The South Downs Pilgrims’ Way. Part 3 of 3.

Day three. Storrington to Bramber.  ‘Hello … weird people!’

Waking up was such a lovely feeling. I had slept really well and felt thoroughly refreshed. Storrington Priory is massive. Currently it houses the Chemin Neuf Community who regularly open their doors for people seeking peace and a place to retreat as well as weary travellers. We had a lovely breakfast of cereals, fruit, toast and lots and lots of coffee (and tea). During breakfast, Will and Guy were interviewed by Alex, one of us Pilgrims, but also a journalist who was making a programme for BBC R4. We all had to shout hello at one point to prove to listeners that we really were a bunch of 36 people! I believe that particular shout out and interview was broadcast that morning on BBC Radio Sussex.

Storrington breakfast

Breakfast at Storrington Priory shortly before the ‘shout out’ to Radio Sussex

We made an unhurried but prompt exit from the Priory a little after 8 o’clock.  The weather was glorious but the forecast wasn’t – rain and rain and rain for the afternoon.  Everyone seemed in high spirits after their repast and rest of the night before though and the going was good.

We walked the morning in lovely sunshine and stopped at a church (location – not sure!) where in the fields opposite we were treated to the sight of three young stags springing around in a wheat field. Even though I have lived in a rural area for many years, this was something I had never seen before.  Tremendous. It was here that the three of us siblings were interviewed by Alex. She asked simple but relevant questions and we all responded without rehearsing or over thinking things.  In response to the question ‘what have you got out of this experience?’ I said something about relaxing, having the time to enjoy the things and the people around me.  Cathy said something about family and enjoyment, about thinking about the bigger things. Rob said “I have really enjoyed this. What it has taught me is that I know, I really know now, that I am definitely not a Christian”. Wish I’d said that.

Still walking in fabulous sunshine we made our way to our lunchtime destination of Findon.  Crossing ancient barrows and getting to know our fellow walkers better and better, the morning seemed to flow by. A lovely little funny developed when we were admiring an enormous Yew tree in a churchyard. I love Yew trees and I love their connection to churchyards and communities. Someone asked how old the tree might be. We all thought about it and some smart arse (my brother, Rob!) said ‘Reeealllly old’! Everyone called for Jim, who was out of earshot, our resident Tree Surgeon. He came up, took a long look at it, shook his head and sucked in some air, then said ‘Hmmm, pretty old, that.’  Actually, he did indeed know his trees and was a constant source of interest, so thanks Jim! And Rob!

Unbeknownst to most of us, the original arrangements for lunch (a buffet in a pub) had fallen through when the pub had recently changed hands. So we arrived at Findon Church – waited for the departing congregation to leave – and were joined by the people who had fed us at Arundel, with a car loaded up to the hilt with goodies! We ate  a lovely meal of bread, cheeses, meats, olives, salad vegetables, fruit and cake, sitting on tombstones, chatting away and casting the odd glance up to the skies where ominous clouds were gathering, and checking our devices for the most up to date forecasts!! This may be a Pilgrimage folks, but technology is definitely not eschewed! Thank goodness.  I think even medieval pilgrims would have made use of any available technology and that’s exactly what we were doing.

 Storrington to Findon. Rob and Jim talking trees. Lunch on a tombstone!

Refreshed, we began again towards Cissbury Ring. The forecast took a serious turn when it was upgraded to thunder and lightening – sounded like good fun! In the event we didn’t get either but it was wet and everyone’s wet wear came out again.  Time for my poncho again. Oh I do love it!  Just reach for it from a side pocket and slip it over your head, let the whole thing fall over you and your pack, no need to even break your stride.  Doesn’t need to be breathable or technologically clever in any way because the air circulates underneath it.  Perfect!

Ponchos

Poncho selfie (nearly!).

Cissbury Ring. What a place. An Iron Age hill fort. Magical is just not a strong enough word to describe how this place feels. Or felt to me.  It was peaceful yet strong and there were horses! Well, wild ponies really but they were pretty, shy and yet totally at ease with their home.  Some of us did try to ‘commune’ with them but they simply weren’t interested in us humans.  They’d let you get quite close, but then would calmly just get up and walk away from you.

We all took our packs off, those of us who could kicked our shoes off and some just went and explored the huge plateau on their own.  Some of us sat down and took some time out, even flat out, sky watching.

Ponies, chilling and communing on Cissbury Ring.

We were led another merry dance by Maxine and it was indeed very merry. I think we had all relaxed into the mood completely now and there was a little bit of ‘de-mob’ fervour going on because we knew our final destination was near.  We gave thanks to nature really, on Cissbury Ring.  Nature and life.  As a last gesture, in a circle facing inwards, those who wanted to were encouraged to get down on hands and knees and place our foreheads on the soft wet grass. We all did it. Must have looked strange …. a very sprightly, fit, strong, grey- haired woman appeared at this very moment from the other side of the plateau.  She was striding along, a vintage picnic hamper in her hands and blanket under her arm.  She did look a bit startled.  She stopped momentarily as she passed by those of us on all fours. “Hello (pause) … weird people!” she said and moved swiftly on. I think some of us did manage a perky ‘Hello!’ back. What a fabulous little mantra to be left with! Quite proud of being a ‘weird person’.

After some larking about playing an old game with our sticks and watching people trying to do the walking through your stick trick, we took a few more photos, including our end of tour ‘staff meeting’ and we were ready for the final leg of the pilgrimage.  From Cissbury to Bramber.

Last ‘staff meeting’.  Me, Antje with Stephen and Matilda!

When we finally left the pathway down into Bramber some hours later it did seem really odd to see tarmac roads, cars seemed to be moving so quickly! And that was after only two days of off-roading! We stopped at Bramber Castle, memorably described by Will as a ‘Norman erection’ and the first thing I did was to take off my boots. I was just a couple of miles away from blistering so was very pleased to be putting on my sandals and letting fresh air onto my feet.

The SDPW!!

Everyone who started and finished in front of a ‘Norman Erection’. Bramber, 23rd July.

Our very last visit was to St Mary’s House and Gardens.  Dating back to the mid 15th century and originally built as a refuge for Pilgrims, this house has been lovingly restored and sustained by its elderly but razor-sharp owner occupiers.  We drank water from the well which is situated in the cellar now and a brief tour was offered. Unfortunately, it was nearing 7pm and reluctantly we had to turn our attention to 21st century matters such as jumping in a taxi to get us to Shoreham for our train journey back to Eastbourne.  Through hastily swapped contact details we said our goodbyes.  I wish I had been able to say goodbye to everyone properly.

So there we were on the train back, all three of us deliciously tired. I can only speak for myself but the weekend had given me an insight into what it takes to relax me yet keep me stimulated.  It was a retreat from the hustle, and I had felt a shift, as if a switch had clicked within me.  I was all calm and serene. Even having the misfortune to encounter the rudest taxi driver ever at Eastbourne station didn’t disturb my equilibrium …. but that’s almost another story!!

As a bit of a post script I can tell you now that as I bring this three-part blog to a close over two weeks later, I still feel refreshed and re-charged by the whole experience.  I will definitely be joining the BPT again.

 

 

 

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