Last year I came across the most fantastic walk that I wanted to share with you. I found it on the National Trust website and they’ve helpfully given the walk a ‘does what it says on the tin’ title: Fulking Archaeology Walk.
Address: The Devil’s Dyke pub, Dyke Road, Poynings, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 8YJ
Time: 1 hour 30 mins – 2 hours 30 mins
Distance: 4 miles (6.4 km)
Map: OL11 [Explorer 122]
It starts and ends at the Devil’s Dyke pub, taking you on a journey through the ages as you amble over the Sussex Downs. You won’t get a rap on your knuckles by the countryside police if you do decide to march from one attraction to the next rather than amble. (Although, just in case you come across them, they’re dressed in grass suits and carry clipboards made of tweed.) I think it’s nice to pootle along in a stop start way on this walk. I found it gave room to really take in what you were seeing and think about what things would have been like for the people that stood or walked where you’re walking all those years ago. We’re talking Bronze age, Iron age, Middles ages and WW2 so a great span across history.
I was on the lookout for something to kickstart a poetry collection and this walk piqued my creative interest from the start. I often use observation of the natural world and walking to inspire creativity. If you’re interested in creative writing and don’t already, I can’t highly recommend this method enough to get the creative juices flowing.
(What flavour are yours? Mine are passion fruit – get it? Cos I’m passionate about writing? *tumbleweed* Note to self: get better at jokes.)
Annnnnyway… onto the walk and a more serious tone mingled at appropriate points with my own particular brand of strange humour.
WW2 Training fields…
The first point of particular interest were the WW2 training fields at Perching Hill. The walking instructions noted: ‘We know that at least one young soldier lost his life training here.’ I was struck by the fact that a name wasn’t mentioned and it bothered me that this person had seemingly been forgotten. I sat down at the training site, now wild and overgrown with long grass, and began to write. I thought of this soldier, dying out here, surrounded by vast space and felt the most incredible sense of loneliness. I thought of all the things that they would never get to experience and was saddened. I wasn’t writing from fact, but it wasn’t entirely fiction either. I wanted in some small way to send a message out somewhere that I wasn’t going to forget them.
The Bowl Barrow…
The next point on the walk that made me stop and think was when we reached the Bronze aged bowl barrow. The walking instructions noted that barrows are often ‘placed in prominent positions’ and that ‘barrows mark the burial site of someone of importance.’ Again, I was struck by the fact that no one had any idea who was buried there. My husband and I started chatting about this and we remarked that whoever had been carried up here to be buried had to have been carried for miles up steep hills. What must that have been like?! (Personally, hill walking and I have never been friends. It tends to make me pretty cranky. MUST they been so darn steep?) They must have been exhausted, but they kept on going to bury this person of importance. And now, millennia later, people were clambering over the barrow and mistakenly calling it a crater or a bunker. The person beneath, once so important, was long forgotten. More to the point – most people didn’t even know there was anyone there. I sat to write again and a cold fog descended on us. Phil and I shivered under one scarf but I kept writing. Once I’ve got a bee in my bonnet I have to get it out….poor Phil. Still, I promised I’d buy him an ice cream, despite the cold weather, as his granddad always used to tell him that ‘It’s not a day out unless you’ve had an ice cream.’ Phil, much cheered by this thought, shivered with a smile on his face from then on.
Fulking Isolation Hospital…
Near the end of the walk we spotted the concrete platform that is all that remains of the Fulking Isolation Hospital. As mentioned in the walking instructions, it was ‘in use from around 1902 to 1940’ and used to segregate people with highly infectious diseases, such as smallpox, from the rest of the community. Given the kinds of themes I had already been writing about: loneliness, death, being forgotten. etc. I could feel the ol’ cogs whirring on full speed and thought – people are born and die in hospitals (I am going somewhere with this, no need to go DUH just yet) we check out, we check in, it’s a place of healing and somewhere where you feel some of your greatest moments of joy whilst simultaneously being somewhere you go to die and where you experience some of your greatest losses. It is a symbol of life and death and all that’s in between. THIS is what I wanted my collection to be about – the cycle of life from the perspective of animal, human and plant; a place to heal my own wounds and a place to write about the darkness and light of the everyday.
This walk was where my poetry collection The Isolation Hospital was born (…pun intended). But seriously, it’s taught me so much about myself and renewed my love of the natural world which features in so many of my poems. So my advice? Get out there and discover a walk with a history, whether it be this one or another. Write if you want to, get ice cream if you want to, roll down a hill as if no one’s looking if you want to. Find out about your local history and the flora and fauna surrounding you: immerse yourself in the outside world. Walking grounds us and helps us find ourselves. It helps us reconnect with the landscape and the people that walked there before. Now more than ever in a world that’s constantly moving, we need to remind ourselves of what we’re made of and what matters to us. Walking can help us do this.
Top Writing tips:
Write about something that matters to you. If it doesn’t matter to you, you won’t ever finish. It’s as simple as that.
Imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. Not only is it a humbling experience, it can give you a different perspective on what it’s like to be in your own.
Write from nature. It has a way of constantly surprising you and acts as a springboard for other feelings and thoughts.