The North Downs Way Stage 3

(This walk was actually at the end of April and is the most recent stage of the North Downs Way. Progress has been slower than we’d like, but we should be finished in the Autumn)

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1 – The third stage of the North Downs Way was an odd one. The scenery was slightly underwhelming compared to the previous sections. Cramped accommodation and long days made tempers fray – finding suitable places to sleep has become more difficult, as has the logistics for the start and end of the trails. And there was something odd about the whole weekend. The death of my phone at the start (which also meant no camera) felt like an omen. I passed through the five stages of grief about the device as the weekend continued. The photos here were taken by Katherine (except for one).

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2 – It took a long time to find our way back to the Way. I parked my car on a country lane and we followed a road route to the trail. It looked all right on the map, but turned out to be a fast road with no pavement hedges either side. We kept in close, cars forced to go around us.

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3 – The overall impression of the walk was the bluebells. The first day we walked through places thick with them. We saw fewer bluebells on the second day; Bluebell Hill wasn’t.

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4 – We crossed the Medway at the start of the second day. It’s an impressive bridge, passing high above buildings and water. Racist graffiti was scrawled on the Samaritans sign, “All w–s and non-UKs can jump”. The small sad ways that national politics stirs up local hate.

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5 – Travelling further along the trail, I begin to confuse the cafe and restaurant staff. They assume one of the women has ordered the vegetarian breakfast, and put meat in front of me. When they enter a restaurant ahead of me, I get asked how many of us there are. And they assume I must be drinking beer not wine.

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6 – It was a good walk. We walked through dandelion druff in the morning air, and in the afternoon the air was thick with fat flies. I loved the cross on the edge of the hills, a pack of wild horses standing nearby. As usual, I was surprised at how few people were out on the path. The contrast between these trails and the city I live in is massive.

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7 – Hidden by the side of the path, a cache of books for sale.

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The Pennine Way Day 4

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1 – Day 4 of the Pennine Way started with one of the most difficult bits of hiking I’ve done. The forecast had predicted rain, and I’d hoped that we would be lucky and the storms would pass us by. No such luck. We set out in wet-weather gear, heading into town with Emma and Charlie. After separating, Dave and I followed the path along the canal. Soon after, it took a steep turn uphill.

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2 – If Dave had suggested jacking it in at that point, I would have gladly done so. I’ve never been so close to giving up on a walk. Looking at the book last night, I learned that this was one of the most difficult ascents of the entire walk.

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3 – As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. We were lucky this was on our last day, as it was a good lesson. I’m going to invest in some better rain gear than my poncho. I’m also going to have a change of clothes waiting at the car for all future walks. Despite the rain, the day was better than pretty much any day that I’ve spent in an office.

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4 – One of the interesting things about a trail like this is that you hear about the people ahead of you. We knew there was an Australian woman ahead of us and we finally met her on the final day. We decided to walk together, which was an interesting change of pace (and conversation). The Pennine Way was the first of a series of adventures around the world that Carolyn had planned.

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5 – It turned out on this walk that Dave is incredibly good at recognising different types of birds. He also knows a lot about farming. I learned that it isn’t possible for sheep to deliver triplets without human intervention – without help, the third always suffocates. The sheep were full of bedraggled lambs, which Dave told were about a day old. Our group was silenced by the sight of a dead one in the grass.

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6 – I need to do a whole post on walking and Lord of the Rings. Tolkein’s classic is basically a book about hiking with a load of battle scenes thrown in. I think this is something the movies got wrong, not paying enough attention to the walking. Our walk had its Tolkeinesque moments, with Hebden Bridge providing our hearty Rivendell-style welcome. And, tramping along the damp moorland paths, it was easy to recall the grim tramping of the second book.

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7 – We crossed the moors towards Top Withens, a ruined famouse that is said to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heights – despite looking nothing like the house in the book, and there being no evidence for a link. A slightly sniffy sign protests its own presence, saying it is only there because of tourist demand. I was more than ready to take shelter behind the ruined walls. Fortunately Dave looked round the side and found a dry indoor shelter. I’ve been in posh hotels that felt less welcoming and luxurious than this hut with its dirt floor. It was so good to be somewhere dry for a bit.

