Wych Cross to Newhaven ferry

Day 12 of Walking Out of the World, in which the pilgrim reaches the English Channel to take the midnight ferry to France, in his 86 day walk to Compostela.

(Previous posts were: Day 11 Limpsfield to Wych Cross and Day 10 Westminster departure.)

I received some photos of the send-off from Westminster Cathedral two days ago taken by my daughter Alys at her Whizz-KidzPilgrim Control Centre” in Hampstead. I wanted to get some good photos on the blog quickly to help with the charity sponsorship for Whizz-Kidz.

Nobody in the crowd was injured during the traditional priest’s blessing for sending off a pilgrim, which was another triumph for the new Health & Safety measures introduced in the Catholic Church. I would often think of Karl sitting outside Westminster Cathedral in his specially adapted wheelchair, as I walked the 2000 km to Compostela, conscious of my freedom and good fortune and health, that I could enjoy this walk while knowing there are many whose life circumstances are different.

For most of the journey on foot to Compostela, I relied on computers in internet cafe to update my progress. Sometimes several days went by without contact. ‘Smart phones’ were not yet in general use and I did not have one.

Move a life forward!

Much later in this journey when I was a day’s walk from Bordeaux I sent this photo – waving to Karl with the river Dordogne behind me (well… behind that tree on the right!) – wearing my Whizz-Kidz t-shirt. Donate to this children’s mobility charity now on this Whizz-Kidz link.


Lost in Sussex

A sleepless night with a barking dog outside your tent is a bad way to start any day. It is a particularly bad way to start a walking day with a very late finish. From Wych Cross my plan is a continuing walk along the southbound Sussex footpaths to Lewes. Then out of town along the footpath through the meandering estuary of the river Ouse to Newhaven. The deadline is eleven o’clock at the ferry dock, in time to buy a ticket for the midnight boat to Dieppe.

I spent a horrible morning trying to find the right walking path south from Wych Cross, and drifting southwest along lanes and bits of footpath, mostly following a compass bearing (oh why am I here without maps?) Then I ended up on the side of the main road A275 for a while.

Bluebell Railway, Sussex

I found the Bluebell Railway, (see map) a steam train line running through Sussex. I went in with my pilgrim credencial and had it stamped from a faded inkpad producing a hardly legible: “BLUEBELL RAILWAY BOOKING OFFICE – Sheffield Park Station.” Ironic really. I was not catching a train, but walking to Compostela.

I shall not describe any more of the day until the point when I reached Lewes because I have my pride as a retired Geography teacher and this stage had been a complete disaster! Talking about teaching, Year 9 had turned out to welcome me to Lewes.

I had the good fortune to be approaching Lewes shortly after the schools had emptied and I passed a group of Year 9s in badly-worn school uniform, sitting smoking at the edge of a wood where the footpath from Offham came into a scruffy council estate on the outskirts of Lewes (map).

“What’s that weird stick for?” asked a girl, sitting on her bag of school books, exhaling smoke. I wondered if these good burghers of Sussex had friends in Reading. I was not going to even try to engage with them this time.

“It’s a bourdon,” I said curtly, “a pilgrim staff. If you don’t know what a pilgrim is, ask your teacher. I’m not paid to explain things and I have a ferry to catch because I’m walking to Spain.” I continued forward, determined not to waste any time, a few steps further past a boy sitting on a rusty iron fence pulling leaves off a tree branch above his head.

“You’re just mental, mate,” he said. I glared at him and said nothing, tired of the rudeness of England.

But in truth, I was “just mental.” This brief exchange, which is the most ‘conversation’ a pilgrim might expect in Lewes, had summed up the entire cultural problem. If the Beckhams or the Kardashians aren’t doing it, whatever you’re doing, it doesn’t mean anything. Who wants to know about pilgrims or Chaucer or the footpaths of Sussex? Even I had got lost. No: if you desire to follow on foot some ancient pilgrim route, you are indeed “just mental.” Mate.

So, that’s England out of the way, thank goodness. This time tomorrow I shall be walking along the pilgrim route from Dieppe to Rouen. It will be good to be in a land where people know something of their own past.

I received my last pilgrim stamp in England at Lewes Tourist Information Centre. The chap at the desk wasn’t wearing beige, which was a relief, nor did he say, “Can you leave that big stick outside?” He made a complete mess of the page in my credencial by smudging his worn out rubber stamp on the crisp cream page.

Lewes, Sussex. Don’t expect much in the way of a pilgrim stamp.

Thank goodness I’m leaving England tonight. What is it with this godforsaken country and the inability to provide pilgrims with proper stamps in their pilgrim records? There should be a full parliamentary enquiry. I made my way downhill through the town to a place where I could find one last reminder that England still had some good taste left. Harveys Sussex Brewery, and the best pint of English ale since Wandsworth.

In the very last of the daylight, I made my way out of Lewes along the footpath by the river Ouse. I had plenty of time before the midnight ferry sailed and Newhaven would be the best place to spend my last English pounds, filling myself with fish and chips before leaving for Dieppe. I had sailed from here so many times and the place brought back memories of bicycle trips to Normandy, the start of adventures, the salt smell of the sea and the shriek of gulls.

