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A Hundred Years in the Sunshine

Lighthouse at Beachy Head

3rd Annual South Downs Way Walk

6 to 14 June 2015   Eastbourne to Winchester

Day 1   6 June   16.8 km   Eastbourne to Alfriston

       Gosh, well here we are once again. Setting out from Eastbourne at 10.00am it was good and sunny with a fair breeze to accompany us. Climbing up towards Beachy Head (538 feet) it was seeming all routine, those super views and such great company but as we turned the corner towards Belle Tout the breeze was now in our face and increasing in strength. Birling Gap was sheltered and warm and the treat of a Feast lolly was most welcome. Next was the Seven Sisters, as the breeze seemed to become a gale we struggled up and down the steep slopes - Went Hill, Bailey's Hill, Flagstaff Point, Brass Point, Rough Brow, Short Brow and Haven Brow. Then, at last, into the shelter of Cuckmere Haven as we dropped down to walk alongside the river to Exceat. Up and down a hill and soon we reached the village of Westdean where I caught up with Sue and we strolled along through Friston Forest and then yet another hill before reaching Litlington. With only a mile or so left to go I stopped to enjoy afternoon coffee and shortbread, laid on in the village hall, unkind to refuse. All that now remained was a gentle wander along the banks of the Cuckmere River to Alfriston and finish at 16.10pm - an average speed of a magnificent 1.68 mph, far too lovely to hurry. Yes, a great day - no especial highlight, just the unrelenting wind against, all along the Seven Sisters, will be remembered for a long time.

Day 2   7 June   22.1 km   Alfriston to Newmarket Inn

       The big day, almost 14 miles. Set off from Alfriston at 9.45am and as we plodded up the long climb towards Firle Beacon (712 feet) a long stream of runners were on their way down as part of a half marathon. Together with the views over Arlington Reservoir and the village of Firle, there were many hang gliders at the top of the steep escarpments waiting for the right wind and, when it came, many of them took to the air. We soon passed the Radio Station at the top of Beddingham Hill (620 feet) before reaching Itford Hill (a mere 538 feet) and soon it was the descent to the South Downs Way Bridge over the A26. Then, across the River Ouse and lunch by the church at Southease. The long haul in the afternoon up Mill Hill to the ridgeway with the views over Lewes and the surrounding areas. Moving from East to West we crossed the Meridian Line before reaching Jugg's Road to circle the perimeter of Cold Coombes and finally heading downhill to the Newmarket Inn on the A27, finishing at 16.20pm - at an average speed of 2.1 mph. A good but hard day with the highlight being the crossing of the meridian, did I gain an extra day or lose one?

Day 3   8 June   19.9 km   Newmarket Inn to Devil's Dyke

       Still going strong. I set out from the Newmarket Inn at 10.00am and once across the A27 it was firstly up and over Long Hill before the long climb across Balmer Down. Then onwards and up to Blackcap (676 feet) and the ridgeway with glorious views in all directions. Heading west across Plumpton Plain towards Ditchling Beacon (814 feet) it was soon time for lunch and a Feast lolly from the ice cream van. Continuing on to Keymer Post (768 feet) and passing many dew ponds before reaching the village of Pyecombe. The ladies of the church (which has a fine tapsell gate with genuine Pyecombe shepherd's crook) had laid on a lovely spread of coffee and cakes which were enjoyed in the sunshine amongst the gravestones. No rest for the wicked, it was then over the busy A23 to be met by the long climb up and sharp descent to reach Saddlescombe before the final climb of the day up Summer Down to the finish at Devil's Dyke (the largest chalkland combe in Britain) at 16.25pm - an average speed of 1.93 mph. Another good, hard day . . . and the highlight? Well, walking all alone high above Saddlescombe and reaching a field with about 15 cattle gridlocked in the corner by the gate. It took quite a lot of coaxing to move them one at a time away from the gate so that I could get through.

Day 4   9 June   18.6 km   Devil's Dyke to Washington

       Out again today - setting out from Devil's Dyke at 9.50am to firstly see the magnificent views across The Weald, it all seems so high up with a miniature landscape far below. Then westwards along the ridge to Truleigh Hill (709 feet) with it's prominent radio masts before making the long descent into the Adur valley and over the river. The long climb up Annington Hill and through the pig farm, around Steyning Bowl and onwards to Chanctonbury Ring at 781 feet. The difficult chalk and flint path down to Washington was a slow finish to the day and I arrived at the Frankland Arms at 15.40pm - an average speed of all but 2 mph. The day was fairly cloudy and a bit chilly apart from when the sun did briefly appear. No highlight but I feel I must campaign heavily for the protection of the cement works and pig farm - I shall say no more.

