Thursday, August 7th, 2008 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/a-crawl-across-crawley-part-1
few weeks ago we decided to hike to Gatwick Airport—Irit, the Jam and I—and last weekend we pulled it off. I’m hoping this is just the first in a series northwards through Britain.
It was about 8:30am and perfect weather when we closed the front door behind us just like any other outing. But by Preston Park I was already feeling the fatigue. This was nonsense! I’d walked this far and back plenty of times before. No doubt it was due to the physical burden of my smallish backpack and the mental burden of the daunting distance ahead. We left Preston Park and continued north and uphill along Surrenden Road past the fork in the road and along Braybon Avenue into Patcham, which was new suburban territory for us. By the time we turned left into Ladies’ Mile Road the fatigue was gone and I had back the old hot hiking feeling. A woman said good morning on her jog.
We were nearly out of the city environs. We passed a little 1930s-looking clock tower, very clean, and continued north past the houses to Vale Avenue, the city’s northern-most street before the A27 highway marks the end of Brighton. The freedom of the highways! By this time we were worried about Jam’s legs as she’d limped home on our last day out—a walk across Seven Sisters a few weeks back—but she was holding up fine; her pain has always come from breaking into a run. We crossed the A27 and were on the South Downs and stopped there in a field. Holding up fine, yes, but definitely wanting a rest.
In November 2006 we’d walked here with Janja and Klement. This time was more enjoyable than then—the weather now was brighter and there was the pleasure of having doggies. Up we went, into a field where the cows milled around the path. Ahead a jogger ran towards us among the beautiful beasts. Irit was nervous of their bulk and wildness, worried that this or that one was actually a bull. As we approached they were curious about Jam and one followed her quite insistently until she barked to keep it away and it skipped back.
We arrived at the Chattri Monument and in the heat both Irit and Jam needed another rest. We continued, taking some respite by walking in a croft of trees before returning to the fields. Our goal was the Clayton ridge. When we got to it there were runners staggering along, part of a 5-mile race, with a brightly vested official pointing the way to each one, telling them well done and to mind the path. Another official told us the main race was 30 miles. A marathon and a half! I can’t believe people run that. That was the distance of our entire 2-day trek.
Jam at the Chattri Monument
Sunday, July 27th, 2008; Brighton, East Sussex, England
Our route followed the racers over the ridge behind Clayton’s two windmills, Jack and Jill. Now in the flat landscape to the north we could see our route laid out in front of us, whereas up to now we’d seen it only on the map. We clamoured down the crumbly white stone path, sheep alongside us, into another shady croft of trees, where suddenly we saw dozens of them lazing there in the dips. Jam was mesmerized. After a minute of this staring she couldn’t help herself and ran into their midst. They all scarpered at once.
We passed the back of a lovely farming house and I was reminded of the ragtag Arab farms in the valleys of the Judean Hills, except these were large immaculate red-brick affairs worthy of glamour magazine pictorials. Things I’d learned to love in Israel were now being brought along to life in Britain; there is continuity after all, and despite terrible losses things can even mature in the cask.
At the foot of the hill lay Clayton playing field, set up as the racers’ camp. We sat here under a tree for lunch: sandwiches at 70p apiece from the refreshments room. Tonight we were having dinner at our hotel, which we chose for its Michelin-starred restaurant, so this seemed plenty. Besides, the buns were very white and I imagined would bring on an intense bout of the heartburn later.
We resumed, following the Brighton Road briefly until we could get onto the next path, running due north to Hassocks alongside the railway, recently reappeared from its tunnel under the South Downs. To our left was a run-down property with some fat poor-looking folks sitting outside—for sale—then to our right a large well-kept private garden. Jam was hot and led us into a little forest for a pleasant detour, then we emerged into the maze of paths behind the nice homes south of Hassocks. Coincidentally, one of the streets there was Ockenden Way, and since our hotel was Ockenden Manor, indeed it was the way.
We emerged onto Hassocks’ Keymer Road, crossed under the picturesque brick railway bridge, then continued west along what seemed to me a haunted street before crossing the busy Brighton Road and onto a diagonal path through fields.
