The sights and sounds of summer . . .
To start, why not put some sounds in your ears while you read over this post? Below is a compilation of various recordings I made (on my camera, so not brilliant quality) during June. Originally, I intended to do a recording every day for 30 Days Wild, but didn't manage it. Speaking of 30 Days Wild, it was fantastic to get my pack from the Wildlife Trusts, featuring cards with pictures that I drew! It was very exciting to have my art going out to thousands of people. I talked about the process of creating the cards here.
So, back to our activites in June. We paid a visit to London for a family wedding at the start of the month and enjoyed some green spaces in the city.
The wedding cakes were a sight to behold. All the fruit and flowers inspired me to try something I'd been meaning to get around to for the last few years: cooking with elderflowers. I foraged a couple of flower heads and made them into pikelets (sweet little pancakes), which worked quite nicely.
It's hard to fit in outdoors time around a full time job with a 1-2 hour commute each way, so we decided to start a little tradition of going on a walk on the way home at least once a week. We chose Arlington Reservoir, because it's a one hour circular walk on an easy trail, with a variety of stuff to look at: the water and waterbirds, a bit of woodland, views of the South Downs, animals, buildings, fields. It was satisfying to watch the evolution of the micro-ecosystem that is the reservoir wall over the course of the summer and autumn, until it got too dark to walk any more.
There was a gorgeous Chicken of the Woods fungus growing on Battle High Street, of all places. I didn't want to take it, as it looked so lovely and colourful. Somebody else didn't have any such qualms - it had been cut down when we next went past, a couple of days after I took this photo. (I later heard it was a friend of a neighbour, who presented it to a family member for their birthday!)
We had an amazing microadventure on the South Downs with probably the most beautiful scenery I saw this year. The HRRA walk this month was also on the South Downs, which meant even more fabulous views!
Small tortoiseshell butterflies, which have suffered a population decline, especially in the south of the UK.
And at the end of the month we went Champing for the first time. Despite quite a grey and drizzly month overall, we did manage to make the most of it.
Mild weather lingers as the leaves turn golden - then the days shorten, mists smother the valley, and frosts coat the grass.
We had fine weather through most of October. The colours only started turning in earnest towards the end of the month and, because there was very little wind, they stuck around for a while. Much to my disappointment, the ponies moved out of Lake Field in November. At first we thought they might have been relocated for bonfire night (a very big, very rowdy night in Battle!), but then a sign popped up informing us that they'd done their bit for Lake Field and the National Trust was moving onto the next stage. This involved felling a patch of sycamores from the edge of Lake Field to the left of these photos. Apparently there used to be allotments here. I'm not sure when they were established or when and why they were left to overgrow, but they must have been disused for a couple of decades judging by the size of the trees.
I hope you've enjoyed this year-long photo series about Lake Field as much as I've enjoyed taking the photos. It's been interesting to see the seasonal changes wash across this one view and exciting to document the National Trust works in and around Lake Field. I certainly wasn't expecting so many changes when I began the project.
A month bookended by long weekends and packed with the beauty of spring.
We went up to Suffolk for the first May bank holiday weekend (which technically started in April, but I've put it all in the May revist because I can). It was lovely to spend time with a couple of friends, and I posted many pics of cute animals we saw, so go and look at them. Here's some birdsong recorded at the minster ruins (where we wild camped the year before) as a soundtrack.
Dan and I started summer early with a little picnic (i.e. drinking sloe gin, generously provided by one of my colleagues) in the fields out the back.
Again, heading out to take a photo from the top of Lake Field meant taking note of the hyper-local changes in seasons. These frothy white flowers (cow parsley, I think) made a pretty addition to the footpath.
We went down to check out the newly reopened and rebuilt Hastings Pier. You can see a paddleboarder at the right of the frame. I'd like to try it out one day. I think I would be terrible!
And for the other May bank holiday, we nipped off to a very local campsite for a night in the tent.
April was even busier than March - and I took loads of photos. Lucky you.
We started the month in Australia and had a couple of days in the country . . .
. . . before heading to Melbourne. I posted many photos of Melbourne at the time, but here are a few more.
Ceres, a community environment park on the Merri Creek, featuring gardens, chooks, cafe, nursery, green energy projects and more.
And then, all too soon, we returned to the UK - which put on quite a welcome with this sunrise!
We got back as lambing season began and we had the most amazing experience of seeing a sheep give birth in the field beside the footpath on the South Downs. We watched the newborn lamb almost manage to get up on its wobbly little legs, then the farmers came and whisked ewe and lamb away - presumably somewhere they could keep an eye on them.
