There is a great walking tradition in England that dates to the Romantic period but which really got its start when people moved en masse to big, crowded cities like Liverpool and Manchester during the industrial period. In the 20thCentury, before and after World War II, Parliament passed laws protecting public rights of way across private lands to ensure access to the countryside.
A few years years ago, Pat went on a series of walks through the English Cotswolds with women from her book group. She has been wanting to do that again, so as part of a more extensive trip this summer, we included a few days in Sussex, in southeast England to walk in the South Downs National Park.
Our home base in Sussex was a beautiful old town, Alfriston, which dates to the 14thCentury. There is an old priory, church and several houses and pubs, all with some part of their buildings that began in the 14thCentury. Alfriston is a classic English village. It is one-street deep, and there has been a local conflict about whether to allow a stop light in town. The traffic police are losing the battle, and traffic seems to back up daily at one pinch point where the road is only one-and-a-half cars wide.
We only had two days for long walks, and the first day took us to the nearby town of Berwick, which has its own 12thCentury church. The Berwick church – St. Michael’s and All Angels — was kind of adopted by the Virginia Woolf-Bloomsbury group, which maintained a home nearby, and the church is richly illustrated inside with post-impressionist-like murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister.
We walked from Alfriston to Berwick, trying to walk along the South Downs Way, which is marked (occasionally) on 4-by-4 posts with little arrows. The English may be devoted to protecting the public rights of way and all that, but the signage could use some improvement. We were able to find our way to Berwick, along to so-called “Vanguard
Way,” and then ended up bumming a ride part-way home.
On the second day, we walked again along the South Downs Way – when we found it – along the southeast coast, with its massive and abrupt chalk cliffs. (The natives say they are whiter than the white cliffs of Dover.) After a good few hours of walking, from Eastborne, via Beachy Head to Birling Gap, we had been advised to end our walk at the Tiger Inn. Pretty tired by then, we headed up a path in hopes of a refreshing pint, we walked and up, and up and up for at least a
mile before finally reaching the Tiger in the little town of East Dean. All told, this was probably only seven miles or so, or 15,000 steps on Pat’s Fitbit, but it certainly was sufficient. This place is hilly.
We go on from here to meet the family in Southern France, in the little town of Collioure, just north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean.