The Book

We have been rummaging through our notebooks and journals from previous walks and gradually turning them into something readable. We intend to produce a book based around a narrative of the journey, frequently interspersed with information gathered along the way. We will detail plants, skills, games, histories, tales, songs, meetings, landscapes and other seemingly unconnected features.

Here is an excerpt of narrative from chapter 5 to be going on with:

We both lie dreaming till midday. It was needed, and we are now out amongst rural life again, and walking once more. We are confused by the sun’s advancement, and check our pocket watch. We have slept for 15 hours. Slightly astonished, and we climb down the Devil’s Dyke, slowly, into a village called Fulking.

We meet there a man of pure smiles, called Peter. We find the darkest red apples on a tree, ease them off the branches with our sticks, and find their inner flesh is garish pink. We drink from a spring that runs off the Downs, and are refreshed. We glance in the pub, to suss the scene, and find an overpriced cold welcome. We suppose that this is the nature of places – around the big strong warm spots are satellites of little cold places, like rocks round a sun.

We head out of the village, to look for a woodland in which to relax and make early camp. We stop to pick Coltsfoot, which grows by a ditch, and 10 seconds later Ed falls and jars his knee, while crossing a small bridge.ed_landing

We stop and investigate the injury. Arnica is applied, a knee brace improvised, but Ed feels too damaged to carry his bag, so Will runs off to find the nearest place we can sleep. An oak will do, on the other side of a small field. Ed limps over, and Will relays the bags, nearly twisting his own ankle four times. We both string our basher shelters off one oak bough, which is sufficient. Ed sits with leg raised, and reads from his book that raw onion is very good for strains of this nature. We check our sacks, but both carry no onions today. We take this opportunity for an early night’s sleep. It is a calm, fine night, and the moon is yellow gorgeous fat.

Misty rain started early in the night, which turned to a full outrageous downpour. That morning we stay under wraps till it abates, and enjoy a sheltered lie-in. We eat nuts, apples and rosehips for breakfast. We then try walking, but Ed’s knee soon complains. We continue slowly, getting lost in the fields and hedges; but “where are we ever?”

As soon as we enter woods, we both instantly feel stronger. It has been a while. The woods are small but beautiful, and alongside a village called Small Dole. There we buy bread, cheese, and pineapple juice. We take tea in the pub (for Ed’s flimsy knee), and are horrified to find this is the first pub which will give no refill of the tiny tea pot, despite the remaining tea-bags and milk. The Fox pub…vulpine water-hoarders.

Across the stubbled fields, we find a place called Streatham manor. It must have once been important, as it is well-marked on the map. Will fancies his chances, so he jollies up the driveway to ask for directions, hoping we’ll meet someone who might want a song or two. But no-one answers the door, and being ignored would be better than being rebuffed.  So we break bread at the end of the drive, eat cheese and our newly acquired raw onion, and rest again. Reports from Ed’s knee are positive. “It’s whining less,” he promises.
Crossing the Adur river, and we meet a marvellous path, brimming with rare herbs and flowering plants, rare in our home lanes of Kent. Ed finds Mullein, which looks like it would make a great torch, dipped in animal fat or wax. Eating just one yellow flower from the Mullein stalk brings an airy feeling to our throats. Toadflax is there too, another new friend. Few flowers remain, and identification is difficult for many plants, but all observation is good time well spent. The mugwort still holds the smell of summer-meadows.

We borrow some maize from the pheasant groves, and walk through a farmyard. We see dead calves splayed on the tarmac, broken on the gravel, and turn to face a farm-hand who very fairly says : “While I may like walkers, the footpath is not through here, and this is my workplace you know” .We humbly acknowledge the truth of all this, but the gate is just ahead, and to backtrack would be to double our crime, so we carry right on.

The path follows a private drive for awhile, and in the horse field opposite the houses we spot an indistinct white mass, which we dare to hope might be…(we investigate)…it is!…a giant puffball. It is vibrant and fresh, big as a head, and white as God’s cloud castle.

With the puffball secured, miraculously not trampled by the horses, we continue. We wonder how horses know not to damage the co-inhabiters of the fields. Have they reched an accord, struck a deal? What part of the horse knows to protect these fungi? Humans are so keen to kick and destroy puffballs, but a ‘beast’ knows better.

