South Downs Way: Jack & Jill to Ditchling Beacon

The South Downs Way is a 100-mile path for walkers and cyclists and extends from Winchester to Eastbourne.  We have now traversed 7% of that path.  While that may not sound like a lot, it really has taken us some time.  That’s because we do the round-trip (return), not the one-way (single) path.  We might cover more ground if we took advantage of public transport to deliver us to one spot and pick-up at another.

The second phase of our South Downs Way walk also started at the Jack and Jill windmills.  However, this time we headed east towards Ditchling Beacon.  The beacon, a small post in the ground, formed part of a chain of bonfire signals used to warn of the approach of danger.  Back in the Georgian/Regency days, this could mean the possibility of an invasion from the French, or even the coming of the Preventive Officer, depending on who used the site.

After the strenuous walk of the previous week towards Devil’s Dyke, we decided to take it easy.  This part of the South Downs Way encompasses the Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve.  Parts of the reserve can be quite steep, but we only stayed at the top where the path is relatively flat.  But it afforded wonderful views.  From where we were, we could see out to the sea (English Channel).

Cows and sheep were grazing contentedly all around us.  The cows didn’t bother us, but we tried to avoid attracting their attention as we’ve heard the warnings about people being trampled to death.  The sheep and little lambies were, well, “sheepish”.  But our eldest managed to sneak up on a lamb and touch its fur before it ran away.

It was not the best of days in terms of weather.  It was quite windy and there was a slight chill, which did not help.  The kids had not been very willing to go for a walk because of the Devil’s Dyke experience, but after chasing lambs, they were in a better mood.  The younger one started to have a tantrum by the time we approached the beacon because she thought daddy and sissy were leaving her behind.  When told to run ahead and catch up, she started throwing hysterics and crying, “I can’t.  I can’t breathe.”  As we took a few steps forward and an ice-cream truck came in to view, that was the end of her histrionics.

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I know there are people who go to other countries and complain about everything they find there.  And I know people who go to other countries and complain about everything they left behind.  I don’t belong to either camp but I have a little of both.  I think it’s good to have both perspectives.

I can’t really compare the UK and US in terms of good and bad, but rather more like they are different.  A couple of recent comments from colleagues have made me aware of these differences.  The first comment was: “I would never live in America.  I could never live in a country where people won’t walk or cycle to work.”  The second was: “I couldn’t live in Canada.  It’s too backwards.”  Canada is not the US, but in terms of “backwardness”, I don’t think Europeans discriminate between the two.

There’s a misconception amongst my English colleagues that there are no sidewalks in America.  That’s why it discourages people from walking.  I’d like to point out that there were plenty of sidewalks in various places I lived.  I will say that “in the sticks”, you might not find them easily, but the same can be said in the UK.

I agree most people don’t walk or cycle to work in the US, because most of us don’t or can’t live near work.  However, road access is much easier, so you can afford to live further out and still get to work.  In bigger cities, such as NYC, you see crowds walking to work or taking public transport.  I won’t deny some drive, but they would be insane to do so in such places unless they have to.

The comments certainly point to differences in one’s priorities.

I didn’t mind driving to work if I could live in a nice, quiet neighbourhood where I didn’t need to worry as much about my kid’s health and safety.  Of course, my colleague is more concerned about the environment.  I must say that people in the UK and Europe are much more aware, or much more concerned, about environmental issues that the US.  I’ve known tree-huggers in the States, but the proportion of tree-huggers to gas-guzzler owners is quite minuscule.

As for backwardness, I don’t know what to say.  My husband did point out there are certain things that the British would consider backwards in the States.  First of all, wireless.  Practically all of the UK is wired for mobile phone and internet access.  That being said, not all of the UK has high-speed access, yet.  Of course, the US is huge compared to the UK, so there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in order to reach the same level of access.  There are areas of the US that are quite remote and isolated, in terms of community and technology, and it’s questionable whether they will ever be taken forward.  But, then again, if you were to move to another country, would you choose to move into the back woods?  Probably not, since there wouldn’t be anything there in terms of work or play.

