I didn’t sleep well at all last night. We were pitched on a slight slope and my mat is slightly slippy and my sleeping bag is slightly slippy which meant I frequently woke up crumpled at the bottom of the tent. Also I never sleep well on the first night of wild camping. Every single noise is a footstep of an axe wielding maniac, or worse, a landowner coming to tell us off.
We woke up at 5am and I old-lady-half-rolled-half-shuffled out of the tent. There’s no graceful way to exit a backpacking tent when you’re of an age when your full range of motion doesn’t kick in until after a couple of hours and no small amount of coaxing. I’m glad I took in the view before I’d dropped my trousers and squatted for a wee or I might have fallen over and pissed all over myself. I’m getting on but I’m not old enough for that sort of shenanigans just yet.
I’ve only ever seen a cloud inversion once before in Kodaikanal in India and it was so beautiful it made me a bit emotional, but to be fair I was due on and I’m the type of person to cry because a cartoon animal got trampled by buffalo. The cloud inversion that greeted us this morning really was spectacular; blue skies above us and the villages below shrouded in fog, but I couldn’t take a photo to do it justice. I tried. I kept wandering off, leaving poor Tarrant to take the tent down, just so I could wave various photographic devices in the vague direction of the pretty.
Once we were finally packed away and got onto the trail I obviously had to take about 400 more photos of it so it took a little longer than usual to make our way along the ridge as the sun rose behind us. We were heading into Southease which was obviously under all that cloud, it was so weird walking towards the wall of moisture. Like, we could see it, and we thought we should have been in it by now but we weren’t, or were we? Was it outrunning us? It was several metres before we realised that yes, we were well and truly buried in it and the temperature plummeted. It was eerie. Pretty sure this is how way too many B movies start.
Once in Southease we filled up our water at the tap outside the café at the YHA then carried on to the church, which is a really cool looking building with a conical spire atop a round tower. With the mist in the background it looked almost fairytale-like. We decided to have breakfast here because if we waited any longer I’d start trying to chew limbs off passers-by.
After Southease the trail is flat for a short while then you swing a right and you’re faced with an utterly hideous hill. There’s never any gentle way out of these villages is there? There’s no mellow, winding route back up, it’s just like, boom! Hill! ‘Av it! It doesn’t help that, apart from work, I’ve not been very active this winter. I mean, I’ve done stuff, but that stuff is things like eating cake and drinking beer, and I’m definitely a bit heavier than I was when we did the Vanguard Way. I know this because I now have too much boob for my bra and my waist billows out over my trousers like a gelatinous muffin. Hills are currently a lot harder than they should be.
We were in the cloud for ages, the sun doing its best to break through. Eventually, as suddenly as we’d wandered into it we emerged from the fog. Yay! Except we still didn’t have any suncream and we were both a bit burned from the previous day. Fuck. Nothing we could do about it, we just had to crack on and accept that we weren’t going to finish this trail with our full compliment of epidermis.
Familiar landmarks started to pop up on the landscape; the AMEX Community Stadium, home of the mighty (they’re not really that mighty) Seagulls. Brighton, with that ridiculous wanking shaft that no one wanted but they built anyway and is now hemorrhaging money. There were lots of zoning out type trails today, you know when you just cruise? We managed to dry the tent out during lunch too which was ideal as the only way it could have been any wetter was if we’d hosed the fucker down before packing it away.
Bit more cruising. Bit more aggressive crisping of our tender, now-quite-red flesh. Much more of this and we could start chopping bits off to serve at Sunday lunch. We found a lovely tree just perfect for a nice nap if you can find a space between the spiky weeds and did just that for twenty minutes before carrying onto Ditchling Beacon. Now this is an obnoxiously popular stretch of trail. It’s easily reached from Brighton by bus or car and it was full of humans. We didn’t want to walk too much further today so we started looking but there was nowhere that I had the bottle to camp.
We got to Pyecombe golf course and they were still golfing. Obviously we’d have to have waited until much later before we pitched anyway but I felt very conspicuous with my massive backpack. I might as well have had a banner with “I’M GONNA PITCH MY TENT ON YOUR GREEN AS SOON AS YOU’RE NOT LOOKING!” sprayed across it in bright pink paint. I ooze suspicious at the best of times. We carried on and crossed over the actually quite terrifying Clayton Hill. It’s a very busy road and drivers really do want every one of those fifty miles out of that hour. Be careful!
So we were in Pyecombe. Bollocks. We were quite tired, and really didn’t fancy walking much further so we headed to the church to sit in the porch and weigh up our options. The church itself was locked up for the night but I know if you can get inside there’s tea and coffee for everyone, including hikers, to help themselves. I used to deliver the Reverend’s mail. He’s a really nice bloke. You know what? I don’t think he’d mind if we camped in his porch.
And and and! Our first trail magic occurred. After we popped to the shop we came back and the woman who lives opposite the church was trying to coax her gorgeous puppy on a walk. The two unwashed lesbians barrelling towards it making squee noises probably didn’t help its poor nerves, but we got chatting to the woman, fessed up that we were dossing in the church porch that night, and in conversation mentioned that while yes, what wonderful weather we were having, we probably wouldn’t have any skin left by the end of it.
Even the staff at the M&S down the road had looked at Tarrant in confusion when she’d asked about suncream and replied, “That’s a summer summer product!” She came to find us in the graveyard later as we were shovelling noodles into our chops and gave us a bit of factor 15, which is fifteen whole factors than we currently had. What a lovely human.
Firle, East Sussex to Pyecombe, West Sussex, England
Stayed at: In the porch of the church in Pyecombe
Useful shit to know…
- There’s a water tap at the YHA in Southease, and another one outside the church. Further along, there’s a tap outside Housedean Farm Campsite.
- The ESSO on the A27 (next to Newmarket Inn) is reachable with a short detour off the trail. It has a shop and public toilets. The pub was shut when we got there so no idea what that’s like.
- Pyecombe Church is open between 10am and 4pm. They’ve got a toilet and a small kitchen with a kettle, tea and coffee which everyone is welcome to use.
- South of the church at the end of Church Lane is a BP petrol station with an M&S Simply Food, ideal for a resupply. They also have a toilet.