Vann to Midhurst
A few songs, the hunt for water, friendly people, curiousities and all…read more for details:
From Vann we walk toward Haslemere, stopping to sing for mothers and toddlers we meet on route. They exhibit a jolly distress at not carrying gold for to throw at us.
Nettles are picked for dinner.
We take cleavers too:
Then into Haslemere we go, but our excited plans for a street sing-song are sadly blocked by the raucous and buzzing amount of vrooming vehicles. The A3 up the road is having a mile of tunnels built into it, underneath the Devil’s Punchbowl, where locals tell us there are many adders still living. This project sounds admirable, but has given us today an car-filled little town.
There seem to be many Americans in Haslemere. Perhaps this is inaccurate, and only proves that American outgoingness is as rife as ever, while the Brits look on quietly. Either way, we encountered a great many interesting and interested folk from the USA.
Because it is almost too loud to sing, we sing louder, and soon wear our voices to laser-thin ribbons, but we gave it our hearts.
Now, Ed’s girlfriend is a-coming to visit, so Will and Ed wait for her in town, while Ginger heads off on solo reconnaissance toward the woods.
When we do meet, beside Ginger’s fire in the dark woods, we are merry but tired, and a quick meal brings swift sleep.
Come morning, Will and Ginger slope down the wooded hillsides seeking fresh water.
Running, jumping and diving through the crowded woods like young gazelles, they meet a solid wall of rhodendron that soon stops them in their tracks. But they turn into jungle explorers, and hack onward, climbing the fallen trees, jumping the muddy streams, and on. A skinny trickling stream, infused like a rhodendron leaf tea, is soon found, but no amount of filtering gives it good taste, so we spit it out and tread on.
Rhodendron really is a severe problem, a decorative garden escapee that dominates native woodlands, that steals nutrition and light from the inhabitants that came first. It is a clogger of woodland arteries, a darkener of the forest floor, and it makes walking bloody. To clear rhodendendron is a massive task, and can take many years. It needs to be uprooted, and will grow back given a fraction of a chance. With the state of modern laissez faire (lazy fair?) woodland management, it is often that the rhodo issue can be found deep rooted in the native landscape.
We were told by the people of Windy Ridge that one of the benefits of clearing rhodendendron is that it makes a fine charcoal…so we hope that with care and work, the people of this area might one day enjoy a clean woods and a good BBQ to boot.
The area in which we are seeking water is called Blackwoods, and we are far from the pathways. After an hour of water hunting, we find a huge lake, a dilapidated 1970’s pleasure retreat with a small cottage on its edge.
Perhaps a retired judge lives here, we ponder. A Jaguar car sits dusty, and an old wooden power boat rots very slowly in the still waters. We duck under a willow tree, and filter our water. It tastes good and clean, so we walk back up the hill to the others.
Up the hill, Ed and Ayla are still cosily abed. We feast together, food that Ayla has rescued from Marks and Spenser’s bins, using a gas key to access their locked skips. All is well. The day is one of music, food, carving and rest.
Then Ayla drives off for her next gig near Totnes. We 3 walk on, to the spot where Alfred Lord Tennyson, writer of “The Idylls of the King”, had his summer house retreat. It is a beautiful spot, gazing down over many counties.
Just when we are starting to suspect we have been lingering too long, we spot 2 walkers in the wood struggling with a GPS device. They step up, and ask “do you know where we are?” We have a god idea, and share it with them, when they exclaim: “Didn’t you sing for us, in Penzance last year, at the Admiral Benbow?”
We remember someone in the corner of the pub, and it must have been them – what amazes us is this strong and distant co-incidence. We all 3 feel most strongly that this indicates precisely that we are on the right track, that the journey is perfectly within its timing. An hour faster, or slower, and we would not have met this wandering pair of way-markers, who have confirmed us so well in our moving.
We stamp the hill down toward the village of Lurghashall. Stopping for a rest at the foot of the hill, we pick nettles and violets, and a lady comes out from her house to enquire “Are you on a research trip?” We pause, then answer plainly: “yes”.
So we sing her a Harvest Song, and tell her about some of the plants growing around her house, and she pops inside to bring out hot tea and biscuits. It is a lovely, welcoming and supportive moment of the walk. Jacki is the kind lady’s name.
Ed rests awhile to mend his newly aching knee, and is happy to borrow Ginger’s bionic knee support for the task.
Well armoured, up the lanes we stamp toward Lurgashall. Here sits a famous winery, which has often provided our home feasts with good aphrodisiac honey drink, the nectar of Gods. Mead is the original honeymoon drink. The Norse would spend a moon’s passage after their weddings, drinking mead for fertility and excitement, to enhance their work at the oldest industry, to make good sweet hard children.
We pop in to the winery, to say hello, and learn that the brewery has been recently stung by EU regulations that are forcing it to rebottle all its wines into 75 cl bottles rather than 70 cl, at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds.
The chap who runs the place is a small American man, a jolly Anglophile, who tells us we are brave for what we do. We like him, so sing to his office staff a ‘Country Life’. We also buy a bottle of mead that has been sat in whisky casks.
Then come farewells, and we go south, onto the village of Lodsworth. The hedges have been recently massacred, and multi-million pound houses sit lane-side.
We possess vague hopes of finding a classic pub in which to sing. But in Lodsworth, the pub is guarded by a fierce and disapproving barlady, who seems to not like our scruffiness. And the next pub we find is closed.
Outside a pub we spy a Bamford water pump, from 1872, of a design that made colonial history when it was exported to Australia as the cheapest and most reliable form of water-pumping available at the time. Of course, in modern Britain it is no longer connected, no matter how long we crank it for.
Bamford are still a major player in the world water pumping industries. So there we go.
We know that somewhere in this area Ben Law lives, the sustainable woodland builder man. We enquire as to his whereabouts…but our questions are met with stone wall silence, as the locals are rightly keen to protect his privacy.
A few phone calls later, following the lead of a friend’s dad’s mum’s friend, we have the man’s details…but Ben Law, we discover, is not at home, so we move on.
We visit Lodsworht church, and discover that it was once a great pilgrimage destination, due to the eye-healing properties of its well. We feel clearly for a moment the plain fact that this journey we’re on, it is an old practise. In as recently as the middle ages people were wandering all over England on foot, taking in the holy sites and medicinal properties of the historic and magickal environment.
But this is the age of fast machines, so we decide to blend and merge our ancient journey with the possibilities it has inherited from the modern age. For an experiment, we try and find a good bit of woodlands in which we can rest, using Ed’s phone which can access google maps. We see a lake displayed in the heart of the woods, so head that way, hoping to get fresh water and maybe a bit of fishing. But when we approach the dark mass, it turns out to be a great thicket, hundreds of metres across, of rhododendron. We cannot escape it.
We lay low nearby, and feel slightly wary about this strange bit of woodlands. Water is still needed, and a 3 part journey thus wise is commenced. On walking back to the woods, with huge logs cut from fallen trees, why the cars all slow down and look at us funny…but then we suppose it is a rare sight to see grown men carrying trees to the woods, in this funny age.
Sleep soundly comes, and a good fire clears the air in our odd woods. The deer howl awhile, and the badgers come out curious, but sleep is the gift it should be.