The Belloc Way is taking shape. The project is not yet finished, but there is an end in sight. We have now walked its full length for the first time. It was just under 100 miles and we did so over six days, averaging about 16.5 miles a day and walking Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday of the first two weeks of August.
The core group was four. We were three men and one woman and on different days, we were joined by various other members.
The challenge all along was to devise a walk that was true to the spirit of Belloc, but which at the same time, would be attractive to walkers. I have therefore tried to avoid roads wherever reasonably possible; not always easy given that the original walk was almost exclusively on public roads.
The Belloc Way Week 1
The night before we started, we stayed at The George. It has new owners. Some of the Belloc memorabilia had been destroyed in the move and they knew little about Belloc himself. The first day took us to Blackboys by way of Brightling, Mad Jack Fuller and his follies. It goes through the High Weald and enjoys some lovely countryside and great views. It was probably the part of the route I knew least. Perhaps because of that it was one of my favourite days.
Day 2 took us from Blackboys, through Uckfield by way of a surprisingly pleasant through path. Then it was over Piltdown Golf Club, where there is no shortage of signage, but it did not all seem to be entirely accurate! After that it was on to Fletching, which has to be one of the most unspoilt villages in Sussex. Sadly, at that point it started raining and didn’t relent for the rest of the day. Heaven Farm was far from that and by the time we reached Ardingly, we were all soaked to the bone.
The rain stopped overnight and it was sunny as we walked out of Ardingly down the hill to the reservoir with the Ouse Valley Viaduct in the background. In fact, as we neared the Viaduct it was apparent that much of it is currently swathed in scaffolding while repointing work is carried out. Then on to Staplefield, under the M23, Slaugham and Warninglid, before reaching the Crabtree and on to the old Railway Station at West Grinstead.
Resuming walking on Tuesday the following week, took us to the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Consolation and St Francis in West Grinstead where Belloc is buried and then on to Kings Land in Shipley where he lived most of his life. His descendants do still live there but clearly care little for living in an historic building as I had the front gate closed in my face as I tried to take a photo of it. That was fast forgotten though as we walked on through the Knepp Estate of rewilding fame, before crossing the A24 and on to The Fountain in Ashurst and then to Steyning.
First thing the next morning, it was Steyning to Washington, home to what was in Belloc’s day the Washington Inn and ‘the very best beer I know’. It is now the Frankland Arms and whilst it is a perfectly serviceable pub, you would be very hard pressed to describe its beer as the ‘best’. From Washington the route took us to Sullington where the priest came out of the church as we sat having a mid-morning break to offer us communion, a first, at least for me. Then it was on to Storrington, Parham Park and The Bridge at Amberley, another pub Belloc was fond of. The afternoon saw us push on to Bury, West Burton and finally to Sutton where there is a pub I am very fond of, The White Horse.
The final day, we walked out of Sutton on a lovely morning heading towards the Downs over a freshly harvested field. It was beautiful and would have been little changed over the centuries for all Belloc’s misgivings. The next stop was Duncton and The Cricketers (you should have noticed a theme by now); then Graffham, Heyshott and Cocking. Up on to Cocking Down and along the South Downs Way for a few miles before reaching the Devil’s Jumps and then down to Elsted and The Three Horseshoes, where the Four Men broke bread and pledged each other for the last time. From there, just like the Four Men: ‘ … and then again we took the road, and went forward as we had gone forward before, until we came to Harting.’
It has to be said there was a sense of satisfaction when we finished, tempered by a realisation that there is still work to be done. I am proposing to do a commentary as an aide to anyone planning to do the walk. It would include maps, directions and some basic information about places of interest along the route. This is almost finished.
David Green, Trustee