantastic

The dog-walkers, as we leave, give us a mixture of wry grins and horrific disbelief. We notice the police station is sat just behind the lake. “That’ll be why we had no trouble”, we muse, as we walk the roads into town centre.

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no sign for alarm

The reason we stayed in Horsham was because we wanted a morning busk here. So we step to, and find discarded cardboard in a recycling bin, from which we scrawl our business cards. We are all about professionalism, please know and be sure of that.

With back pockets full of corporate devices, we start to sing. There is only one shop blasting pungent dance music from its plastic speakers, and that is called the ‘Officer’s Club’. It looks like menswear, from a distance, but we don’t check.

And singing is a pleasing event here in Horsham. Many good people are up early and about town, and many throw a ‘good luck’ and a coin our way.

We stop for lunch as the day grows long. And then we are off and out of town, through a school, under whose bridge Ed lurks, trollishly filtering water.

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2 Responses to “pre-Crawley Down to Horsham”

  1. joanna says:

    i found you via a link on the countryfile website. loving what you are doing, wish i had thought of doing something like this.

    crawley is such a hodge podge town sometimes. but it’s a lovely place with good people…well i live there ;)

    keep up the good work.xx

  2. Clare Harms says:

    Just heard your ramblings on the radio and totally loved what you are doing and wanted to leave my desk and join you straight away. God bless you and if you need a stop in Bristol let me know.

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