Thinking about other problems with nature writing

After encountering a reference in a review, I ended up reading a lot about Scottish writer Kathleen Jamie. To my shame, I’d not read her books before, although I’ve since picked up Findings on the Kindle. What attracted to me about Jamie was her aggressive critique of nature writing, particularly how it relates to class and gender.

Considering such things is not just virtue signalling on my part; and any responses need to go beyond writers just acknowledging their privilege. I think there is a deeper question about how people from comfortable backgrounds justify their writing (in the same way that many writers from minorities might feel forced to as a matter of course).

I’ve been thinking about this in relation to my writing about the South Downs Way. It’s not simply about being ‘better’, which reinforces the idea of writing as a competition for scarce audiences. For me, it is about being aware of what makes my writing worth showing to anyone else. If I simply write from a position of privilege, I am merely a ventriloquist for society. Instead, I need to ask what I can say that nobody else can, and make sure I am doing that.

Jamie wrote in her 2008 LRB essay:

What’s that coming over the hill? A white, middle-​class Englishman! A Lone Enraptured Male! … Here to boldly go, “discovering”, then quelling our harsh and lovely and sometimes difficult land with his civilised lyrical words.

Jamie is not fond of nature writing, saying in one interview I can’t even say the words ‘nature writers’, I can’t get it out of my gob … “. In an New Statesman piece, Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame?, Mark Cocker linked Jamie to another writer, Jim Perrin, who

argues that new nature writing is quintessentially an urban literature with a primarily metropolitan audience. [Perrin] suggests that for both author and reader, engagement with nature is an act of remembrance rather than a daily, lived experience. Given that most Britons now dwell in cities, one could argue that it is therefore a perfect literature for our times.

As Cocker continues, this literature often involves:

clothing a landscape in fine writing, both the writer’s own and that of other historical figures… John Crace’s mischievous “Digested Read” for the Guardian of Macfarlane’s latest book, Landmarks, defines “Macfarlish” as “the process of praising other authors to make your own book better by association”

In a 2019 Guardian interview, Jamie talked about how “has been colonised – by middle-class white men“, suggesting that “if you understand how that’s happened, you understand the whole godforsaken political state of this country.” The same type of people as usual have emerged at the top of a field that Jamie says was “barely there” 15 years ago. The same calm competence ends up running things again.

One of the assumptions this leads to is the idea of ‘the wild’. This means different things to different people, depending on how secure they feel, their sense of safety, and, yes, their financial background:

There’s nothing wild in this country: every square inch of it is ‘owned’, much has seen centuries of bitter dispute; the whole landscape is man-made, deforested, drained, burned for grouse moor, long cleared of its peasants or abandoned by them…

James also points out that our relationship to the wild has changed because

with our (almost) guaranteed food supplies, motor engines, vaccines and antibiotics, [we] have begun to make our peace with these wild places, and to seek recreation in land which was once out to kill us, where we can be reassured, in some way

These points raised by Jamie link in with the issues raised by Angus Carlyle when he was interviewed on Justin Hopper’s Uncanny Landscapes Podcast. Where does the authority and competence of these writers come from. Kathleen Jamie describes our interaction with this figure:

The danger of this writing style is that there will be an awful lot of ‘I’. If there is a lot of ‘I’ … then it won’t be the wild places we behold, but the author. We see him swimming, climbing, looking, feeling, hearing, responding, being sensitive, and because almost no one else speaks, this begins to feel like an appropriation, as if the land has been taken from us and offered back, in a different language and tone and attitude. Because it’s land we’re talking about, this leads to an unfortunate sense that we’re in the company, however engaging, of another ‘owner’, or if not an owner, certainly a single mediator.

There is an important question here about how I write about the world around me. How can I move beyond an assumption of universality? How do I move beyond simply explaining, particularly when that act of explaining often masks an act of appropriation? How do I introduce a space for doubt, for appreciating the beautiful spectrum of approaches other people will bring to a natural space? I think there is a space to talk about my experience of landscapes, but I guess the question is how to do that without assuming that my subjective experience is everything.

Hiking the South Downs Way 1: Belle Tout Lighthouse to Alfriston

After very little recent hiking (my last proper walk was June 20th), it was good to get out again. Even on the day itself, it was hard to leave the safety of my nest, but worth it once I was out. I’m hoping to walk the whole of the South Downs Way in August/September, so this 9 mile section was a good start.

