Sunday, 16 March 2014

South Downs Weekend

A mate and I took a trip to the South Downs for the weekend. It was incredible! The sweeping pastoral landscapes, the majestic sunsets, the perfectly carved contours---- the shining moon and gleaming white chalk.

I love the south downs, anyone who's been following my blog for a while will know this. I've explored so many stretches of it over the years, from Shoreham to Arundel, the Seven Sisters, to Devils Dyke. I've visited various churches and memorials and windmills, the white horse, the white man of Wilmington, ... I've followed different rivers; travelled across the ridge in all weather conditions, and all seasons; through pelting December rains, and warm Autumn sunshine, I've watched the sun rise and set over the downs, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend, sometimes with strangers. I've written so many stories on different characters from all walks of life connecting with the landscape. I once even went for a job interview in Midhurst with the South Downs National Park Authority. The South Downs is a place I go to re-connect with everything.

I fell in love with the downs all over again last weekend....

On Saturday a mate and I drove down to Seven Sisters Country Park. When we got there walked along the winding river cuckmere up to the Seaford head and then down to the bay. As my ecologist mate searched for fossils, I admired the moon again the awe inspiring white cliffs of the seven sisters.

We walked up a bit by the coast... then out of the blue the tide came in and we learned that the path I would always take had now been blocked by the sea. I was shitting myself! After a few failed attempts, we climbed up onto a derelict crumbling board walk with danger and beware signs all over it. Somehow we managed to half climb, half tip toe to the end of the board walk and climb down onto shore, needless to say it was a pretty scary experience.... and so familiar too--- a vulnerability against the forces of nature. The moon, so beautiful and dramatic and grand, then looked almost menacing, causing the waves to pull in and out with such fervour, to tip toe against the slippy mossy broken board walk, the sea waves crashing against the wall beside you- splashing your face- how better else to experience a feeling of humility....

The rest of the day wasn't so dramatic, we followed the river back to the seven sisters country park, and then drove down to Wilmington. We climbed up to the top of the downs, sheep all around, watching the most glorious sunset, comprised of every shade and hue of colour. The landscape looked biblical and empty and so beautiful, the silver moon lit up under the long man of wilmington. It once again looked magnificent; no longer cold and ominous... We finally got to the top, the blustering winds circled us, the views were so remote, so baron and yet comforting.

We headed back to the car and drove to Alfriston, to the ever familiar Alfriston hostel. It was quite surreal being back, in a whole new context, in a different time and in a completely different place in life... We checked in, had dinner, then I hit the showers, later we talked for a bit about all sorts of interesting things. Funny, this mate of mine, I've seen her twice in two years, and yet we could just disappear for the weekend. No real plans, we just connected and shared and laughed, sang along to the tunes in the car- eddie vedder to johnny cash, we could just be ourselves ---- just be. Later on that night we went to the reading room and played fooseball for a while, and read through the weird prehistoric books on the shelves. We spent ages looking through an atlas from 1961, back when Zimbabwe was still Rhodesia and when east Pakistan didn't exist, we looked over places we'd been, places we wanted to go, I was reminded how big the world is and how small life is.

The next day we woke up, had breakfast; met this lovely lady working at the hostel- we began talking about how different it is, country life- the quiet, the beauty, life... We then packed up our stuff and headed off, we drove past Alfriston church and clergy house, the very first site the national trust bought... We drove to Arlington reservoir. It was beautiful, the reservoir almost looked like a small contained sea, the waves ebbed and flowed and the downs in the background changed its shadows. I sat in the bird hide and looked out and afterwards we talked about life back at the London Wetland Centre where me and my mate met, both now away from that world, closer to our own? So strange life, here now-- so strange life.

After circling the reservoir, we went to Lewes. We checked out the town, the castle; we didn't go inside. We bought some lunch and then went to the railway land nature reserve where spotted a squirming grass snake! first I seen. We then hit the road again in search of the glorious Balcomb Viaduct- on a whim of course, the whole trip was on a whim (the whole of life too?) We couldn't find it after much driving, much searching, many close encounters with many dopey pheasants. It was only as we were driving away from the village I saw it, beautiful and grand, from the rare view mirror.

As we went drove to London we saw the sunset from a hill top near Reigate, beautiful, perfect end to a perfect weekend....