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The clouds are building outside and it’s starting to rain, but I just want to get out and up a hill.
The boys don’t feel quite as enthusiastic, but if they stay inside watching the rain coming down then the inevitable cabin fever will set in.
No, it’s good for all of us to set out into the gloom.
How to find West Sussex’s highest point
It’s only an hour or so from our house to Black Down (or Blackdown), West Sussex’s highest point at 280 metres and the highest point in the South Downs. And it’s even in the top half of English counties’ highest points, albeit a meagre 23rd out of 48.
There’s a car park nearby on the evocatively-named Tennyson Road, for Black Down was one of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s favourite spots for a walk and as we pull up it’s easy to see why. Indeed the great poet’s house, Aldworth, with its 60 acre garden was built on this famous hill.
In his own words:
You came, and looked and loved the view, Long-known and loved by me, Green Sussex fading into blue, With one gray glimpse of sea.
The road is steep and tree-covered and I long to be on my bike fighting my way to the top, but those days will hopefully come later when the boys are stronger and I’m weaker and I can picture them in the future waiting for me on a corner impatient to press on.
The view(s) from the top
We walk up from the car park, but there’s no sign of a peak of such. It rises and falls through woods and clearings, so I ask some dog walkers nearby where the top of Black Down is. They look bemused.
“You’re on it.”
“But it seems a little higher over there and we wanted to be at the top.”
More bemused looks.
“Well, keep walking and turn left at the fork and there’s a viewpoint.”
And there is. And what a view.
Or at least it would be if the rain and clouds weren’t descending upon us.
This one of two famous views from the top of Black Down which in fairness to the dog walkers is something of a plateau at the top.
The hill falls steep and fast with great trees pushing up on the hillside and what surely stretches for miles into the distance if only I could see further.
We walk on trying to find the other viewpoint, but the minor sense of accomplishment seems enough for the boys who are getting bored in the gloom.
And I’m starting to get irritated as I don’t know where I’m going and it’s getting dark.
I start berating myself that it’s not their adventure, it’s mine and it’s just someone else’s dog walk.
Fallen trees at the top
We need a challenge to keep us entertained. As usual, ask and nature provides.
There’s a fallen tree over a small hollow and I climb on to test its weight. It creaks and it’s slippery.
The boys of course love it, so I press on and rush back to be there to catch them if they look like falling. They don’t, kids are much better at scaling trees than grown-ups.
Three more traverses and it’s starting to get much darker. I feel a pang of guilt, but I want to press on and find the other viewpoint, even though I suspect it won’t be worth it when we get there, apart from ticking off some arbitrary list that only I really care about.
There’s more dissent in the ranks, but the excitement of a race gets us there in minutes. Indeed I’m sure it would be magnificent in daylight and on a clear day. I take a picture and the flash fires through the gloom.
We rush back through the darkness, following a blue dot on my phone through the wooded paths and what I hope is route one back to the car.
The boys love the darkness and tease each other about seeing foxes, no bears, no werewolves, no vampires…
On the way back, my guilt comes back to me.
Just who is this adventure for? Is it my sense of regret of not feeling able to do longer journeys of my own or a genuine desire to share the excitement of the unknown, the unconquered?
It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but I hope my intentions are good.
There’s a country pub on the way home and I promise the boys a treat for conquering the mighty Black Down in all its blackness. We tuck into a shared feast of peanuts and crisps washed down with apple juice and they’re asking when we are doing the next one and then it hits me.
It’s not about adventures, or lists, or even vampires.
It may be about doing something new, but really it’s about doing something together.
Views – 4/5 teddies. Would be magnificent on a clear day.
Ascent – 2 teddies (4 if you cycle up).
Overall rating – 2.5 teddies