Newhaven, where the ferry sails to Dieppe.

There is no better way to leave England than this, and when I permanently left England some years later I made a point of leaving from here.

9 thoughts on “Wych Cross to Newhaven ferry

  1. What a good way of putting it, Simon. Yes, it feels more personal. There is one boat, not dozens of boats coming and going, so it adds to the sense that you are doing something unusual. From the car park, with just a few dozen vehicles and hardly any trucks, you make your way into an untidy little railway station ferry terminal – hardly changed since the 1950s when the boat trains from Charing Cross drew up next to the cross-Channel steamer – and there are so few passenger buying tickets that a coffee dispenser and a Coca-Cola machine are enough to supply the needs of all who are waiting to board. Of course, on a daytime sailing, there is the glorious view of the Seven Sisters cliffs to starboard, but I had chosen the midnight sailing.


  2. I’ve used the night ferry since the 1980s. There is a five hour break to put up your feet or have a nap before you disembark around 5.30 am. If you are driving and going south, you can get ‘beyond Paris before traffic builds up and be in Chartres by 0800, heading for la France profonde. So I think that there is much to be said for the night ferry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Only eight days walking from Dieppe to Chartres, Simon. Leave the car at home next time! If you follow the pilgrim, from tomorrow you’ll see what a good route it is! Starting with the Chasse Marée from Dieppe to Rouen. (The old fish carters’ route to Rouen market.)


  4. ‘What is it with this godforsaken country […]?’

    Phew. That’s a tough one.
    Short answer:
    Year 9

    Longer answer:
    Well, I left the godforsaken country on 16 July 1985 on the 23:59 sailing from Ramsgate to Dunquerque, having suffered the same since 4th. May 1979. The dates herein may give readers a clue as to…

    No Bourdons in those days of course, only a one hundred quid Bedford van and a ticket for another ferry crossing, this time thankfully not a return leg, but one ending in Palma.
    [62000 words omitted here]

    And so it came to pass twenty five years later, I happened across our Pilgrim. I can report that he is still walking, albeit bourdonless. Mostly uphill. In Sella and I am delighted to be able to add that neither he or I have pondered the purchase of those fateful return channel crossings via Dieppe or Dunquerque respectively.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now this virtual pilgrimage is really taking off…!

    It is beginning to develop in the way that I hoped when I was sent off from Worcester Cathedral, on a virtual rainy day, two weeks ago. I have since virtually walked across England to Newhaven, via a second virtual send off at Westminster Cathedral. And the readership has grown. USA, France, Australia, Spain, UK… The pilgrims virtually walking alongside me have increased beyond my expectations.

    The comments from Simon and Buhorojo in this post have now caused me to pause the posting of the next day’s walk in France. I shall stay a little while longer with the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. I see that we need a proper virtual interlude. We need to stay on the midnight ferry and reflect on the crossing properly, asking “What does it mean to be leaving England?”

    And so, an interlude: Day 12(b) The Midnight Ferry to Dieppe. In homage to Geoffrey Chaucer.


  6. There is certainly something about catching the midnight ferry. I remember departing in the darkness, with the glow of the ferry lights, the smell of the engine oil and the blast of the foghorn. Crossing the channel, full of excitement and anticipation, in the middle of the night. Out on the top deck, wide awake, with the spray of the ocean air, the crashing of the waves below, as the boat sped on, and the cry of the seagulls! I was clearly destined to journey on this part of the virtual pilgrimage in the darkness of the night, and on this occasion, accompanied by the call of owls. The next blog post title sounds like a Debussy piece!

    Will share the links to make a donation for Whizz-Kidz!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gosh! Comment at 04.01 a.m., Alys! Are you back on virtual Whizz-Kidz Pilgrim Control in Hampstead? Or with me on the virtual ferry “Severin” about to dock in Dieppe? Lovely comment, full of the sounds and sights of the night ferry.

    I was trying to remember the way the boat used to dock in Dieppe, before the new ferry terminal was built. We came off the ferry and up the ramp directly into the port. Sometimes they let us cyclists off first. Other times they would let all the cars leave first, then the cyclists, and we’d be left in a cloud of exhaust fumes in the empty car deck, before making our way up the ramp. Immediately we were cycling alongside the little cafes and restaurants of the Dieppe fishing port, looking for an early boulangerie and asking if there was a bar-tabac at this hour.

    “The next blog post title sounds like a Debussy piece!” Oh dear. No, it is an ‘interlude’ involving Elvis and karaoke, rather than a prelude… But you remind me that Debussy influenced Olivier Messiaen who I will mention when this pilgrimage arrives at the great organ in Chartres, and he was still alive when we were cycling around Normandy in 1984 and visiting Chartres in 1985.


  8. Technically 3am, which is far more civilised! – For some reason the comments are always recorded an hour later than we are here. However, I am definitely in Dieppe now, looking for a boulangerie! A proper one that is, rather than an overpriced posh one in Hampstead!

    Oh yes, I know; Britten’s Karaoke Sea Interludes… Best of British!

    I shall look forward to Chartres!

    Liked by 1 person

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