The Familiar One – A Tale from my Favourite Path
The familiar one is the route we know intimately because we have walked it many times. Instead of focusing on directions we can let our minds wander onto more interesting and rewarding pastimes such as searching for edible plants, checking on our favourite stream, or just daydreaming. Dispense with the formalities, the distractions, the annoyances and just enjoy a leisurely ramble along a glorious journey.
With walking, familiarity breeds happiness. It’s a path we know well because we have enjoyed it many times, and we have enjoyed it many times because it’s a great route. Chances are it’s local, possibly where you grew up, and you may have walked it as a child, played in that stream with your school friends. You still know the lurking-place of the hidden camp you built out of dead branches or may have memories of your dog, long since left but you still see him bounding through the woods sending up arcs of dead leaves, and you smile.
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My familiar one is a forty-minute drive away, but it is where I always come back to in my native East Sussex. I love it for the village where I park, the teahouse that knows how I prefer my eggs on toast and will attempt to locate that forgotten bottle of Tabasco. The deli and sandwich shop, deftly assembling my ingredients together in a granary bap for lunch. I love it for a first hour of easy walking which warms my legs gently, along the River Cuckmere, and then eases me up higher to views of the White Horse. I wonder why the horse was carved and why my ancestors who lived, gathered and hunted in this valley thousands of years ago settled here. I adore the hill that climbs from Westdean, my lungs working hard to be rewarded at the crest with one of my favourite views in the world: Cuckmere Haven with the river meandering, folded back and forth to the sea, a shining silver serpent in a mid-day sun amidst green flanks peppered with grazing sheep.
I let my momentum take me, pausing at Exceat Tea Shop for a leisurely Earl Grey whilst Red takes gulps from the dog water bowl. Although it teems with tourists at the weekend, today is Monday, I revel in the lack of visitors and the car parks are empty. As I continue to the Haven, the river to my right, Red chases a few dogs and brings me sticks, waiting expectantly for praise. Before long the sea air drifts over and seagulls cry, the onshore breeze increases and I refuse to put on a warmer top because, being the familiar one, I know what is coming.
The Seven Sisters are quintessential white chalk cliffs that rise majestically from the English Channel – a symbol of steadfast solidarity, the English spirit, meeting and repelling many an armada. The Sisters would be enough for many in their own right, just over two miles to Birling Gap. Climbing each one is like being tossed around in the channel itself; reel in three or four and it’s time for that sandwich. Red slumps beside me, tongue dangling, eyes squinting and lets me trickle water into his mouth. Sussex stretches away behind me and France lies over the water, glistening on a fine spring day. Distant white sails bob as I slip off my shoes, devour my lunch, prop my head on my pack and drift off with the sun on my face.