Obviously, the Belle Tout lighthouse is not a traditional starting point for the South Downs Way. Katharine thought the trail started from Beachy Head, and I thought she wanted to keep the distance down. Either way, we will have to come back and do that missing three mile section. It’s an opportunity for me to walk the Jevington route, the alternative path for cyclists.

The weather was pretty much perfect for hiking – sunny but breezy, not too hot. My fitness wasn’t so good – I had to rest a few times when climbing the seven sisters. I’ve also developed a bad back during lockdown, and fell over when I slipped on one of the downhill sections.

But the white cliffs were stunning and we even had a flyby from a couple of spitfires, which performed acrobatics above Beachy Head.

At the end of the Seven Sisters was Cuckmere Haven. I recently read about how the valley was once filled with defences to resist the planned German invasion. From there we walked through Friston Forest through to Litlington, where Katharine spotted a turn I blithely missed. From there, we strolled the meadows leading to Alfriston, where we had lunch before heading home.

But, before leaving Alfriston, we popped into Much Ado Books. My first trip to an actual bookshop in months, but they made the whole thing friendly rather than weird. I ended up buying a couple of books, one on foraging, and one I couldn’t resist for the title, The Museum of Whales You Will Never See: And Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums. I’ve been buying from that virtual bookshop recently, and I’d forgotten the joys of a proper bookshop.

The bookshop was giving out vintage postcards with all purchases, so I now have a lovely postcard of Budapest to send to someone. Also, usefully, there was a chart to help you see which authors are the same size as you.

After weeks without a proper hike, it was good to get out again. Katharine had been feeling the same frustrations as me about walking alone. We talked about old friends, future plans and our fears. The best conversations happen when hiking. Next up, we need to book in the Winchester leg.

The Uncanny Landscapes Podcast: Problems with Nature Writing

Justin Hopper, author of The Old Weird Albion, recently launched a podcast called Uncanny Landscapes. The first episode contained an interview with Angus Carlyle, a writer I’d not heard of before, but whose books I immediately hunted out.

The interview with Carlyle described something that has troubled me for a while. Carlyle was discussing the compilation of two of his books, Nightblooms and A Downland Index. Nightblooms contains poetry and photographs taken with a smartphone and torchlight while running on the downs. A Downland Index consists of a hundred pieces, each 100 words long.

Both books were initially written as entries on social media platforms – A Downland Index as “an obscure Tumblr”, and Nightblooms on Twitter and Instagram. While the use of these services in the book’s production is not foregrounded, Carlyle says that he was fascinated by the relationship between the timestamps used in these services, which put the uploaded item into an almost-legal framework, and the ambiguity of the thing being timestamped.

Carlyle used this to explore his feelings about nature writing. For Carlyle, such books depend on a “mantle of truth-telling“, but it is hard to know how authentic this is: “Did they really know at this time they described themselves knowing it?” There seems to be a “projection of a certain expertise… the nature writer is a virtuosic inhabitant of the familiar or unfamiliar. Even in the unfamiliar they rely on beautiful writing [or] a transparent reflection of their own emotions, reporting back their experience“. How do you seperate the lived experience from the writer’s later research?

The digital services used acted as witnesses to Carlyle’s immediate presence, exploring “how to use something as clean and digital and unnatural as the internet architecture around these clocks that are constantly logging activities like me uploading things… as a way of inserting some kind of doubt into the process of nature writing”.

It was an exciting discussion, and arrived while I was wrestling with a question around my own writing. I’d been asked to provide documentation of a favourite walk, but there seemed to be various traps around this. I did not want to fall into the role of a man wandering about noticing things then explaining them. Carlyle’s assertion of presense feels like an useful thing to consider.

I’m going to write more about Carlyle’s book soon, particularly A Downland Index. Indexes do not appear often enough in creative writing (one notable exception being JG Ballard’s story The Index.) Carylye begins his book with the index and it’s an interesting way to present a book. Why are there more entries for cars than chalk? How does this format affect my feelings about the coming book?

Justin’s podcast is beautifully produced, and his voice is perfect. The third volume arrived in my RSS reader, and I’m looking forward to listening to it this afternoon.

The Peaks of Brighton

I’ve always been a little jealous of people with the time and location to collect Munros and Wainwrights. All the interesting climbs in Britain are some distance from the south coast. The chalk geology of Sussex does not lead to exciting peaks – the highest point is a mere 280m, at Blackdown. I mean, it’s better than Essex (highest point 147m) or Norfolk (103m), but it’s not much.

