Distance walked: 37.2 km
I was up early from my comfy Travelodge bed and I hit the trail before 08:30am. It was tempting to simply bee line to the nearest bit of Wealdway and just get walking but I’d only be cheating myself. So I back-tracked the mile or so to Hellingly church and set off from there.
On the way to Hellingly my opinion of Sussex farmers was confirmed. The path I had planned to take had been entirely obliterated by a field of wheat. So I was forced to trudge slowly along the overgrown verge beside the busy A267
The first place I discovered, just south of Hellingly, right beside the Wealdway path, was Horselunges Manor, a timber framed Elizabethan manor house, surrounded by formal gardens and enclosed by a high wall and a moat (Yes, a moat! How posh is that?) It even has a working drawbridge. The house was owned by Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, until his death in 1995. I don’t know who lives there now but I do know she has two large dogs because she returned home whilst I was admiring the moat.
Just 500 metres further on, the Wealdway path passes through the derelict Horsebridge Mill. This place cries out for a creative photographer (not me) to spend some time here. I took some photos to whet your appetite.
Beyond Horsebridge, the trail twists and turns as it passes through a modern housing estate. I only found my way through by checking local knowledge in the form of two old ladies and a postman. But eventually the walker emerges at the A22, through a small, overgrown gap in a scratchy hedge. Crossing the busy A22 safely, at this time of the morning, takes courage, skill, determination and patience, but it can be done.
The next four kms is challenging. The waymarking is poor to non-existent, signage is damaged or rotten and the path has seen no maintenance for years. The brambles and stingers have reclaimed their territory. I got lost several times, saved only by map and compass, walking on a bearing. This section was very time-consuming.
After a tortuous ramble, I reached Michelham Priory where two ladies were exercising their horses under the watchful eyes of ‘Inky’, a fearless black guard dog.
Inky, black as your hat, was pretending to be fierce, and making quite a convincing job of it but a few kind words and he was soon my friend. He let me go on, to Bede’s amazingly well-equipped sports ground.
Another blooming unmanned railway crossing. This one with tracks in both directions. I’d really prefer a bridge. From the top of the second stile I can see the Long Man of Wilmington.
Throughout the day, the Long Man of Wilmington was often visible in the distance. The Wealdway passes him very close by, so at 7:00pm I was standing at his feet. The neolithic men of Wilmington village made him by cutting turf from the hillside to reveal the white chalk just below the surface.
Towards the end of the day, I had to cross the road leading up to Folkington Reservoir. My curiosity got the better of me. There was nobody about, so I jumped the gate and went up to have a look. The reservoir is set in a 5.7 hectare site with SSSE status. The view from the top was amazing.
I got the train home from Polegate. There’s only about 20 km left now, from Folkington Church to Eastbourne Pier. Would make a nice family day out walking.