The springing of spring also meant lots of foragables coming into season. I posted a sorrel recipe and a few other things also made it onto our table.
But it wasn't all sunshine and wildflowers. Towards the end of the month there was a light smattering of snow on the South Downs. Chilly!
The last days of April were part of the May Day bank holiday, which we spent with friends in Suffolk - but I'll post more about that next time.
Over the coming weeks, I'll share a few bits and pieces from 2016 that didn't make it online at the time. Mostly it's a good motivator to get around to editing all my photos!
Getting my camera out to take a photo of Lake Field every week also encouraged me to notice the details near our house as the seasons changed. These apples stuck around on the tree through January and into February.
Dan's folks came down for a day and we enjoyed a shimmering afternoon by the sea. This is the view from Galley Hill in Bexhill, looking east towards Hastings in the pastel glow of the late afternoon sun.
We go walking most months with a local group, part of HRRA. In January we went for a (very short) walk at Camber Sands, near Rye. The first two photos are taken looking east, towards Hastings but from the other direction. Please be warned that the third photo is the corpse of a calf which had washed up on the beach.
We spent a weekend in Chichester, which I wrote about at the time. Here is a photo from the misty Saturday morning.
What are your plans for this winter? I'm looking forward to a trip to Norfolk and hopefully another walking weekend along the Grand Union Canal.
The tail of Storm Angus was still lashing the coast last Sunday, so our monthly HRRA walk was cancelled. But we were all ready to go out, so we convinced a couple of friends to brave the elements and walk with us from Hastings to Bexhill. (There's a video at the end of this post, in case you want to read along to the sound of waves on a pebbly beach!)
In Hastings Old Town, the wind had wreaked some minor damage - a few signs and awnings had blown over or come off the shop fronts. (You can see one in the photo above, on the ground behind the Whites signs.)
It was blustery when we met our friends by the Jerwood at the Stade. The wind was coming from the west, which meant we'd have a headwind all the way to Bexhill . . . If we made it that far.
The sea was white with breakers as we pushed along the seafront towards Hastings Pier. We noticed these big rocks, new additions to the seafront, presumably placed there to help stabilise the beach.
We also saw a few people out with their metal detectors. I suppose that the beach after a big storm would be a good place to find things that have either washed in from the sea or been disturbed and uncovered by the wind and waves. The the view towards Eastbourne was screened by a haze of seaspray.
I was quite close to suggesting we stop and have lunch at St Leonards instead. (That would have been a huge walk of three miles - the headwind made it feel a lot longer.) But I'd been stopping to take photos and the others were too far ahead to call off the expedition. Onwards to Bexhill!
The path between Hastings and Bexhill is part of National Cycle Route 2, which hugs the south coast of England from Kent to Cornwall. It follows the railway for a while, and passes this great old industrial warehouse. I love the patterns of the windows and the rust and texture of the metal.
One of our walking companions went down to the water's edge, a silhouette striding against the grey and white sea.
The sun began to break through as we got closer to Bexhill, creating silver stripes on the horizon. We were getting hungry and, while we found a few leaves of salty sea beet to chew on, it was a relief to climb Galley Hill, drop down into town and have a hearty lunch at Trattoria Italiana.
Afterwards, we popped over to the De La Warr Pavilion and spent a while mooching around Fiona Banner's exhibition. One side of the gallery is a wall of glass looking out to the sea, and Banner has covered this in an anti-UV film with several pieces cut out, the pieces being the same shape as (enormously magnified) full stops in various fonts. I loved how these shapes framed little views along the horizon and it appealed to me that the end of our walk should also be the end of a sentence.
I took a several minutes of footage of the mesmerising waves on the beach at Bexhill. Hope you enjoy them!
I've been struggling to find time and energy to get outside, let alone write about it. This often happens to me in winter. This year my motivation is to keep my walking muscles in practice for our Snowy River adventure. Do you have any other suggestions for motivation? (A good lunch is always a motivator!)
After a glorious late summer in East Sussex, the year begins to sink softly towards autumn.
The grass is cut for hay and the crops are harvested. In the pastel mornings, mist hangs in skeins over the fields. But the most exciting news from Lake Field is the arrival of some new residents: three Exmoor ponies! The ponies were preceded by a bit of work by the National Trust, including new fences and gates. While people are still able to enter the field, this infrastructure should keep loose dogs away from the ponies. The ponies seem to be quite a hit with passers by, who can often be seen leaning on the fence to watch them. I count myself amongst the gawkers - I'm pretty happy with our new neigh-bours! (I stole that pun from Dan.)
