A day on the Vanguard Way consisting of pain, hills, and many stiles. But lots of views too.

I went to sleep the previous day harbouring fears about my knee’s ability to keep going for another two days. By morning these fears were allayed and I felt pretty good really. A few aches but nothing serious. By the end of the day I would have experienced a wide range of pains all over and experienced a wholly different set of threats to the walk, but overriding any of that was the brilliance of the day in general.

Starting point: Ashdown Forest, reachable Monday to Saturday by 291 bus from Crawley, East Grinstead, or Tunbridge Wells.

Finishing point: Chiddingly, reachable Monday to Saturday by 54 bus from Eastbourne or East Grinstead. Or by 143 bus Monday to Friday from Lewes or Eastbourne. You have to get off at Golden Cross and walk a further 3/4 mile to Chiddingly.

Length: 18.6 miles (30km).

Ordnance Survey Maps route link here

Download the GPX of this route here Vanguard Way Day 3, Ashdown Forest to Chiddingly

It had been a very cold night. I was aware of this not because I was cold, far from it, but when I unzipped my tent and fired up my stove I put a Look What We Found bolognese on the heat and listened with horror as the roar stuttered and failed. It was so cold that my gas wasn’t working! After five minutes with the cannister in my sleeping bag with me I tried again and rejoiced as I added my Amoy Straight to Wok noodles to the steaming hot bolognese. Oriental-style spag-bol breakfast was served.

After a short stretch of road walking down through Newbridge we looked up the huge slope to the east and used our peak energy levels to attack it full on. Ashdown Forest is just as patchy here as we found it to be the night before, the late-winter scrub a pretty yellow and the trees bare. Sweat began to drip down my face as we galloped uphill. I chewed on the slope and enjoyed the knowledge that by the end of the day we would be within touching distance of the finale.

A view in Ashdown Forest along the Vanguard Way AONB

We skirted an outcrop of coniferous forest before reaching the B2026. Already the views in every direction were tremendous and well worth the previous two day’s effort. Ashdown Forest might be sparse at this point but it is a true gem of southern England. Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty indeed.

We turned our gaze along the hazy line of the South Downs and I felt my heart skip as I spotted the dip for the Cuckmere Meanders for the first time. Our eventual goal. It looked a LONG way away still.

But then it was. We were still over 30 miles away with unknown terrain between us and the finish line. 30 miles doesn’t sound like a long way at all but if it was anything like day 2 it would be a hard-won distance.

Martyn’s bottomless bag of pound shop cranberries served up several delicious mouthfuls as we progressed along the roof of the region. I began to tire of my own bottomless bag of pumpkin seeds. It just didn’t seem to go down. Ever. I write this two weeks later and I still have some left.

The terrain here feels completely unlike southern England. We followed the bridleway over successive humps and nodded salutations to numerous weekend walkers. It was verging on busy at times. I still managed to smile and greet a couple of horseback trail riders as they took their churners for some exercise. I think horses are great, but I can’t love them. They are beautiful, gentle, powerful, useful, etc. but I don’t think I’ll ever be completely pro-horse because of what they do to the paths I love to follow. Luckily up here the trail is so wide that it’s tough for horses to damage it beyond human use.

Kingstanding copse came and went with some more stunning views. Gorse flecked the pale yellow landscape with dark green bulk and vivid yellow buds. Grasses spread scraps of reds through the scene and I remembered why I’ve produced a few oil paintings using just these same stripes and colours. People see them and think they are imagined landscapes, but they are only so far as the abstract shapes I use. The colours are genuinely out there, lurking just beyond the M25.

Ashdown Forest, again, few trees along the Vanguard Way

Down and up again we stepped. We joked with two women about the expanses of water they seemed terrified to cross. My injury Wheel of Fortune span again and I detected left Achilles pains. Then shortly after I found right Achilles pains too. Stupid body.

Poundgate brought a busy A-road to cross, and then we found sodden woodland. Martyn revelled in our discovery of another decrepit pillbox, and then nearly walked head first into a tall fence in the woods. I finally managed to get a picture of some deer on the southern edge of Newnham Park Wood. Until this point the gits had always been too skittish for my cold-beleagured trigger finger.

Look carefully, there's a deer on the Vanguard Way

We gobbled chocolate as we read a sign indicating that the Vanguard Way was being diverted between October 2012 and April 2013 due to land slippage and unsafe footbridges. No matter, we took the diversion in an arc approaching High Hurstwood from the west. One that takes in some iron ore pits from several centuries ago.

Suddenly I realised how much pain I was in. My ankles were both screaming at me.

