Mark Twain famously professed that ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’. I must confess that when it comes to stepping out for a country stroll I, like Twain, am something of a purist: I tend to prefer my walks unencumbered – by golf, by commentary, even by conversation. I’m also a bit of a tech idiot.
As such, I’m probably not the best candidate for this immersive, interactive hike up Ditchling Beacon. But here I am – app uploaded, Bluetooth enabled, earphones in – entering the first ‘echo’, which triggers Ed Hughes’ specially composed sound score, and, you know what, it’s kind of cool. And as the walk unfolds – across fields of yellow cowslips, up steep chalk escarpments to the high downland plateau, the music tracking the changing contours of the topography as we walk, I become more and more entranced. The views are pure Ravilious – soft, undulating, treeless. The music, like the route, veers from jagged and a little vertiginous to serene and wide-angled.
As for the technology, my incompetency knows no bounds. At one point, as I try to locate myself by zooming in on my smartphone, it seems that I have strayed into the outskirts of Birmingham. Luckily, I am accompanied by two women who in my experience are far better at tricky things like geolocation and knowing which way up to hold your phone, and I am soon put right.
My initial reservations aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Maybe we didn’t give it our full, undivided attention – we chatted and laughed and sometimes had one earphone in, one out – but I can safely say that far from being a ‘walk spoiled’, this was a ramble enhanced. And as we sauntered back through shaded bluebell woods towards Ditchling, the final ‘echo’ playing a fanfare to our triumphant return, I was already planning a second, solo outing. Highly recommended.