One hundred miles is a tantalising distance. On foot, it’s far enough to feel like an adventure, but not beyond the realms of possibility.

Ever since I discovered that Gusbourne’s vineyards in Sussex and in Kent are separated by 100 miles, I couldn’t quite shake the idea of a journey between the two terroirs. From chalk to clay.

There’s a lost pilgrims’ trail, The Old Way to Canterbury, which used to connect the two sites. In medieval times, the route was important enough to feature on the Gough map — one of the oldest-known maps of Britain: you can still make out the trail, inked in red across the vellum.

And, although The Old Way doesn’t exist today, there’s enough long-distance footpath which runs along its route to make my vineyard-to-vineyard plan possible.

Following in the echoes of long-gone footsteps, tracing pathways etched deep into the memory of the land — there’s a romance to it which I couldn’t resist.

Of course, romance — and vellum maps from the 14th century — will only get you so far. Enter, stage left, my great friend Georgie: adventurer and “anything’s possible” kind of person. Oxygen to the flames of opportunity.

I sent her a WhatsApp.
“I’m so up for this,” came her instant reply.

To show we were taking the challenge seriously, we met up to open a bottle of wine and tap coordinates into Ordnance Survey’s website. Filled with the self-belief that comes from a comfy armchair and nice Pinot Noir, it didn’t seem too ambitious to crunch the 100 miles into a long midsummer weekend.

And so, obscenely early one June morning we pulled into Gusbourne’s farmyard near Chichester. Adam Foden, our vineyard manager in West Sussex, was also up with the lark and on hand to show us where to stash the car.

He bid us a cheerful, if slightly bemused, hello and farewell.

The route stretched out before us, out through the vineyards and up onto the chalk grassland of the South Downs Way. Thin, high cloud held the promise of a bright summer sky to come; the wind was sharp, and our mood was electric.

Underfoot, the grass was close-cropped, dense and springy as we made our way up to the top of Bignor Hill. There’s a lovely legend that a dragon has its den up here, not far from the Roman villa — but, these days, you’re more likely to spot stargazers than mythical beasts: it’s one of the National Park’s dark sky sites.

Two hundred metres above sea level: the panoramic views draw your eye in every direction. The chalk ridge of the South Downs Way is a vast spine arching through the bulk and curve of the hills which fall away to the sides.

You don’t need a geologist to tell you that the land here is something special. The scar-bright path which cuts a swathe through the grassland feels as ancient as the ridge itself; a causeway used through history. It’s the self-same chalk seam that dips down from this towering ridge under the channel to rise again in Champagne.

We press on. I should mention we’re running where we can; gathering time when the going is easy and refuelling on the hoof. I suspect any pilgrims who walked this way didn’t need to be back at work on Monday morning.

The path takes us by Wiston Estate, one of our neighbouring producers who make wonderful sparkling English wine. It’s mid-morning and there are plenty of visitors seeking out fresh air — perhaps followed by a well-deserved wine tasting. As we refill water bottles at the nearby Washington stand-pipe, I reflect that this is a route to be repeated, but with a less onerous daily mileage.

Our next stretch took us towards Lewes. Close your eyes and picture the South Downs and it’s our view you’re imagining: mile after mile of picture-perfect Eric Ravilious rolling countryside.

Drifts of May blossom like fallen snow; cow parsley in nodding waves behind the shelter of trees and hedges; fields rippling with grass and pinpricks of yellow wort and hawkbit.

We edge on south of Plumpton — home to the UK’s viticultural elite, the next generation of winemakers. As the hours drift on, and the light began to shift towards evening, we made our way down from the Downs to our overnight stop. Tired legs. Tired feet. Elated minds.

Bed was a shepherd’s hut. It was bliss. Our happiness increased exponentially by the urgent need to rest. The fresh breakfast ingredients left for us felt like an act of true generosity, the bed like perfect kindness. And on the discovery that there was a sauna in an old stable — I kid you not — it felt like we’d begun to hallucinate with happiness. Should you ever find yourself wanting a rural escape, with thought woven into every thread, I cannot recommend “Joe’s Place” more highly. You’ll find him on Airbnb.


