I’m coming to the end of a lovely week off. I’ve caught up with lost sleep, and written deep into the nights, so it will be a shock to go back to work on Monday. Reactions to Snow on the Roof seem to be generally positive, ranging from very kind (some Goodreads commenters) to the bizarrely inappropriate (my mother, who decided that this was the perfect opportunity to tell me about my late grandfather’s preferences in adult TV channels. Cheers, Mum).
Right now, little flakes of snow are fluttering about outside my window in a desultory way, but the week started with glorious bright weather. Nothing soothes my spirits and gets my muses singing like a long hike with glorious views, so I headed down to the South Downs to enjoy the sunshine. This stretch of the South Downs Way is a little to the east of Ewan’s village, about 40 miles south of where I live.
Here, to start, are the fields by Amberley Railway station. This was the lowest point of the walk, and it was still relatively early. At this point in the year, the shadows stay long all day, and frost lingers almost until noon.
From there the path runs up a lane delightfully named High Titten until you finally reach the top of the ridge. Here’s looking back down towards the Weald. You can just see the village of Amberley in the top right. Those cows were so intent on their breakfast that they didn’t even look up as I climbed past them.
The South Downs Way is a very accessible and popular path. I’ve walked the previous sections at weekends and in the summer and it’s always busy. This time, on a Monday in February, I only saw a handful of people all day. For most of the walk, it was the wind, the wildlife and me.
Oh, and a lot of cows.
About an hour and a half into my walk, I stopped for a second breakfast (why, yes, I am a hobbit) on the end of this ancient earthwork. There were earthworks and tumuli all along this stretch of the path, some huge and obvious and others just a mark on the map or rise of earth in the fields.
I stopped for lunch at Chactonbury Ring. This is an Iron Age hill fort up on Chactonbury Hill, which is a Marilyn (a hill of over 150m relative height, as opposed to a Munro, a mountain of more than 3000 feet). The Romans built temples here and in the 18th century it was planted with beech trees. Pretty much any ancient Sussex landmark comes with a story about the devil. Here, if you run seven times anticlockwise around the ring, he will appear and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul.
Mmm, soup (it was cold and windy up there).
The Great Storm of 1987 (if you are not British, substitute a mild synonym for high winds here) destroyed most of the original beech trees and they were replanted. In the intervening decades, they’ve almost regrown, but you can still see the uneven coverage here, looking back at the ring from further along the ridge.
Soon after that, I turned my back on the distant views of Shoreham and Brighton, and picked my way slowly back down into the valley.
There are few pleasures in life that can match a cold bright morning and a tall hill to conquer, with not another soul in sight, and the birds busy in the hedgerows. I came home feeling renewed.
What are your simple pleasures? What inspires you?