I think my favourite element of microadventures is that they encourage us to take an ordinary activity and do it somewhere (or some way) else - sleep in a bivvi in the woods instead of a bed, jump in a stream instead of having a shower, walk through fields to work instead of catching the bus. To meet Allysse’s October challenge (explore the darkness), we decided to go for a night walk, then cook our dinner in the woods
The clocks went back on Sunday. After a pastel pretty sunset, it was dark by 5:30pm. We chopped up some mushrooms and spring onions, sprinkled a few spices on them and packed them up in a plastic container. They went in the bag along with a couple of rolls and some eggs, a thermos of tea, two cupcakes and a tiny jam jar full of whisky. We took the camp stove and a frying pan, torch and camera and set off to our local woods.
In the west, the sky was still tinged green. The moon was almost full, floating behind the treetops. The night was clear, though the sky was tiger-striped with high, translucent ice clouds. Soon, the first stars winked open above us.
It was strange to walk in a familiar place at night. Time felt stretchy. The last leaves of autumn hung stark and silhouetted in the white moonlight. We peered down a few of the unofficial, narrow trails that slip off the wide main track and wind deeper into the woods, but we didn’t follow them - the moonshadows made our familiar path strange enough already.
We came to a clearing and saw a faint, faintly rainbowed, moon dog in the sky to the right of the moon itself. A few minutes later, I turned to look behind and found a bright satellite tracking up through the space between the trees on either side of the path.
At a handy bench, we set up our stove and cooked our tea. It was fun to sit quietly with the faint blue glow of gas and the sizzle of mushrooms to keep us company. Although our scrambled egg and mushroom rolls weren’t the most gourmet of meals, we both agreed they tasted better out here than they would have tasted at home. We followed the rolls with cupcakes and tea - and finished off with a few sips of whisky.
Three stars hung like Christmas decorations in a shallow triangle over the tops of three trees. Over the course of our dinner, they moved out of alignment, slipping down to the right. Two faint satellites crossed overhead in parallel. Aeroplanes passed - some low enough to see the glow outlining the fuselage, some so high that their winking lights were small as stars. The night sky is busy with happenings. It’s easy to forget if you don’t go out and stargaze, or if you live somewhere with a lot of light pollution.
The moon seemed very bright as we packed up and walked back, and we joked that this was hardly “exploring the darkness”. But when I tried to take a photo of our shadows, stretched out on the path ahead, the camera didn’t capture a thing. The night had become darker; our eyes had adjusted.
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside! It’s easy to jump in the car and head to the beach, but there’s a lot of satisfaction to be gained from walking there instead. This 12km (7mi) walk from Battle to Bexhill follows the Bexhill link of the 1066 Country Walk long distance path.
We set off from Battle Abbey a bit after 10am. Washed clean by yesterday’s rain, the scenery is bright with pink willowherb and cheerful yellow ragwort. Along the track past Peppering Eye Farm, a stream is running high and fast.
Despite the wetness, our way remains relatively clear until we hit mud in the RSPB nature reserve at Fore Wood. There, we watch bees, butterflies and electric blue damselflies flitting around frothy white heads of meadowsweet. A sign in a pond warns unwary visitors about the local crocodiles, insects dance in a brilliant pool of sunlight and a jay screeches overhead. Through the woods comes the muted rumble of a train passing on its way to Hastings.
We cross a field of ripe wheat, wild chamomile underfoot, and find ourselves in Crowhurst. We detour to look at the church, the neighbouring ruins and the huge old yew tree in the churchyard. There are many possible reasons for yew trees being planted in churchyards. One explanation is that while yew is good for making bows, it can be lethal to grazing animals, so planting yew trees in churchyards meant farm animals would not be poisoned.
The walk soon enters Combe Haven, where a colourful sign describes the flora and fauna we might see. Someone has keyed a gash across the map, reflecting the vandalism ahead of us, where the open wound of the Hastings-Bexhill link road cuts through the valley. The construction team can’t be faulted in its treatment of walkers: paths and signs thread us easily through the site. But it’s hard to believe anyone could approve the destruction of such a beautiful and (until the traffic arrives) peaceful place. If you’re going to do this walk, try to do it now, while it’s still possible to stop in the warm silence beside the water and hear only birdsong. Swans glide through the reeds and a heron sweeps overhead.
Up the hill and over the line of what was once a railway, we enjoy the last piece of rural quietness before entering suburban Bexhill. I feel like a bit of a Nimby, but I hope the planning application for 1,000 new houses here is not approved. The 1066 Country Walk waymarkers peter out at Bexhill Old Town and from there it’s a pleasant stroll through the pretty Manor Barn gardens and down to the seafront.
We meet up with a friend to scoff some well-earned chips for lunch. Afterwards, we bask in the sun on the beach near the De La Warr Pavilion, listening to the waves rake the pebbles. I do like to be beside the sea!
A version of this article first appeared as "A summer's country walk to the seaside" in the Battle Observer, Friday 21 August 2015, page 59.
Going on a favourite walk is like catching up with an old friend: I look forward to it; it’s comfortable, fun and familiar. This is one of those walks. We return to it a few times each year, so anticipating and marking the seasonal changes is like sharing news or gossiping and hatching plans.
The scent of summer flowers follows us as we crunch the gravel out of Icklesham and into the fields. We keep an eye out for the stone circle a little way off the path. It’s been there only a few years, tricking passers-by into thinking they’ve found an ancient relic.
Near Hogg Hill Mill, butterflies dance in tall drifts of grass, swallows speed low across the field and baby rabbits blink at us, fearless with youth. Apparently, Sir Paul McCartney has a recording studio in the mill. We’ve never seen him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking out the windows of the roundhouse enjoying the vista over Pett Level and the sea.
Further on, we enter National Trust land. The trust owns Wickham Manor Farm, once home of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. We admire New Gate, built in the 14th century as part of the ancient wall around Winchelsea, now arching over Wickham Rock Lane. A cuckoo calls nearby.
Winchelsea is drenched in the sweet smell of roses and honeysuckle. We stop at the impressive church to watch a flock of swifts perform their daredevil flights through the tall ruined arches. Behind us, three people have made a pilgrimage to Spike Milligan’s grave. “Dúirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite” it reads - “I told you I was ill.”
Out of town we go, to the site of St Leonard's Windmill, repaired in 1935 and again in 1955, only to be totally destroyed by the storm in 1987. The mill stone remains to mark the spot. The wonderful view here is as close to Tuscany as you’re likely to get in East Sussex, with rolling, golden fields and a smattering of poplars. We trace the line of our walk thus far across the hills, then map the second half along the River Brede below.
Down in the valley, we find poppies bobbing along the path and swans gliding between water lily pads. We cross and re-cross the train track before heading uphill to the Queens Head for a well-earned lunch.
It's been a very pleasant day. As we relax in the sunny garden I think, “We mustn’t leave it so long next time.” It really is like catching up with an old friend.
This article first appeared, somewhat awkwardly named, as "The good feeling of walking with memories" in the Battle Observer, Friday 10 July 2015, p76.
Thanks to everyone who rose to the challenge in September (and/or August, July, June, May, April, March, February, January). I look forward to hearing about people's October adventures. If you write a blog post, please link it in the comments here or tweet it to me so I can add it to the next round-up. But remember, you don't have to do a full write up! You could just tweet or email me a couple of pics and/or a few sentences. Enjoy the darkness . . .
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