The Optimistic Walker: "the best walks are those which have an objective"

David Bathurst shares his passion for walking and explains why it might just be what we all need in these difficult times - particularly when we are in a county as beautiful as Sussex.

David Bathurst

"I’m a great believer that the best walks are those which have an objective: in other words, something on or at the far end of a walk that gives you a special reason for doing it. In my previous pieces I’ve explained how you don’t need to go very far from your doorstep to find a feature or features of interest. There are many, apparently unremarkable, features that should be local to you, wherever you live, that are worth seeking out and therefore excellent objectives. As I write, the countryside is sparkling with the vibrant colours of spring, and a visit to a nearby park to view spring flowers is well worth doing. But even as you walk to that park you may discover an abundance of colours. In just a short road walk I did the other day, I passed firstly a rhododendron with its joyous leaves of deep blue, then a quite stunning camellia with its rich and dazzling reds. My dad was a very keen golfer and when he saw me hit a good shot, which was exceedingly rare, he’d say “Worth coming out just to hit that!” You may well feel a walk has been made worthwhile by the sight of just one tree in full colour.

"To me, though, the best objective a walk can offer is a great view. I love views! I love the simple sensation of standing on a hilltop and identifying the many landmarks that are in my sight. The best view is one with a variety of both natural and manmade landmarks. A classic viewpoint is, for me, Firle Beacon on the South Downs Way between Southease and Alfriston in East Sussex. In one direction is the sea, and the coastal towns of Newhaven and Seaford as well as Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters beyond. In the other is a massive swathe of Low Weald countryside, dotted with the spires of the churches of Alciston and Berwick and the blue waters of Arlington Reservoir, while a little to the west there’s the elegant green tower that is Mount Caburn, and the not unattractive wind turbines above Ringmer. That is just one of many great viewpoints along that section of the South Downs Way, but, to echo my dad’s words, it’s worth coming out for the day just for the view from Firle Beacon.

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"The recent Government decree that it is acceptable to drive to a place where you’re taking exercise means that such a great viewpoint as Firle Beacon could once more be regarded as a legitimate destination for would-be walkers in Sussex. That said, common sense needs to prevail and we still need to respect social distancing – which means we should avoid any situation where we might be in danger of breaking the 2-metre rule. I would venture to suggest that you, and those you live with, don’t need to walk far from your own front door to enjoy a great view in comparative solitude, even if it’s towards the hills rather than the top. Walking the other day from my home in Yapton to the supermarket, along paths that are uniformly level, the only climbing being to negotiate stiles, I was struck by the clarity of the view to the masts of Glatting Beacon, immediately adjacent to Bignor Hill, way up on the South Downs, miles from where I was. That in turn reminded me of the great view I’d enjoyed from the path immediately adjacent to those masts on a hot sunny late March day last year. So just a short walk can give you a view of worlds and life beyond, reminding you, reminding all of us, that we needn’t feel isolated or confined and there is still a world out there. And if you’ve been lucky enough to experience a view as good as the one from Firle Beacon, you can relive it in your mind’s eye whenever you wish.

"Do remember that you must stick to social distancing when you walk.This may mean your having to step well to the side of your path to allow others to pass by – unless they themselves have extended that courtesy to you. If they have, make sure you thank them. And don’t forget to wash your hands on return.

"Please walk safely, please stay well and please stay optimistic."