Day 86: Truleigh Hill – Devil’s Dyke – Pyecombe – Blackcap – Balmer Down – Loose Bottom – Swanborough Hill – Breaky Bottom – Rodmel – Southease

21.7 miles – Thick mist thinning, and clouds clearing towards noon to give a warm and sunny afternoon

Another misty start – hawthorn trees on Truleigh Hill

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.

Devil’s Dyke is out of sight below and to the left, but just look at the unholy brew being cooked up from it.
The mist begins to thin east of Devil’s Dyke
The Downs between Saddlescombe and Pyecombe from the east.
“Little, lost, Down churches praise The Lord who made the hills.”
The Church of the Transfiguration at Pyecombe.
I idly wondered whether the nearby pub I had spotted on my map might be called The Pub of the Transfiguration; however, I didn’t pass it, so I may never know.
This horse repeatedly kicked its bucket before consuming the contents – perhaps there was food at the bottom he was intent on getting within his reach.
Horse riders and cyclists on the South Downs Way. Cyclists far outnumbered walkers on this trail, and it is the only bridleway I followed where I saw horses regularly.
Ditchling village from Ditchling Beacon and the misty Weald beyond.
Looking eastward from Ditchling Beacon.

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!

Emily, proprietress of The Pink Pit Stop, gazes peacefully, perhaps I might even venture longingly, into a sunny afternoon.

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!

First view of my long-loved hills: Firle Beacon is the crest of the gently rising escarpment to the right; Mount Caburn is centre-left, with Wilmington Down a blue shadow in the distance between them. Lewes Racecourse is the building seen beneath Firle Beacon, now converted to flats for the Downs-loving affluent; Lewes Golf Course is spread across the hill above the left-most chalk pit; the town of Lewes itself, not quite visible in this shot, lies in between the chalk pits and the foreground hills.

And so I walked on, over the beautiful feminine curves of the Downs, and through ripe and beauteous memory.

Balmer Down: the thicket hedge rides the smooth downland hills with a shape and momentum as natural as a bird in flight.
Firle Beacon from Balmer Down with the windmill between Lewes and Kingston in the foreground.
Woody Nghtshade (Solanum Dulcamara) on the Downs at Loose Bottom is a close relative of the tomato. It is poisonous to humans according to Wikipedia, although I have occasionally eaten these tiny bittersweet berries.
The ploughed Downs at Kingston, with the foreground slope cutting across those in the background, which swell and dip like waves on the sea.
Lewes from the Downs near Kingston with sleepy cows in the foreground. Their calves were close by; however, Sussex cattle seem to be more peaceable than their Derbyshire counterparts (see Day 52).
Mount Caburn from the southwest, with its characteristic lip, before the graceful descent towards Glynde.
The meridian, with the chalk pits of Lewes beneath the signpost.

I shall not spoil my readers’ enjoyment of downland beauty with a description of the beer at the Abergavenny Arms at Rodmel.

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