In November 2017, the Brighton Urban Ramblers did a City Three Peaks, but they went for steepest streets rather than highest points, picking Dyke Road, Preston Drove, and Southover Street. Still, there are high points in Sussex, which means they can be collected.

There is a list of Brighton Hills in Tim Carder’s Encylopedia of Brighton which is reproduced on My Brighton and Hove, although the heights are given in feet. Taking an arbitrary cut-off at 100m, the ‘peaks’ within the borough are:

  1. 645 Bullock Hill, Woodingdean
  2. 584 Hollingbury, Patcham
  3. 580 Holt Hill, Patcham
  4. 534 Falmer Hill, off Falmer Road
  5. 531 near Pudding Bag Wood, StanmerPark
  6. 510 Varncombe Hill, Patcham
  7. 509 The Bostle, Woodingdean
  8. 503 Heath Hill, Woodingdean
  9. 485 Tegdown Hill, Patcham
  10. 476 on Ditchling Road south of Old Boat Corner
  11. 463 Race Hill, by Bear Road
  12. 435 Scare Hill, Patcham
  13. 430 in Stanmer Great Wood
  14. 430 Red Hill, Westdene
  15. 427 Sweet Hill, Patcham
  16. 417 Race Hill, by the Race Stands
  17. 417 Telscombe Tye, Saltdean
  18. 411 at Balsdean Reservoir
  19. 410 Ewebottom Hill, Patcham
  20. 398 High Hill, Balsdean
  21. 396 Whitehawk Hill, Brighton
  22. 387 Coney Hill, Westdene
  23. 367 Mount Pleasant, Woodingdean
  24. 355 on Dyke Road Avenue, near Dyke Road Place
  25. 352 Red Hill, Roedean
  26. 334 Tenant Hill, Saltdean

That is a lot of hills. I decided that a better starting point would be the trig pillars, since they should have good views and account for Topographic prominence. There is an excellent database of trigpoints at trigpointing.uk, which includes all the trig points around Brighton. Some of these are listed as destroyed, but are still useful target locations. Their catalogue of Brighton trig points includes 6 pillars:

I’m going to take this as the starting point for my ‘Brighton Peak bagging’, although it makes sense to expand this into the wider Brighton Downs – using the arbitrary definition of the area covered by Dave Bang’s book A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs. This would expand the area to cover Beeding Hill through to Lewes, also including the north slope of Clayton Hill and Ditchling Beacon. So far, I’ve done one of the trig points, now I just need to divide the others into a few sensible routes.

Anyone interested in joining me for a session of Brighton peak-bagging?

Microfiction collection: Days and Nights in W12 by Jack Robinson

I’d not heard of Jack Robinson before Tim Blackwell sent me a copy of his book Days and Nights in W12. It’s a stunning collection.

I love works made up of micro fictions. There are some great examples of this, such as David Eagleman’s book Sum, Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman or Sarah Salway’s Something Beginning With. It’s tricky to get right, since it’s easy to sound glib with such short stories.

Robinson’s book consists of stories responding to photographs of W12. Obviously, I love this because the combination of text and pictures is what we do in the Not for the Faint-Hearted workshop. Robinson has some outrageous tall tales, doing a great job of describing and enchanting the city. You might describe this as a work of psychogeography, if we still used that word.

But it’s even better than that! It has an index. There aren’t enough works of fiction with indexes (JG Ballard once wrote a short story in the form of an index in his collection War Fever and it’s one of the best short stories ever). Robinson has cross-references between the stories too, recalling Geoff Ryman’s book ‘Internet novel’ 253.

I’d always loved the idea of writing microfictions about Brighton. But this book describes London so well that I don’t think I could write such stories about an urban area anything like as well.

As if there was no enough to love about this book already, Jack Robinson is a pseudonym. Tim pointed me towards an interview with the actual writer, Charles Boyle. He runs CB Editions, Robinson’s publisher, and there are several other writers on the list that are also Boyle’s alter-ego.

I can’t believe I hadn’t read Robinson before. These sort of discoveries are so exciting, as they suggest the possibility of other equally-thrilling books waiting somewhere for you. And I was so sure that the Glass Hotel would be my book of the year.

It’s here! The South Downs Way Volume 2: “The Devil”

Here it is! My second booklet of flash-fictions based around the South Downs Way. This one is about the Devil, a figure who is intimately connected to Sussex. The county contains a number of landmarks linked with him, including Devil’s Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring (if you run seven times round the trees at Chanctonbury at midnight he will appear to you). According to Bede, Sussex was the last place in the country converted to Christianity. It is still a strange and pagan place.