Smiley ball in the hedge at High Hurstwood, Vanguard WayI descended into High Hurstwood at about 1 mph and collapsed into the grass next to Holy Trinity Church so that I could dig out some Ibuprofen. Usually I refuse to touch any medication unless I’m in serious difficulties so that’s a pointer towards how I was feeling now. I worried a lot about the rest of the day but happily Martyn found a ball in the hedge with a great big smiley face on it. A sign to cheer the hell up.

Holy Trinity Church, Vanguard Way at High Hurstwood

The pills were much needed. This stretch consists of a lot of steep climbs and mucky drops. We passed under the railway arch heading into Buxted, its bricks coated with a vivid orange moss or mould. The going was slow and I felt bad for holding us back so much. I crawled up each bump and tried not to moan too much. But I probably definitely did.

How I felt when approaching stiles on the Vanguard Way day 3

I decided to call the first half of the day to a halt in an alley in Pound Green. We flopped into grass next to a small field full of sheep. As we unpacked bits and bobs for our lunch, including beef jerky, the flock started to creep up on us. One brave leader would inch ahead, wait for the rest to catch up, and inch ever closer. They did finally realise that they weren’t going to get any Fruit Gums, or any of Martyn’s disgusting looking instant mash, and retreated to a watchful distance.

Sheep edge closer during our lunchbreak on day two of the Vanguard Way near Pound Green

After lunch I felt a lot better. We were cold now but the half hour rest had helped me out no end. It was still hard work on the climb into Blackboys.

A radio station along the Vanguard Way

I don’t remember a lot about this part of the day. A scrap yard, some kids helping us stay on the right track, a nice house with its own boating pond and system of locks, and an allotment with a rat infestation. We sat on picnic tables next to Blackboys Village Hall and ate part of a Tootsie Roll, which must be one of the sweetest things known to man. Too sweet.

Navigating the mud on day three of the Vanguard Way was hard work

These Chickens were really pleased to see me near Blackboys on the Vanguard WayWe used Blackboys as a refuelling station too. The Blackboys Inn topped up our water bottles as we downed a swift pint, before the racing for the prize – Chiddingly, about another 5.5 miles away.

Knowing that a lot of the intervening distance was going to be quiet road walking along fairly level terrain relieved my pains for quite a while because up til now it was relentless stiles that were driving me a bit mad. Usually I quite like stiles but now they were a chore because quite a few are in different stages of dilapidation. Or are as unstable as a see-saw. The action of stepping down from a broken stile hurts. A lot.

Then there were kissing gates that you literally couldn’t get through if you were wearing a pack. They led to amusing amounts of climbing and push-ups to lever the gate under the pack instead.

After the length of road walking we were seeing signs for Chiddingly so that helped even more. We turned off of the asphalt and soon entered a field of llamas. No, wrong, alpacas. I only found out afterwards that you can tell them apart by the shape of their ears. Alpacas have more pointed, smallish ears whereas llamas have very silly banana-shaped ears. A simple mnemonic I invented for this distinction – bananallama. Easy.

An alpaca near Chiddingly along the Vanguard Way

As we discussed the relative difficulties that farmers must face when they have footpaths legally crossing their fields we edged ever closer to Chiddingly. Martyn greeted a friendly Alsatian in a paddock to our right and then when we started to cross the bottom of another field the farmer shouted at us from behind a fence, one enormous dog attached to each hand.

In a joky friendly way. The path here is actually a stream. The farmer chided us on our timidity when we tried to step carefully through the water and then told us we needed better boots. Not strictly true really is it, he admitted that a spring rises at that point so ‘after the wettest winter in history’ it was going to be flooded. We exchanged pleasantries with the farmer and he advised us to head for the village pub for the live music. But not before informing us that we were the first walkers he’d ever heard of doing the whole Vanguard Way in one go. That made us feel pretty good even if it was just an oversight on his part!

Our arrival in Chiddingly, day three of the Vanguard WayWe took a bit of a wrong turn as soon as we left his patch, following the road around and into Chiddingly rather than through a boggy field edged with barbed wire fences.

We stepped into the village pub and I asked the manager if he knew where we could camp. He pointed us in the right direction, I’m not going to tell you where as the place we did camp was very generous towards us and I don’t want to saddle them with new expectant blagging arrivals in future.

Chiddingly is a lovely village. Everyone we met was kind, helpful and generous. As we pitched our tents we were tired but pleased to have ended our day here. The pub was full of delicious beers and the cheapest food in the largest quantities you could ask for. I can’t speak highly enough of the place.

We crawled to bed long before the live music started, hobbling badly but well-fed and quite happy. We’d beaten 3/4 of the Vanguard Way already, I was certain that day 4 would see us winning the war.