Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The South Downs Way.

I've slept with my friend Kay before in Accra in Ghana. I say 'slept with' but what with the heat and the constant noise from the street below, combined with the unfamiliar sounds from my new bedfellow (gentle sighing with occasional delicate farting) I got not one wink of sleep that night. On that occasion we were in a double bed in a flat above an undertaker's in the midst of a West African city. On this occasion we're in a twin room in a 4 star hotel with a spa in West Sussex on a last minute deal from 

It's Saturday, and we've come away walking because we both love to walk and the weekend promises great weather. Kay suggests we do eight and a half miles near the hotel over the South Downs, from Cocking Hill passing through the village of Singleton near the racecourse at Goodwood.

"Eight and a half?" I say, pulling on my wellies (I always walk in wellies unless it's really hot, just like that lovely Hunter Davies). "That's quite a lot. I'm more used to five, which turns into six because we got lost."

"I think we can do it," she says. "You're only as old as you feel."

I feel old, I think, and she probably feels about five years younger than me because she is. Then I think about the feel of my dodgy right hip which has been giving me a lot of gip lately and my legs that feel a bit achy.

"No worries," I say, "I feel fit as a fiddle. Age is just a number."


As we climb the first gentle rise up to woodland, I tell her I need something to happen. "You know," I explain, "on the walk, or back at the hotel, so I have a something to write about this week in my blog." Then I step on a branch strewn across the rutted path, causing its end to rise up just as she's taking another step forward so her foot catches it and she's flung to the ground, face first.

"Will that do?" she asks, wiping the mud from her cheeks.

"Sorry," I say. "But not really."

The remaining eight miles pass without incident as we walk in brilliant sunshine, traversing beautiful countryside, while not getting lost even once. I just ignore the pain in my hip which is becoming ever so slightly worse each time we strike up a hill. Back at the hotel we head for the spa, which is deserted, save for one chatty man.

"I warn you," he says, as Kay and I enter the sauna together, "it's hot in here."

"Okay," we say, settling back on the bench below.

"Mind you," he adds, "I was just in Budapest where the thermal pools are 38 degrees."

"Nice," we say.

"And I went to the House of Terror museum there," he goes on, "expecting it to be, you know, like Hammer House of Horror, all spooky with ghosts and that, jumping out at you."

There's a brief silence.

"But it wasn't," he continues, "it was about what the fascists and communists did to the Hungarians during and after the war, torture and shooting and stuff."

"Awful," says Kay.

"Oh dear," I say.

There's another brief silence.

"Right," says Kay. "Too hot, I'm off for a swim."

After she's gone the chatty man asks where we're from. "South London," I reply, suddenly feeling spectacularly tired and achy, all over, "sort of Tooting/Balham." 

"My son lives in Balham," he tells me. "Bedford Hill."

"Everyone lives in Balham now," I yawn, "it's cool." And it occurs to me he might think Kay and I are a couple and live there together.

"Funny thing is," he continues, "thirty years ago you wouldn't stop at the traffic lights in Balham for fear of being stabbed."

"Shanked," I say.

After about ten minutes sweating it out I leave the sauna and head for the hot tub. As I'm climbing in I feel things beginning to seize up - a lot - my hips and legs mostly, but also other bits of me I wasn't aware I had. Oh dear, I think, maybe I should try a gentle swim to keep things moving, so I do, and it helps, then I go in search of the steam room.

"Is that you?" asks Kay's voice as I open the door to the steam room. "I'm in here and I can't see a thing."

It is indeed incredibly steamy in the steam room. I can barely see the paint on my own toenails.

"Yes," I say, "it's me, and I don't know what you've done to me but I'm a wreck, I can hardly walk. God knows how I'll feel after tonight."

"I'll show you some stretches," she says, "when we get back to our room."

"Just to warn you," says a third disembodied voice from somewhere at the back of the steam room, "it's very hot in here."

Love E x

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