Palm Springs Hiking Trails Map

Finishing the last of the Sisters I ease down gently to Birling Gap for more tea and a slice of carrot cake. Every year the sea pounds the cliffs; erosion is inevitable and one day the cafe and another house will be lost. I leave wondering when, as I always do.

I’m halfway on this route now and turn inland, away from the sea. The breeze drops and I climb from Birling Gap to my native Downs, rolling and bumping along around me. The usual reminders appear: the bent bush, forced sideways from years of wind; the abandoned farm hut shaded by a few trees. I cross the road west of Friston, my head flicking left and right for traffic as Red strains on the lead. Into the small copse I have to remember the right direction and a slippery trail descends, emerging into a field surrounded by flint stone walls and a solitary oak tucked in one corner. Sometimes I rest under its boughs but not today. The trees are bare and even the daffodils have only just blossomed. I resent winter stealing my cherished summer.

Wide tracks on the familiar one now. A mountain bike approaches and we share a nod – no words but a smile recognises the perfect afternoon – his gears click up as tyres crunch and he speeds away. Red plays with another collie and then thirty minutes of silence as my path cuts through the woods. Occasionally I feel the warmth on my face. I reach Westdean again, running my hand along the flint walls, watching the chickens scatter and I turn right to climb up by Charleston Manor. The temperature has dropped, the sun is lower, the White Horse in shadow now and the Cuckmere River full to the brim with tidal flow. I see the church and the bridge at Alfriston and check my watch to see if I have time for one last cuppa at the Singing Kettle.

Palm Springs Hiking Trails Map Photo Gallery

The legs tire but my endorphins come alive. I head through the field where the same horse still grazes, lifting his head to check Red as his tail flicks at flies. A few cars squeeze through Litlington, where signs on gates offer produce such as jams, eggs or honey. Glasses clink outside the Plough and Harrow as laughter spills from inside. After turning down the alley a few yards further on I spill back out by the river and now the path is flat back to Alfriston. Ducks splash and cows nonchalantly glance my way before they return to chewing the grass. I look forward to the late summer when I will pick samphire from the banks.

The white, wooden bridge brings me back into the village. The Smugglers Inn pub, built in 1345, faces me as I emerge into the centre by the old market cross. Buildings graced with red brick, flint, dark beams or colourful paints stretch through the High Street, where the village store still looks the same as it must have done for the last fifty years. An occasional car waits for traffic to come up the hill as there is only room for one vehicle. A dog, tied to a post whilst his owner browses in the ice cream shop, barks at Red and he retorts.

I enjoy a last pot of Earl Grey outside the Singing Kettle as I slouch on a metal chair and catch the last of the sun before it sinks behind the rooftops. Spoons clink on china, jam drops to scones and teacakes are buttered. The waitress brings me a bowl for Red as he pleads with those customers willing to forego a small morsel of scone, looking innocent as I catch him begging.

After my day of effortless meandering, once more I’ve been re-acquainted again with my favourite. The familiar one.

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