Following in the footsteps of fishwives

Apologies for the recent absence of posts, but the endless colds of an eight-month old and the endless, endless rain of late have kept me safely indoors (and dry, at least). Today, for once, the sun was shining. Remember the sun? Remember the clear blue sky? Remember being able to leave the house without the unwelcome addition of a sweaty cagoule? Today was the day, and it was a perfect day for a morning trip over the Juggs.

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Juggs Road forms the downland path between Lewes and the small village of Kingston, and is part of an ancient route that cuts across the hills from Brighton to Lewes. If, like me, you like to avoid walks that see you creeping along main roads, lungs choking on exhaust fumes, then you’ll probably like this walk. It’s ideal for a Sunday morning, hilly enough that your legs get a work out, but short enough that you can be back in Lewes in time for your Sunday roast, and with views that will make you pause mid-stride, just to breathe it all in.

We cut across Lewes via the beautiful gardens of Southover Grange (a handy stones throw from the station), and turned onto Juggs Road just behind the Swann Inn, on Southover High Street.

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Juggs road takes it’s name from the baskets and earthenware jugs used by fishwives to carry their haul, as they made their way from Brighton to Lewes to sell their wares at market. Jugg (or Jug) was also a nickname for Brighton fishermen. Neolithic and Roman finds have also been recorded along the ancient ridgeway. Today the path is busy with ramblers, joggers, dog walkers, and desperate parents who have prised their young away from the computer screen. But don’t let that put you off, for despite the company, it’s still an extremely peaceful walk.

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The well-worn path straddles sheep-filled farmland, and all around us the last bursts of Autumn fade to Winter.

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The views as the path breaks into open-farmland are pretty spectacular, a panorama of green fields and soggy flood plains.

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The path leads you into Kingston village, and delivers you to the door of The Juggs. We turned around and took the path back to Lewes and home, and all in under two hours.

It was all too much for one member of the group.

It was all too much for one member of the group.

Happy New Year!

We captured the castle

We rubbed our eyes in disbelief when we awoke, for the gloom had lifted, the wind had blown the dark clouds clean away and the sun shone down from the sky, it’s rays bouncing off every surface in the garden. It was a perfect day to step into the tapestry of colour and changing life that has so excited me of late, as one season bursts forth from another.

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We took a trip to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex. The castle looks as if it has been drawn from a child’s fantastical imagination, all sweeping turrets and arrow-slit breaks in the weathered stone. The visit allowed me to continue to explore my love of the world around me at it’s transformative best.

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Within the walls of the castle I found such varied textures and colour.

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If you are in the area and in need of a day-trip, I would definitely recommend the castle. Aside from the fact that it’s super value for money (and you get to support the National Trust in the process), the staff are really friendly and keen to engage with young children about the history of castle, and the scenery surrounding the ruins is beautiful (especially viewed from the battlements).

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“Days decrease, And autumn grows, autumn in everything.”

I might have mentioned once or twice or a dozen times that Autumn is my favourite of all seasons. Not for me the blossoming explosions of light and colour of Spring, no for me, Autumn is the beginning, even if it is the beginning of the end. I managed to escape into the woods in a pause between torrents of rain, and thought I would share some photographs of my surroundings as nature’s palate transforms from the luscious technicolor of Summer to the burnt russets and golds and ochres of Autumn.

I’d love it if you would share your own thoughts or images in the comments.

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The Isle of Raasay

In a break from my usual Sussex-based wanderings (sporadic in nature of late, due to all manner of Autumnal colds and sniffles), I thought I would share some photographs from the beautiful Isle of Raasay, which I visited just over a year ago. I’m not sure I can convey the wonder of such a place, suffice to say the experience wanders often into my thoughts and when I daydream about a life with less people and cars and chaos, my mind tends to stray to this small Island.

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Standing on the edge of the world

We travelled the length of the country by sleeper train, and continued our journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochlash, where we (and many other tourists) hopped aboard the bus to take us over the bridge to Skye. We were the only ones to jump off the bus at Sconser, where we boarded the ferry to Raasay.

