A Shorter Walk to Brighton

With a total of 5.73 London to Brighton walks under our collective belts, Caralyn and I thought it would be rather nice to see the final sections of the event in daylight, instead of stumbling blindly in the dark. We’d also promised ourselves NO MORE 100Ks. So this year we signed up to walk just the second half, starting from Tulley’s Farm near Crawley. Fortunately, Caralyn’s brother and sister-in-law live nearby, so we were able to be deliciously-well-fed, luxuriously-well-rested and sacrificially-well-chauffeured to the start point at 05.15 on a chilly Sunday morning in May.

This was our first time of doing a walk the day after the main event had taken place. We knew this could be risky if the weather was bad: hundreds of people churning up the paths the day before could lead to a mudbath, but fortunately the week had been mainly dry. We could see from the low numbers at the start line that this was going to be an ideal sort of event for us, i.e. one with all of the support (food, drink, loos, signage) and none of the hassle (crowds, aggressive runners, people being competitive, bottlenecks).

Having done this route before but in very different frames of body and mind, we made lots of comparisons along the way. Usually we’d leave Tulley’s Farm in the evening in a state of semi-exhaustion having done over 50k already. So setting out with fresh legs and feet was a strange feeling. The scenery, however, looked familiar: the pristine lawns of Worth Public School glowed just as green in the early morning light as they had done in the evening sun. Yet the country lanes seemed more colourful than I remembered from previous years: the white, frothy cow-parsley replaced by pinky-purple clouds of rhododendrons. This colour scheme blended perfectly with a walker whom we referred to as Mr Pink for obvious reasons. We walked alongside him for a short while, but he soon outstripped us on the hills and was no doubt sunbathing his muscled frame on Brighton beach long before we finished the course. Also noteworthy at this stage were many mysterious “Go Sarah” signs. (More on this shortly). There were stretches of woodland, more hills than we’d remembered, and then the familiar sight of Ardingly reservoir. NB as the word Ardingly appears several times here, it is worth pointing out that it is apparently pronounced Arding-lie-to-rhyme-with-sigh. Not Arding-lee-to-rhyme-with-see. Before long, we’d reached Ardingly village, where we had our first rest stop. The sun was getting stronger and it was time to ditch the outer clothing layers, rehydrate and recaffeinate.

The second section began with a walk through yet more exquisitely-kept school grounds: this time, Ardingly College, then onward through woodlands, farmlands and fields. Buzzards and skylarks soared over buttercups and daisies. It being a Sunday morning, we shared peaceful lanes with occasional men-in-lycra on their bikes, while in the pretty village of Lindfield, the church bells pealed, and bunting fluttered above the foxgloves. In all, it was an archetypal snapshot of English country life.

Throughout this section, it seemed that every twist and turn of the road was marked by another “Go Sarah” sign – and before long we caught up with the man responsible. He was driving along the route, presumably gathering up the signs as he went and sticking them up again, then sitting in wait for the mysterious Sarah, ready to cheer her on with energising music, a big tub of sweets and lots of water bottles. Of course, it wasn’t just Sarah who benefited from his largesse: it gave us a boost every time we saw him, and the refreshments were there for all. We were just sad we didn’t ever meet Sarah, and can only hope she finished in good time, propelled on her way by that extra boost of Haribos and love. Very soon, we found ourselves similarly propelled onwards by the most fantastic lunch ever at the Wivelsfield stop. We had only expected sandwiches, but there was a banquet of hot food and I don’t think I have ever eaten (inhaled?) a plate of food as fast as this one. Maybe it doesn’t look like much to you…and I suppose looking at it now, it looks a bit sad…but at the time, it was superlative. That’s what hunger does to you.

The next section, from Wivelsfield to Plumpton, was hot overhead and hard, dry, and flinty underfoot. We walked through more pastoral scenes – cows in pastures; horses in meadows – and clambered over an endless succession of stiles. Then, we emerged from yet another patch of wood into a suburban street, only to find ourselves wondering if we were on the set of Shaun of the Dead, for in front of us were several limping, staggering bodies, swaying silently from side to side. One of the creatures was not even wearing shoes: they dangled limply from his hands. Then we realised these were not actually zombies. No, the red signs on their backs meant these were people who had started walking the previous morning and had been walking all day, all night and all day again. Our minds were blown. How was it possible to go without sleep and to keep walking? In fact we met many red-sign-wearers during the rest of the walk and we had the utmost respect for them. Some of them were walking for the Young Lives Vs Cancer charity and had an amazing story to tell. What was even more amazing was that some of them were walking in crocs (we are still trying to get our heads around that!)

Eventually, we reached Plumpton racecourse, and from there it was a short walk to the next rest stop, where we ate fresh pineapple slices and surveyed the evil sight of Ditchling Beacon rising in the foreground. Ditchling Beacon is not quite the same as Kilimanjaro rising like Olympus above the Se-ren-gedddeee, but after a long walk it looked like it. (In fact it probably looked more like Mount Everest to the red-sign-wearers).

Anyway, we knew what we had to do and we did it. We didn’t enjoy it, but the views from the top made it worthwhile – especially as we’d never seen them before. But unfortunately, there is a lot further to go between Ditchling Beacon and Brighton Racecourse, something that my memory from previous events had managed to erase, perhaps because it was all done in the dark and in a state of weary delirium. So I’m recording that fact here, in case anyone is reading this in preparation for a future event: there are more ups; there are more downs; there’s a particularly long drag at Falmer that goes on and on, and on and on. And on. Still, the benefit of doing this stretch in daylight was being able to see all the shades of green on the Downs, the blue sea and the wind farms on the horizon, the scarlet poppies and the big vistas stretching out in all directions. One of the downsides was having to share the path with lots of cyclists, none of whom was using a bell. One tends to lose the ability to hop nimbly out of the way at short notice after walking all day.

The last few kilometres stretched out longer than seemed possible but eventually we reached the soft, cushiony grass of Brighton racecourse. Minutes later, we were doing a pathetic little jog towards the finish line, and really appreciating the applause from spectators – we hadn’t expected that. Medals and champagne were handed out, and there was still time for some food and a quick* change of clothes before jumping* on the train back home. With sore feet and aching muscles, we could not believe it had ever been possible for us to walk double this distance in one go. We also wondered why we would ever want to walk through the night and miss out on such incredible scenery.

*Figures of speech – obviously

Some statistics: to our amusement, no matter how carefully Caralyn and I calibrate our Strava settings and timings, we always end up with different results. So on this walk, Strava insists that she walked 0.34 miles further, climbed 4 ft higher, and was 4 minutes faster. To be fair, she is undoubtedly in better condition than I am, as the next morning she was up at the crack of dawn to teach Pilates, while I was as stiff as a board and virtually immobile. Never mind, between us we finished 14th and 15th out of 85 on the day, which isn’t bad for two people whose combined age is now 116.

2 thoughts on “A Shorter Walk to Brighton

  1. Yes another gripping tale full of beautifully described scenery as one reads one almost feels the joys and the struggles of a long walk-in the beautiful setting of British countryside , thank you Sally, so pleased you made me feel as if I was walking with you and experienced the beauty around you for myself. Xx Ann

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