Thursday, July 16, 2009

14 June 2009 - Day 15: Littlehampton to Gumber Farm, Slindon

Wake early and pack up. I have perfected securing my bike by the tent so that it will not fall on the tent during the night.

Mark comes up to ask about my journey. He has travelled from London for the weekend with his partner Paiching. We chat while their daughter remains eating in their aging camper van. It's one of those brief, sweet travelling moments.

Before I leave I sign the campsite petitiion against closure - it's the only one left in the town - but this doesn't prevent me being told off for leaving an hour late.

2.00 p.m.
Temp and humidity not measured. Sunny, cloudy with light westerly wind.
O.S. Explorer Map No. 121
Distance travelled: 16.4 miles

My ride into Littlehampton is hindered by semi-hidden signage.

The town is busy with people enjoying Sunday. It reminds me I've been two weeks on the road but it doesn't feel that long.

The action is all round the pier and I spend some time people-watching before succombing to a huge roast chicken dinner at a nearby cafe. Then a quick ride up the side of the River Arun and on over the footbridge via National Cycle Route 2 .

It feels like another country on the other side and I cycle north up the Arun flood plain towards Ford Station where I've arranged to meet Izzi. Ford Open Prison is on the left, then low-flying aircraft outside the Ford works.

I'm only ten minutes late and Izzi is waiting the other side of the level crossing. We are aiming for Slindon, and the National Trust Gumber Farm bothy. Buoyed up by yummy cheesecake, our ride takes us via Old Scotland Lane, a long and muddy bridle path.

With two mistaken detours we eventually arrive at Slindon Campsite. But the bothy is at least three miles further on. My research has failed: both are within Slindon village boundaries and on National Trust land and I have confused them. A couple in a caravan tell us with great authority to turn right, that "it's not far at all". Hmmm. I'm exhausted and this is just the beginning of what turns out to be a nightmare.

We eat at the George in Eartham, then, despite advice from rather lewd and patronising locals to stick to the road, we head up Stade Street, an old Roman road, now a track on the South Down's Monarch's Way, which cuts north east and mostly uphill through Eartham Wood. At first it is eerily beautiful in the dusk; owls hoot, and silvery tree trunks gleam. But as darkness falls, we realise we are LOST.

We mess about with our wind-up torches, trying to cheer each other up, both loath to admit how unnerved we are. You can see why the Blair Witch Project works.

10.30 p.m.

The National Trust warden, Katie, phones and volunteers to come out and find us in her landrover. It takes her an hour, hooting her horn and phoning us, though the mobile signal fails, until we come across a cottage which serves as a landmark, and Katie and Lisa, her friend, arrive and with great efficiency and total lack of criticism, load up our bikes and baggage and drive us to the bothy.

It is ten to midnight when we arrive, relieved not to spend a night in the forest. It is irritating that the unpleasant men in the pub turn out to be right.