The path circled around a golf course and some nice private homes before a long straight trail shaded by trees. Butterflies serenaded us constantly here. Eventually we arrived at the south-west corner of Burgess Hill, where I stepped with both feet into a metal ring and tripped and fell. “A vicious circle!” Irit called it. This was the industro-commercial side of town, not very picturesque. We walked through it to the town’s main artery, London Road, and stopped at the first pub we saw. Irit was ravenous for crisps. Jam was desperate for a rest. I just wanted a beer. Dogs were welcome; the proprietor had a water bowl set in the inactive fireplace and brought out a handful of dog treats as well! Nonetheless it wasn’t a very atmospheric place this hot Sunday, with just one solitary fellow pulling on the slot machine, even if we were grateful for the rest. Above the bookshelf of not-so-recent bestsellers, the big flat screen showed the Tour de France starting. I drank my Harvey’s Bitter. It was another one of those traveling moments memorable for its randomness.
Back of the Pub
Sunday, July 27th, 2008
We pushed on, but for the leg north of Burgess Hill to the hotel in neighboring Cuckfield we lacked the hiking map, which clearly shows the Public Bridleways and Public Footpaths; Google Maps in my phone doesn’t have them. There are two roads north of Burgess Hill to Cuckfield, forming a diamond shape around the fields, and we had to choose one. We chose the western side, Cuckfield Road, because it seemed the more substantial and hence more likely to have a pavement. It didn’t. We trudged uneasily along the narrow little hedge alongside the road until we could turn off. There we regained a public footpath north through the fields until we emerged in the middle of the diamond into Copyhold Lane, a row of fancy farmhouses with big gardens, each of them like a mini castle. But this road continued northeast until we’d practically crossed the diamond over to Isaac’s Lane—not what we wanted—before the path resumed and we could turn left/north. Then we crossed a road and were in the southern environs of Cuckfield. The hotel was back over on the west side of town.
Along the path here were tractor tracks and before we could stop her Jam sank down there in the mud to loll and cool down. Her underside was now filthy and we were only 15 minutes or so away from the hotel! We walked through the town’s cemetery and emerged at the beautiful church into little Cuckfield. Before we knew it—and a bit sooner than we’d have liked as Jam was still dirty—there was Ockenden Lane.
We walked towards the hotel. A smartly-dressed middle-aged couple perused the menu posted outside the gate. Within was the sleek behind of an Aston Martin Vantage. Into the gravel courtyard on our eight tired legs we trudged. I told Irit to stay outside with Jam while I handled reception. An overweight young blonde woman greeted me gingerly. Nobody had read the reservation, in which I’d added a nice email noting the dog. It turns out there are only four rooms in the hotel where dogs can stay, and ours wasn’t one of them. But she gave us the room regardless. I called Irit in and we traipsed through the lobby. The woman went up the stairs first so there was about half a flight between her and the Jam so I don’t think she could see nor smell the extent of the mud.
We were shown into the room and the woman was gone quickly, and before Jam had a chance to wander around—nice thick light blue carpet, I noticed—we got her straight into the bathroom. I’ve done this before, travelled with dogs, and I know what’s required: You have to take care of the dog stuff before anything else. I thought we should use a towel to clean her but Irit insisted instead on toilet paper. I thought it would disintegrate as we rubbed Jam with it, but it didn’t, and after ten minutes of rubbing no more brown was coming off and we hadn’t even used a complete roll. Jam was instructed to stay in the bathroom for a while.
As I’d glimpsed, it was a lovely room. Hanging outside the bathroom were two fluffy white robes. The tea and coffee table had a pot and a variety of Twinings teas including Darjeeling and Earl Grey. A window in the corner overlooked the fairy-tale gardens. As I looked out at the green, pleased we’d walked all the way here and trying to soothe and calm my inners, I heard a wail from the bathroom. I ran to see. Irit had dropped my wallet in the toilet. “It was under your hat,” she explained. We fished it out. I was relieved that’s all it was.