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8 – We said farewell to Carolyn at Ponden and then walked on to Stanbury. A succession of buses and trains took us back to Edale where we’d started the walk. The first quarter of the Pennine Way was complete. We’re going to continue in September.

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This Way: Brighton, Lewes, Rottingdean

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Some time back, a friend of mine produced a map of footpaths between Brighton and Lewes. I followed one of the two routes on my birthday last year. I’d not got around to doing the other, but needed a route to walk as practise for the Ridgeway (I’m walking with someone who has not done a long day’s hike). So, on Sunday, I walked to Lewes and back.

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The route goes along Brighton seafront to Rottingdean before turning North and passing through the abandoned village of Balsdean. A path through a field of crops eventually leads to Kingston and Lewes. On the way back the route followed the Juggs Road for much of the way, re-entering Brighton near Woodvale Cemetary.

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It was a good walk. I exhausted myself and got sunburned, but it was so nice to get out for the day.The whole route turned out to be about 50,000 steps, which my fitbit claimed was about 22 miles. It’s probably nearer 18 miles and we did it quite quickly, not stopping for long breaks. We stopped for lunch in Lewes where we overheard a conversation at the cafe about the kitchen clock being slow. Apparently this always happens, because the works get gummed up with grease.

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I’d somehow not walked Juggs Road before. This was the old route used to carry fish from Brighton to Lewes by donkey. It featured an impressively steep hill that nearly got the better of me on such a hot day. According to the Internet, a jugg is a name for Brighton fishermen, or a basket for carrying fish. The Revd WD Parish’s sussex dictionary suggests that Jug(g) is a generic nickname for Brighton people.

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Once summer calms down a little, I am heading to Bath to try out the second This Way map.

The Pennine Way – Day 3 (Standedge to the Calder Valley)

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1 – Day 3 of the Pennine Way took us from Standedge to the Calder Valley and Hebden Bridge. The walk started comfortably, with lots of gentle moorland and some great views, although less epic than on the previous two days. This was also a more urban section of the walk, withseveral roads to cross and Rochdale in the distance for a large chunk.

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2 – At some point on our third night on the trail, we had travelled for as long as the fastest person had completed the route. Apparently, the record for the entire Pennine Way is a shocking 2 days 17 hours.

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3 – The cairns were one of my favourite features of the route. With the stone paths, navigation along the Pennine Way is less ambiguous than it once was. The cairns are now mostly ornamental, but they seem incredibly exotic to me, as if from another  time or place.

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4 – We stopped for a snack just after the M62. As we put on our backpacks again,the rain began. We didn’t think it would be too bad but it soon soaked us to the skin. This was a foretaste of what was to come on day 4 – and a lesson to change into rain gear more quickly.

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5 – We passed the Aigin Stone, a marker from an old coaching route. It also lay on the end of a Roman Road. I don’t know enough about these sort of things to tell if this would have been the original stones that legionnaires would have paced, but it still felt stirring to follow ancient footsteps.

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6 – We paused for tea at the White House Pub, which stands beside the A58. It was a lovely, friendly pub and we wished we’d planned for lunch there. Maybe next time I pass.

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7 – One of the most famous recent walks of the Pennine Way was by the poet, Simon Armitage. Apparently one of his poems is etched into the stone beside the path, shortly after the White House. We missed it completely.

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8 – One of the best thing about walking the Way is meeting other travellers. Of those who aren’t doing the route, many have done it in the past, and will reminisce about it. We met a couple of women who’d walked the way then on to Holy Island, and encountered only 10 minutes of wine. They enthused about the Cheviots, as did a man we met on the third day. Years later, he was still blown away by a view of “Hills forever”.

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9 – Off in the distance we caught sight of Stoodley Pike, where we were due to meet Emma and Justin. It felt exciting to be nearing our end. Stoodley Pike is a 37 meter tall monument, originally erected to celebrate the defeat of Napoleon. This caused a Father Dougal-style confusion with perspective, being both very large and far away. We thought we were much closer than we were.

