It was really warm last night, warmer than October has any right being. That sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not, but I’m starting to resent my gorgeous, snuggly down jacket that I thought I’d get a shit tonne of use out of this week. I deliberately bought the cosiest jacket I could find within my budget so it’s got a bit of bulk to it, it wants to loft to the moon and be huge so packing the bugger is a battle, but oh my gosh, it’s warm. Like being trapped in a room with your huggiest aunt, except she’s made of lava.
It took us twice as long as it should have to get from our camp to Gill’s Lap Clumps where we intended to have breakfast but in our defence it was dark and the ground was soup. Not a nice soup either, a thick, lumpy stew that you’d definitely send back to the kitchen in disgust in even the most casual of dining establishments. There was a bit of a hill involved too, actually there were many hills, which meant breakfast with a view once we’d stopped panting.
There’s a trigpoint here too so we bagged that and had a heated discussion about the best way to get off Gill’s Lap Clumps. We went my way. It was wrong, we had to double back and Tarrant does so despise a double back. To be fair, my downloaded GPX didn’t even bring us through Gill’s Lap but Tarrant’s OS Map did so that threw me anyway. I don’t know if the trail is just poorly waymarked through Ashdown Forest or if we were just off on a little mission of our own but we just kind of stumbled through, hoping we were heading in a vaguely sensible trajectory. There were trails marked on our maps which didn’t seem to exist in real life so we just kind of made shit up as we went along in the general direction of Newhaven.
Ashdown Forest throws out some stunning colours at this time of year and you’ll get cracking views of all of them as you slog up and down hills made of mud and regret. I wouldn’t call it a forest though. Sure, there are some trees, but it’s mainly gorse and dead ferns. It’s a great place and we’d already seen more people here than we had on the rest of the trail. As in two. We’d seen two people. It’s possibly the time of year but there were delightfully few humans on the Vanguard Way. Anyway. Eventually, we found trail markers. We knew they existed somewhere, Tarrant spends a lot of time in Ashdown Forest with a youth group, the whole reason we knew of the existence of this trail was because she’d seen the trail markers and had become intrigued.
So the scenery today was varied which is a delight, I love watching how your surroundings change hour to hour as you traverse them on foot. We had woodland, farmland, plenty of places to filter water, but the running theme was definitely mud. Lots of mud. Ankle deep mud that you perform acrobatics unfitting of the non-athlete you are to avoid walking through, slippery mud that sneaks up on you and you only realise it’s there when your left foot is very suddenly half a metre away from where you placed it, and the inch-deep stuff you just kind of sigh and walk through whilst praising whoever invented Sealskinz socks.
Today’s resupply was at Buxted Village Stores, and as much as we like to shop local, you just don’t get the same variety as you do in the chain shops. The limited choices aren’t helped by the fact Tarrant can’t have dairy. I mean, she’s not meant to anyway, but she often throws caution to the wind and eats a dessert whilst shouting, “Fuck it! Milk ladder!” Now is not the time to be trying to increase her lactose tolerance though, not with the distinct lack of public facilities.
I mooched around the shop and ended up with bread rolls, several packs of eye-wateringly expensive ham, Pot Noodles, sugar filled snacks of varying milk content, and another fucking tin of soup each. Sorry, Tarrant, chunky cold mucus for dinner again.
We sat on a bench and shovelled some sandwiches and crisps into our chops for lunch as the sun blazed down on us, then the wind chilled us to the bone, then the spitting rain had a bash at trying to move us on. Seriously, weather. What the fuck? We were only sat there for half an hour. I know it’s autumn but pick a climate and stick to it! Preferably one conducive to hiking and wild camping. There’s a pub in Buxted but we swerved it in favour of covering a bit more muddy ground.
We did swing by the Blackboys Inn for a cheeky pint though, it would have been rude not to given that it was right on the trail. They had one of those toilets where the sink and everything is in the cubicle so I took the opportunity to have a quick wash. I mean, I’d not showered for three days by this point, just because I was marginally cleaner than before I was still wearing the same clothes I’d sweated in for the aforementioned three days. I’m surprised they let us in the pub at all.
We always say we’re not going to drink on hikes but I believe the odd pint is good for the soul. We’ve even worked booze into the budget for next year, it would be terribly un-British of us to walk past every single pub without sampling some of the local brew. Or cheap European lager. Whatever.
Tonight’s camp would be in Hawkhurst Common Woods. We do so like woods. All cosy and sheltered and once the light gets low, and it gets low a lot quicker under the trees, you wouldn’t be able to see our tent if you weren’t looking for it. We skirted the perimeter until we found an easy way in an disturbed a small herd of five or six deer. It was magical! They stopped and stared at us before fleeing deeper into the forest, stopping again to turn and stare at us some more. We weren’t deliberately following them, we didn’t want to scare them, but they were heading where we wanted to be. I couldn’t get any photos but some things have to just be for the eyeholes.
One of the many fun things we’re going to have to deal with next year is equipment failure. For this reason I insist on carrying all manner of things, “just in case,” which get shifted from bag to tent to bag whilst I wonder if I should just ditch them in favour of more snacks. Tenacious Tape patches, a sewing kit including cotton thread for clothing and the tent inner, and dental floss for shoes or backpacks. I also carry a small plastic tube to splint a tent pole. Thank fuck I had it with me. I’ve no idea how the tent pole broke, it didn’t snap, but a metal joining tube thingy (this may not be the official name) fell into the carbon section of the pole and we couldn’t get it out. It was fucked. Plastic splint to the rescue, we bodged it on with Leukotape which is also how Tarrant bodges her knees sometimes, and just hoped it’d hold for the next couple of nights. In conclusion, no, I will not be ditching my repair kit to save a few grams.
Colemans Hatch, East Sussex to Hawkhurst Common, East Sussex, England
Stayed at: Wild camp in Hawkhurst Common Woods.
Activity: Hiking the Vanguard Way, North to South.
Useful shit to know…
- Buxted Stores is about three quarters of a mile off the trail. It’s great for snacks.
- You’ll pass really close to two pubs today. The Crow & Gate near Crowborough was closed when we walked past but the Blackboys Inn was open.
- The Blackboys Inn also offers a B&B should you really not fancy camping and have a decent budget. A Wednesday night would apparently be £110.
- There are plenty of places to get water either from the pubs, Buxted Stores, or a couple of streams you can easily get to.