Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher said that each great journey starts with a single step.
Well, I beg to differ, I believe each walk should start with a toasted tea cake.
This explains how Sprout, The Dancing Queen and I found ourselves at The Green Welly in Ditchling one sunny Saturday in June.
It’s a lovely café and tea room staffed by happy, smiley people who seem to like their doggy visitors as much, possibly more than the human ones.
The Dancing Queen had a delicious granola, yoghurt and fruit compote concoction whilst I opted for the tea cake, why a tea cake – well, if I choose the same thing when I go to an eatery, it will be easier to compare. They didn’t have a tea cake on the menu, but the lady said I’ll see what I can rustle up – and a tea cake arrived with our coffees and a dog biscuit for Sprout, who was allowed to sit at the table.
Definitely a place to recommend.
We drove to the top of Ditchling Beacon, some brave souls cycle up there, don’t, you’ll only be too puffed out to enjoy the view, and you never see a happy cyclist or jogger for that matter.
The car park at the top, particularly on the sunnier days will say it’s full – it’s a cunning plan on someone’s part, the basis of which escapes me – it isn’t normally full, so smile at the attendant and they will find you a space – say Sprout sent you.
We did the 4 mile circular walk. There are far better people than I who can describe the walk and direct you because, as you will gather, my mind drifts and I find myself following the sound of a skylark, or following a path to the Chattri monument and add miles on to our walk. And there’s a leaflet anyway, you can find it online, I don’t have the technical nouse to attach it.
But what I love about walking is not only being outside seeing the marvellous views over to Brighton or across The Weald, or the fact that being in the open lets you ground yourself and settles the mind, it’s the people you meet. In the course of our 2 hour walk we spotted a very glamourous lady in a fedora, cashmere cape, leather trousers and high heeled silver clogs, after which, at the next gate, we were let through by a well upholstered chap wearing a rucksack and red boxer shorts, he did have walking boots on, and a healthy glow. As we neared the halfway point, a chap in a neon running vest and day-glo swimming shorts jogged past – laying waste to my claim that you never see a happy jogger. The final leg of the walk saw us encounter a lady in cycling shorts and a bra. And if you think I’m being judgemental, I’m not, I love the variety of our country and it’s side.
Here’s a photo of me taken looking Northwards across Ditchling – this could be photoshopped and put into an aisle at a supermarket looking at Baked Beans – although Sprout probably wouldn’t be with me there.
After a restorative ice cream at the van in the car park we set off for The Sussex Prairie Gardens at Henfield – probably my favourite garden anywhere and they actively encourage dogs on leads and provide poo bags, bins and water bowls.
The garden is open from June until October and is so rich and varied that you can visit it 3 times easily in that period and it is like visiting a new garden each time. In June it is lush and verdant and promises what is to come. In August it is at the peak of it’s powers, showy and confident whilst in October it is mellow and slowing down, ready for the burning it has during the Winter months prior to returning to its glory the following year.
There are metal bison or buffalo, is there a difference, there are metal sheep and a crowd of metal people and totem poles and amazing sculptures fashioned from tea pots or driftwood. It is magical.
And the plants, oh the plants, blocks of grasses, some that smell like coriander, others with flashes of pink move and sway in the breeze whilst sturdier herbaceous perennials stand tall and provide splashes of purple and red and pink and white. There are paths through the beds and seats where you can stop and watch the action, or sketch, or marvel at the beauty of nature, or wonder, why bison or buffalo for that matter, and remember you are on the prairie.
The gardens are open for 4 hours in the afternoon which provides plenty of time to get there at opening time, make your way through the new tropical garden to the tea room for a sandwich before a meander around the garden before returning to the tea room for tea and home made cake – your correspondent took it upon himself to try the rhubarb cake, and the chocolate cake, and the coffee and walnut cake, all delicious – you may thank me for my diligent research.
The small nursery there only sells what they grow in the garden, so no massed banks of plants that are on sale from Aberdeen to Eastbourne, but gorgeous and slightly unusual specimens.
You note that I haven’t name checked any plants – but if you’re someone who appreciates gardens, what you like will be different to what I like – so I won’t try and influence you. But the Hordeum jubatum is incredible. Please go to this garden, you will feel calmer in it and be in awe that a small band of people can transform a farmer’s field into such a jewel.
After a long day walking, eating and garden visiting, I was peckish. We went to The Bull in Ditchling, one of my haunts from years ago where you could take someone you weren’t supposed to be with for a drink safe that if there was anyone else there you knew, they would pretend not to see you too.
It has changed, but so have I. It was very busy and whilst it is dog friendly, the bedrooms aren’t, nor is the dining room, but the 2 bars and garden are. This lost it Sprout points.
I had a burger which was good, although a touch more seasoning was needed. Again, it’s a place for people watching, whilst we were there Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man et al wandered past, presumably to a fancy dress part, who knows, who cares. Everyone’s different.
I shall research some properly dog friendly places, where they can stay with you. At the moment though I’m planning my next visit to the Sussex Prairie Garden. Sprout is keen to return to the Green Welly. And the Dancing Queen is thinking of doing a Pilates workshop at the garden, if only to stop me eating.
Sprout Points (out of3.8 – he’s a dog, they have a different numbering system):
The Green Welly: 3.6 – they love dogs, they bring a biscuit in a small bowl, one of the staff loves terriers, they let him sit on the seat.
The Walk: 3.4 – sheep poo to roll in, dew pond to drink from, a biscuit from the lovely Kay, an O.T. at school The Old Bloke took a gardening club at (although she might not be there when you go).
The Sussex Prairie Garden: 3.5 – water bowls, poo bags and bins provided, hoses to attack, great cake crumbs and they had a woollen Jack Russel for sale – The Old Bloke bought it, don’t judge him.
The Bull: 2.7 – you’re not completely dog friendly if I can’t stay the night or eat in the restaurant. Chips are good though.
Please, if you like this new style of walking blog, please comment. Or suggest places for us to explore. Best you include a tea room. If you don’t like it, have a piece of cake, you’ll feel better.