Not far further, we settle into a beautiful slither of crowded woodlands, right alongside the path but far from the houses. It is mostly unmanaged, and fallen trees are slowly rotting under the brambles. We ask the beeches, birches and pines if we might stay, if we might make fire. The crows craw welcome, thrice again, so we burn sage and settle. We cook quinoa and a portion of puffball we found damaged early in the morning, before the giant arrived. We add plenty of cayenne pepper, a staple from home, used also to warm cold hands. It is good to eat well. And as the food bubbles in the pot, yet another spindly spider tries to crawl up Ed’s trousers, and he cannot help but sing of it:

“I’ve got a Harvest Master crawling up my trouser leg…..and a Puffball as big as my head.”

We listen to the wind in the high canopy, and hearing how it sounds like rain, and how we keep semi-consciously hearing this warning. We are quick at dealing with signs of rain, a sort of casual neurosis.storm_sun

As the food mixes into goodness, we drag the pheasant maize from the ashes, and eat these burned little bullets. The corn is super-hard, and we have jaw-ache by half-way. This seems to fool our belly-brains, and our mouths being tired, makes our mind not feel hungry. But main course is always welcome.

After dinner we check the phone, and find that Will has won his MA. His dissertation, on “9/11 and the Propaganda of Conspiracy” has not failed him for its obscure and awkward attempts to hint at underlying truths he knows nothing about. So he is become a letter bearer. What does it mean, we wonder? Will certinaly doesn’t want to call himself a Master of Anything. Perhaps a Man of Arts? Perhaps Meaningless Arse? Or Motivated Apathy? Who knows. But we are happy, and will take a pint tomorrow in celebration of this Minor Achievement. It will hopefully proove valuable as a passport of some sort, a gesture of validity. We sit carving awhile, before sleep.

Last night’s gentle wind blew in its promised storm, with massive lightning and thunder, and heavy heavy rain for most of the dark hours. It is strange delight to wake up to a downpour, inches from our heads, and do the quick checks in half sleep, to find everything is in place, is dry and safe. Then to lie down again, and relax into the noise of water. We live in fine hotels.

There was also an animal knocking over logs in the night, probably a badger, which caused Will to wake suddenly a few times. But the badger was undoubtedly here first, and only let us know this was his turf. We eat for breakfast the rest of last night’s supper, then clear camp of any signs we were there.

Then we are faced by the Puffball. How to carry a giant delicacy when all bags are full, and the new mass is soft and delicate? Both of us want the other to take it. Finally we diff out a cloth bag, which is waterproofed by a binbag we’d forgotten we carried. Ed then attaches this lump to his staff in classic itinerant fashion, and we walk.

It is a hard morning’s walk, and a harder afternoon, as the Brighton toxins seep from us. The rain, which stopped by mid-morning, keeps threatening to return, but doesn’t turn up. Our pre-emptive cladding has made walking hot. Overheated as such, it is no surprise that we don’t notice the approach of a road, which appears surprisingly after a sweet little hazel copse. We follow it for some times, until the wooded hillside opposite becomes less steep, and we can escape the tarmac.

We notice a sign for Wiston Park, from where (our map tells us) we can rejoin the SDW (South Downs Way). In the wooded lane approaching the park, Ed finds delicious chestnuts, while Will lies on the grass waving at coaches. Then over the cattle-grid, and we are in Wiston’s fine old parkland of huge cedars and soft turf. A number of anonymous darkened glass coaches are all leaving together, as well a number of catering vans. Things are going on.

At the main house, we find a fence, microphone and camera. Will puts on his best voice, and says: “Hello there…we’ve come from Canterbury, and we wish to visit your fine Norman Chapel, in order to sing a brief devotion. Would that be acceptable?” Without hesitation or reply, the gate rises. We stroll up, are dragged into reception to sign books and get badges. Ed signs in with an alias, for fear of the James Bond tones this place oozes. We are told that there is “no way you can enter the main building, sorry no.” It appears that Good Works and Important Discussions go on there, as a conference zone leased from the Goring family to the Foreign Office.

candidaWe make our visit to the chapel, find it lovely, a reliquary of the Goring family name and their dead. We sing the ‘Seven Virgins’, and admire the tombs and windows, the stone visions. As we leave, four members of security are waiting, and swiflty check out whether we graffitied the altar, kicked in the windows, or stole the brass. We tell them what we’re up to, and they warm a little. Will can’t resist trying out the MA line, and it seems to work: they visibly relax. “Oh, you’ll be working here one day” they say.

