The walk from St.Leonards to Rye was an idea born many years ago when my father mentioned that it was possible to walk all the way to Rye by going along the clifftops. I decided then I was going to do it someday, although at the time I was too young to make such a walk unaccompanied. I intended to do it in 2011, then in 2012 but both those years the summers were really windy and rainy and the winters even harsher. Exposed on a clifftop, you really want no more than a light breeze and a little sunshine if you are after a pleasant walk. The summer of 2013, however turned out to be the hottest, sunniest summer we’d had since 2006, back before Emiko was born, when I wrote my list.
I mentioned my planned walk to my fiance Elliot to see if he was interested in coming with me and he was. Elliot loves hiking. He mentioned it to his cousin Be and he decided to come too. Finally, hearing of our expedition, our friend Sue decided to join us and so the date was set. The Long Walk, as it would come to be known, would take us 13.1 miles along the seafront from St.Leonards, where I lived, up onto the East Hill, which is part of the cliffs, through Hastings Country Park, which runs the length of them and then back down again. This was as far as I’d gotten before and the rest, while having been memorised from Googlemap, was technically an unknown.
I liked the idea of setting off not knowing exactly how to get to my destination. I decided to use the occasion to test the weight of my disaster prep bag. I have been putting together three-day bags for use in an emergency resulting in us needing to leave our home (this is a government recommended precaution, not doomsday-prepper madness) and I wanted to make sure I could easily carry my supplies a fair distance. We had planned to leave at 10am (because Be couldn’t meet us earlier), estimated the journey to take no more than 5 hours including breaks and aimed to arrive in Rye at around 3pm and celebrate with a well-earned cream tea. Life being life, of course that isn’t quite what happened. Various delays meant we didn’t meet Be until 12, so we were behind schedule.
The first part of the walk was lovely but hard-going. The clifftop is basically a series of hills, so you have to walk up and then down 4 or 5 slopes of varying steepness in order to get to the flat bit. While it kills the calves, going up isn’t too bad. You get beautiful views of parts of Hastings and the sea and the park itself is lovely. There are some really interesting plants up there. It’s a popular place to walk and we met quite a few people coming and going along the trail. We were asked to take a picture of a group of American tourists, who were quite pleased to discover Elliot is American too. When we were done, we got them to take our photo. Somewhere around 2, we stopped for lunch. Elliot and I had been to our local bakery before we left and had enormous rolls to eat. Mine was bacon. There is something really lovely about unwrapping greasy paper to reveal delicious meat and bread when you’ve been hiking.
After lunch we carried on until we reached the village of Fairlight, where we proceeded to buy more water, having consumed all of ours during the last few hours. Once you get through Fairlight, you reach Pett Level and that is really where the Country Park ends. After that, you follow the Sea Road, a very long, straight and frankly, monotonous path along the pebble beach. It goes right alongside the old marshes, now home to numerous sheep. We did find an ice cream van though and I treated Sue and myself to an ice cream cone each.
Once you eventually reach the end of the Sea Road, you walk past a load of caravan holiday lets and take a shortcut across a field to reach the final stretch. This a road which has three very, very long straight roads, connected by corners, which means you can’t see Rye until you turn the last corner and even then it’s seems like a really long way away. By this point, we’d mostly stopped talking. While the uphill of the Country Park is harder on the legs, it’s variety and postcard views make it a more engaging walk than the latter half of the journey. I think we all just wanted to reach Rye so we could sit down, having not sat down since lunch, almost three hours ago.
We knew we were too late for cream tea, by the time we made it into Rye the teashops would all be closed, which was a little disappointing. Happily, while my feet hurt, the disaster bag wasn’t bothering me at all, which means I got the weight limit right. Plus, if anyone had needed first aid, I would have had supplies to hand. Finally, we spotted the sign that told us we had reached the official outskirts of Rye, at which point, Be took off running and crossed the invisible line.
“I win!” he shouted, and was promptly followed by Sue claiming second place. Elliot and I stopped to take a photo of me with the sign and before we crossed the boundary together. Then we walked into the centre of Rye and waited in the station carpark for Sue’s Mum, (whom everyone calls Mother because she mothers us all), to pick us up and drive us home again. All of us were exhausted and in dire need of a cup of tea but it was great fun and I am planning other Long Walks.