The walk south east from Steyning to Hove takes me through a range of emotions. I am soon delighted by the tiny hamlet of Botolph, hardly a hamlet even that is visible, but I visit the church, a tiny 12th chapel, and learn of the history of the village. Marks of an extension are still visible where the church was expanded to include an extra aisle because the congregation had grown. It diminished again when the river Adur silted up and was no longer navigable so far up stream. Such a common theme along the south coast, affecting the fortunes and growth of the riverside settlements; I am reminded that things are never static, that we do well to remember not to rely on things staying the same (I am writing this in a teenager’s bedroom, on the wall, written in felt tip, a quote by Oscar Wilde “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”). They never have, nor should they, and change does not mean the end, just time for a new beginning.
I read that St Botolph is patron saint of sailors and travellers. It feels appropriate to me and I find I am fascinating by the mudra (yogic hand gesture) he is holding his right hand in. If anyone out there has access to a good book on mudras, I’d love to know what the gesture of thumb touching ring and little finger signifies.
I pass Lancing College. It is perched high on a hillside. It looks gothic, full of spires, cathedral like. The small road I have been walking along is suddenly full of barbed wire fences, keep out signs, and private property notices, and I wonder if it is a prison, or a top security military affair. It is unpleasant, bristly, very exclusive, and I am truly shocked when I finally get to the front gates, to learn it is a secondary school! I wonder what manner of creature they turn out?!
I reach the main road. It is a monstrous 4 lane affair, full of people in cars and lorries that are so wrapped up in life in the interior of a vehicle they have no notion of the life threatening machine they control. It is terrifying for a walker, and I can hear my heart thud. There is a system of traffic lights and I eventually get across. It feels like the most dangerous thing I have done in the whole walk.
I then follow the cycle path all the way into Hove and get there in a very short time. Though the distance is similar to the miles I have been doing most days this route has been entirely on ashphalt and direct. I am shocked at what a convoluted way walkers on paths have to go in order to avoid traffic. I lament that our walk ways have been turned into ways for machines instead.
The walk to Hove begins by crossing the old Shoreham bridge. This was the first bridge built to cross the Adur. It is a lovely wooden affair recently restored. The road bridge passes to the north, loud, and a reminder of our modern pace of oil driven life. Once over the bridge I ignore the road I arrive onto. Across from me I see a tiny lane running down the side of the church. I take that, safe in the knowledge that before our speed addiction that would have been the way into old Shoreham. It brings me out safely, having totally avoided the main drag. I follow a suburbian road for miles, it is the first time I have had to do this. I enjoy having a flat pavement to walk along. I do not enjoy seeing house after house after house and no trees, no nature, except the calmed garden variety. I am now on a cycle route all the way to Brighton. I am pleased by the ease of this until I encounter the lock gates.
Cyclists and walkers must traverse these to get to the sea front. It is a horrific experience for me. Every fibre of my being shudders as I am forced by a system of high metal fencing the like of which I haven’t seen outside prison movies, to walk in a particular direction to cross the highly industrialised area. I practically hold my breath till I reach the sea front. The feeling of absolute human control over the landscape makes me feel physically shaken.
I turn right to follow the sea front cycle path. I cannot believe the experience I have. For two solid miles of sea front human domination of the landscape is complete. The port of Shoreham stretches and stretches, invasive industry after invasive industry, the stuff of sci fi movies comes true. I am in deep pity for those that work year in year out in these soulless places, and more so for their poor families who must surely endure great lack of warmth if their partners and parent5s work in such a metallised, rape of the environment. I am sure they feel lucky to have work, the engineers amongst them pride in their achievements, and yet I shudder to think what they have to do to suppress the sensations proximity to this type of work must cause in their bodies.
Suddenly, finally, I am out the other side. Hove actually! There it is – the high metal fences come to an abrupt end in a hotel that has clear notices saying that its roads are private and only for patrons, and the other side boasts the brightly painted beach huts that line Hove seafront. It couldn’t be more different, it takes a while to adjust to the new reality – the change hasn’t been organic, naturally evolving, but has the hard cutting edge of the sort human intervention without due care and awareness of the environment often has. Gradually the seaside atmosphere starts to pervade and I begin to relax. I am not comfortable though; thoughts of what we sacrifice in order to live our so called “good life” are coming in thick and furious. My mantra as I walked along was that I would give up any of the trappings of my modern lifestyle if only it would mean we were not obliged to assault our environment in the way we are.
As I near the centre of Hove the splendour of it Georgian housing becomes more and more evident and I am gradually seduced in to the dream these ancestors had of having their riches and the vast sweep of seascape to feast their eyes on. It is rather unbelievable to me when I arrive at Brunswick Square, where I am to be staying. It is magnificent; a pair of large elegantly curving white edifices with a green in the centre and all with superb views of the seafront. I eat ice cream by the band stand in the artists’ corner and then go in to find the flat I am being lent for the night by Angus Light and fiancee Emma.
Sun streams in through the windows that look out over the sea, I am reminded of a flat I lived in in Brazil. In fact, I realise, there is a lot of similarity between Hove and Brazilian seaside cities. I can’t quite put my finger on it as yet but it a strong sense. Maybe the wide promenade where joggers and speed walkers parade, maybe the large imposing edifices of the wealthy lining the sea front, maybe the big sea, stretching as far as the eye can see in both directions; iIt is only later the next morning that I get the full picture and it all makes sense to me.
I talk to Ian Lawton of TBH (Transition Brighton & Hove). I should be going to a Compost Evening, but I still have to have a bath. It takes me a while to feel refreshed enough to brave the outside world again. I walk along the main drag, a street that runs parallel to the seafront. It is full of fast food joints, bars, restaurants, things to attract one to spend money. I feel so overwhelmed I walk up and down it three times and cannot settle. I can appreciate the seductiveness of it all; especially to the young, but I find I cannot choose a place to sit. I do not find a cosy refuge. I try the Sanctuary, a vegetarian restaurant Ian has recommended we meet in. I am looking for a place to eat. They have stopped serving. I decide it is too much to go through this hive of city life to find the Compost event, I buy food and take it back to the flat to eat. I do not venture out again that night.
As I settle to sleep I reflect on the phenomena of cities; where all sense of locality is lost by the coming of entertainment, ceaseless plying of colourful wares, not one local shop, or service have I seen, only an amusement arcade of eating and drinking establishments on which to spend one’s money. How must it be, I muse, to be a local in a place such as this?