This is a more abrasive collection than the other one, but it’s also fun in places. I particularly enjoyed writing the character of the Devil, and may return to him later in the series.

If you’d like a copy, email me, or leave a comment on this page and I will put one in the post (I won’t publish any addresses written in the comments).

I’m not sure exactly how big this South Downs Way series will be. This is the second volume, I’ve drafted most of the third, and I have written significant portions of another two. I love digging into the history and folklore of Sussex, and the challenge of linking together independent stories. I suspect it will be around 12 collections of this size, but given how many stories are emerging it might even be a little longer. We will see. I am going to keep writing stories now until late August, when I make a selection for volume 3. I’m planning for the next collection to be exclusively made up of nice stories.

A Walk to the River Adur

I’ve mentioned recently about how frustrating Brighton is for hiking. We’re not supposed to take public transport unless necessary, so I’m currently confined to hikes that start from my house. There are only so many routes to the Downs within walking distance, all of which involve long stretches of built-up areas.

On the last day in May, rather than setting out West or North, I went West, striking out for Shoreham. This meant a long stretch of walking along low-grade industrial areas. I still found a few surprises, like this poem written on a piece of slate:

I took breakfast at the lighthouse, watching a boat come in, and was in Shoreham itself just before eight, joining the Downs Link Path near the Ropetackle Center.

I’ve talked in the past about how unsatisfying I found the Downs Link. As a former railway line, it’s straight and flat with trees blocking the views on both sides – although I was glad for the shade on this occasion. I imagine it is more fun to cycle the Downs Link than to walk – and there were lots of mountain bikers, some of them giving little quarter to pedestrians.

Near the old cement works, someone had stored the bases from the ornamental snails that had been placed around Brighton a couple of years back:

Walking by the Adur was pleasant. The river turns up in Nick Cave’s song Jesus Alone (You fell from the sky / Crash landed in a field / Near the river Adur / Flowers spring from the ground). The word Adur is also, by coincidence, a concept in Basque magic related to the magic of naming.

At one of the bridges across the Adur, the Downs Link crosses the South Downs Way. I had considered heading further west to Chanctonbury once I reached the South Downs Way, but I wasn’t in the mood for the 3-4 hour round trip, particularly when my big toes were still bruised from the Brighton and Hove Way the week before. Instead, I crossed the A283 and headed up Beeding Hill. I even took my hoodie off, since I’d remembered the sun cream this time. It’s a good little walk, and one I like.

Sometimes I wonder what I get out of these walks. I like the exercise, I like the scenery, but distancing is making me too aware of my familiarity with these paths. Also, the geology of Sussex is so fucking boring. The landscape has none of the interesting features found further North. The need to go out to the same places every weekend is draining some of the joy from walking. And having to walk alone underlines how much more I enjoy the social sides of walking.

At the Youth Hostel, I stop on one of the picnic tables, now placed to block access to the camping area. A couple of men pass on bikes, their stereo loudly playing Eminem, and I try not be be irritated by how they’ve inflicted their choice of music on other people.

The hills bounce towards Devil’s Dyke, and I’m thinking a question raised by a project I’m contributing to: how should writers record walks? There is a lot of writing about walking, some of it very good – The Salt Path is one of my favourite books. But nature writing and accounts of hiking can easily devolve to men wandering about, noticing things. It doesn’t matter how clever the noticings are, it’s still wearing. How do you write about place without devolving into that debased psychogeography which is men writing to show where they’ve been, like dogs pissing on fenceposts?

I wonder if I’m spending too much time by myself. I wonder what type of walking-writing I would most like to read, rather than that I find easiest to write. I have lived my entire life within sight of these hills, bar a few months here and there. Does that matter? Should it matter?

The Brighton and Hove Way

Bank Holiday Monday (May 25th) I woke with an headache like a hangover, which was disappointing since I’d not had a drink in days. I showered anyway, shouldered my pack and headed out to walk the Brighton and Hove Way, which I’d heard about through the Brighton Explorer’s Club. The Way’s website describes “the 27 Km trail” which takes in many of the hills around Brighton. It was pioneered in April 2017, and seemed like the perfect way to get out of doors and to see more of the area.

As a quick summary – it’s a great trail, albeit 27 miles rather than kilometres as the website promises. The scenery is excellent, although for a circular around Brighton, a 7 mile stretch of seafront walking is unavoidable. The paths taken are occasionally a little obscure and, even with the aid of a GPS route, I got lost in a few places. So, I would enthusiastically endorse the trail, with the reservation that you follow it a little loosely in places.