The season changes quickly. After the long, bare months of winter and the held-breath pause of early spring, suddenly life returns to the world.
One month I'm studiously keeping track of each new sign (daffodils, crocuses, primroses), the next it seems that everything comes at once (willow leaves, nettles, oak leaves, wildflowers, migrant birds, lambs, calves, plenty of wild food). The transition into the abundance of early summer is less noticeable at the time, though on reflection the visual cues are there in Lake Field and in the trees and farmland beyond.
What markers of summer (or winter) are you observing in your patch at the moment?
The summer solstice was approaching, #30DaysWild was in full swing, the Summer Microadventure Challenge had been issued and the weather forecast was absolutely miserable. It was time to extract our bivi bags from the dark recesses of the cupboard and find a hill to sleep on.
It had been a while since we last slept wild (on the verandah of a beach box on the winter solstice) and to be honest, I was feeling a bit uninspired. It’s the kind of apathy I get about walking when I haven’t been out for a long hike for a while: it’s not that I don’t want to do it, I just find it hard to muster the motivation to actually start. My mood wasn’t helped by the weather. On the way to work, we drove past the bit of South Downs where we planned to sleep. The hills were engulfed in drizzly clouds. I thought of saturated grass, chalky mud and clammy, insect-infested air and I shuddered.
As the work day progressed, though, my anticipation built. I was invigilating exams and there’s nothing like being cooped up in a small room with nothing to do for hours on end to reignite your desire to spend some time outside. The forecast was looking up, too: the rain was due to stop at 11pm, then 9pm, then 6pm. Perhaps we’d be dry after all!
But in the afternoon, the weather whipped itself into a right state. I left work in the midst of a massive thunderstorm, complete with torrential rain and flashes of lighting. My colleagues wished me well and hoped they’d see me alive on Monday. In the car, Dan and I looked at each other and made the kind of deal that civilised people make. We’d do some last minute shopping for snacks, get ourselves a nice big dinner of pizza and then head up to the hills. We’d take our packs and go for a walk. If we got out to the spot we were hoping to sleep and it was still bucketing down, we’d go home. If not, we’d stick around for the night.
It was still raining when we finished shopping at 7pm. It was still raining when we finished our pizza at 8pm. It was still raining, just, when we drove into the car park. But as we wandered along the hilltops, the weather cleared. A few chinks appeared in the grey, revealing blue sky above. In the west, crepuscular rays pierced through the clouds, panning across distant ridges and valleys.
We took our time along the path, detouring through raindrop-jewelled grass to recce potential campsites. What combination of view were we after? Sheep, cows, crops, sea, downs, levels, harbour, river valley, town, sunset, sunrise? There were plenty of options, but we struck most of them off our list when closer investigation revealed copious thistle cover. Ouch.
The shifting clouds, delicate mists and evening light created gorgeous, ephemeral scenes. I could barely tear my eyes from the unfolding drama on the hills across the way. Every time I looked around, the landscape seemed to surpass itself in beauty.
Finally, as we reached our destination, the sun broke through, setting fire to the mist, flooding the downs and valleys with gold. I decided then and there that even if I had a terrible night, even if I was cold, damp and cramped by the end of it, the microadventure would have been worth it, just for this view. It had definitely rekindled my taste for wild camping.
Eventually, as it always does at this latitude, the sun sank below the horizon. We retraced our steps a short way and plonked our things down beside the path. A couple of blokes in camo gear trooped past and we exchanged some effusive words about the evening (“Good night for it” / “It turned out pretty nice after all”), then we started to set up. There was only one problem: it had been so long since I’d used the tarp that I’d forgotten all my knots. Luckily, Dan was on hand with the sensible suggestion that I refer to the intertubes. I stomped off with the phone to find a spot with 3G and a little while later returned victorious with a fresh understanding of the tautline hitch. In just a few minutes more, we were brushing our teeth and snuggling down into our bags.
It was a surprisingly comfortable site. We’d put the picnic rug down to keep the worst of the wet at bay, and the long grass provided quite a nice mattress. My annoying pillow that always deflates deflated, so I used a stuff-bag full of clothes for my pillow instead. (I’d ordered a new pillow online, but we hadn’t been able to pick it up during the week.) Below us, the town lights twinkled and the highway hummed. Above us, a few late night flights headed out from Gatwick and over the Channel. I fell asleep. At one point I woke up thinking someone was shining a light onto the tarp, but it was just the nearly-full moon, sailing clear of the clouds. A clean breeze rippled through the long grass. In the distance I heard a cow calling her calf.