The Isle of Raasay is sandwiched between Skye and the Applecross Peninsular of the mainland, with the cool water of the Sound of Raasay on one side and the Inner Sound on the other. These fresh and unpolluted waters are home to a diverse array of marine life, including seals, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.

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Raasay, which in old Norse translates as ‘Roe-deer’, is the family home of the Macleod clan and the influence of this ancient clan is imprinted across the island. The family’s grand house is now an Outdoor Activity Centre, but stands proud and tall as a relic of the family’s dominance over Island life. These days tourism forms the basis of Raasay’s economy, but don’t let that put you off – we saw very few visitors during our week there but found the community very welcoming.

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In 1912 the company Baird & Co purchased the Island and began to mine for Iron. During the First World War a section of the village was requisitioned for use as a Prisoner of War Camp (our cottage had been used to house prisoners), and German prisoners were used to keep the mine running during wartime. The mine closed just a few years later, but it’s ruins dot this peaceful landscape like strange industrial skeletons, and serve as a reminder that although a large portion of the Island appears untouched, man has left his mark.

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The East Coast of the Island is a draw for fossil collectors. We explored the shores of the old crofting community of Hallaig, destroyed during the clearances. Although accessible, a good level of fitness is required to reach the coastline and it’s definitely a journey to set a day aside for. We hired bikes from the Island’s hotel and although we were not quite prepared to give our legs such a workout, the views made our aches and pains the next morning more than worth it, and in fact we repeated our visit the next day (gluttons for punishment). On the first day we followed the dusty road along the South East coast until it began to trace a zig-zag shape as it climbed towards the Jurassic cliff tops. Upon reaching a grassy path, we locked up the bikes and continued on foot, following sheep-trails as golden eagles swooped overhead. On the second day, we cut down to the shore by following the river on it’s path, past waterfalls and the ruins of crofter’s cottages until we reached the beach. Embedded into the rocky coast are ammonites and belemnites, and a vast variety of large Pleinsbachian bivalves.

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The most magical aspect of the Island is it’s ancient forests with floors of deep and spongy moss. We followed the well-marked miners trail, as well as exploring the forest near the main village of Invervarish.

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There’s so much more to this Island than I can possibly convey in a simple blog post. I haven’t even mentioned the incredible Calum’s road or the story of the Macleod Clan’s financial downfall (it has a lot to do with the stone mermaids, pictured above). It is quite simply one of the most magical and ethereal places I have visited and I long to return. If you plan to visit the Western Isles, don’t limit yourself to the tourist hub of Skye. Raasay might be just a fifteen minute ferry ride across the sound, but it’s a whole other world.

Berwick and Alciston – Bloomsbury, berries, and sea views

This is a walk to set a day aside for, which might surprise you given the relatively short distance between the villages of Berwick and Alciston. When researching this walk I saw the distance recorded as just over four miles, but I think it’s more likely seven/eight, as the trail winds itself round and around and up and down the downland paths, taking in rolling farmland, sea-views, and a windswept stretch of the South Down Way. This is not an experience to be rushed, even on an overcast day.

As non-drivers, we began at Berwick station and made our way towards the village, about a mile or so north. Although this is Ravilious country, with fine views of the Long Man of Wilmington, this is by far the least relaxing part of the walk. It’s hard to unwind with traffic thundering past on the main road immediately to your left, even if you escape to the relative safety of the cycle path.

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We stopped off at the Cricketers Arms in Berwick, to catch our breath after the dare-devil tactics required to make it across the A27 to the main village. The pub offers locally sourced food and ale, and although we arrived just short of midday, was already full to the brim with fellow walkers.

