13 February 2014 by Anastasia French
Day 6 – Crowborough to Lewes
Every morning, after mentally moaning about my aches and pains, I’d study the plan for my walking adventure. This scrumpled, scribbled-on piece of paper was the backbone for my journey. Day 6 was looking pretty dire. It had no end point, no travelling companion and the predicted distance was 16 miles – the longest by (over 2) miles.
My dread got worse as I looked out the window and saw rainclouds. The clouds continued to darken as I tried to book a bed and breakfast in Lewes for the evening. I should really have booked in advance, but I like to live my life with a bit of risk. However, this risk wasn’t paying off. There were no available beds in any B&B in the entirety of Lewes, only a youth hostel.
I have no problem with hostelling it - in fact I’d often choose to hostel it than posh it up in a hotel. I love the eccentric mix of people that you meet in hostels and the comfort of drifting to sleep in a dorm room of other nomads, dreaming of the adventures ahead of them. The disadvantage of the Lewes YHA is that it’s not actually in Lewes. It’s in Southease, about 5 miles south of the historical town. Which meant adding another 5 miles to my already very long journey.
I already knew that 16 miles was probably inaccurate. When planning my route I’d guestimated the distance based on Google telling me how far it would be to walk along the roads. Walking along footpaths makes for a far more pleasant journey, but the bends, brambles and bad navigating make for a much longer walk. Every night so far, I’d amend my plan, noting that the actual distance covered was about 5 miles longer than I’d originally thought.
I dragged myself out of bed and started south. I stopped briefly in a local primary school to drop off the keys to my Crowborough castle. As I watched the kids run around the playground I knew that, like them, I’d probably be playing at stuck in the mud later, only there’d be no-one to crawl under my legs to save me.
The walk started off okay; it started to rain, but I was walking in woodland so remained dry. It was actually quite fun skipping along the sunken lane pretending I was Bilbo Baggins.
I emerged out of the sunken lane and joined the Vanguard Way. According to rambling legend - told to me by my Rambling Godfather, Eugene the Eccentric - the Vanguard Way was created by a group of 20-year-olds who used to venture out every weekend for a ramble in Sussex or Surrey. After their ramble they’d get merry on the train back to Victoria and befriend the train’s guard who’d ignore their excessive drinking and would welcome them into his van to avoid the overcrowding on the rest of the train. To celebrate the 15th year of their adventures, they created their own route from London to the sea and named it after their illicit drinks in the guard’s van: the Vanguard Way. 40 years on from their first adventures, they’re now stalwart Rambler volunteers, preserving footpaths across England.
I must have been having too much fun imagining the creation of the Vanguard Way, because I missed my turning and got lost.
It then started to rain very heavily and my mood (and clothes) dampened considerably. It was a 2-mile detour to get on the right path to Uckfield. I continued walking and the rain continued to fall heavily. I was beginning to feel weak with hunger, cold and tiredness. I sheltered under a tree and pulled out an iced bun that Suzannah had brought for me on day 3. It was a bit stale, but it gave me a enough of a buzz to continue.
My mood, briefly lifted by the iced bun break, began to plummet again. I was wet, I was lonely and I still had another 15 miles before my final destination. I tried all the tricks that I’d used so far on the journey – uplifting music and another iced bun - but it wasn’t working.
What I needed was an emotional iced bun: the ability to reach into my rucksack and pull out someone to lift my spirits, who would tell me that I can do it and to keep walking.
I arrived at my lunch stop, Uckfield. I felt well and truly Ucked.
As I clutched my cuppa in a local cafe, I realised that I did have an emotional iced bun. I could reach into my rucksack and grab something which would help me get back on track – my friends and loved ones. I selected some at random and sent a self-pitying text explaining that I didn’t think I could go on. The response I got was amazing and more uplifting than a squashed bun could ever be: }
“No of course you can’t give up! Carry on cos I didn’t walk 20 miles yesterday for nothing. Continue putting me to shame because you are doing a smashing job!” Suzannah.
“No you cannot quit Anastasia! You can do this, you’re a rambler. Basil Merry [one of my favourite Ramblers volunteers in Derbyshire] asked about you, I told him about your walk, he was very impressed, don’t let him down!” Emily, work colleague.
“No!! Absolutely not!!! Promise yourself a hot bath and a steak when you get to your final destination! You’re the most persistent person I know Keep walking, French! PS – Get the hell out of Uckfield!” George, my travelling companion on previous adventures..
My afternoon walk was even longer as I followed the River Ouse. I plodded along, field after field, footpath after footpath and mud after mud.
I eventually came to a sign saying: “Path closed”. I looked at the OS map and I couldn’t quite work out where I was. I decided to guess and took a path that led me away from the river and through a wood.
As the doom and gloom of being lost and tired started to rise again, something magical happened. Out of nowhere, a deer skipped over a fence and paused metres away from me. The deer shot me a dirty look as if to say: “Oi, what are you doing here? This is my wood!” and then skipped off again. It was a brief, but very special moment, and one that wouldn’t have happened if I was walking with someone else: the sound of our voices would have scared the deer away. It made me realise that no matter how lonely, tired and lost I get, the journey is doubly as special because I’m doing it solo.
I reached Lewes as the sun was setting and night was creeping in. I paused to buy supplies for dinner (a pot noodle), and continued walking for another few miles until I reached the Youth Hostel. I’d walked 22 miles that day and couldn’t walk anymore. I dumped all my stuff on my bed and collapsed in the shower, letting the water and the tears wash over me as I realised I was one day away from the sea and success.
Day 6 Stats: Crowborough – Lewes
AM: Crowborough to Uckfield – 9.77 miles, 19.57 minutes a mile, 752 calories burnt
PM: Uckfield to Lewes – 12.21 miles, 20.57 minutes a mile, 961 calories.
Total: 21.98 miles.
Highlight: The deer that jumped out in front of me, a gift from the rambling gods.