29.02.20 Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex
I was keen to get two walks completed in February, just to get used to the walk, recover, repeat, cycle as quickly as possible. Lucky for me that it is a Leap Year giving me an extra day to schedule the walk and that Storm Jorge kept away for the large part of our walk.
The Cuckoo Trail in East Sussex is a 14 mile disused railway line from Heathfield down to Eastbourne on the coast. Given the recent weather, this tarmac trail promised dry conditions underfoot, so we walked 10 miles down the trail and back to complete the 20 miles.
My lovely friend Tracey volunteered to join me this time, along with my husband Neil (and our Springer Spaniel Ruby) and as we left home to drive to the start of the trail, the weather was doing its best to deter us. The forecast was for cold winds, sunshine and heavy showers – possibly hail at times.
Learning from Walk One, all the waterproofs came out this time – along with extra thermal layers to protect against the cold wind. The usual rucksack faffing took place with extra towels, layers , energy bars along with a whole array of glasses for eye protection for me.
I was wearing 5 layers when we set off – I was fully waterproof – I was prepared for anything 🙂
We arrived at the start of the route around 9.45 and were buoyed by the fact that a group of walkers were setting off ahead of us. It reassured us that we weren’t the only ones heading out for a long walk in the unpredictable weather.
We set the usual walking apps and headed off along the trail, quickly overtaking the ramblers so we could settle in to our own pace. The rain eased off and we were soon surrounded by the first signs of spring; primroses and the early shoots of wild garlic along the banks of the streams that we passed.
The trail has lots of references to its railway history including benches made from sleepers and train wheels. With 20 miles to cover, as tempting as they were, we paused only for photos..
Just a mile and a half into the walk , I realised that my phone app had closed again and my watch app had paused when I put my gloves on. Luckily Neil’s app was working fine so that became the measure for this walk – with the milestone markers on the route providing a crosscheck. My mission now is to sort these apps out before my next walk.
The weather continued to improve and the sun appeared. By now my 5 layers were proving to be about 3 too many, but we decided to push on and leave the extra faffing of removing layers until later.
The trail crosses several busy roads, but most of these have underpasses or tunnels so that you don’t interrupt the flow of this trail. Its a really thoughtful feature and also allowed for another tunnel photo..
We eventually emerged into a car park at Hailsham and it took us a few minutes to get our bearings and pick the trail up again heading out through a small housing estate back onto the old railway line. We reached the halfway marker 2 miles along and by now we were quietly confident that the forecasted hail in Hailsham was no longer a threat.
We walked back towards Hailsham and headed into The Grenadier for a quick coffee, comfort stop and,most importantly, the removal of layers.
We headed back out to the trail and were now keeping an eye out for my friend Sharon who was tracking me on her phone to catch us on the trail and walk the last leg of the route with us back to Heathfield. It was still breezy but we were refreshed from our pitstop and I felt much lighter without the layers of waterproofs.
A few miles on from Hailsham and we met Sharon & her hubbie Bruno just before the old Hellingly station. Bruno walked with us a short way before heading back to his car and Sharon stayed with us for the final 6 miles. Her fresh legs in the group bringing us a welcomed lift.
The trail was now much busier than it had been earlier in the day and we seemed to be going against the flow of ‘traffic’. The reason for this was about to become clear!
Whilst we had missed the bad weather, it had rained heavily after we passed through Hellingly on our way down the trail. When we had first walked through Hellingly there was a small ford in the lane from the high river, just down from where we crossed the lane on the trail. When we arrived back at this crossing point, we were faced with a fully flooded road blocking our way across. This was our only way back to the car but it was knee deep in the middle and fast flowing. Maybe I should have kept those waterproofs on after all..
This called for some team thinking – other walkers were turning round and heading back but that wasn’t an option for us as we wanted to complete the walk in full and get back to the car. We decided that if we couldn’t go over, or through it, then we had to find a way round it. The problem was that whilst we could get to the otherside of the road, we needed to navigate very small muddy banks and cross a fast flowing wide stream to get back on the trail.
Sharon with the freshest legs went first, and we followed her route. It was incredibly slippy on the banks but we made it round and faced the reality that we were now equally as stuck but just on the other side. The stream was too big to jump across with no real room for a ‘landing’ area. Surely we could construct a bridge of sorts.. take a look at this video clip to see the fabulous Sharon’s bridge .
OK,OK, so its just a branch but it got all 4 of us across!
Spurred on by our triumph, we headed along the final stretch with a can do attitude and a little extra adrenaline. We could tell we were nearing Heathfield as the path was filling up with dog walkers and young families catching the late afternoon sunshine.
The last mile always seems the longest in any walk – you can sense you are near the end and yet it seems to take much longer to get those steps moving you closer. Except for Neil .. our walk photographer and distance monitor. He just breezes along without any hint of tiredness , maybe its because he doesn’t waste extra energy chatting the miles away!
Last few words for this walk. 29th February coincidentally was rare disease day and as you know I am undertaking this challenge in aid of The Macular Society who supports research into rare eye conditions including Macular Dystrophies like mine. If you’d like to help you can make a small donation through my link here:
Now time to get ready for Walk 3 next Sunday 8th March – this one will be rather special as I am taking part in the Moorfields Hospital EYE to EYE London walk as part of this next 20 miler.