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.
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.
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!
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.
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.