It was a good run for thinking today. I didn’t get out in the week so I rose early, had my quadspresso, read another chapter of Richard Askwith’s The Lost Village and then set out around 7.50am into the quiet morning. I headed down the road and within five minutes, keen to experiment, had chosen my destination. I would see if I could run to the beacon a more direct route than normal.
So it was out onto Folders Lane, round the muddy footpath past the vineyards and across the road to Ditchling, then down through all the chicken farms to Ditchling itself. The ground had definitely dried out, but there were still pockets of slurry here and there, which is why my runners are currently soaking in a bucket of water, outside in the sun.
Ditchling is such a beautiful village and my route took me a new way through between the hidden houses and their idyllic gardens. Thrust back out from this bygone age near the crossroads, I decided to run along the beacon road, since there were still not many people out and about driving. With Richard Askwith’s prose still humming around my head, I looked afresh at houses that I normally pass in the car, imagining them newly built when the road was a track and a coach and four was a highlight.
At the base of the beacon, I took the path to the right and instantly the last twenty or so years fell away back to the first time I remember walking up it. My friend Cliff had decided to do this completely mad thing of joining the Raleigh expedition and needed to raise a fair amount of money through sponsorship. As far as I remember, he decided to climb the height of Everest by going up Ditchling Beacon; I forget how many times, but quite a number.
With a gang of supporters taking it in turns to keep him company and making sure he was kept fed and watered, he had almost finished by the time I arrived so I thought I would walk up once with him. It was a really tough climb, as the path goes more or less straight up the scarp slope, but I was so exhilarated on reaching the top that I continued and did the final four or five laps with him.
That day was baking hot, the ground firm and the legs young, but today the steepness of the slope and a thin layer of mud meant that anything other than a walk was out of the question. Mist covered the top and standing, munching, by the side of the trig point was a white cow… I’m not sure who was more startled!
I was a touch disappointed, as it had still taken me an hour to get there despite seemingly going a faster route, so I determined to try to make up time on the way back. I only discovered the main bridle-path down the Beacon last year and it’s still a thrill to run down, although today it was slippery enough for me to recall passages from Richard Askwith’s earlier book, Feet in the Clouds about the completely balmy sport of fell running. This video downthebeacon.mp4 shows my progress although you don’t get a sense of how steep or slippery it is! And by the sounds of it, the fell runners would call me a wuss for not throwing caution to the wind!
It was round about here that I had a revelation and Richard, if you happen to read this, expect a call from me shortly! Others, whose interest might be piqued, please wait patiently to see whether it turns into an interesting project.
I took a different path at the base of the beacon and thus ended up running back to Ditchling crossroads, where I turned left, circled around the back of the beautiful church and village pond and headed up a single track road. At the top of the hill, having seen a property that I would happily aspire to (no, it wasn’t just because of the Aston parked in the drive) I reached the mill that Nick and I passed last weekend. But rather than repeating our mistake, I took the footpath that headed north which eventually brought me out a good way up the keymer road towards home.
Which was a very good thing because I was already knackered! I felt like I hobbled my way back past the old houses lining the route home and eventually found myself leaning, panting, against my front door-frame. The 45 minute return journey reflecting not my speed, but the fact that I’d finally discovered a more direct route.
Or so I thought. Actually, the distance each way was almost exactly the same at 5.1 miles, which actually makes me wonder if I was so knackered on returning that I misread my watch by ten minutes. Otherwise the return leg was at 6.8mph, which it certainly didn’t feel like at the time, even if it does right now!