A solitary walk this morning with just the 2 dogs working the hedgerows in the distance, and me trying to finally free my head of the sights and sounds of last week…Moving, talking, singing, walking, map-reading, packing, playing tunes, listening, waiting, drinking…and then walking again.
The South Downs area is great walking country but it is more than that. There were some eyebrows raised when it became our latest National Park only a few years ago. Certainly it doesn’t have the wildness and remoteness of some of our other parks but it has a distinct shape and character and is just as precious, lying so close to a heavily populated area. Descending onto one of the busy roads you are immediately aware of the noise and pressure of ‘normal’ life – but up on the ridge you can find a peace and calm that is as timeless as the rolling chalk downlands themselves. From the emblematic cliffs of Beach Head and Seven Sisters, startlingly white on the day we were there, to the distant views across Sussex at Ditchling Beacon, the Graffham beech forests and the expansive views around the Meon Valley reminiscent of the Wessex Downs, this is a rural breathing space and a chance to live at a different pace.
With 30 walkers each day and 50 on one day and most of the gigs sold-out or full, this was a fantastic week. I am not sure how much bigger this can or should go, but everyone finds their pace and the ribbon of walkers stretches out and people find friends and meet their own personal goals. With the help of my walking mate Colin we try to keep it fun, even through the blisters. The fact that any of this can work is down to an incredible back-up team of Tom, Caz, Fran, Bev and many others, keeping us supplied at lunchtime and in the evenings; and the indefatigable Tim Porter, Oysterband sound-man, who was ready for us at every gig and made the transition from walking to gigging as easy as it could be.
For us in the Ramblers the transition is the most difficult part of the day. The hallowed, hidden, backstage area [as Boff put it] just disappears, with little time for preening and preparing and thankfully little time for nervousness and anxiety either. You have already achieved something that day so just roll into it and enjoy the gig…and we did. My huge thanks to Dil, Al, Tim, Benji, Boff and Rowan for special friendship and music.
For me it was wonderful to hear new songs like Black and White Bird, She Wrote her Name Today and Pierpoint’s Farewell come alive at night. Thanks to the woman who brought her chestnut horse to the pub at lunchtime. By day I just simply didn’t want some of the walks ever to stop. A great week. JJ