I love the South Downs. It’s this wild, windswept place. You can’t build on the land because it’s a national park so it has stayed the way it is for centuries. My dad Harold, my brother Mark and I all walked the South Downs Way from Eastbourne one rainy July in 1977. The three of us were camping, carrying our tents, getting wet and sleeping on the Downs during thunderstorms. It was a pivotal time in my life. I was 15, and we had lost Mum nine years earlier. This was our first trip together, the three of us, without her.
Dad told us about the hiking trail and asked us to go with him, as it seemed like an adventure, so we said yes. He got brand-new shoes especially for the trip but he hadn’t broken them in and he lasted about four days in them until the blisters set in. Four days feels like an incredibly long time with blisters! We walked together in all sorts of weather, both rain and shine, with everything we needed strapped to our back in our green rucksacks.
I was working in the self-service café in the De La Warr Pavilion in those days, selling ice cream and teas and coffees, proper British fare, getting paid £38 a week. It was an interesting time in my life; we were just coming out of all the pain of Mum’s death and still dealing with our grief. We had got used to it being just the three of us and were trying our best to see what we could make happen in our lives now that she was gone. I was 15 years away from becoming successful and I was very much a determined idiot at that point, sneaking into Pinewood Studios – à la Spielberg at Universal – and things like that.
We camped on one of the highest points in the entire Downs and stopped every now and then to admire the beauty of it all, eating ham rolls wrapped in cling film and drinking tea from a thermos. It seems crazy when I look back now, but that’s what we did. I was happy to do it.