As I walked towards the seafront, I passed Small Batch, where a couple of the staff were collecting the post. It felt good to see them again, even if a re-opening is some time away.

The first bit of the trail was mundane, walking from Hove down to Saltdean, which took me through till 8am. I was better prepared than on my previous walk, with suncream and adequate water. As I entered Saltdean, I took my first wrong turn, missing the left at the church. Last time I’d been here, it was to cast proxy votes in the Referendum.

I joined up with my route from the week before, when I had come up from Rottingdean, and took my morning coffee in a small fairy ring.

At Balsdean reservoir, I had my first real problem with the trail. The path divided into two, with one part a familiar route to Balsdean, and the other off to the North West. According to the trail, the route I wanted went between these.

It wasn’t obvious where to go, but I found a stile hidden over the brow of the hill, which had a footpath sign, suggesting I was on the right track.

Despite the footpath sign, the trail here was not obvious, running alongside a buried fence.

In the next field, the path disappeared completely, despite being marked on the map and at the stiles.

The lambs from this spring were rowdy as I walked down into Balsdean valley. I needed the GPS app again to find the exact trail, which ran parallel to one that my OS map named “Snake Pass” – although this was much less grand than the one in Derbyshire. Here I had more trouble finding the right path, the apparent route blocked by thorns.

I left the valley by another route I’d used recently with my friend Sophie. From here I was on a familiar path to Woodingdean, and from there took the scenic B2123 to Falmer Village

In Falmer, the Way follows the boundary path around the university. This is a lovely bit of woodland, and it was good to be there: across the valley, I could see Park Village, my first residence in Brighton. The waypoints here were either slightly off or too far apart, and the exact path was a little hard to find.

Stanmer Park was lovely, with more woodland paths. After this, and on the other side of the road, was another tricky bit to navigate, where I found myself at a dead end. The Brighton and Hove Way makes excellent use of access land and obscure paths, which can be a little hard to follow. However, it was good to find some routes I’d never walked before – even if some of them were dead ends:

A short skip from here to the Chattri, where I terrified a woman as I emerged from the bushes, having once again strayed off the route. At the Chattri, I was still convinced that the trail was 27km, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, and corrections from the Brighton Explorer’s Club Whatsapp Group. I found some shade here and had a nap.

The last stage crossed the A23, and passed through the Brighton and Hove Golf Club, along some lovely paths towards Portslade. I reached the outskirts of town at Foredown Tower, where I’d entered the Downs on a walk just before lockdown. There aren’t that many routes from Brighton onto the Downs.

From here it was a simple route back through Portslade, where the village was older and more interesting than I realised; then through a series of very busy parks between Portslade Village and the seafront. I decided against walking along the promenade as it was uncomfortably full, with closely-packed queues outside the off-licenses. The end of lockdown was apparent.

Conclusion – a good walk with a few obscure moments, but well worth doing.It would have been a little easier if I had a better idea of the distance, but that is my own fault. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad trip to Balsdean

How can I complain about a day’s walking with scenery like this?

Ways to Walk

For the time being, my walking is restricted to a daily exercise session, with longer hikes at weekends. I’m actually finding it quite boring and grind out my 10,000 steps on the same route most days. I miss walking with company. I’m finding it harder and harder to do a full session of walking in one go.

The Daily Mash gets it right

I made a list of things I could do to make my walking more interesting:

