Fuck me, this tent stinks of socks and unwashed humans and its only day four. Nothing like sleeping in a confined space when you don’t have access to a shower. We’ll be evacuating villages during our big walk next year when we roll in stinking like we do. In fairness to my really quite expensive merino wool it’s managed to not absorb my stench so far which is the whole reason I wear it rather than other materials. Or maybe it has and I’m just nose-blind? Whatever. I’ll take it.
The bodged pole held up nicely too, it just needs to do one more night and we’ll call it a success. I might carry a small amount of gaffa tape next year but to be fair, Leukotape binds like a bitch. Have you ever tried ripping it directly off your skin? Don’t. Not if you like having your full compliment of epidermis anyway.
We had the nicest weather of the whole trip today which was offset by the fact the trail consisted mainly of liquid in varying stages of viscosity. It was a fucking mudbath. Soup of the day was cow shit and misery. I apologise to yesterday for accusing the trail of being a bit slushy, it was a veritable fucking desert compared to today. We were ankle deep in parts, thank fuck for well-draining trail runners and calf length Sealskinz. We gave up on Gore-tex shoes a while ago, I found the lining split quite quickly and if the water/swamp got in over the top that was it. Wet feet forever. It couldn’t escape and your feet would just marinate in filth all day.
Today was meant to be a short day but it was slow going through the mud, you have to be so careful with each step so you don’t slip and end up face down, neck deep in the shit. It’s exhausting. Add to that the fact that this section was probably the least maintained and it wasn’t waymarked as well as it had been. We wandered off on tangents a couple of times, nearly lost an eyeball to errant brambles, and ran nettle gauntlets hell bent on replacing all of our blood with… whatever the shit is that stings you. At one point the trail completely disappeared and we just had to trudge through ploughed fields, following the right of way marked on our digital maps as best we could. We’d been forewarned by a bloke jogging by that this would be the case, apparently thr farmer “isn’t very good” at maintaining the footpaths that cross his land.
I just read all that back and fuck, I’m a whiny little bitch! I sound like I’m not enjoying a single footstep but I really am. It’s a great walk with varied landscapes and excellent places to wild camp. Today’s sunshine was very welcome too so we decided to head to Arlington Reservoir for lunch. It has all manner of exciting things such as a large picnic area with tables, a cafe, toilets, and a completely futile boot wash. I gave my shoes a rinse just for the joy of having clean footwear for 4.6 seconds before we carried on our way.
A chap approached us as we were packing up after lunch and asked us the usual very-large-backpack related questions. Were we going far? Were we camping? Do we do this a lot? I like these questions because the answers are often followed with praise and awe and I feel quite intrepid. I’m not even a little bit intrepid but let me have these moments, okay? But yeah, we’ve met some lovely people along this trail. Everyone has been so friendly.
Mere metres (but, like, several of them) from the reservoir is the Berwick Inn, which back in the day was called the Fuller’s Arms and was the stomping ground for the Vanguard Ramblers themselves, the creators of the Vanguard Way trail. We’d promised ourselves a pint here if we passed by at a reasonable hour so we popped in to rehydrate and charge my power bank. It throws you initially, it’s a cafe upstairs which opens at 7am, you have to go downstairs to the pub aaaaand there you go. Beer. Bloody pricey too, and that’s coming from someone who lives in Brighton.
One expensive pint of liver damage later and we were back on the trail towards Alfriston. Earlier in the day we’d headed a quarter of a mile off the trail to Golden Cross Service Station which had a shop. Except it didn’t. The whole fucking thing had shut down and builders were doing buildery stuff to it. Bugger. That meant we had to rely on The Village Shop in Alfriston which is great for snacks and fancy deli shit and posh pickles but you’re fucked if you just want a Pot Noodle, you peasant. Crisps and sandwiches it was then. Oh, and soup again. At least we didn’t have to carry it far.
Once you’re through Alfriston you’re on the South Downs Way as far as Westdene and this, dear reader, is the reward your eyeballs have been waiting for assuming they haven’t been gouged out by spiky foliage on unkempt trails. The South Downs National Park is gorgeous. It’s a different level of stunning and I feel privileged to have it on my doorstep. I always talk about how beautiful it is but it’s like I sort of forget exactly how beautiful and every time I see it again it blows me away. This isn’t even one of the best parts. I’m really looking forward to doing the whole of the South Downs Way next year.
We had a few more brutal ups and downs to contend with and a hideous amount of steps. Those wide steps too, the ones where you end up stepping up with the same leg every time because they’re exactly two paces wide. Whoever designed these steps was clearly some manner of sadist. It does flatten out at the top though so we wandered down a wide track signposted White Horse View and further into Friston Forest. This section was obviously busier than it had been, what with it intersecting with a National Trail and all that, but we tucked ourselves away and had a go at heating the soup in the can by standing it in a pot of water on the stove.
Tarrant had had some success with this last night but it really does use a lot of gas and I just don’t think I have the patience. Last night she heated it for ten minutes leaving it still cold at the top but lava at the bottom so by mixing it she got it to a temperature her nerve endings would approve of. I can’t watch food heat up for ten minutes, I’ll start chewing the heads off squirrels. I managed less than five minutes before fucking it off and shovelling the barely tepid slime into my chops.
On account of the fact our tent is basically invisible in the dark and we didn’t want to draw attention to it with lights from phones or head torches we’d been crashing out really early. Like, early even for me and I consider 9pm a late night like the wild party woman I am. This meant we’d been getting ten hours sleep a night and it was glorious. I’m far too used to it already, adjusting back to real life will be quite the shock.
Hawkhurst Common, East Sussex to Westdene, East Sussex, England
Stayed at: Wild camp in Friston Forest.
Activity: Hiking the Vanguard Way, North to South.
Useful shit to know…
- There aren’t a huge amount of places to resupply. We were counting on the service station at Golden Cross being open, a local told us there was another shop in Deanland but as it was off trail in the whole opposite direction we decided to press on to Alfriston. Maybe the Spar at Golden Cross will reopen.
- Toilets today were courtesy of the public bogs at the reservoir, and the bogs in the pub. There didn’t seem to be many other options. Perhaps there’ll be one at Golden Cross when (if?) it reopens but I couldn’t be sure.
- Water was obtained from a couple of streams we crossed but of course you could fill up in the pub too. There’s another pub called The Cricketers not even two miles past the Berwick Inn, and there are several pubs and cafes in Alfriston.