I told you this was to be a journey of two terroirs. So far, we’d revelled in the sweep and drama of the South Downs — but let’s skip our way forward, through the cool sweet air of morning, and on to the chocolate box village of Alfriston. On, on, until — somewhere north of Eastbourne — we leave the chalk hills behind us.

This time, we’re swapping the footsteps of the pilgrims for the tread of a conquering army.  The 1066 route. We pick up the trail near Pevensey — where, history’s best guess tells us — William Duke of Normandy began his provocative march north-east to Battle hoping to topple King Harold.

At a stroke, we’d exchanged the heights of the downland for the marshy expanse of the Levels. Any hope I’d had that this would make for easier travelling was dashed by the fact that dried-out clay and cattle-stomped marsh was ankle-breakingly hard to traverse.

The scenery had a different kind of magnificence. The views were long and low — horizon stretching — punctuated by castles and cattle, deep woodland and the occasional sculpture by local artist Keith Pettit.

Past the impressive vista of Herstmonceux castle, we crossed Boreham Hill road and the first oast house of our travels appeared. It felt like we were closing in on Kentish countryside at last.

We navigated our way from castle to castle, until we wound our way through the bucolic meadow which, on 10th October 1066, was reputedly the last stand of 10,000 men. It was an incongruous thought; hard to reconcile with the drifts of long grasses, dappled light and butterflies.

On the top of the hill, stonework swathed in the warm glow of sunshine, we saw the proud façade of Battle Abbey; it was built here as an act of penitence and praise by William the Conqueror almost 1,000 years ago. Reaching it felt like a huge landmark in our journey.

Battle itself is worth taking a morning to explore; but we bypassed the abbey ruins, the quaint antique shops and the gunpowder museum and pressed on.

The final leg of our journey was awash with lowland features; windmills and oast houses. Just south of Winchelsea, we stumbled upon Charles Palmer vineyards and cellar door; a reminder that we were traversing the heart of English wine country.

On reaching Winchelsea — an achingly historic, idyllic town, with a handful of inviting shops — we stopped to guzzle sun-ripe strawberries and lemonade. It was a scene torn from the pages of an Enid Blyton story. It’s only once you venture through the town’s stern archway that you can see how the centuries have altered this part of the world. This was once a crucially important coastal defence — part of the Cinque Ports network — which spanned the old coast of England.

The route took us on to Camber Castle, its concentric stone towers fanned like petals around the keep. Untouched and deserted, it had the sense of being washed up here, left by time and tide. We drifted around it along with the seabirds before striking out for Rye, the next stop on our journey — and the last before we headed north to Appledore.

Another of the Cinque Ports, Rye is a picture postcard of cobbled streets and Instagramworthy old-world houses. Galleries, boutiques and tempting restaurants nestle side by side — all demanding a return visit for a closer look. We stopped in at the excellent Rye Deli for doorstep sandwiches to fuel the final furlong.

In part, we’d be walking the Saxon Shore Way — another long-distance path which had lured me in with its fascinating past. Over its almost 130 miles, it traces England’s old coastline, far inland of Romney Marsh, giving a unique insight into how — and why — the soils around Gusbourne’s Kent vineyards are so special.

For now, though, we were on the banks of the Royal Military Canal — a 28-mile navigation built as defence against the threat of invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. The heat (along with 90-something miles) had sapped some of the spring from our step. I’d taken to singing rather manically. On another day, this would have been cheerful, easy walking without need for concentration or navigation.

After the longest miles of the walk, it was time to strike north — away from the canal and the far-reaching Romney Marsh and up towards the Appledore escarpment. From this level, you really feel the climb up, and the sense that once, this incline formed cliffs that demarcated land and sea. Layer upon layer of Tunbridge Wells sand and Wealden clays lie under our feet.

We pass through Appledore, past the church where the John de Goosebourne family crest still hangs — I nod in the direction of this Gusbourne artefact — but the end of our route is calling. When, at last, the vineyards appear I can’t quite believe it. We hop over a style and into Mill Hill East. This, I imagine, is how London marathon runners feel when they hit The Mall.

Only, no gold medals are waiting for us. There was something far better. A sun deck filled with relaxed visitors. An array of sparkling wines to taste. And a seriously epic journey to raise a glass to. A toast to friendship and adventure and something intangible — but exhilarating — achieved. From Sussex to Kent, chalk to clay: one hundred memory-filled miles.