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10 – We had barely sat down at the monument when we were joined by Emma, Justin and Charlie the dog. They escorted us into the valley and I couldn’t help but feel like a hobbit being led down into Rivendell. It was good to have a night staying with friends in the middle of a long journey.

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11 – I’ve been using the Trailblazer map series, which has a clear and detailed description of the route. And, as promised, a short distance from Hebden Bridge we found the Land Rover in the field.

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The North Downs Way Part 2

From back in February, walking on the North Downs way. We continued from Box Hill, along bitter, windy hilltops and across muddy ground. I managed to fall over in the mud. We found a memorial for a tragic plane accident, two wingtips as markers for where the plane came down.

The route had perhaps a little too much motorway, running alongside the M25. I’ve since passed the junctions we walked in my car, and enjoyed thinking back to the walk. Despite somewhat grim weather, there were few other places I’d have wanted to be than on that walk.

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Pennine Way – Day 2

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1 – Day two of the Pennine Way began with a 300 meter climb spread out over two miles in an incredible valley before following Crowden Great Brook towards Black Hill.

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2 – The day’s walk was just eleven miles, but the many climbs on top of the previous day’s strain meant it took quite a toll. I thought I was used to hiking, but this wore me out.

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3 – We were very lucky with the weather. It was drizzly and windy, but not too unpleasant. Some of the paths ran very close to the edge of tall drops – in windier weather I could imagine this being quite dangerous. But a quick google turns up few reports of people who’ve been hurt on this trail.

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4 – Having done several national trails now, one of the things that fascinates me is that each path has its own language. Or maybe its own voice. The South Downs Way could probably be followed without a map, since there are so many way markers and other walkers. The Limestone Way was incredibly difficult to follow, with the markers disappearing completely once I entered Staffordshire. The Pennine way is an interesting mix of obvious paths and places that rely on the map. When you reach a paved section in the middle of wilderness, it feels like the return of an old friend. Sometimes the path seems tiny, only the barest thread to lead you forward.

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5 – On this stage, Emley Moor Mast became visible in the distance. A huge concrete structure, its twice the height of Brighton’s i360.

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6 – Just before two we reached the A635 where we found Snoopy’s Snack Van. We ordered cups of tea and sat on plastic chairs out of the wind, chatting with a couple of other hikers. I tried one of the egg sandwiches, but the cooking facilities weren’t veggie friendly. I couldn’t finish the food, but the tea tasted amazing.

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7 – One of my favourite things about the Pennine Way is the communication. I’d read about this in Emily’s account of the Coast-to-Coast path. It doesn’t happen so much on the South Downs Way, since the density of walkers is less and people are less chatty. On the Pennine Way people were more up for a chat. That day, a man was walking the route from Edale to Hebden Bridge in a single day, having set off at 4am. Somewhere in the distance was a woman who’d come from Melbourne Australia to walk the trail. I guess some of the people in our wake would have been told about us.

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8 – We found a frame looking out on a view, which reminded me of Claude Glasses, used as a means of viewing landscapes in the 18th century. The idea was you looked through them and found a perfect image, like a painting. The Framing the Landscape project is by Ashley Jackson.

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9 – On this stage and the following day, we passed a series of reservoirs. Near the snack wagon had stood a couple of gateposts, all that remained of the Isle of Skye hotel. It was demolished when the reservoirs were made, because it was thought it would pollute the water supply.

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10 – The Carriage House was a great place to stay – comfortable and relaxed. And it had a bath! We ate an early supper then went to our rooms and fell asleep. The Pennine Way had worn us out.

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Pennine Way – Day 1

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1 – The Pennine Way is 268 miles long, running from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland. On Friday I set out to walk the first 52 miles with Dave, my brother-in-law.

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2 – The Pennine Way was Britain’s first national trail, originally suggested in 1935 by the journalist Tom Stephenson. An American wrote into his newspaper column asking if Britain had anything like the Appalachian trail. Stephenson said there wasn’t, but suggested a possible route, and worked to make this official. The path was formally opened in April 1965, thirty years later. The success of the Pennine Way has led to other trails being opened around the country.

