Stage 241, 30th November: Newhaven to Worthing
Over forty-one weeks I had tried to think barely more than one step ahead of myself. Yes, I had planned things thoroughly from well before I started and yes, I had to consider back-up and support sometimes months ahead. However, my walking mindset had been firmly fixed on no more than two or three days ahead and only now again affording myself the luxury of considering maybe a week ahead. Now I was thinking beyond a week and thinking of what I had to do when I got home. The end had begun.
Today was my first and only day without a support driver and was also all a bit of a blur. It started with a taxi ride from Worthing back to my start point at Newhaven and the expensive fare was lightened when the driver generously returned his tip as a donation. I had an hour or two of peaceful cliff top walking before social interaction picked up somewhat. Firstly, I met up with Murray, an MS sufferer, who had followed my blog since he came across it in an SIA publication back in June. He joined me on the under-cliff path into Brighton where a small group were loitering at the end of the pier waving in my direction. Ray and Suze, who I had last seen in the wilds of West Scotland, turned up with his family and friends including Paul and his wife who knocked me into a double take, “you what?” of delight as he announced a huge pledge for my efforts. I was genuinely humbled by his generosity and enthusiasm and I couldn’t refuse the opportunity of a sit down lunch courtesy of Ray.
Paul, Ray, Suze and party kept me a little longer than planned, but it was time I surely owed them and a few miles in the dark along Worthing seafront were a price worth paying. Remarkably, a late November seafront in Brighton was still busy. The self-styled London-by-the-Sea was certainly bustling as crowds milled about the promenade, some even stopping for an alfresco sit down and a drink. I did however note that most were sensibly wearing a winter woolly and supping a hot cuppa.
By Hove, Murray too had left me but within minutes a tall John strode into view and insisted I had, what I suspected would be, my last ice cream from Martello’s. I’d last seen John back in Lancashire with his underarm girlfriend, Cardboard Karen. He had kindly stepped in at very short notice to drive Snickers for a few days this week and with James due to arrive on Thursday the duo had collectively saved my skin when the last hurdle looked as if it had become Becher’s Brook.
John left me to enjoy the less picturesque parts of Portslade and Shoreham before I made my way into Worthing for my last meeting of the day with another cousin Gareth. I apologised for my late arrival but he seemed nonplussed and took me straight down to his sailing club for a couple of pints and a quick lasagne. Today? A bit of a blur? Yes – but with no complaints whatsoever.
Stage 242, 1st December: Worthing to Aldwick Bay nr Bognor
It was back to normality as John joined me to take Snickers’ keys from my hands. I set off down the promenade and hugged the shingle beach tops all the way to Littlehampton. A brief beach walk at Climping was the first for a while and was only spoilt by the rumble of more huge tipper trucks moving shingle for sea defences, this time from East to West. A couple of days ago back in Seaford they were moving shingle from West to East. I did wonder whether there were dozens of trucks all along the South coast moving shingle in opposite directions just for the hell of it or whether they were actually swapping it somewhere in the middle, just for fun.
Middleton-on-Sea tried to block access to the seafront with a row of pretentious mansions proclaiming private beach ownership and exclusivity. Not below the high water line it isn’t and I enjoyed skipping over the groynes and not having to divert inland for the sake of more of the ‘English Private’ disease.
I was soon in Felpham and it anonymously merged into Bognor as neither town thrilled me with anything other than an enormous and all dominating holiday park. To me the central South coast towns had all been very pleasant, but none had knocked me sideways with anything really special. If it wasn’t for Beachy Head and The Seven Sisters, this whole strip along the English coast would have just been “rather nice”if more than a little overrated. However, I suppose it should be noted that I did just pass through in Winter.
I ended the day waiting for John at the gates of the rather “exclusive” Aldwick Bay Estate. As I stood there, a little dishevelled from a long day, residents drove by in their 4x4s and BMWs or walked by wearing Hunter wellies with their well-groomed hounds in tow. Without exception, all looked at me with mistrust and suspicion in their eyes. Clearly they feared that I was about to steal their car, rob their Rolex from their wrist and burgle their palatial pile. The estate was, to my eyes, vile. It was everything I dislike about Southeast England all neatly tied up in a square mile or two of greed, arrogance and vulgar displays of wealth. I’m sure there were lovely people living there, certainly Jill was very friendly and generous to my cause, but I was glad to get back to normality and park Snickers up on the driveway of John’s friends house for an evening of grand company and use of a decent shower.
Stage 243, 2nd December: Aldwick Bay nr Bognor to West Wittering
I didn’t give the Aldwick Bay Estate a chance to redeem itself by walking through it. Instead I headed straight back to the shingle beach to wade through a sea of pebbles along the shore toward Pagham and an inland muddy trudge around the marshes of Pagham Harbour. Drizzle accompanied me for a while, but as the rain died away a North wind picked up and my nose volunteered a few dew drops to warn me of a rapidly falling temperature. By the time I was back alongside the sea, today had become decidedly chilly.
It wasn’t long before I turned another notable corner at Selsey Bill and came across a rather significant sight. I could see the Isle of Wight again. I’d not seen her since February. I sat out of the wind in the shelter of the sea-wall and ate my lunch looking across the water and watching a ferry coming out of Portsmouth. It was beginning to really dawn on me that the end was nigh and that I was going to complete the whole thing. Emotions were mixed. I couldn’t say what those emotions were as I don’t think I knew myself, but they were all over the place. It was only my freezing numb hands which kicked me into action by digging into my rucksack for a thick pair of gloves and I needed to get moving again to stay warm.
Another inland diversion flew by and it felt as if I was back at the coast in East Wittering within minutes and not the ninety or so it had taken me. Thoughts, whatever they were, had eaten time and the light was fading as I met John sat in West Wittering car park with the engine running and the heaters full on.