If there's one thing I like to see on a Wednesday evening, it's a travelling freak show with a Wolfboy chained to The Thing, next to a Bearded Lady and a Gimp in a wetsuit.
You can't ask for much more from a night out. I know the picture quality's not great, but I was in the middle of a field at the time, trying to avoid being hit in the face by flying tomatoes. National Trust members aren't the kind of people I thought they were.
Anyhoo, as you'll know if you answered the door to any goblins last night, it was Halloween, so being the kind of people who like to avoid becoming the victims of extortion attempts, Lisa and I decided to go out for the evening. The National Trust were holding a 'Devilish Dyke Halloween Walk', described in the council's 'Countryside Events' leaflet as "a ghostly walk through the dark and mist down into the depths of the Dyke valley", which all sounded very pleasant. Obviously they didn't mention the freaks, zombies, axe-murderers, and attempts to resurrect Freddie Mercury, but I expect they were short of space.
Having been on a number of local guided walks this year, I naturally expected about two people to turn up to this one. I was close. It was about two hundred. And that doesn't include Lisa's sister and nephew who we dragged along in an attempt to boost numbers. Half of them were dressed as witches, goblins and skeletons, and one man had a scythe. I kept away from him.
The walk was led by Saint Cuthman of Steyning, who was quite chatty for a hermit, and sounded a lot like Justin Lee Collins but with more of an accent. Cuthman led us off into the darkness of The Devil's Dyke until we arrived at a travelling circus (which looked suspiciously like a National Trust van with a trailer), where a Ringmaster invited us to throw tomatoes at his freaks. I've never seen children so keen to get their hands on a bit of veg.
Tragically, having pelted the freaks for a minute or so, they unexpectedly broke free of their shackles and ran amok in the crowd, which just goes to show the importance of chaining your bearded lady securely. I was almost knocked over by a runaway gimp, which I'm sure must breach some kind of health and safety guideline.
Having watched the Wolfboy disappear, howling, into the night, Cuthman warned us about the devil's cowpats up ahead, and we continued on down the hill to a bench where we heard about the headless horseman of Poynings, before being unexpectedly attacked by a group of zombies. At the time I thought it was all quite scary, but of course that was before I attempted to walk down a steep slippery hill in complete darkness with Lisa trying to pull me to the ground and break both my legs. Trust me, that was scary.
By this time, Lisa's sister had moved on from complaining about the tomato on her coat, and was busy trying to stay upright by walking like a penguin, so making sure we kept her in front of us at all times to break our fall, Lisa and I slid downhill through the cowpats and into the woods, where we encountered the disturbing image on the left, before being accosted by the evil dead, who were not so dead that they couldn't climb trees, start bonfires, and make growling noises in the dark.
By some miracle we made it out of there alive, and emerged into the clearing at the bottom of the valley, where a couple of witches served us pumpkin pie (or would have done if we'd got there before they ran out), after which we investigated the haunted pond, and heard the story of Thomas, Richard and Harold (those names ring a bell), two of whom drowned there a hundred years ago. Fortunately Harold survived, but was apparently struck dumb by the experience. Making it all the more surprising when his ghost came running down the hill and shouted that he couldn't find the stile in the dark.
On the verge of mental trauma, we continued on through the valley, past a headless axeman who was busy hacking the circus ringmaster to death, and before long reached our final battle with the devil himself. Following the complicated instructions issued to us by Sister Ursula, who appeared on a hill looking like the Emperor from Star Wars, we all shone our torches on the devil and shouted "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" (as Cuthman said, "I apologise if this comes as a bit of an anticlimax"). Intimidated by the sound of two hundred people doing bird impressions, Satan naturally fled at high speed, and we marched on triumphantly to the climax of the evening's entertainment: an appearance by the late, great, Freddie Mercury, who emerged from a coffin to perform 'I Want To Break Free', before riding out of the valley on a quad bike.
And to think some people stay in on weeknights.