BEEP BEEP BEEP! I found myself huffing at my alarm ringing 6:30 am on a bank
holiday Monday. But it wasn’t for me, it was for my ex-wife who needed to get up for work. I didn’t mind because today was the day I was going to test out all my gear for my London to Brighton Trek in the end of May. I wanted to get used to carrying the gear and to get time one feet with some training hikes.
The game plan was to hike from my flat to Devils Dyke and to then hike a bit of the area once I got there, and to finally get the bus back to civilisation. Well very quickly that turned into a completely different adventure.
I said my goodbyes and have my somewhat healthy breakfast of porridge and a protein shake. I packed some spare nutri-grain bars that I would refuel once I reached Devils Dyke before hiking the actual trails. I found myself grumbling at my camelback that I Jerry-Rigged inside my cheap MOLLE bag, for I didn’t realize that the nozzle was off the drinking tube the previous night, and it spilt over a liter of water all over my mattress and room. I tried to use a hair dryer to soak up some of the water off my mattress and was only partially successful.
Final checks and I was ready to head out at 08:30 to start my hike. I had a tight schedule to follow I wanted to be back by 1 at latest so I would be back in time to do the house cleaning and things. As I turned up the road to head to the top of my street I was greeted with a cool breeze. I shivered slightly but happy that I decided to wear my Ayacucho hoodie. This goes with me everywhere and it like a trademark. I got it from a sale at Cotswold outdoor shop and its perfect. Just heavy enough to keep me warm when things get a bit cool, but also as I later discovered, breathed enough so I didn’t over heat like I would in a normal hoodie.
This is also complimented with my cadet style hat to keep sun out of my eyes and ADIDAS walking shoes to finish the look. It would take me over three miles to get to the top of the A23 motorway island to where the trail actually started. In the mean time I would just take it one step at a time enjoying my own company. It was early enough I didn’t have to worry about cars heckling me because of the rucksack I was wearing. Occasionally cyclists would pass as they were enjoying the sunshine on the bank holiday and had the same idea I did. I would enjoy the singing birds and admiring the flowerbeds with tulips in full bloom.
I even found myself stopping to adjust my first aid kit from my belt attachment to be swapped over and attached to the actual bag. See this is the reason for the test run; I’m not that crazy after all! The large first aid pouch was pulling the belt on my left side too much and it was just to big, so it was quickly decided two miles in that it needed to be adjusted. Which made a huge difference and helped down the road. It was 09:30 and I finally was at the top of the large hill and ready to cross two small round about that exit to the A23 motorway.
I patently waited my turn and when I saw a break in traffic I made a beeline across the road and then made it to a steep path leading up to my first gate and my first step out of civilization.
And for the first time I was in awe by the South Downs. I know that sounds bad, but I come from the land of mountains and glaciers so I did turn my nose up at “hills” but today the sun was breaking through clouds and you could see their shadows spilling across the landscape accentuating the rolling hills. Very peaceful and reminded me why I set off in the first place, to enjoy nature. But no time to lose I turned left and started to head down a gravel path towards Devils Dyke.
I passed various runners and other walkers and hikers, exchanging pleasantries. The sun was also coming out to say hello and very quickly the temperature was rising. The road was to my left were the odd car was making its way down the twisty road, or the loud shouting of cyclists as they attempted to talk to each other as they pedaled on. Cows and horses on my right grazing on the endless fields but also never taking their eyes off me to make sure I wasn’t a potential threat. This would not be the last time I would see my bovine friends.
Bushes now started to hide my view on either side and then turned into a small patch of thin trees. I stopped dreaming for a bit as a found a very recent make shift campsite, that looked dodgy at best and also looked very fresh. I stopped filming and taking photos and started to be even more aware of behind and in front of me. I know this sounds ridiculous to some, but it was just in case and once I got back in a clearing I wasn’t to worried.
It was nearing 10:30 and I had been hiking for two hours now, I was ready to get to Devils Dyke and refuel at the pub, have a bathroom break and hit the trail again. But it became very apparent that this plan was going to change. There were people everywhere! Like I know it was a nice day and all, but this was almost uncharacteristically busy.
But I didn’t mind the crowd too much and just wanted to get out of the sun and refuel. But nope…pub door is locked…and now I had a decision to make.
For the National Trust was hosting an Easter egg hunt on the trail I wanted to hike, so there were going to be kid everywhere! The original plan was to get to Devils Dyke, hike a trail and then take the 77 bus back and head home from Seven Dials. Well now with egg hunting munchkins everywhere I just wanted to get as far away from them as possible. I found a nice wooded area next to the pub where I knew a large log was. I had hiked this area before in preparation for Spartan race and knew I could refuel there in peace.
I was in luck and the tree was free. I pulled out the map of trails that I grabbed when I entered the park and looked at my options. I decided to take the purple trail, which was the longer train, but instead of doubling back on myself to get the bus, I was just going to walk all the way back to Hove, but this also meant adding 5 miles and an additional hour and half to my journey. But I was not going to stay around here that’s for sure. I refueled with my nutri-grain bars I packed earlier and I still had plenty of water and made my way to the start of the purple trail.