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3 – Despite managing to live out of a single bag for months when travelling, I made a huge mess of packing for this trip. I sorted my things in Derbyshire, at Dave & Liz’s house, and realised I’d forgotten to pack appropriate trousers. Walking the Pennine Way in suit trousers seemed a poor idea, requiring a late-night drive to Tesco’s to buy better attire.

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4 – The route begins at Edale, close to Castleton, the start of the Limestone Trail (which I walked in April). After walking the South Downs, North Downs and Limestone Ways recently, I’d grown complacent. Fortunately I read the Rambling Man guide a few days before and realised I needed to prepare a little better than usual. The maps I bought came in very useful.

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5 – We stopped at a cafe to buy hot drinks in Edale before setting out. We considered food – I fancied a breakfast roll. Dave wanted a sandwich from the lunch menu. They would sell us the latter to take away, but only on condition we didn’t eat it on the premises – they were still on the breakfast menu. There were just two other people in the restaurant. I wondered what disaster or misfortune had led to such a strict policy.

(The sandwiches we brought were tasty though, probably the best packed lunch we had on the trail. The bread was unlike any I’d had before, the surface of the roll tearing like paper)

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6 – It’s quickly apparent that the Pennine Way is not fucking around. After a gentle rise to warm up, the path reaches Jacob’s Ladder, a long stone stairway. At the top of this we were among the clouds, with little visibility. The path across Kinder Downfall ran beside a long drop. And the descent to the Snake Inn turn-off was hard work, with steep slippy rocks. The Pennine Way is a health-and-safety nightmare. It compensates for this with some of the most incredible views I have ever seen.

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7 – Apparently Wainwright hated this path, with its bogs and difficult navigation. With the addition of paving stones, the route across the bogs on the first day has become much easier. These provide both navigation and a trustworthy walking surface. Apparently some people have complained that they make the route too easy. Personally, I was very glad of them.

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8 – Day 1 included some interesting places. We passed through Kinder Scout, site of the 1932 mass trespass. Although it was a little way off the path, we passed near to the crashed bomber on Bleaklow that I visited a couple of years back. We also passed through the narrow twisting route of “Devil’s Dike” (sic). All the high points were wreathed in mist, sometimes with very little visibility.

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9 – The pace of the Pennine Way is defined by the availability of accomodation. There are long periods without any buildings or shelter. Indeed, we could go hours without seeing anyone.  The first stage is 16 miles to reach the Crowden Valley, where we’d booked into Crowden’s only B&B (other options were a short car journey from the trail). For £3 the B&B owner drove us to the Peels Arms where we had a surprisingly good meal

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10 – By the time we reached Clough Edge, the weather had turned sunny, and we had a beautiful descent to Crowden. Dave was adopted by a tame lamb, which followed us through the fence. Eventually he had to walk to the wall and climb over, leaving the lamb on the other side, jumping and bleating.

The first day was a hard walk, but I already knew I was going to love this trail.

The Limestone Way

I spent last weekend walking the Limestone Way. I had a spare couple of days before some work in Derbyshire, so wanted to find a nearby trail. 45 miles was a little longer than was sensible for two days – but I thought I’d do it anyway.

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It was a very different trail to the ones I’m used to, with the ground quite difficult in the first stages. Dad only made a short distance, and it was a good thing I was wearing new walking boots. The weather was also ropy for the first stage but by the afternoon was pretty sunny.

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One thing I’ve noticed is how long trails changes as they cross administrative boundaries. The first part of the Limestone Way was fairly well signposted, although there were a few games of hunt-the-stile. After crossing the River Dove I entered Staffordshire where the signage went to shit. They didn’t even bother marking the trail, just used regular footpath markers. At the end, the route fizzled out even worse than the Downs Link, with no indication it was done. It was almost as if Staffordshire was ashamed of the Way or had a vendetta against walkers. If I’d researched better, I’d have seen the Rambling Man’s account of this issue.

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The stunning scenery made up for all the hassles, my favourite moment being the River Dove valley. Just so much space and green! I’m due to do the start of the Pennine Way next month and I’m very excited about that now.