We find a tap, fill our water sacks, and take lunch. Security linger at the corner of our eye, and every 4 minutes when they casually wander by, we ask questions “So, what really goes on here?”, “Do you still use the underground tunnels?” that sort of thing. They let on nothing, repeating the mantras ‘Crucial Work’, ‘Valuable Negotiations’ et al. Is this an indication that nothing is really going on, or are they just super well-trained, we wonder? We leave through the north of the estate, meet the SDW, and follow it. Helicopters and small planes are buzzing overhead, and we wonder if we’ve stumbled on something, or are maybe being chased. Silly boys; but it’s a fun game.

We walk toward the village of Washington, which we speculate may be the ancestral haunt of that American President (George Bush’s family are originally from Hawkhurst in Kent, a fitting name). The village is pretty, with plums on the trees, but the pub’s ale is limited to Arundel, not to our taste. Also, they take away someone’s unwanted plate of food, and refuse to let us buy it cheap. They tell us it is going straight in the bin. We realize the trick will be in future to approach the diner, before the pub intervenes to clear up.

But in one quiet corner of the pub, where the huge screen of roaring sports can be almost ignored, we meet old Tony, with whom we talk. He tells us he married a village girl, aged 20, and lived here his whole life. His little Jack Russell, which sits under the table, apparently loves to go flying in his friend’s small airplane. Tony laughs, because he hates to fly, and he likes that his dog has travelled farther than he has. He is the church caretaker here, and knows the good spots to sleep. He tells us of a place the Gypsies and tinkers used to stay, with a cattle pump for fresh water. We thank him, and as we leave he tells us that his wife Norah is opening the Church tomorrow at 8:30, and we should go say hello to her.

Then toward the foretold spot we go. We are soon lost, so follow a route out of the village. We can only find trees on a very steep gradient, so we experiment with a fence-line, and run two tarps lengthways on the same line. It’s a good idea, for the time of night and the space available, but a bit like an assault course. Ed’s neck is wrenched, as he ducks down into it. The Gypsies and tinkers, we feel, would not have had such issues.

We wake early, which seems wise as we don’t know where we camped in the dark last night. Sure enough, a few hundred yards away is a great big house, and we are in plain window sight. A man with a dog approaches, and we gently sing ‘Tell out my soul’, to put off any assault on our Earth rights. Ed’s acrobatic shelter-entry last night, his twanged neck, has left him with a 75% reduction of head movement. Will laughs: “You can still move your eyes about, can’t you?”

We walk toward the village, to visit the hopefully opened Church, and find bounteous treefuls of apples, small sharp fizzers, and massive yeasty monsters. Builders restoring the Church tell us all about a Harvest Festival taking place this morning, with the local school in full attendance. Sure enough, the children start arriving, and we sit on the wall by the gate. We spot a woman of bearing, who barks at the children in sharpness and tones of unquestionable authority. Listening to her, we hear the language of violence, which permeates speech, by tone and delivery, despite the apparent gentleness of the words being spoken. Each small suggestion to the little ones, seems an attack. She wears a bright gold Crucifix, but warns us with averted eyes that the Church will be full. “You’d better just have a look inside now, before the service. There’s no room otherwise.”

That makes us determined to get in there. As she goes to encourage the children in silence and straight lines, we sing gently, and a kindly arriving mother says: “ooh – you should come in. Don’t worry what you’ve been told, sit with us, pretend to be our friend.”

Then the Vicar arrives, and Will lays it on thick: “I say old chap: How about a Good Christian Welcome here? Can we come in and sing with you in Harvest praise?”

Too much, Ed thinks, but its an undeniable request, and cannot fail to work. We sit in a corner, and sing along happily throughout. The sermon tells the children all about poor homeless people who need their tinned handouts, who aren’t lucky enough to have a nice heated house. Within this generalization, we wonder how we fit?

