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A Hundred Years in the Sunshine

Throw Down the Sword

4th Annual South Downs Way Walk

10 to 18 June 2016   Winchester to Eastbourne

Day 1   10 June   13 miles   Winchester to Exton

        At last, back on the trail - yeah - it is good to be out here again, King Alfred and his sword, the fast flowing River Itchen and then up East Hill and out of the city, over the M3 and into the open country. Wild and free. Through the pretty village of Chilcomb and up Telegraph Hill to Cheesefoot Head. There are plenty of poppies to bring colour to the landscape as we walk along the tracks to Gander Down and lunch in the warm sunshine. Then it is more tracks and roads before The Milburys pub and another chance to meet up with friends. Then disaster - gutted as I take the wrong path at Wind Farm, shame and embarrassment. Anyway, like a novice I was soon put right and shamefaced it was on again through Lomer Farm and so to Beacon Hill. Such incredible views across the Meon valley but the steep path down across the fields was not very evident and caused many people to follow the road instead. I backtracked across the side of the hill and eventually found the path and followed in down to a field covered in cows with still many more coming in. It was then only a short step to The Shoe at Exton to finish the day's walk with an ice-cream cone, strawberry and cream flavour, and await the last bus home. A lovely day and fine walk. Great. The highlight, meeting up with all the people I have not seen since last year, everybody is a friend.

Day 2   11 June   11 miles   Exton to Queen Elizabeth Country Park

       Day two and we arrive early at The Shoe in Exton with plenty of time to buy a roll filled with freshly cooked bacon and then it is out into the misty rain as we head towards Old Winchester Hill. It is a steady climb up and when there I sit and eat my bacon roll - lovely. The misty rain eases off and on and it is quite a warm day. We head down to Whitewool Pond and sit there resting and chatting with friends whilst we watch some men dangling there rods in the water - every so often another trout is landed and clubbed to death. Man the hunter! As the afternoon progresses the sun becomes more evident and temperatures rise as we struggle up and over Salt Hill and Wether Down. But soon we reach the Sustainability Centre and I rest with a coffee and slice of chocolate cake. The final few miles of roads and tracks were quite wearying but there were some good views of the Isle of Wight. At the end, coming down Butser Hill, I could barely keep my eyes open but I struggled to wake up and enjoy a Strawberry Split ice-lolly at the finish.

Day 3   12 June   13 miles   Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Cocking

        Day three and starting from the Queen Elizabeth Country Park with the weather not great, a misty light rain. Since the SDW through the park was re-routed last year, the first mile now has little to enjoy being largely in a coniferous woodland - so dark and dismal. Still, we soon leave the park behind us and walk along tracks and roads for a few miles - the avenue of copper beeches was splendid as we headed on towards Harting Down. Ice creams were being served this year from a camper van - the butter and toffee flavour was very welcome as the clouds loomed overhead, barely above us at all. Next was Beacon Hill, shrouded in mist, and this year I followed the trail as it goes around the southern slopes. We are now truly on the rolling downlands and the afternoon gradually brightened as we passed the memorial to the German pilot and then the Devil's Jumps before leaving the woods around Monkton House. Now on open downland as it rolls along towards the day's finish at Cocking. A chance to rest with a cup of coffee and rather large slice of home-made cream sponge. The wild flowers were much in evidence today, amongst them were yellow buttercups, pink periwinkles and fields of ox-eye daisies as well as many other colourful plants.

Day 4   13 June   10 miles   Cocking to Whiteways

        Om Mani Padme Hum  . . .  Day four of our journey began on the roadside at Cocking where we finished yesterday. It was a nice start to the day with a gentle climb up Manorfarm Down to the ridgeway and we were joined today by two Buddhist monks from the local monastry near Midhurst. As we crossed Heyshott Down and Graffham Down the weather steadily deteriorated and the splendid views across the Sussex Weald were becoming increasingly infrequent. Once passed Crown Tegleaze the rain became persistent as the trail followed the rise and fall of the mist-shrouded Downs. Eventually we reached Bignor Hill car park where the ice-cream lady was bravely providing us with a selection of delicious treats - the vanilla and stem ginger was indeed lovely. The English summer, sitting in the rain eating an ice cream. As we set off again, the skies now began to clear and we made our way to the finish at Whiteways bathed in sunshine. Another day completed.

Day 5   14 June   9 miles   Whiteways to Washington

        Day five and for once the weather seems to be dry even if rather overcast. We are soon back out on the trail and it is a chalky and uneven track down to the River Arun. The river has its own beauty to enjoy before the steep climb up Amberley Mount with many a stop to admire the view of the Arun valley. A stop for lunch at Rackham Banks before we walk over the rolling downland - Rackham Hill, Springhead Hill, Kithurst Hill and Sullington Hill with the sun increasing in strength as we go. The ice-cream lady was out again today, the last time we shall see her this year, and I sampled the delight of the honeycomb flavour. The descent of Barnsfarm Hill as we approached the village of Washington soon passed and the day finished with a cool drink in the garden of the Frankland Arms. Another good day and we are now over half way.