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This stile was stood on its own in the middle of a field. I have no idea why, but it looked… dangerous. I went around it.

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The first day was about 25 miles, with a couple of miles added on for misdirection. I found the bench shown below just when I needed it most. I stopped, lay down, read for a bit and ate a cookie. I was very grateful for Hilary, in whose name the bench was donated.

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I’m not a big fan of squeeze stiles, which seem to be designed for people with tiny, tiny legs.

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The River Dove valley below. The sort of view that deserves a round of applause.

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This is the trail end. Nothing to mark it, just a post with a single direction marked on it, rather than the two one normally finds on a trail.

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A long weekend

My original plan for this weekend was to attend the Super Weird Happening in Liverpool. But when organising that was proving too complicated I started looking for other things to do. Which led to me spending this weekend walking the Limestone Way.

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The path is 46 miles and the brochure suggests it can be walked in four to five days. As I only had a weekend I decided to walk it in two. The walk was a mix of stunning scenery and appalling signposting. It also would have been better done over three or more days,

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So, I walked 110,000 steps this weekend, and broke the 50 mile barrier thanks to appalling signposting. It was a stupid thing to try, but I learned a lot of lessons – after all, pushing things past their limits shows where they might break. The remaining walks for this year will be much easier.

Hunting the Wilmington Ley

Today would have started better if I had remembered that the clocks went back. I just about made it to the station on time to meet Vicky Matthews for the train to Berwick. From there we walked along the A27, past the giraffes at Drusillas, and into the village of Wilmington. There’s some strange roadkill in this part of Sussex – what is that doll’s arm doing?

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We were out to explore the ley-line beginning in Wilmington. It’s described in a couple of Paul Devereux books, including the Ley Hunters Companion (written with Ian Thompson). Devereux writes that “other leys may pass through and near the long man and we in no way claim this to be the best“. No explanation is given for why this was the one in the book.

Our journey started at the church of St Mary and St Peter. Last time I was here was with the British Pilgrimage Trust. The church is beautiful and in the grounds is a 1000 year old yew tree. We stopped in its shadow for a drink of tea.

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The church sits at the Northern end of the ley-line, with the second point being the nearby priory, which is now run by the Landmark Trust. The two are so close together that it almost seems like they should be a single site.

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The third point on the line is the Long Man of Wilmington. The two vertical lines beside him are sometimes seen as doorways, an image used notably in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Watkins, the discoverer of ley-lines, has claimed that he is a prehistoric surveyor, the Dodman, with his two sighting staves. Devereux suggests that the long man is related to the nearby Litlington Horse, and makes the fanciful suggestion that there might be a South Down zodiac similar to the Glastonbury one.

(Interestingly the Long Man is said to be at the centre of a cross made between the churches of Alfriston, Folkington, Selmeston and Jevington)

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Fences forced us to make quite a detour to reach the fourth point on the line, the barrow on Windover Hill. The alignment of the church/priory and long-man proved a useful guide towards this point, although the long-man was hidden on the hillside. The presence of fences and prescribed footpaths make it difficult to get much feeling for the straight lines, but at this point I could imagine the ley-markers as useful way-points along the route. Watkins theorises about travellers using leys to make sure they kept on-track, even as they meandered around marshes and obstacles.

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The depressions near the barrow at Windover Hill were, I believe, the traces of flint-digging. Local legend suggests they are craters from missiles hurled at the giant of Windover Hill from the giant at Firle. It’s often claimed the long man was  originally the outline of the body a giant who died there, killed by pilgrims or another giant.

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The final point, in Friston forest, was impossible to find, even with the GPS. I regretted not bringing dowsing rods, which might have been more help. I will try and get some on my trip to Avebury in June. This final ley point also some distance from the other points would have been hidden by the hillsides.  Its difficulty seems to contradict the idea that the line was used for navigation; although it’s always possible there are points missing in the middle.

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The route led us to some beautiful scenery on the way to Exceat. We joined with the South Downs Way, which felt pleasantly familiar. Vicky had brought a picnic of daal, which we ate at Cuckmere Haven before making the long bus journey back to Brighton. I even caught a little sunburn. It was a good day.

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