As posted on Instagram: Today I walked through the woods. Words fail me, even now. It is like the landscape is from my dreams; from my imagination. I remember growing up wishing we had beautiful woods like this near us. The Australian bush is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But English woods are so full of life in a totally different way. They are full of deep greens, vines, moisture! The birds sang around me as I walked. I felt my breath being taken away by the beauty. And I will see it again in my dreams tonight.
So that is how I feel about the woods. There’s no lie in what I’ve written above. But there’s more to the story! (Of course there is – I’m the Unprepared Traveller after all, a clumsy doofus who manages to get herself into odd situations and makes everything more difficult than it needs to be!)
I’ve had an injured ankle for the best part of a week. Ever since I went to Dover without being prepared for a massive hike (seriously, I’m a doofus) and I realised that my hiking boots aren’t great for my ankle, I’ve had a swollen left achilles tendon. My hiking boots have decided they’re in a controlling relationship with my left ankle and wanted to cling on for dear life.
Before this, I wore my Docs on my first two days in England and made the startling realisation that – get this – if you don’t wear enclosed shoes for two months, did you know that your heel callouses go away? My Docs gave me two of the biggest blisters that I have ever had in my life. So my only real option was my non-waterproof trainers or my hiking boots. Hiking boots it was!
So. After wearing my hiking boots for much too long, my left ankle was a bit “how ya goin’.” The very first day I felt like I was able to go for a long walk, I was on it. I strapped it up with my ankle brace, put on my non-waterproof trainers that are totally unsuitable for muddy conditions, chucked Lucky the beagle’s harness and lead on and we were off!
I’d been told about an Iron Age ruin that was a bit of a hike away, and I was keen to explore and take in some fresh air. Lucky and I set off and, after consulting my map app (Maps.Me for anyone interested), I chose a walking trail. That’s when I found myself in these woods. The beauty was breathtaking. I had a huge grin on my face and birdsong in my ears. The breeze floated through the tops of the trees like a whisper. The damp leaves didn’t harbour any snakes, and no goannas came running at me as I walked. It felt safe, it felt slow, and it felt like home.
I continued my walk along the trails and saw a big hill ahead of me. After consulting my map, I decided to pursue a different trail because my trainers were pretty unsuitable for the mud ahead. As I continued on, I went down a big slope… wait, that can’t be right. I still needed to go up a massive hill to get to the South Downs Way, didn’t I? Oh well. I continued.
I continued to the path I had seen on the map. It started gently, with the same breeze floating through the tops of the trees. The trail became thinner. The slope became steeper. Okay, I thought. This is getting a bit harder. I continued.
My breath became laboured; my calves and quads were burning. The slope increased. I had to use trees to assist me up the slope and I decided it was time to put my jacket around my waist so I could cool down a little bit. The beautiful chill of the air hit my sweat like a dream. Thankfully I had had the foresight to bring a bottle of water on the journey. I continued.
I dropped to my hands when the slope increased further. Lucky seemed concerned for my welfare, so I gave him a treat and he continued on, smelling all the interesting things that he came across. I doubt that Sarah (Lucky’s owner) had taken him on what was obviously a very intense downhill mountain biking track that I’d found myself on. I continued.
Up I crawled, occasionally reaching a part of the slope that allowed me to stand and walk normally. I thought back to the gentle, muddy slope I had seen earlier with regret. Ahh, the benefits of hindsight! I continued.
I made my way up the slope. Then I noticed that, just beyond the steepest point, there was a level track. I’d made it! I stopped to celebrate, lost my footing, and nearly fell off the track. If not for a sturdy tree that I’d grabbed onto, I would have been covered in mud, leaves and possibly broken something. I continued.
I emerged out of the woods and onto a track next to a sheep paddock. The sheep stared at me. Did they know that I’d chosen a foolish path? Probably not. But you never know. But I’d made it to the top, and that was all that mattered to me.
Out of the relative shelter of the woods I noticed that the fog was rolling in from the south. Lucky me – another day that I don’t get to see the sea! But because of my massive achievement, I didn’t really care all that much. I just wanted to make it to the ruins before the fog obscured everything.
One thing I’ve noticed on this trip is that I’m very good at keeping myself entertained while walking. I did it at Dover and I was doing it here: singing and talking to myself, making poems about the things around me, thinking of story ideas (and then promptly forgetting them) and just taking in my surroundings. It’s a nice realisation that I’m happy to spend time by myself and not feel lonely.
I walked another few kilometres to Chanctonbury Ring. Built on the top of a hill with views for miles around, this Iron Age fort was perfectly situated to keep an eye on anyone sneaking up on their territory. And what views!
I twirled around, taking in the views for miles in each direction (even if I could only see the rolling fog coming in from the sea in the south) and felt my heart bursting. It was so peaceful; so beautiful. I could have stood there for hours, but the fog and its associated chills were coming. I explored the Ring, wondering at what life was like back then.
With a smile on my face, I turned back towards Steyning and travelled along the South Downs Way. Then my phone battery went flat before I could work out how to get back. So I took a guess and started the 5km walk back. Made it.