The baby fed and the dog revived, we crossed the lane to explore the church. The Church dates predominately from the 12th Century, but the presence of a grassy barrow to the right of the path indicates that this may well have been a sacred site since prehistoric times. The Church is probably best known for the frescos that adorn it’s internal walls, painted by the post-impressionist artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and is part of the Bloomsbury pilgrimage that also includes nearby Charleston Farmhouse and Monks House in Rodmell.

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After exploring the graveyard, we passed under a yew tree laden with berries and took the path on the left. This area is a jumble of criss-crossing public footpaths just waiting to be explored. We took the well-trod path that lay straight ahead, sliced across two arable fields with uninterrupted views of Firle Beacon to our right.

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Following the path past the paddocks, we took the track to the right, and walked on until we reached a three-pronged fork in the road.

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We chose the middle path, and this led us to the most exerting section of the walk, as the track wound steeply upwards towards the peak of the Downs, but we never really felt the effects of the climb, as we stopped so often to take in the views of the Cuckmere Valley to the left. This is an excellent place for foragers too, with hedgerows bursting with ripening blackberries, rose hips and elderberries.

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Reaching our summit, we turned right onto the South Downs Way until the sea came into view on our left. Past Cuckmere Haven, Seaford and the industrial silhouette of Newhaven, we followed a sheep track to our right until the car pack. A tarmacked track took us down again towards farmland and the gated path to Alciston, and here the landscape changed again as we found ourselves in a woodland dell.

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We followed a sunken path between the trees and turned towards the village at the memorial bench. The single-track road, rather than the public footpath, led us past the largest barn in the country (with 50,000 roof tiles!) and one of the most beautiful working farms I have ever seen, somehow unspoilt by the necessities of modern farming. Our walk ended at Alciston, but the footpath picks up again just short of the medieval church and leads back to Berwick.

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Glynde

Autumn is my favourite season of the year, and with it’s arrival upon us I couldn’t wait to get out into the countryside that surrounds me. With the rare luxury of a free afternoon ahead of us, my partner and I (with baby wrapped up against the wind) set out across the rolling downs to the village of Glynde. This is a rather energetic walk due to a few steep hills, but the views from the open downland definitely make the effort worthwhile.

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We began our walk in Lewes and climbed onto the downs via Chapel Hill, a winding and rather steep hill that leads you past sweet terraced cottages. Look out for cars speeding down from the Golf Club at the peak of the hill, and stick to the path on the right for  sweeping panoramic views of Lewes. It is worth the climb, for once you pass the Golf Club and make your way through gate, it is as if you have stepped into another world, with the town left far behind you. Follow the well-trod path to the left, and head down towards the Sussex Bottoms. Don’t forget to look at the life still blossoming around your feet.

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The scudding clouds cast long shadows across the sloping land around us. As we walked past the Sussex Bottoms, we could make out the ridges of the old field systems on the nearby hills.

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The walk then enters the Mount Caburn reserve, an area of ancient chalk grassland, which contains the bronze-age Caburn hill-fort. It’s possible to explore the remarkably preserved defensive ditches and ramparts that surround the summit of the Mount (which in actual fact is only 480ft high).  This is a wonderful spot for nature-lovers, as the wild flowers that flourish here during spring and summer attract several breeds of rare butterflies. Adonis, chalkhill blue butterfly, silver-spotted skippers, day-flying moths, such as the metallic green scarce forester and the red and black six-spot burnet have all been spotted in this area. It’s a fantastic place for a bit of bird-watching too, with Skylarks, meadow pipits, yellowhammers, corn bunting, kestrels and buzzards amongst the birds that inhabit the reserve. I’m really excited about making a return visit when the Hawthorn bushes and wild rose on the hillside turn red with haws and rose hips.

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Finally a bit of downhill as the path descends towards the village of Glynde, an architectural jumble of beautifully-maintained houses. It’s extremely easy to wile away an hour exploring the 18th century knapped flint church and surrounding streets. We couldn’t resist a slice of flapjack from the village shop/tearoom, but if you need something a little bit stronger than a cup of tea, there is a  pub selling local ales not too far from the train station.

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