A year on from when they first met through Slow Ways, strangers-turned-friends, Saira and Samin go on a hike together in Sussex
We finally went on a hike together.
Saturday afternoon, on a gloomy overcast winters’ day, we got the 12 bus from Brighton Marina to Chyngton Gardens, where we began our walk to Cuckmere Haven. We passed fields of sheep and stopped off to get tea from an off-grid café beside a barn. We walked along the chalk cliffs beside the moving sea and talked the whole way. It had been months since we’d last met and we had so much to catch up on!
How we met
Last year, early March, I moved to Brighton. I didn’t know anyone in the city. A few weeks after the move, my boss Dan forwarded me an email from a young woman named Samin. She too had recently moved to Brighton from London, and asked whether we were organising any Slow Ways walks in the local area. I responded; it turns out she lived very close to where I was, on the other side of Preston Park. We met the next evening, in the café at Duke of York’s Picturehouse. It was from here, we began our slow way to friendship.
We had a lot in common. We were both in our thirties, we both belonged to multiple worlds, we’d both moved to the city on a whim, and we were both carving out semi-new lives. Samin was a French-Iranian fashion photographer who grew up in Paris. She’d lived in London for a decade before deciding she’d had enough. She wanted to change careers and to live by the sea.
As it followed, most weekends we would meet for a wander around the lanes, we’d go to charity shops and enjoy copious amounts of bubble tea, we’d watch the sunset at the beach. And we’d chat. We’d chat about everything; writing, creativity, politics, faith, life, love, travel… it was an easy friendship.
However, months passed, and we never did the one thing we set out to do— the very reason why we’d first met— to walk a Slow Ways together… until now. We walked a part of a Slow Way along one of my favourite routes, a route I’d walked many times come rain or shine: Seaford to Eastbourne.
From one place to another
At the end of our walk, we enjoyed a meal together at an Italian restaurant, Vicini Vicini in Seaford. It was Samin’s birthday in a few days, and it felt like a nice way to celebrate. After the meal, it started to rain and the sky darkened. We got the bus to Brighton. I told Samin I would be travelling to France in the summer and she suggested that we meet there. She could show me around Paris, the city she grew up in, and take me to the places I wouldn’t be able to find on my own. I agreed, excited by the prospect and grateful for the offer.
Slow Ways to friendship
During my time in Brighton, I also made another soul friend through Slow Ways, Kelly Smith. Kelly was a walk leader for Black Girls Hike at the time. She had organised a Slow Ways walk to Saltdean as part of our first swarm event, and I went along. It was part-walk, part-guided tour. She told us all the insider info on the different areas we passed through and shared stories of the people and places that brought Brighton to life. We ended the walk in Whitecliffs, a lovely tropical beachside café, where we talked for ages. I got to know others on the walk, a doctor named Martine who worked at Worthing Hospital and Nicola, a mental health practitioner who worked for the YMCA. We got on so well that we ended up meeting again soon after. The walk felt like an orientation to a new city. I’d discovered not only new places, but I made new connections with warm and spirited women.
Not long after the walk, I reached out to Kelly. I was inspired by her and wanted to interview her about her work and her connections to South Downs National Park for a project I was working on. I went to her flat in Kemptown one evening. After the interview we spent ages talking and it felt like the beginnings of a new friendship. Over the year, our friendship grew, and we got to know each other very well. We realised we had more in common than we could ever have imagined. We’d regularly call to check in on each other. We’d trade stories and share advice. We also worked together with the South Downs National Park and through Slow Ways.
When I moved to Brighton last year, I didn’t intend to make many friends. I wanted to use my time away from London to reflect and to work on creative projects and on developing my practices. I wanted to enjoy the solitude, a solitude that felt almost elusive in the city I grew up in. Strangely enough, I came to know some of my closest friends in Brighton through Slow Ways. Individuals, who like me, enjoyed their own company perhaps a bit too much. It meant that when we came together, we truly appreciated it. Our friendships were slow burn, they deepened over time. We were connected by place – by the city streets, the parks, the pathways, the beaches of Brighton.
The Slow Ways network is as much about connecting people as it is places. There’s a sense of magic and wonder about getting to know someone through their love of exploration, adventure and learning – through Slow Ways.
As I navigate life in London once again, I wonder if Slow Ways will continue to connect me to people and places – and whether through the network, I will come to know more beautiful, unexpected friendships…