Day 87: Southease – Firle Beacon – Alfriston – Wilmington Down – Jevington – Willingdon – Hankham – Herstmonceux – ‘Elim’

23.6 miles – Sunshine to the north and south but surly clouds and rain above; some shame-faced sunny moments brightening the final miles

I set off full of warm breakfast and good cheer. The weather forecast, which I had checked before leaving, had offered a few light clouds with sunshine in the morning and liquid-gold dripping from an unbroken azure sky in the afternoon. I gratefully accepted all that was proffered.

Thus when Lewes came into view bathed in pale yellow joy, and shortly afterwards Firle (to the north) and Newhaven (to the south) likewise resplendent, all seemed set for the sunny day which had been promised.

The Downs
Sunny Lewes from the gloomier Downs to the east. Lewes Castle is very prominent centre.
A dog walker on the Downs above Firle with the radio masts (often visible from Hastings) behind. The hopeful little patch of sunshine moved away to the south and never brightened my path!

Yet it was not to be. At Firle Beacon I had hoped to get my first glimpse of home, Hastings; instead I was presented with a louring grey Spector smirking ominously over Polegate.

The trig point on the summit of Firle Beacon, looking east towards Polegate where the rain is already falling, obscuring what I had hoped to be my first view of Hastings.

I wished with all my heart that the rain might rest awhile over Polegate’s comfy bungalows and listen to Radio 4 on its residents’ elderly wireless sets. It didn’t. It was adventurous rain, and leaving Polegate’s houses to bask, it took to the hills and embarked on the South Downs Way, which is where I met it about fifteen minutes later.

On no other day has the forecast been so utterly wrong!

Murky, damp Alfriston, where in 1931 Eleanor Farjeon wrote the words of ‘Morning has Broken’. She was a friend of D. H. Lawrence, so perhaps not the prude which this ‘nice’ little hymn might suggest. Alfriston is also the only village of any size on the South Downs Way, boasting three pubs. The Market Inn (which also seems to be known as The Smugglers, no idea why) is centre-left.
Firle Beacon with its characteristic lip at its crest from Wilmington Down to the east.
Another view of Firle Beacon and the ridge to the east of it. There are about five-and-a-half miles of near-flat-topped escarpment between Southease and Alfriston; for me, that stretch with its unbroken and ever-changing view to the north is the absolute gem of the South Downs Way.
Deep Dean from Windover Hill. Oak and hawthorn are gradually being allowed to reclaim this striking downland valleyy.
The Hungry Monk, the former restaurant in Jevington which was the birth place of banoffee pie.
The Weald

From Jevington I parted from the South Downs Way, which had accompanied me for the past four-and-a-half days, and joined the 1066 Country Path, which would be my companion for the rest of the journey home.

The sweep of the Downs falls away gracefully into the aimless streets of Willingdon; barely-walked paths clutched at my legs with bramble and nettle; and I took my life into my hands crossing the dual carriageways of the A22. But after Hankham the open breadth of the Pevensey Marshes was warmed with apologetic sunshine: all was not lost.

This stretch of water is severally known as Pevensey Haven, Yotham, and Hurst Haven, all within the stretch of two miles. The ancient shoreline, England’s southern edge before the Pevensey Marshes were drained is in the background.
If you are lucky enough to come upon Herstmonceux Castle unexpectedly, as the unprepared do when walking eastward on the 1066 Path, this view absolutely takes the breath away.
…And the view of the Royal Observatory, just a quarter of a mile further on, equally unexpected for anyone who, like me, never bothered to read the guidebook, is hardly less dramatic.
The Welcome

I had asked my friends, Noa and Will, if I might spend the last night of my walk home to Hastings at their cottage, ‘Elim’, even before I had set off for Cape Wrath. For so many of the subsequent weeks this evening had seemed part of a different reality, too distant to believe that it would ever actually come about. Now their welcome became one of the outstanding moments of my journey. I entered through an archway of bunting. The evening was joyful; it felt like a great celebration; I felt honoured and humbled, and we ate a superb supper harvested from their garden.

Ben (Will and Noa’s son) and Noa welcome me to Elim with bunting (usually used to dissuade deer from coming into their vegetable garden).
…Which I seem to enjoy with an inane and dishevelled grin, as does Will behind me.

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