We chatter awhile with the children and their parents, then go to take coffee in the local pub. It is soon a fine morning, and we feel awakened and joyous. Song is a good morning tonic, and even Ed’s neck is relaxed. pheasant-shootingThen up the Downs we go, meeting more Amaranth which we harvest. At the top of the hills, after a short but powerful trek, we are awake indeed. We find a shameful number of outgrown plastic tree protectors, and clear them up. The SDW from here is wonderful, an easy and well walked path, with long views on either shoulder. As we walk we hear the echoing reports of the first pheasant massacre of the season.
Agrimony and Wild Thyme are found on the hillside. We pass much agricultural land atop the Downs, and by lunchtime we come across a sliver of woodlands just off the path. We walk in, and dodge the sundry evidence of hasty defectaion. It is like a band of toilet paper, all pooey and caught in brambles. Why people cannot bury or burn it, we do not know.

Past the poo lies a beautiful glade, in which we discern the foundation of an old dwelling. Nearby lies a huge stone sink, so we know someone once lived here. We make a fire where the house fire might have lived, and cook our Giant Puffball travelling companion. At least 80% has survived the last two days, and we fry it with wild thyme, rock salt and cayenne pepper. It is a rare treat, like a mist of chicken. giant-puffball

We take a snack of Wood Avens as a digestif, and pack up. Will feels that this location wants us to stay for the night, but we decide to move on, and do so. We follow the SDW, watching the sun set gloriously from halfway down the hill. The River Arun is twisting toward the sea, Arundel castle lies over the south western hill, and Amberley sits amongst the bows of Arun on the flatlands tio the North. We walk down, and spot a cheery house of ale and company, right next to the bridge on the Arundel road. We enter, and immediately field questions of Who? Why? What? Where to? Really?

We respond as best we can, and happily meet the Corfiot chef and other friendly locals. We are chattering away about the benefits of moussaka over lasagne, when Will spies two youngsters with backpacks peeking through the window, looking confused. He jumps out to say “You look lost, come in, drink the good ale, enjoy the fire”.

They admit they are indeed lost, and face the same pub questioning we did. They confess to being on a sponsored walk, and are at the end of their first three-day leg. They are looking for a place to pitch their tents. “Oh, you can do that anywhere” we reply. They look a little befuddled. “Well, there’s a campsite around here we should really find.” An old boy then queries them: “why you walking, then?” Straightfaced they reply: “Oh, it’s to send cows to Africa.” The pub splutters into its pints. We notice this happen, and discuss it, deciding that their reply was too abstract, too seperated from the reality of their endeavour. They willingly shouldered this reductionist charitable intent, and if you fit too easily into people’s stereotypes, you do not challenge them, and you disappear into patterns of the ‘already-understood’. As the two lads wander puzzled into the mists, the barmaid is stoical. “Don’t think they were old enough to drink anyway.”

We stay by the fire, and on overwhelming request, sing to the pub, one, two, three songs. We intercept successfully a plate of leftovers, and are bought three and a half pints each. A heavy night’s indulgence. But we too must leave to seek our shelter, so into the darkness we go. We follow the river Arun, through water that doesn’t know if it is sky or river. Old wooden walkways take us through swampy ground, and after two miles of tipsy stumbling, we climb up into land marked as belonging to the Duke of Norfolk. We affix a Flying Marrows sticker to this sign, and climb the hill. Halfway up, we turn to see our path, but all is swallowed by the mist, and the whole hollow of the land is filled with rolling whiteness, full of the glowing moon. We see woodlands, enter, find a flat clearing, whack up our bashers, jump in our bivis, and shut our eyes.

Ed wakes troubled by a night of mosquitoes. Will sleeps well, deep in dream upon dream. By the time we have stretched, eaten, and shaken off the night before, it is midday. That’s what ale does. We look down where we walked from last night, and see a clear valley, a totally different landscape to last night. We are soon walking, but all this visibility gets us pretty lost. Alleyways through pheasant reserves confuse us, but we find a path of sorts, amongst the Duke of Norfolk’s sheep, which all still have tails. We don’t see this in Kent, where they are always shortened. Then from the ovine fields to human places we come, to find the old castle of Arundel, surrounded by a horse race-track made of rubber chips.

