With patchy sleep due to nerves, I found myself wide awake with about six hours of on/off napping to fuel me. The sun rose as I packed up before the morning dog walkers were out of bed and started my day early.
With my buff wrapped on my head to keep me warm, I set off at 5am with the sun rising. I could see the incredibly red sky peeking between the trees, promising a decent view. As I walked, I munched on a protein bar for breakfast, thinking ahead to where my next water top-up could be. I was starting to ration.
As I stepped onto the perfectly-manicured golf course, I couldn’t believe the view, with the dew visibly hanging above the grass in a mysterious way and the sky giving everything a warm, orange glow.
I went in search of a coffee shop, walking along quiet roads leading me to Lindfield and past churches, still too early for even the vicars to be stirring. I tried to silence my footsteps along gravel driveways but failed with each crunchy step, no doubt disturbing the sleeping households on either side.
Realising how early it was, I would struggle to find a coffee shop open, so I powered through hamlets and towns, checking pub and convenience store opening times and failing to find anything of use.
Lindfield was completely empty, and the footpaths leading me out of there and into surrounding fields were decorating me with spiders’ webs, formed hastily overnight and destroyed in seconds by my bounding body. I had to walk with my hands in front of my face to stop them from reaching my mouth, eyes, and nose.
As the sun rose, the glow became less orange and more yellow, giving off a comfortable heat. Above every field and hedge with even the slightest bit of greenery hung the dewy mist, leaving every picture I took, mental and physical, looking absolutely magical.
Around 6:30am, I cross a stile into a field with two mother horses and their foals. A little apprehensive, as I know horses can be protective of their young, I walked carefully through the middle, making soothing noises and clicking in that way horses like. The mothers stared me down as I walked by, the babies curiously peering around their protective mothers’ figures, but by keeping my distance, I had no bother crossing to the other side of the field.
As I walked into Costells wood, an option I considered for wild camping yesterday, I thanked my stars that I stopped where I did, as there was little in the way of clearings or tent-friendly areas. Despite being an open-access area, I couldn’t see how to get further into the wood. I took the path towards the car park and walked a little along the private road lined with expensive cars. I cross a stile and head back into the rolling fields of Sussex.
I know I must stop strategically to ensure I have an appropriate rest for the long day ahead, but as the day is open-ended, I’m unsure where that will be or when. Right now, I’m appreciating the quiet Sunday morning and loving the views.
Sometime around Hammer Wood, I realise I don’t have my air pods in my pocket. I hope they’re wrapped up in my sleeping bag, but a stop and repack of my bag doesn’t uncover them, so I imagine they’re resting on the forest floor where I packed up!
Walking through Wapsbourne Wood, I pass by two potential campsites I was considering for yesterday’s finish point and laugh at my optimism. I wouldn’t have made it this far before dark. Wise choices were made.
At the A275, I walk along the road towards the Bluebell Railway and Sheffield Park station. Before I get there, I see a small signpost for the Ouse Valley way that means I can cut off the main corner. The gate opens, leading me to the same footpath I was about to dogleg, so I take the 300m shortcut. I think this is the path anyway, so I’m not complaining.
The river is on my left again, looking larger than ever, then before the wood, it moves away from me to the left while I continue straight towards Newick.
I need to the toilet quite badly, and I’m worried I will have to find a secluded bush if I don’t stop soon. That thought is interrupted by a runner coming down the hill that I’m about to climb, and I suppress any urges I have, or have had, to save face. We pass each other with an overly jolly ‘morning,’ and I continue onwards, hoping the pub in Newick is open.
There is a lot of road walking on this route, but I’m enjoying the picturesque countryside and cute little sections of woods. After a further 400m, I branch onto a road leading into Newick. A pavement appears on the left-hand side of the road, and I move across, excited to come into civilisation. I can see a shop up ahead, and I can’t wait to get some cold water and stop rationing my current supply.
I walk into the shop, pick up two litres of water from the fridge and ask, trying not to sound desperate, if they have a toilet. He looks at me with sad pity as he tells me they don’t. I thank him and make my way to the pub across the road, hoping for a miracle.
