21.7 miles – Thick mist thinning, and clouds clearing towards noon to give a warm and sunny afternoon
A helpful lady walking her dog told me what a wonderful view one gets from Truleigh Hill. I stared left and right into a dull blanket of fog and took her word for it.
I didn’t have a great morning; I had had a late start (which always feels dispiriting), I was tired after the long walk yesterday, and although today’s walk was much shorter, it seemed more of a struggle.
There was a turning point in the day – I’ve noticed this phenomenon so many times on my walk – a good second breakfast or lunch propels me from the heaviness and a slow pace of the morning into optimism and a burst of speed after noon. Although the walk has never been a race, a good pace and an early start contribute so much to the day’s joy.
Anyway, I was looking out for a suitable venue for such a boost, when three cyclists and a lady in pink all told me not to waste my pennies at the ice cream van I was shortly to pass at Ditchling Beacon, but to go on to the pink van further on, where I would get the best coffee ever. The cyclists went further: they assured me that the proprietress of said van was already expecting ‘the man who had walked from Scotland’!
So there it was; I had no choice!
Though not usually a coffee drinker, I felt that a double espresso was just the boost I required; and when coupled with flapjack and ice cream (I remembered the redemptive power of the same on Day 60), I was brought back to life. I spent a happy hour and a half chatting to Emily and her customers, and when I set off again, I noticed that the mist had thinned to the lightest of hazes and that the sun shone from an unbroken pale blue sky – just as at the start of a Wodehouse novel. These were the Downs as I had hoped to see them.
And just ten minutes further on I had my first view of the hills and places I had known and loved since I was a teenager.
It was in 1978, at the age of 16, in my flailing youth, that I first came to Lewes to study music. Here, in these hills is written the story of those far-off days, the greatest turning point of my life, when I first reached towards an adulthood I was still many decades from being able to grasp. It was in Lewes that I had my first wild adventures with the rascal Richard, often walking with him to the Racecourse and sharing yet wilder ideas; it was in the long grass of Lewes Golf Course that I had my first amorous adventures with Kelly; it was in this town, in that distant year, that I first met two of the finest friends of my life: Peter, who embodied, and still embodies, an approach to music with is both dedicated and passionate, and who introduced me to hiking (see Day 40); and Judith, who directed the first the opera in which I sang, was my Lewes landlady, and who guided me through so many of the surges and troubles of my life.
And it was just to the east of Lewes, on Firle Beacon, many years later, that I had my first walk with Rachel, with whom I have now found peace.
The imprint of all that lies here, still potent, in these hills. And I witnessed it all this day in the most glorious sunshine.
Ah, blessed, treasured memories!
And so I walked on, over the beautiful feminine curves of the Downs, and through ripe and beauteous memory.
I shall not spoil my readers’ enjoyment of downland beauty with a description of the beer at the Abergavenny Arms at Rodmel.