  • Alaistair Humphrey’s concept of microadventures are still possible under social distancing.
  • I’m not sure how geocaching is impacted by Covid-19, but there is only one way to find out.
  • A common technique for walking is to use a map for a different place. This emerged from the Situationists, and I once attended a tour of London as Tokyo led by the artist Momus. I’ve meant for years to map the 6.5 km of the main Varanasi riverfront onto Brighton seafront, so I guess I could get going with that.
  • The classic example of an imaginary walk is Albert Speer with his walks around Spandau, which he mapped onto a walk around the world. I could redo the Pennine Way over a month – 9 miles a day would take me the whole distance.
  • There are a number of audio walks available online. Some of these are art pieces, others tourist guides. These could be overlaid on familiar walks, looking for synchronicities.
  • Blake Morris has produced some scores for walking. I think Fluxus also produced something similar?
  • Or there is always the option of hiking in videogames, and just sacking off the whole step-count thing. The guardian has published articles on the 10 best walks in video games and has published a pandemic guide to virtual hiking (via Justin Hopper).
  • I have whole books on walking and art, featuring obscure examples as well as people like Richard Long or Mona Hatoum. These might have some good ideas.
  • I miss the foundwhilewalking hashtag, which was used by a number of Brighton people to share odd things they found when out and about. Rather than using photographs for this, it might be interesting to produce haiku (which would fit into some upcoming research for my South Downs Way project).
  • The obvious ways to have a socially distanced walk with someone is by maintaining a separation in space. But what about walking separated in time, making a recording for the other person to listen to, or leaving chalked messages?
  • Pilgrimage is something I find very important, and Brighton has places of power like the Goldstone, and St Anne’s Well.
  • Related to pilgrimage is the idea of walking as meditation or even prayer. Nick Cave recently wrote a beautiful piece about non-religious prayer.
  • The Situationists invented the Derive precisely to break up the familiar paths taken within a city. What if I walked a ten-thousand step circle around my house? Related to this is finding arbitratry routes connecting places, such as my walk between the graves of Edward Bransfield and George Everest.
  • Another possibility is some sort of collaborative or competitive walking. Brighton Explorer’s Club are setting up a socially-distanced relay; maybe a treasure hunt could be fun?

Back to the Downs; and a problem with circular walks

I spent the entirety of April within 5000 steps of my home. Most days, my walk was done by 8am, and I would be indoors until the next day. Every month, Google sends me a summary of my travels, a small gift in return for not caring about my privacy. Last’s month’s summary of my travels was stark:

With the easing of lockdown on May 10th, I had the option of walking futher – unlimited exercise, as long as I stayed two meters from anyone not in my household. I set out on early Sunday morning with an ill-formed plan to walk on the Downs, possibly visiting Balsdean, Ditchling Beacon and the Chattri. It was my first proper walk in weeks. The town felt eerie, even if it was probably not much quieter than it would be before 7am on a normal Sunday.

The advertising boards were mostly empty, apart from an advert offering cherry-picker cranes for hire (£400 per day, £300 per half day). Which seemed a strange thing to be selling – or maybe someone in the ad sales team was making the most of hard times.

And among the street art, a picture I recognised, someone who had been a friend long ago, although his name escapes me now:

The problem with hiking from my house is how far I need to travel before I reach the countryside. It was 50 minutes to reach the Marina and the undercliff. About halfway along, someone coming the other way called my name. It was Romi, an old hiking buddy who I’d not seen since January. It was good to see someone from the Old World.

Finally, I reached Rottingdean and was soon on the Downs. Despite being unprepared for the brutal sun, I was filled with joy. The birds were singing so very loud, and the air was clear, meaning I could see a long way to the East past Firle. Nearer by, the the cliffs beyond Newhaven looked like notches.

Normally, I would head through Balsdean, but the path to the hilltop alongside the valley was too attractive to ignore; and less steep than it looked:

My muscles were weaker than they had been, and my back was grumbling. My feet ached more than they should have done.

From here it was a short distance to the South Downs Way, which I joined at the top of the Yellow Brick Road. I followed the route West, reversing my steps from just before lockdown. With the start of Summer, the hills below the A27 were even more beautiful than they had been in March.

And then I reached the signpost at Housedean farm, on the other side of the main road. It told me that Ditchling Beacon was another 5 miles, with home some distance beyond that. I had walked about 8-9 miles already and was tired. I’d not bought enough food with me to want to do another 8 miles or so.

The other problem with those 8 miles was that the last 2-3 miles of it would be a slog through the streets of Brighton. I love wandering around the town, but not so much when I am already overtired. And this is the problem with circular walks that end at my house: the last part is boring. And it involves streets that are uncomfortably crowded under social distancing, where nobody is sure how to navigate the narrow space of pavements.

One of the best things in the world is ending a day’s walk with a stay in a pub. Even a bad pub is pretty good at those sorts of times – beer and a bed is all you need. I reckon that walking to the Tan Hill Inn, then hanging out in the lounge was one of the best days of my life. That’s the way walks should end.

Or at an Airbnb, like with Romi and Katharine, calling up for a curry from the nearest Indian restaurant, and drinking red wine as we have the same conversations that we’ve been enjoying for years.

Maybe I need to give more thought to the ending of my walks when they end at my house. To have the rest of the day cleared, to enjoy the tiredness. To have rituals and rest to welcome me back.

Or maybe, after weeks in lockdown I’ve had enough of walking solo. I don’t know.

My last two walks have been poorly planned, tiring and frustrating. I am going to plan this weekend’s one better, and make sure the ending is as good as the high points.