The plan is to wait out the pub opening. I’ve got time to rest as it’s only 9am, and I’ve already walked 8 miles this morning. I again peel off my shoes and socks to reveal sopping wet, dew-laden socks and shoes. I lay them out in the sun to try and slide on my flip-flops for comfort. I noticed the door to the pub was open, so I left my kit on the benches outside the pub and hobbled in. They’re not serving breakfast, but I’m allowed to use the toilet. THANK GOD!
As I walk back out, visibly relieved, a man behind the bar, a kind and gentle man, tells me he’ll make me a coffee if I don’t mind waiting for him to finish an order of six flat whites. I want to tell him I love him, but I play it cool and tell him, “no problem,” and return 15 minutes later to pay.
I camped out in Newick for around 3 hours, waiting for the pub to open, and provide me with fries. As the clock strikes 12, I walk in to order, and they’re already waiting at the till for me.
During my rest time, I looked ahead for convenient places to pitch a tent or campsites along the way. I called one promising campsite to see if they have space and how to get there (it’s unclear on the website). The woman who takes my call tells me from the path it’s hard to get to the campsite. She even toys with the idea of ferrying me across the River Ouse in a canoe, but after some back and forth about logistics, she tells me to walk to Lewes, where she’ll collect me from the Tesco superstore. It’s funny that the river has gone from a small babbling brook to an unfortunate barrier between me and the comfort of a campsite.
While this is a significantly further trek than I anticipated today, I agree; I’m a little nervous but excited to see if I can. She describes a bridge along the Ouse Valley path, where I will confirm my collection time. I’m eternally grateful and feel a boost now that I have an endpoint.
I devour my fries, pack up my things and start along the road again. Yay, more road walking. I walk out of town, passing the church and some old-style houses, and take a left turn down a quieter road, which climbs 24m to a small gate leading me back into the fields. My feet start to suffer, and my boots are ripped in critical places. They’re leaking and damaging my feet; this is almost certainly their last adventure!
The field I walk into takes me quickly onto a gravel track, which leads me past a large herd of cows in an adjoining field. Separated only by a flimsy bit of electric fencing, which I’m not sure is even on, the cows start mooing aggressively at me as if I have their lunch. I felt a little uneasy! I hop a stile, and they follow me as far as they can along the edge of the field.
I left the mooing behind as I crossed more fields, and around the back of the cow field, crossed another small road and started walking towards the even larger River Ouse.
After hours of crisscrossing the river, I’m now to walk alongside it and will follow it to Lewes. Since it’s all flat and quite a hot day, it’s tempting to jump in. I can see people swimming, canoeing and SUPing in it; I’m jealous.
I walk down through the flat green fields, dipping into woodlands occasionally. On the map, I spot the end of the River Uck, which goes up to Uckfield, and I crossed during the Vanguard Way expedition (my first long-distance hike).
I make my way along, keeping the river to my left until I reach White Bridge, where I cross the river, passing a Duke of Edinburgh group, looking much more tired than I feel, and now I need to keep the river on my right.
I’m getting into familiar territory, passing dogs and other day walkers. The area is quite exposed, with no shade to cover me. My original plan was to get to these fields, which house a campsite I’ve stayed in before. The toilet caravans are there, but the fields are empty of tents, and I think they’re locked. If I stopped here, I’d have over 17 miles tomorrow, so trying to do as much as possible before the last day tomorrow has worked out well. I’m only 4 miles into my second leg of the day (12 miles total) and feeling confident I can get to Lewes.
At the end of the campsite, I get to a remarkable, dismantled railway and walk under the bridge. It’s the most ‘complete’ dismantled railway I’ve seen, with the structure still intact and the sleepers still laid.
The following field is usually full of cows but is currently housing patrons of the Anchor Inn, not far up the way, struggling to paddle their hired boats and sunbathing in the blazing early afternoon sun. I was planning on stopping for a drink here, but with the new goal of Lewes, I decided to power on to Barcombe Mills.
At the Anchor Inn, I cross over the river again and take a left through a large field-turned-car park. In the middle of the grassy space is a huge helicopter, looking like it’s just landed, with a family taking pictures in front of it. I skirt around the edge of the field, trying to keep clear in case it decides to make a hasty exit, and head towards the marshy overgrown area at the back.
