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A Hundred Years in the Sunshine

Flanders’ Fields

2nd Annual South Downs Way Walk

20 to 28 June 2014   Winchester to Eastbourne

Day 1   20 June   Winchester to Exton

       13 miles from Winchester to Exton - lovely warm day with plenty of sunshine - I set out from the King Alfred statue at 9.45am to walk out of Winchester and across the busy M3 motorway (had to run a bit sharpish there!). After passing through the pretty village of Chilcomb we climbed up Telegraph Hill and then along to Cheesefoot Head. The SDW and the King's Way follow the same path in this area and I took lunch on Gander Down with the sound of larks singing in sky above me. After crossing the A272 for the second time, the path continued along Holden Lane until we reached The Milbury's public house and enjoyed a refreshing glass. Inside the pub is a 300 foot well powered by a treadmill which has a diameter of 12 feet. Anyway, could not sit there relaxing for too long as the trail led on toward the fairly steep descent into the Meon valley and the village of Exton. I reached The Shoe pub at 16.10pm with time enough for a healthy helping of ice cream in the garden with the swift river Meon flowing by . . . and all too soon it was time for the coach to arrive and drive us back to Worthing. End of a lovely day and the best memory was the fields of scarlet poppies, a heavy flush of red in the golden fields.

Day 2   21 June   Exton to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

       Only 12 miles today, Exton to Queen Elizabeth Country Park - another lovely warm day - starting from The Shoe pub at Exton at 9.45am we were very soon on the lower slopes of Old Winchester Hill. A slow climb and time to admire the blue fields of flax, at present in bloom prior to the seeds being harvested to make linseed oil. Still upward and we were soon crossing the top of the hill (Monarch's Way not South Downs Way) - 646 feet - before descending to the trout farm at Whitewool Pond for lunch and watch a little of the fly fishing. Then a steady climb out of the valley before the gradient steepens sharply up Salt Hill, many a stop to recover but, finally, at a height of around 750 feet the reward of glorious views across the countryside. Soon there was to be an ice cream from the Beech Cafe at the Sustainability Centre (an independent learning centre) to refresh the legs and then onward passed Hyden Cross (with exceptional views to the north) and finally Butser Hill. Descending into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and finishing at 3.45pm with a cup of filter coffee and a bag of Maltesers. A great day, enjoy the flax in bloom and the summit of Old Winchester Hill.

Day 3   22 June   Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Cocking

       13 miles today, Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Cocking - good warm day and seemingly all uphill - left the Country Park at 10.05am and climbed steadily up to the ridgeway and then followed the path as it led eastwards. Eventually, a steep climb through some woods as a chapter of bikers rode along the B2141 below (well, there was at least a page and a half of them) and then out on to Harting Downs. The amazing views to the north as we ate lunch and enjoyed an ice cream, the village of South Harting nestling in the valley below with the green coloured, copper clad broach spire of the church. The trail leads on and although not actually on the South Downs Way we took the very steep climb up and down Beacon Hill (794 feet) before passing over Pen Hill and across Philliswood Down. The German grave and then the Devil's Jumps (a Bronze Age barrow cemetary) were noticed and then it was Didling Hill before the rolling path crosses Cocking Down and passes one of the chalk stones created by Andy Goldsworthy. I arrived at the day's finish on the A286 at 4.40pm with just enough time for a coffee, supplied by the owners of the nearby Manor Farm who had set up refreshments for us as well as making available some of their organic meat products. Today's best moments were the views from Harting Down and reaching the summit of Beacon Hill - next stop Everest.

Day 4   23 June   Cocking to Whiteways

       Only 9 miles today, the A286 south of Cocking to Whiteways - another sunny and warm day - left the A286 south of Cocking at 9.55am heading eastwards up Manorfarm Down - on the south of the track we saw a bee orchid - then passed Heyshott Down and Graffham Down and for a while joined the West Sussex Literary Trail. Again we were reaching heights of over 750 feet before the drop down to Littleton Farm on the A285. It was on the way down that I was overtaken by a group of Nepalese runners . . . I must have quickened my pace a little as they overtook me again on the way up the other side, after crossing the road, and heading towards Sutton Down. It was back over 700 feet as we passed  Glatting Beacon with it's radio masts and as we headed for Bignor Hill (738 feet) the ice cream lady was in evidence and I sampled the butter toffee flavour (again). It was then passed blue fields of flax and Toby's Stone (Home is the sailor / Home from the sea) and steeply down to the three barns at Westburton Hill and finally across the rolling downland to finish at Whiteways cafe (3.35pm) for a well-deserved coffee. What was the highlight today? It was a good walk but the bee orchid was special.