We use the internet a lot and some areas of the States were difficult with high-speed access, but we got by.  We didn’t care too much about cell phones and if we had a dropped line, we lived with it.  Most cell phone use was not emergency and I find that people tend to use it so indiscriminately, it becomes annoying.  We thought it was silly that everyone had a cell phone in the US, but it’s even worse in the UK.  I suppose it’s backwards of me to think that we can live without a mobile, especially in an age where public phone access is being phased out.

Speaking of phones, I find that many businesses in the UK don’t even have 0800 numbers.  They usually have 0845 or 0844 numbers, which is cheaper, but not free.  Most businesses in the States have toll-free 800 numbers to call when you have a question.  It really discourages people to call if they have to pay for it.  You are not allowed to use the work phone to make calls for anything outside of work.  It is fraudulent, because local calls are not free.  (That’s why everyone has a mobile.)  Recently, we had to call an airline in an urgent matter at work, and the only number, which we received through the airport, was a premium number, charged at 65p per minute.  That is the height of ridiculousness.

The person making the comment about backwardness also mentioned New Zealand as being backwards, living in the 50s, with small shops, etc.  I find it very funny, then, to hear that Canada was just as backwards.  Canada, being very similar to the US, does not conjure up images of small shops for me.  England was supposedly the nation of shop-keepers.  Though it no longer is a nation of shopkeepers, it was the quaintness of small shops in England that I found charming.  It’s perhaps not the most convenient way to shop, but to me, representative of a bygone era.

I found the US to be much more convenient than the UK in terms of living.  Towns were bigger.  You could usually live, work and play in the same town (I say “usually” because it depends where you live in the States).  Here, we live in one town, the kids go to school in another, extracurricular activities in a third, and I work in a fourth.  It’s not London, but we’re not exactly in the villages either. 

It was easier to get around by car in the US; though I don’t mind the public transport in the UK.  The only problem with public transport is relying on their schedule, which is affected by adverse weather.  I have not been too inconvenienced by it, but to hear the natives complain…well, there’s still work to be done in that department.

As I said, you can’t really say one is better than the other.  The US and the UK are different.  We’ve discussed staying vs. going back and can’t decide because it’s not about one being better.  It’s about priorities and mentality.

Wow!  It’s been a while since I posted.

My hours were supposed to be 9-5, but there’s no 9-5 about it.  Paperwork was rushed through so that I could start on the agreed date.  It’s a good thing I’m only working 4 days a week.

Unfortunately, last Friday was taken up with clearing out of the old house.  Still some unfinished business, but after threatening legal action, I think the agents are  starting to see our side.  It also helped that a couple of them have already come out to see it and have exclaimed in disgust at the conditions we were forced to live in.  Then it was our daughter’s last gymnastics meet last weekend, followed by another hectic work week.  So, I am finally back to post about my time in Britain.

I’ve had loads of things I wanted to say, but I’ve forgotten most of it.  However, I do want to comment on my mode of travel these days.  I’ve been taking the trains in to work.  It actually works out less costly than if I were to drive (that is, if I ever get a chance to practice for my exam).  The most inconvenient thing, of course, is to live by the train schedule.  It can be tricky as well when the work days are so variable that you never know when you’ll finish, so you don’t know which train is best.

In my first week, I just had to go with the flow.  But, by the end, I managed to get a rough idea of the timetables from a couple different stations.  The one closest to work is rather small, so there are fewer trains that stop there.  So, some days, I have to walk an extra mile to get to the next station.  I may have to get creative with the routes I take.  It may mean that I also have to walk further at the house end.

It’s such a novel thing for me to commute to work via public transport.  I know that in big cities in the US, people do it all the time, but I never lived in those cities.  It’s more common in the UK, even in the smaller towns.  Given the state of the roads these days, I’m surprised not to see more people doing it.

Of course, you start to notice the regulars on the train as well.  It’s a bit of a surprise for me to find large groups of students travelling from one town to another to attend school – a state school, not a private one.  It makes me wonder about the availability of schools.  Which reminds me, the deadline for secondary school admission is next week – better get going on that.