A man with his dog passes by, giving an enthusiastic hello, and he lets me pet the dog. Score! The added dog boost carries me past the reservoir and onto the increasingly busy footpath. Families have brought tents, BBQs and large amounts of food and drink to bask in one of the hottest weekends of the year so far. I’ve layered up and decided to hike with a full pack on my back. I think I know who made the right choice of how to spend the weekend when I catch a glimpse of my tomato-red face in the glint of a child’s ice lolly.
Finally getting to the other side of Barcombe Mills, I cross over the first-ever toll bridge in Sussex. The sign says it dates back to 1066, and the site of a flour mill that was mentioned in the doomsday book but sadly burnt down in 1939.
I walked from the mills, along the road and onto the main road. This small amount of road walking was a busy point and a little nerve-wracking. I escaped the terrifying road, along the footpath and into a field, deciding this was an excellent place to pause in the shade. I removed my boots and socks again to let them breathe, took in as much water as possible, and broke into the remaining snacks. I spent time thinking about the pillbox in the dip of the field, trying to figure out what it would have been observing during its useful days.
Once I felt suitably rested, I continued through sheep fields and across little inlets of the river I was following. I passed by another section of a disused railway, not as well preserved, but still obviously railway, and made my way towards the tiny hamlet of Hamsey.
Crop fields are all I can see throughout this walking section, making for a boring walk. I get up to Cowlease farm, happy for the buildings to break up the mundane crop fields, only to be greeted with the harrowing sight of a dead rabbit in my path.
I enter Hamsey for more delightful road walking, and my feet start to throb, so I decide not to stop again until I get to Lewes. Starting is the most painful point. This is where I hoped to stop, the campsite just across the river. I can actually see it just across from the church.
At mile 8.5 of the second leg (17 total miles so far), it’s only 2km to Lewes. The views are getting picturesque again, with the South Downs in the background and Lewes starting to come into the foreground. I walk almost right up to the train line, beginning to see more and more walkers. They seem faster than me now, and I think my pace has slowed, but I keep going, one foot after the other. There are cows past the next gate and throughout the field, forcing me to alternate between the upper and lower footpaths to avoid the herds.
The bridge over to South Malling, taking me to the Tesco, is now visible, and it’s starting to hit me that I’ve walked from Haywards Heath to Lewes. That’s a long way! My feet are pulsing, and the scout in me pushes me to keep going until the bench I know is outside that Tesco. I’ve let the campsite lady know I’m at her marker point, and she’s on her way. The small park next to the Tesco has a fairground running, so I must dodge through mobile homes and fencing to get to my finish line.
Arriving at the Tesco 30 minutes after closing time doesn’t bother me; I had hoped to get some sneaky snacks, but I’ll do that tomorrow. I breathe a sigh of relief as I remove the bag from my shoulders, dumping it onto the bench; the most satisfying feeling all day.
I don’t have to wait long to be collected in the range rover full to the brim with horse paraphernalia that reminds me of my mum. The lovely lady drives me to the campsite, which is frustratingly close to the river at Chalkham farm.
I can see the church at Hamsey from the other side now and have a moment to pitch the tent and get my tent pitched. Once I’m settled, the woman informs me a few too many times about how to use the showers, and I take the hint. I need one!
I’m excited to learn that tomorrow, I can walk across their land to get back to Lewes, adding around 2.5 miles to my ten remaining miles, though less than walking the main road route! Thank you.
My dinner is a Firepot mushroom risotto, which I pick at a little, then lay down to relax for just a moment. I woke at 10pm, fully clothed and a little chilly outside my sleeping bag. I try eating more of my now cold dinner, but it’s fruitless, and I pass out until 9am the following day.
Distance Walked: 18.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 729ft
Time Taken: 6hrs 30mins
Day 1 – https://meganrunsandeats.com/2023/02/24/the-sussex-ouse-valley-way-day-1/
Day 3 – https://meganrunsandeats.com/2023/03/10/the-sussex-ouse-valley-way-day-3/
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