Leaving Haywards Heath, my befuddled state (head-cold fog battling it out with pseudoephedrine fizz) got me serially lost down sylvian suburban streets, with his\’n\’hers Porsche Cayennes in front drives. Eventually, as the autumn sun broke through grey clouds, I escaped into a field of cows by Fox Hill.
From here, a curiously complicated series of footpaths led me slowly south to Wivelsfield, over handsome stiles erected by the local Monday Group. The last footpath ended in a garden populated by geese and a goat. I followed the signs to cross a small bridge over a stream, but the geese had other ideas, rushing over the bridge at me with wings aloft, hissing furiously and trying to bite me between the legs. Like heavy artillery, the goat lurked malevolently behind the front lines.
Like a cross between Horatius Cocles and their Capitoline ancestors, the birds were clearly determined to defend their territory. While pondering these irrelevant classical allusions, I cast around for a weapon: would self-defence be a mitigating factor against accusations of poaching? Did I want to carry a dead goose for the rest of the walk?
Instead, I decided to beat a hasty retreat, and walked cautiously round the edge of the garden. After a mercifully brief stretch of road (the byways of Sussex are packed with speeding SUVs and white vans, not making for easy walking), I returned to open country, passing to the east of St George\’s Retreat (a rapidly-expanding care home) and between the heathland and industrial buildings of Ditchling Common.
Joining the Sussex Border Path and crossing the Lewes branch of the railway, I saw a first glimpse of the South Downs in the distance. The path led into \’the Low Weald\’ – small fields of horses and grapes, and through a free range chicken farm. My second poultry encounter of the day was much more relaxed than the first: the chickens had obviously come to associate humans with food, so came rushing at me.
As I walked down the track, I looked back to see that I had attracted a retinue of the daft clucking creatures, reminding me of Bertrand Russell\’s admonition: \”Domestic animals expect food when they see the person who feeds them. We know that all these rather crude expectations of uniformity are liable to be misleading. The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.\”
Ditchling\’s narrow high street was clogged with cars, and The Bull was packed with prosperous munchers, giving the lie to the recession with their locally-sourced and exorbitantly-priced lunches. Following an old Roman Road busy with well-dressed dog walkers, I skirted Keymer, and arrived at Hassocks Station in time to catch a train under the looming Downs back to Brighton.
Stats: 8.7 miles, 14 km, 3.25 hours