I walked to Forest Row last week, a walk of about 20 miles that I will remember for many years. It took three days, though some people can do the walk in one. My daughter Sophia and I set out at seven in the evening and reached the Anchor Inn in Barcombe at nine, just in time for a glass of wine and a quick meal and then a bed down in our warm sleeping bags and all-weather bivvy bags in an adjacent field, with the river at our heads. I was woken later by splashing in the river and hoped we wouldn't get trampled on by an otter or rat. Next morning we woke early and set off up the Ouse, swimming after breakfast in a gently sloping swimming hole surrounded by himalayan balsam and honeybees. A short while later we passed a woman who must have been about 80, lustily smashing rubble off bricks a a volunteer with the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust, repairing the lock at Isfield. There we once 19 locks on the Ouse, which could, in their heyday 130 years ago, be navigated all the way to Haywards Heath. Their restoration, one by one, is a courageous act, and may prove to be important to life after cheap oil. After Isfield we headed off towards the pretty village of Fletching, where we had lunch and stocked up on provisions. That prompted a little nap in a field, then we got distracted by field mushrooms growing in fairy rings. We got lost later in the Sheffield Forest and arrived in Chelwood Gate at six, just as it started to rain. After supper of (field) mushroom risotto with friends we set up camp on the Ashhdown Forest, most of which is closely-grazed heathland. We spread our sleeping mats out and did some shooting-stargazing, on the night of the gorgeous Perseads. Because there was no moon, and little light pollution, the stars were like a blazing blanket above our heads. We camped in a little copse, sensing that wild camping on the Forest is frowned upon. I slept deeply, belly to belly on the soft, pine-scented soil. We slept late, and emerged to amble over to Gylls Lap on the other side of the Forest, meeting friends for a picnic before walking in to Forest Row.
Apart from the joy of spending uninterrupted time with my daughter, what struck me was how gentle and - feminine - the experience was. Walking over the land, a slow exploration, is kind and non-violent, especially compared to the cars we encountered a couple of times. Walking through fields of corn and wheat, at the beginning, which gave way to sheep and cattle towards the Forest, you get to know the land's intimite details, to appreciate the roll and the plains, the brooks and the different trees. I was strangely moved by the experience. My body ached by the end of the walk, but I feel great now and I'm longing to walk again, further, longer, to be, as Satish Kumar recently said in his talk in Glynde, not a tourist on Earth but a pilgrim.