Day 5   24 June   Whiteways to Washington

       9 miles again today, through God's country - Whiteways to Washington - the weather was sunny and hot as I left Whiteways at 9.50am and rejoined the SDW before heading downhill to the River Arun - unfortunately my foot began troubling me and so I sat on the riverbank and stuck on a blister plaster in the hope of preventing a problem - the sun was beating down relentlessly and after crossing the B2139 I began the wearisome ordeal of making my way up the ever-steep Amberley Mount. At the top there was a common spotted orchid and then the walk along the ridgeway (Rackham Hill, Springhead Hill, Kithurst Hill, Chantry Post and Sullington Hill) with magnificent views of the Wildbrooks and Parham Park. The journey was relieved by the ice cream lady stationed at Kithurst Hill car park to offer light refreshment. We descended Barnsfarm Hill into Washington and it was this final downhill that made my foot quite painful and I hobbled to the finish at the Frankland Arms at 3.25pm - not sure how my foot is going to feel by morning.

Day 6   25 June   Washington to Devil’s Dyke

       My foot felt quite reasonable this morning so I went to see how far I could get - 7 miles, Washington to the River Adur - the weather was warm and sunny. I set out from Washington at 9.50am  to face the steep climb back up to the ridgeway, it was a long haul and finally rewarded by some excellent views - the Isle of Wight was very clear and the oil refinery at Fawley recognisable. A quick visit to the dew pond and then the inspiring sight of Chanctonbury Ring on the skyline, high above the wide expanse of the Weald down below. Walking eastwards through the farmland with birds singing overhead towards Steyning Round Hill and Bowl - and then passed the memorial to local farmers Walter and Thelma Langmead and on to the pig farm. The chalk and flint descent to Botolphs in the river valley did no favours to my foot and then a short stretch along the riverbank before crossing the Adur and, at 14.15pm, calling a halt to the day's walk. No especial highlight of the day, just the joy of walking along the ridge on a glorious summer day - what could be better.

I set a slow pace to try and protect my foot - it did not seem to be wise to increase the pace, walk a further 5 miles to Devil's Dyke and try to catch the last coach back. As it is I shall need to rest it tomorrow and hopefully get back out on the trail for Day 8.

Day 7   26 June   Devil’s Dyke to Newmarket Inn

       Feet and calves not up for a 13 mile walk from Devil's Dyke to the Newmarket Inn so I have not gone today. Sorry. Hopefully I should get out for some of Day 8.

Day 8   27 June   Newmarket Inn to Alfriston

       Could not face the prospect of the long 14 miles from Newmarket Inn to Alfriston - not sure how far I would have got if I had gone - it is becoming a rather disappointing close to the SDW 2014.

Tomorrow is the last day, I must go and finish in good spirits and see again the people I have met on the trail this year.

Belle Tout, Birling Gap and the chalk cliffs

Day 9   28 June   Alfriston to Eastbourne

       Back on the road again, 11 miles from Alfriston to Eastbourne - again it was a lovely warm day. Set out from Alfriston at 9.45am and followed the River Cuckmere to Litlington, then through Friston Forest to West Dean and down to Exceat. Followed the river path through the country park before climbing up Haven Brow to Cliff End. From there it was straight path along the coast, although very undulating and a long way up from the sea. The slow clamber up and down the Seven Sisters before dropping down to Birling Gap for a Feast choc-ice, less houses than last year but more beach. Then the climb up to Belle Tout, it is still clinging on, followed by the seemingly endless rise up to Beachy Head with the lighthouse far below. The cliff edge does seem a lot closer and finally, at last, the descent down towards Eastbourne to finish the trail at 3.45pm. Today's best view was looking westwards across Cuckmere Haven to the cliffs leading round towards Seaford.

There was then a further mile to walk along the promenade at Eastbourne to get to the Winter Gardens for the end of walk celebration and another chance to talk to old and new friends. Great fun.

 A total of 74 miles completed this year, slightly better than the 73 miles achieved in 2013 - although I do feel that I am getting slower, some days I was barely in before the last bus.

The Annual South Downs Way Walk is organised by Footprints of Sussex

Visit them at footprintsofsussex.co.uk

Learn more about this walk along the National Trail at southdownsway.com

This annual event is sponsored by Regatta and supported by West Sussex County Council