The next thing I knew, it was light, and the air was full of skylark song. There must be hundreds of skylarks up on the South Downs at the moment - or half a dozen very noisy ones that follow us every time we go for a walk. I tried to go back to sleep (it was just after 4 o’clock), but the birds and other aspects of nature were calling. We packed, then Dan wandered off to look at the view. He reported that the tarp was very well camouflaged in the grass. A couple of keen mountain bikers sped past just after 5am, grinning hello. Soon we were walking back to the carpark, where we cooked breakfast under the watchful eyes of rooks and jackdaws.
(Later that morning, Dan collected my new Exped Air Pillow XL from the post office. I tried it out on the living room floor and declared it to be good. I’ll test it properly next weekend in an unusual venue . . . stay tuned!)
Year of Sleeping Variously: Tarp on a hill edition
Tarp on a hill verdict: 74% (but a really, really excellent 74%!)
If you’re interested to see what others have been getting up to outdoors this month, check out the #30DaysWild and #MicroadventureChallenge tags on social media.
Last time I sent a dispatch from a bed not my own was to tell you about our tent in the garden adventure. Our trip to Australia in March/April also involved sleeping in spare rooms and on aeroplanes, but there are no photos of those shenanigans. Back in the UK, the glorious month of May was bookended by long weekends - and here’s where we slept for those.
We spent the first long weekend in Suffolk with a couple of lovely friends. We booked a holiday cottage that turned out to be on a rare breeds farm in the middle of the countryside. It was fairly close to the minster where we wild camped last July, so we went on a couple of walks in that direction. As well as walking, we spent the weekend lazing in the sunshine eating and drinking, exploring the cute church nearby and playing board games. On the way home, we dropped in to the local May Day Fair, where I picked up a good supply of jams, chutneys and marmalades.
A church in the middle of nowhere. We learnt about Champing here - stay tuned for adventures on that front!
Year of Sleeping Variously: holiday cottage edition
Holiday cottage verdict: 76%
We hadn’t been camping in a tent in a campsite for almost two years! Last year, we spent all our nights out under the tarp and/or in our bivvy bags. So on the last long weekend in May we pootled off to a local campsite for a low-key adventure. Our aim: do nothing except read, eat and sleep. Mission accomplished! It was good to get our tent out after a long hiatus and it was quite relaxing to be in a legitimate campsite, with no worries about getting sprung or told to move along.
Year of Sleeping Variously: tent in a campsite edition
Tent in a campsite verdict: 56%
Now, onwards into summer! There are plans afoot for a couple of fun holidays - short breaks, multi-day walks and possibly (I hope!) some kayaking. Also throughout June, I'll be taking part in #30DaysWild - I did it last year too. This year is extra-special for me, because I did the illustrations on the Random Acts of Wildness cards that people have received as part of their pack. Maybe I'll post about that, as well.
I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful place. Just a few steps from my front door, there's a delightful view over fields and a little valley to a white farmhouse opposite. A footpath leads diagonally through the scene, inviting me to walk up to the ridge beyond. It's hard to believe the footpath gate lies only metres away from what is, essentially, the high street.
The view is particularly special because it's protected. Lake Field, the slope in the foreground, is owned by the National Trust. As the sign says, "The National Trust was able to acquire Lake Field in 1938 and so preserve the view to the north through the generosity of Mrs C.E. Chartsworth, Mrs M.E. Quarterly, Mrs D. Tuck and Miss D.E. Noakes." In the spirit of their generosity, I thought I'd document the view over the course of a year and share it here so you can enjoy it, too.
Are there any views, trees, gardens or other places near where you live that you use to mark the seasons?
(P.S. Here are the follow up posts: Spring to Summer, Summer to Autumn and Autumn to Winter.)
I've just realised that I never posted this walk report! It's a 8.5km (5.5mi), 2-3 hour circular walk starting in Sedlescombe, East Sussex. I hope you enjoy the memories of warmer times . . .
The Brede valley sparkles in the sun after a late morning shower. All around us is evidence of seasonal change: blackberries ripening, sloe bushes crammed with purple berries, and young trees peppered with cobnuts and tiny acorns. We even find some giant puffball mushrooms, big as footballs, in the grass nearby.
But this jumble of late summer growth has its downside for walkers. Our way is soon blocked by undergrowth that seems intent on tormenting us: tangled brambles and dog rose, waist-high stinging nettles and the sharp spikes of thistle and teasel. I whip out the phone and report these obstructions to the Ramblers.