Very soon after we are in Arundel proper, and we pass a vast Roman Catholic cathedral, a decorated fort. It is completely incongruous with this sleepy little town, which once must have been a place of significance. We would go in, but a wedding is afoot. Walking past, we see stone heads stretching out from the walls, as though trying to escape, but trapped forever.

Arundel must hold secrets that are not immediately obvious, we decide. We stroll down through the tiny nook of a high street. We look for secondhand maps, buy some dried fruit and a new stash of emergency salami. We try asking for outdated stock in an exotic pricey deli, and get a pot of treats for few coins. Then in a bakery we’re given pain au chocolat, and yesterday’s sandwiches, after talking with the lady there about Will’s mum’s wartime birth, the nature of austerity, and the obscenity of wastage.

Fine people advise us where to kip around the town, which woods are closest and fairest to our needs. We pop into the library, and learn the librarian’s daughter is at Canterbury Uni. Will did not know her by name, which is not surprising.

Then, remembering a recommendation from Amberley, we find the Eagle Inn, the night being Friday, and the mood being so. We face great curiosity toward our bags and intentions. We meet a man called D’Animal, a trance producer, and a chap called John who soon will be father of a son, to be named Oliver. Will suggests Johnson as a middle name. We meet Ray, a musician, and his fine wife. Ray wants us to sing, so asks the landlord. “Not tonight, no license!” he shouts over the loud bar. So Ray bids us follow him, and outside the front door, he gently sings us ‘A Kiss From A Rose’, better than that Seal ever did. We sing a reply, and a little scene develops of furtive outdoor song. Ah, sensible legislation of modern Britain, when people cannot sing in a pub without fear of police clampdowns, judicial sentencing and custodial fines. But a foot outside the door…no problem. We blame the Normans, as would Robin Hood. We find £15 shoved in our hands by happy drunk folk, and leave with good cheer, with intentions to busk in town tomorrow morning.

Just 50 yards up the road, we spot another hostelry. Now, we are not drunks. We have a sturdy three pint limit, which is only exceeded only occasionally to prevent this modernation becoming habitual. But pubs are the best places to meet local people, to tap local knowledge, and it is hard to resist popping in to have a look, to scope a place. You never know who’ll be sitting there waiting for you.

We meet a quiet trapper called Tom. He tells us how to make a conical wicker eel trap, and says eels live everywhere, in every water-way. “Chop their heads off, chuck them in the deep freeze, and two days later when you thaw them, they’ll still be wriggling.”

Tom is most impressed by the fact we’re drinking orange juice, and harps on our “organic journey”, and how women must find our purity irresistable. We tell him we’re not usually so pure, but he can’t hear that, and talks on, lost in a dream world of charming sobriety and opportunities therefrom.

We sing a couple of classics for the pub, without fear of legal reprisals, as we’re on the benches outside. It’s a warm night. The table behind tap on our shoulder afterwards, with a handful of money. “It’s all our change…thankyou so much for singing.” A man from this group sets to questioning us, and tells Will he’s a poet, for having said ‘Autumn is a kind season’ and ‘The mushrooms were popping up to greet us’. He must read too much Clancy or Archer, Will thinks. The fellow’s six year old daughter is there, doing cartwheels and handstands in the empty road, which inspires Will to join in. He finds his balance, post-backpack, is not what it was. Then we trek a quick mile up the road, a swift trot into the heart of the woods, and sleep amongst the fungi.

We are back in town by 9:00, having brewed morning tea and stretched in the woods. We head to our new favourite bakery, thinking nothing could beat yesterday’s generosity. But there are new staff this morning, and as we tell our tale again, and the younsgster behind the till offers us grinning cut-prices. As we chatter, a woman brings in a cake she bought last night, with the complaint that it was not as ginger-flavoured as she had hoped. Whack for the bonny day, and we swoop on it.