In all honesty I was excited to try a new part of the Devils Dyke Park, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise, but also it was a lot steeper than the other routes, which I could see why more adults only were on it. As I made my way down the thin narrow trail I actually found myself getting a bit dizzy with the sheer drop that was to my left. I tried not to look down but you cant help it, and then I would feel myself lose my balance, as if my body was trying to make me roll down hundreds of feet to the bottom. But soon the path made its way to another patch of trees and very steep steps! I was greeted by a Chihuahua who thought he was ten times bigger than he was and his owners scolded him as I passed.
I just smiled and said my usual “hi buddy” After I got to the bottom the steep stairs I saw a trail marker sign for the purple trail and once more I was in a large forest area. I enjoyed the silence and just listening to my breathing and keeping it in check. Birds made various calls around me but it was also very quiet.
The path started to get narrow and steep again but I didn’t mind, my feet now were
ready for the climb down and warmed up.
After about 30 minutes I was back out of the forest and at the bottom base of
Devils Dyke. I have been here before with my Ex and Father in Law, I remember us arguing about the map and how I didn’t know where I was going, when now I’m seeing I did know but that’s by the by. I hiked my way up the massive hill and turned left leaving the park.
This was new territory now, and this is where I was taking a gamble and where the real adventure began. I made my way across a busy road and walking through a farm.
There were trail markers for the South Downs Way, which is what I wanted, to a point, but if I
kept going on the trail it would take me to far north and I wouldn’t be able to make it back.
Now I had to rely on my sense of direction and using landmarks to get where I needed to be. Once I passed the farm the path split again and now I knew I needed to head right (south) but now I was going to be walking in a field with cows, cows that until now were separated by a fence. They were lazily eating hay left by their owners but I still didn’t want to surprise them, especially because there were calves with them. Again might be over thinking it but just wanted to be safe. I opened gate after gate of the “public bridal way” and even saw very little baby lambs (which as I said on video, I guess lambs are babies) but by this point I had been hiking for 4 hours and was getting tired.
Mama sheep was not impressed I was filming and started stomping her foot at me, I wasn’t even close I was a good 20 feet away. But still mama’s instincts are what they are. Just a few feet up the way I was passed by some mountain bikers panting as they rode by and this is important later. We said hello and crossed past each other. Finally was I was at another gate that seemed to cut through a field, I could see the exit gate maybe 40 feet from me, there was just one problem…it was chained shut. Well shit…but hang on if those mountain bikers passed me they must have gotten in somewhere. So I walked for 45 minutes down this field walking parallel with a road in the distance that I knew would eventually intersect with the road that I crossed on the way here. And I knew the sea was in front of me, so I wasn’t lost.
but I clearly wasn’t on a path any more and now trapped in some farmer’s field with barbed wire fence everywhere. By the end of it my feet were slipping and I even fell once rolling my
ankle. I took a second after cursing the sky and made sure I was OK. My ankles are weak and the roll easily, but I had my first aid kit with me just in case. But I was ok, dusted the dry cow shit off my trousers and headed down towards the road.
I could hear and see the roar of cars so I thought the end was near and I was in the clear…but no, still a fence and no gate, I could see a gate beyond the barbed wire, so I wasn’t far. I caught my breath and looked at the situation. There was a weak spot in the fence where I obviously wasn’t the first person to do this. So I threw my hoodie over the fence and took my rucksack off. I placed it under the weak chain-link and barbed wire fence and lay on my back. Slowly looking up at the sky I shimmied under the fence like a limbo dancer trying not to touch the pole. I made it, safe and sound. I then walked about 10 feet and climbed over the massing cattle gate and I was out. Now walking along the busy road that I thought I was avoiding in the first place.
I didn’t have to go far before I saw a path again and I was back in a field again, but I wasn’t inches away from the road and cars roaring past. By this point my fun meter was pegged out, I was ready to be home but I knew I had at least 5 miles ahead of me. Grumbling to myself I kept moving forward and then I saw my bovine friends coming down the hill to their feeding trough. I knew it was the same ones from before because my Garmin watch was almost ready to intersect with the path it tracked earlier.
Which was also a relief showing I was on the right track and my cardinal direction hadn’t failed me. Finally I saw the step over to get out of the field and it was 12:15. I was back to where I almost started and close to civilization again. I could see the i360 in the distance and I knew where Hove would be. I made my way through the last gate, taking pictures of a beautiful horse and then prepared to enter the modern world again.
I was grateful for my hike but I was tired and hungry. I walked down the hill I came up 4 hours earlier and was counting my lucky stars that it was down hill. I passed Hove Park and then took the footbridge over Hove Station signaling I was not far now from home. Finally I turned the corner to my street and did one last video entry and felt a sense of accomplishment but at same time all I could think of was a big burger and warm bath.