After battling the thorns, it’s a relief to find our way onto Brede Lane then to slip into the cool shade of Horn’s Wood. Dim, green light filters down (the leaves haven’t yet turned autumnal) and the fresh smell of damp wood suffuses the air. We pass a pile of timber, cross another road and continue, discovering tiny streams and catching flashes of Powdermill Reservoir through the trees.
The sighing of conifers in the wind ushers us along the edge of Brede High Woods. A couple of hours wandering through here could easily turn this walk into a full afternoon’s ramble. A sign informs us that wild Konik horses are grazing here to help “maintain the wildlife-rich mosaic of habitats” of the area . . . but we don't see any!
We keep an eye on the cumulus clouds blooming above us as we cross an open field and squeeze along a fence beside some attractive houses. A quick detour allows us to visit the peaceful parish church, but we don’t linger: it’s getting on for lunch and we know the chunky chips at the Queens Head are waiting. One of the problems doing a circular walk from a pub is the lure of food!
I can’t resist plucking a ripe plum from an overhanging branch as we make the easy downhill stroll back into pretty village of Sedlescombe. The scent of lavender wafts from a nearby garden and the village geese wander around the old pump house on the green. If this sounds rather idyllic, it is. Scratches and stings from our earlier run-ins with the local vegetation forgotten, we relax in the pub’s sunny beer garden and enjoy what might be the last of this summer’s warmth.
A version of this article first appeared in the Battle Observer (read all my articles for the Observer series here). I don't like to be a cliche of a UK-dweller, but I'm already dreaming of the long, warm, slow days of summer . . . the sound of leaves in the breeze . . . the tall grass tickling my legs as I walk . . . the sunshine soaking into the soil . . . ahhh!
One year ago, I wrote my first walking piece for the Battle Observer: a walk from Battle to Robertsbridge. For my anniversary (and my last piece for the near future as I'm back in full-time work), I thought I'd walk the distance in reverse, on a slightly different route, and end at home.
There's a footpath marked on the map, but the gate is padlocked. Fortunately, a woman appears with a friendly history lesson and alternate directions. “It stops just there,” she explains. “The workers used to come this way from their cottages. An ostler lived here right up until the 1960s! You need to go through the new estate, now, instead.“
That first obstacle overcome, it’s an easy walk out of Robertsbridge, under the rail line. In the morning sunshine, we head up a long driveway to the site of the twelfth century Glottenham Castle. Robins, tits and warblers flit about, singing among the leaves. A few pheasants burst alarmingly from the long grass. Any remains of the castle have long since disappeared under the trees, but the moat is still visible - albeit through a chickenwire fence. Deep red hawthorn berries and scarlet rosehips adorn the hedgerows. A small wind turbine spins lazily in the breeze.
Mountfield Lane is quiet as we follow it to All Saints Church. We stop for a thermos of tea and I pop inside to see the font (apparently one of the biggest in England). I notice that new wooden pegs have been used to repair the ancient, weatherbeaten timbers of the porch.
South of Mountfield, near the plume of steam that marks the gypsum processing plant, we miss the path and spend a while wandering up roads and poking our noses down the sides of gardens before rediscovering our whereabouts.
The path takes us through stands of beech and chestnut. Mushrooms of all kinds nestle under the fallen leaves. There are more mushrooms at a nearby farm, but they’re rather outdone by three inquisitive alpacas that follow us at a circumspect distance through their field.
We resist the lure of the pubs at Netherfield - we have a lunch date in Battle - and instead take an old coach road downhill, through the woods. After slip-sliding our way across a muddy section churned up by forestry machinery, we emerge at a small lake. This is labelled “pond bay” on our map, so it was probably once the site of a blast furnace for extracting iron ore.
A group of archers is practicing at Beech Farm, bullseye targets lined up along the field. Their arrows ask a quiet, whistling question as they fly: phweet? The thok when they hit their targets is the answer. The archers don’t speak, and I don’t like to break their concentration. Phweet? Thok. Phweet? Thok. There are other targets in the field: statues of sheep and deer . . . and a tiny stegosaurus. If East Sussex goes all Jurassic Park on us, these archers may be our best line defence.
We’re almost home - just one final hill to climb - and my belly is rumbling. It’s been a glorious morning, but now the clouds are massing overhead. We make it to Battle just in time to catch our friends at Bluebells. I'm ready for a well-earned lunch and a lazy afternoon.
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.
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