Busking is a pleasure and a joy again. We try a new song or two, make good money and meet fine folk. Many people tell us to go sing in Chichester. We take an abundant lunch of olives, goats cheese and rye bread, in St John’s churchyard. We spot a crowd of women who are all wearing red hats and purple clothes (or is it the other way round?), in honour of deviant old age as defined in a poem by an American. We are singing the chorus of Oats and Beans, “a-waiting for the partner”, and they come tutting over: “We’re not waiting for any partners, my dears”.

We meet an ex-policeman, who tells us about Arundel’s infamous Civil War treachery, and how before World War Two Arundel still had gas street-lighting.

Looking through our hat, we’ve made £100 in this little town. We celebrate by buying hessian bags, for green leaf gathering (which prove ineffective, coating our food in fine hairs). The shopkeeper claims they will “last forever”. A doomed boast, we fear. We also buy high-grade boot wax from Peglers, a family internet business that kits people out for expeditions. It is expensive, but the wax is German, and we feel this represents a dryer footed future. While browsing the expensive gaudy clothes, we listen to the sales-patter in full swing:
“How much are they?” a girl asks, while the man laces boots to her feet. “We’ll talk about that later” comes the reply.
He is only a little disturbed at our laughing. Later, we discuss with the same shopkeeper a self-inflating roll-mat. “That’s expensive for a rollmat” Will hazards. Instantly ready, he replies: “What price a good night’s sleep?” We laugh, and ask him how many times he’s used that line, and he is flustered. But the shop sells good gear, better than we hope to carry. A couple walk into the shop, to buy boots. We smile and talk a little, and as we leave, they come running after us, and invite us to sit and take a drink, to talk some more. It’s a good way to meet people, this walking business.

Then a local man who was at the inn yesterday sees us, and drags us into the pub to sing again. Our new friends come too, and even though we’re not feeling it, like monkeys we perform. But singing is always worthwile, even when it feels unwilling, and is never a wrong or regrettable move.

By now the day is advancing. We need to decide where we’ll go to this evening, and we have contradictory impulses. Will wants to check out Chichester (locals call it Chi). Ed wants to avoid towns and people for a while. We cannot agree…till Will offers Ed the inspiring challenge of walking all the way tonight. Ed’s eyes twinkle. At the bar, three men with tennis racquets are speaking loudly of the Gribble, a pub of rare excellence and warmth, in a village just outside Chi. So we have our target. The time being just 7:00, we think, “it is only 8 miles, we can make it for closing”.

And so through woods, down lanes, we stamp. We are skirting a village, and decide to walk through it. Will suddenly stops in his tracks and says: “This could be the most dangerous village in Britain”.Ed doesn’t like this foolish interjection, and tells Will not to project such possibilities, such useless conjecture. We walk through the harmless village, as pass a group of men in deep loud conversation of their nose and ear hair. This Alpha majority are boasting loudly of their extensive modern grooming techniques. They are certainly well-perfumed. We skirt this peril, and make huge time toward our Gribble goal.

We almost make it, but in the dark madness we spend an hour getting lost. The last stretch is a full-paced trot down a saturday night B road, the semi-drunks rattling past us. We wander at this state of evolution, where we are so inured to cars that we do not dive in a bush each time one approaches at 60 mph. We take it on trust, each time they pass, that they won’t veer into our pavement. Certainly our ancestors would have run a mile, and consequently survived.

We get to Oving, sweaty and knackered, feet pounded into the ground, glad to be in one piece. That was perhaps our quickest stretch of walking so far. We look for the pub, but we cannot find it anywhere. Suspicion dawns…is a Gribble is a local joke, played on unsuspecting hikers? “There’s a wonderful Gribble over the next hill…etc.”. We walk up Church Road, and the rain starts to fall. Cheated of a destination, we rest in the church porch, to eat our gift sandwiches and pasties. We light a stub of candle, close the doors behind us, and change into dryer clothes. The floor is dry, we notice, and first comes the possiblity, then the liklihood, and then the certainty that we have arrived here, and we shall stay here tonight. Where else could there possibly be to sleep? It is raining steadily, heavily.  Here we cannot to disturb anyone, at least till morning. We set Ed’s phone alarm, to rise before the parishioners arrive. The stone flagstones are warm, and aching from shoulder to ankle, we quickly sleep.