Day 5   10 June   15.6 km   Washington to Whiteways

       Well, back in God's country again and the sun is shining. Started from Washington at 10.05am and took an alternative route to climb the very steep rise through the woods at Biggen Holt and so return to the South Downs Way. The series of hilltops along the ridge with such wonderful views to the north, glorious. The springy turf together with chalk and flint paths soon put the miles behind us. After Chantry Post I spotted a Fox Moth caterpillar in the path and then it was soon time for an ice cream treat at Kithurst Hill. Wide views across Amberley Wild Brooks from Rackham Hill (633 feet) before the sharp descent into the Arun valley. Soon crossed over the river only to be met by the long climb back up to the top of the hills and then on to Whiteways (for coffee and cake), finishing at 15.25pm - an average speed of 1.82 mph. A great day and feeling pretty good - spotting the caterpillar was special but rather disappointed that I missed the bee orchid.

Day 6   11 June   16.4 km   Whiteways to Cocking

       The sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. Set out from Whiteways at 9.55am and soon reached the slopes of Bignor Hill (738 feet). A steady pace uphill and Toby's Stone (a mounting block) was eventually passed by and then it was only a short walk to Bignor car park to meet the lady with the ice creams, stem ginger flavour today, very nice. A few brief steps along Stane Street (Roman trade road) and then passed Glatting Beacon (804 feet) with its radio masts. Soon it was downhill to cross the A285 only to climb straight back up the other side and pass near Crown Tegleaze which, at 830 feet, is the highest point on the Sussex Downs. It was then fairly level walking along the top of Graffham Down and Heyshott Down before the gentle descent of Manorfarm Down to the finish at the A286, arriving at 15.10pm - an average speed of 1.95 mph. It was a hot and tiring day but still enjoyable.

Day 7   12 June   20.6 km   Cocking to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

       Not a bright day, with just a little patchy light rain in the afternoon. Set out from the A286 near Cocking at 10.05am and slowly climbed Cocking Down passing one of Andy Goldsworthy's chalk stones created in 2002. It was then over Linch Ball (814 feet) and Didling Hill before reaching the Devil's Jumps (five Bronze Age barrows but we could find no bee orchids) and then the memorial to Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann, the German pilot. The rolling hills continued with Mount Sinai, Pen Hill and the panoramic Beacon Hill (794 feet) before reaching the Harting Downs to enjoy a Honeycomb ice cream, the last from the ice cream lady until next year. It was then several miles of track and road until we reached the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and took the new SDW path through the woods (it seemed at add more distance and another hill, not a popular alteration). It was certainly a tough day and I finished at 16.15pm - an average speed of 2.08 mph. The fairy at the top of Beacon Hill was a sight never before seen, there is always something extra to find.

Day 8   13 June   16.9 km   Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Exton

      Cloudy start but the sun broke through before lunch for a warm and sunny afternoon. Set out from the Queen Elizabeth Country Park at 10.05am and immediately it was the long haul up Butser Hill (886 feet and the highest point on the South Downs) and on the way down were runners taking part in the SDW100, the whole 100 miles on foot with a cut off time of 30 hours. It was then a spell of walking along both road and track before we reached Hyden Cross with glorious views to the north. A refreshing cup of coffee in the Sustainability Centre and back out again to the slopes up Salt Hill and the sharp descent down and on to Whitewool Pond for relaxing to the sight of some fly fishing. Then the climb up to and over Old Winchester Hill (at 646 feet, an Iron Age hill fort) before descending into the Meon valley to finish the day at The Shoe, Exton (about 16.10pm) with a white chocolate and marshmallow ice cream cone - at an average speed of 1.73 mph. A lovely day out in the countryside, nothing could be better. Last day tomorrow, it has just rushed by and I am looking forward to next year.

Day 9   14 June   20.1 km   Exton to Winchester

      Another cloudy start but it soon turned sunny and glorious for this, the last day. We began from Exton at 9.50am and headed up the ever-steepening Beacon Hill (659 feet) and from there the undulations on the trail were fairly gentle. We travelled along road and track to Gander Down and Cheesefoot Head (577 feet) and finally Telegraph Hill before descending to the pretty village of Chilcomb. It was then across the busy M3 and into Winchester to walk alongside the River Itchen and finish at the King Alfred statue at 16.10 pm - an average speed of 1.98 mph. A good day but hard and to finally complete the South Downs Way in 9 consecutive days. Today's highlight, apart from finishing, was a Twayblade Orchid in the woods just before we reached Cheesefoot Head.

      The party in The Guildhall, Winchester at the end of the walk was great as it gave a last opportunity to speak to old and new acquaintances from the walk and look forward to meeting them again in future years. Home is the sailor / Home from the sea.

The line stretches up Butser Hill

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