THERE’S nothing like a stroll over the Sussex Downs to quicken the senses and weary the limbs. But the ‘invention’ of mass hiking only appeared in the 1930s, aided by the establishment of youth hostels and certified footpaths.
Peter Brandon put it well in his recent tome The Discovery of Sussex
(Phillimore): ‘Solitary walking in the afternoon for its own sake had an indisputable role in Virginia Woolf’s writing. She would compose sentences, collect thoughts and toss ideas about for her present and future writings, catching them “hot and sudden’’ as they rose in her mind walking up Asheham Hill or over to Telscombe.
‘The delicious sense of freedom “whirled her like a top miles upon miles over the Downs’’ and she would recite phrases and sentences to herself as she walked, so as to reinforce them in her memory before putting them in her diary on return.
‘Dirk Bogarde [the actor] heard about this habit when he met her in boyhood while fishing on the banks of the River Cuckmere. On enquiring of a local friend he was told: “She is of the London sort and a bit doo-lally’.’
Not that walking was everyone’s cup of tea.
Pinkie, in Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock, offers to take his ill-fated girl friend Rosie for a walk - ‘Where’ll we go Pinkie?’
‘Somewhere,’ Pinkie said. ‘Out in the country. That’s where you go on a day like this.’
He tried to think for a moment where the country was; the racecourse was country; and then a bus came marked Peacehaven and he waived his hand to it.
‘There you are,’ he said, ‘that’s the country. We can talk there.
There’s things we got to get straight.’
‘I thought we were going to walk.’
‘This is walking,’ he said, roughly, pushing her up the steps. ‘You’re green. You don’t know a thing. You don’t think people really WALK. Why
- it’s miles. When people say “come for a walk’’, they mean a bus or a car.’
But there is no doubt that walking took off from the 30s onwards. This sardonic cartoon shows police directing ramblers on the Sussex Downs.