Crossing the River Arun

Day 6   15 June   12 miles   Washington to Devil's Dyke

       Day six and I set off early, well before the coaches began to arrive however, it was not long before I was being overtaken on the steep climb up Chanctonbury. The weather today was sunny and as we pass by Chanctonbury Ring the glorious views to the north across the Weald opened up. Soon, in a field, a flock of sheep were being sheared - no, I think that shoud be shorn, maybe, perhaps. Still, some splendid alliteration. Anyway, onwards to the memorial near Steyning dedicated to Mr & Mrs Walter Langmead and then it was on through the pig farm before dropping down into the river valley, As usual, I sat on the bank of the River Adur for a peaceful lunch. Afterwards, the steep climb up Beeding Hill was soon followed by a more steady incline to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill - where i enjoyed a Feast ice cream - and then there are the radio masts at the summit. To finish the day there is a rolling stretch along the ridge as we pass over Edburton Hill, Perching Hill and Fulking Hill before reaching Devil's Dyke. To rest those weary feet.

Day 7   16 June   13 miles   Devil's Dyke to Newmarket Inn

      Day seven and it was very misty and murky when we arrived at Devil's Dyke. Other than putting on some wet gear there was nothing to delay us setting off. The slight misty drizzle soon stopped and fortunately did not return although the Downs were frequently being shrouded in mist. It was pretty hilly early on passing through Saddlescombe before reaching the church at Pyecombe for refreshments - cheese scone and flapjack were indeed very nice. Back up on the ridge and I visited Jack and Jill, the Clayton windmills, before stopping for lunch at Ditchling Beacon. It was again pretty overcast and blustery but the rain just about held off and so it was opportune to purchase a Feast ice-cream and pretend that it is summer. Along the ridge there were plenty of lads out, presumably doing DoE stuff, and at one point some Gurkhas ran by. Anyway, a bee orchid was discovered at Streat Hill - it was a fine example standing proud and alone in the chalky turf. After Plumpton Plain we took a right-hand turn to head south - a large flock of sheep were penned and being inoculated against intestinal parasites. The steady descent across Balmer Down was completed in fine sunshine and then it was up and over Long Hill to the A27. We were soon approaching the finish at the Newmarket Inn but, unfortunately, to the discomfort of some of our ladies, the drains were blocked and the toilets out of action. Oh dear, nevermind.

Day 8   17 June   14 miles   Newmarket Inn to Alfriston

       Day eight began at the Newmarket Inn under rainy conditions. First was the purchase of a bacon roll and second was to put on the wet gear, Now, all ready, I was off on the trail eating my bacon roll as I went. The uphill start to get back up to the ridge was fairly tough but I had the company of representatives from Regatta to chat with. The rain soon stopped and then there was the Jugg's Road to follow before the rolling downland, now bathed in bright sunshine, took us to the steep descent at Mill Hill. We headed to the pretty village of Southease for lunch on the green in front of the church. The afternoon began with the steep climb up Itford Hill but the clouds were now gathering, very black and heavy over Lewes, and the rain began to fall. Across the rolling downland the thunderstorm broke, the rain getting heavier as the lightning flickered and the thunder boomed above our heads. On we went to Firle Beacon but the weather did not diminish and then down into Alfriston, weary and soaked, to find the roads were flooded. The coach journey home was not comfortable in wet clothes and despite extensive delays as the roads became impassable we endeavoured to keep our spirits up.

Day 9   18 June   11 miles   Alfriston to Eastbourne

     Day nine, the final day, began in Alfriston and it was rather bright and pleasant - very much in contrast to the way yesterday had finished. Anyway, we walked down the river to Littlington where homemade refreshments were on offer - some elderflower squash and a piece of shortbread was a good treat before the day's walk began in earnest. The hills became evident and after passing through Westdean there were the Friston steps to contend with. We emerged above Exceat with a splendid view down the Cuckmere valley. After traversing the valley, the climb up to the Seven Sisters was taken steadily and then the series of steep ups and downs was negotiated leading us to Birling Gap where I bought a Feast ice-cream lolly. Then it was the climb up towards Belle Tout where a white Magnum was obtained (well, it is the last day) and this was followed by the climb up to Beachy Head. There seemed to be no respite but eventually the hills came to an end and we descended down to the finish at Eastbourne. It is all over for another year.

     The closing celebration was held at the University of Sussex where food and drink were consumed and a party atmosphere was certainly in evidence. The prizes were distributed and speeches made and there was barely time to say goodbye to friends and acquaintances. Goodbye and we hope to meet again next year.

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