The South Downs Way – Day 3

April 2, 1980: Southease to Hassocks

Front Hill from Mill Hill

Front Hill from Mill Hill

For the first time in many a mile I was able to include a companion on one of my walks. In spite of a natural antipathy to the countryside I convinced Tony Babarik to walk with me on Wednesday, April 2, 1980 – my third day on the SDW.

At the time I knew Tony chiefly as a Connecticut Catholic in Queen Bunny Dexter’s Court, an almost PhD. in genetics at Guy’s Hospital, a landscape architect, antique dealer, and careful custodian of collected neuroses. It would be several more months before he became co-proprietor of Between The Sheets, the American bed linen shop in Notting Hill. During the period while the shop flourished, from 1981 to 1983, I had no closer friend in the world than Tony.

We met at Victoria at 8:30, a much more decent departure time than earlier walks, bought our tickets and some tea, and endured the prattle of a madwoman who heard our American accents and stopped to tell us how desperate she was to return to her soap operas in Rochester, Michigan. At 8:55 we took the train to Lewes, chatting over a second cup of tea as the train made its usual, unexplained British Rail menopauses. We were over ten minutes late in Lewes, but they held the Newhaven train and, at 10:20 or so, we alighted at Southease.

What a contrast to my last visit. Then I had stood in wet and cold below an abutment while a driving rain lashed the countryside and reduced visibility. Today there was sun, high clouds, views stretching a dozen miles. I took off my jacket and tucked it into the back of my pack, having placed Tony’s gear here too. Naturally I wore my camera on the outside, and I was able to take quite a few pictures today. So with my copy of Sean Jennett in my hand we were ready to set off at about 10:30. “If there’s anything you want me to carry,” Tony offered. “Well, if you want to, you can carry the pack later,” I replied. “Hey, I didn’t mean that,” he protested.

We crossed the railway bridge and the Ouse and walked into the village of Southease. Tony liked some of the houses but wondered how he could make a living in such a remote location. Most of the residents, I noted, had already made theirs. There was half a mile of road walking to reach the next village, Rodmell, and then we began the ascent of Mill Lane and the flanks of the ridge – which we followed for several miles. The sea was shining in Newhaven Harbour and later we could see the shadows of the clouds over its relatively calm surface. Lewes was in view for miles as we made our way up Front and Iford Hills. Near the latter we passed some children here for a nursery school outing.

Tony had a small bottle of Martel brandy from which we had a swig after a very long stretch on a concrete path. After a while we rounded the scarp near Kingston and shifted our direction from northwest to due west. There were a few walkers passing us from the opposite direction. There was also quite a wind on top, and occasionally I had to put up my hood in order to do my impersonation of a giant walking blueberry. Eventually we could see the A27 far below us. We passed Newmarket Plantation and began a long descent to the Brighton road.

At the bottom we went into the Newmarket Inn, a posh roadhouse with a back garden bearing the sign, “This is not a dog toilet,” and an announcement, at the front, “No coaches, please.” We had some lager while Tony ate a turkey and ham pie, recently microwaved, and I ate a clandestine British Rail cheese and tomato sandwich. The place was full of Brighton businessfolk – who had all arrived by car and didn’t deserve the comforts of a chair as much as we did.

After about forty minutes we crossed the A27 and continued over a long northerly section, sometimes with path, sometimes with nothing but muckfield, sometimes on dirt tracks. There were some delightful newborn lambs and some horned cows – which Tony took to be bulls until I proved to him that they had udders. There was a long tedious stretch as we ascended Plumpton Plain and then turned west. Marvelous views of the Weald were now available to us on the north, a magic medley of villages and green patches bisected by roads.

There was one spot in a fenced lane completely obstructed by a huge rain puddle and we had to climb a barbed wire fence into the adjoining field in order to make our way forward. When we regained our track we were stopped by an officious Colonel Blimp who, spotting Tony’s binoculars (that is, my Spartan Stadium field glasses), wanted to give us a lecture on lens covers. We let him take our photo, which he seemed to enjoy – “Don’t mind if I focus it first, do you?”

We had now covered ten miles and my feet were a little sore from the friction. We had enjoyed no rest since leaving the pub at 1:35. As we approached Ditching Beacon Tony convinced himself that there was an ice cream van in the parking lot – the same space where he had left Bunny and me last December – even describing for me the pictures of sundaes and splits on its façade – but as we got closer the more obvious it became that this was just an ordinary white van after all.

Joggers and horsewomen trotted by us as we plugged on westward, some black clouds and a social engagement for Tony speeding our steps. We left the SDW at the Clayton Windmills and attempted to descend to Clayton village via a public bridleway – which essentially existed only on the map. Tony found a fallen tree branch and used it as a walking stick. The last stages of our descent were through a horrible manurial farmyard, with Tony – much concerned over the state of his boots – lagging far behind. I told him that he had to give up his anal compulsions on these hikes, but he responded that he was an oral not an anal type. To escape the farmyard we had to climb a wall and in doing so I put a foot in a pool of fecal treacle.

We walked along a sidewalk next to the road between Clayton and Hassocks, an unpleasant mile of whizzing traffic, but at last we approached the latter. The weather was beautiful to the last (it was now 5:15). Tony placed his redundant walking stick up against the wall of the railway station and we stood on the platform while I tried to dislodge the first layer of muck from my boots. We had only a three-minute wait.

Each of us dozed a bit on the way to London, which we reached at 6:30. Here we parted at the tube station, my legs carrying me home from Chalk Farm after fifteen miles on the South Downs Way.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 4: Hassocks to Steyning