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A Hundred Years in the Sunshine

Through the Grass Darkly

5th Annual South Downs Way Walk

9 to 17 June   Eastbourne to Winchester

Day 1  -  9 June  -  Eastbourne to Alfriston  -  10.4 miles

     Here we go - the waiting is over.

     The first hill at Eastbourne still seems to be so steep, the weather is looking rather gloomy and as I set off the wind is blowing very strongly into my face. The wind gets stronger as the weather brightens and sometimes it is almost impossible to walk forwards.

      First there is Beachy Head, then Belle Tout before I reach Birling Gap - a Feast ice cream is a welcome treat before the struggle over the Seven Sisters begins. The wind is so strong but, after much endeavour, I eventually reach Haven Brow and can turn north into the Cuckmere Haven.

      The sun is now becoming very warm and the walking down to the river is pleasant. There is Exceat and then Westdean before the trail leads through the Friston Forest. Refreshments now await in Litlington, there is coffee and a flapjack together with a rest and this is most welcome.

      The final mile along the bank of the Cuckmere River is very gentle to the finish in Alfriston. The first day is now over and we have easily got into our stride again.

Day 2  -  10 June  -  Alfriston to Newmarket Inn  -  13.8 miles

     The day was bright and sunny, warm with a gentle breeze - just perfect walking weather.

     After leaving Alfriston there is a long steady climb that eventually reaches Firle Beacon. The views across the Weald are very clear and walking along the ridge gives a very wide outlook on the countryside below.

     I soon reach Beddinghan Hill with the two radio masts and then Itford Hill before the sharp descent into the Ouse valley. Once across the river it is not far to Southease for lunch on the green in front of the church.

     It is a long day so I cannot spend too long looking around the church with the round tower before heading off for the second half of the day. The steep climb up Mill Hill takes me back up to the ridge and I am soon passing the Meridian Post that separates the east and west hemispheres.

     The Juggs Road is a long stretch of concrete to traverse before I can find some grass upon which to sit and take the weight off, to rest and ease those weary feet. There are still quite a few miles too go and the trail curves high above Kingston and then makes a wide circle before heading down to the Newmarket Inn.

     It has been a nice day and there have been plenty of cattle and sheep roaming at various points of the trail, they all appear to be content.

     And yes, aching men’s feet - so we wonder whether it is the men or the feet that are aching. Tomorrow is another day.

Day 3 - 11 June - Newmarket Inn to Devil’s Dyke - 12.4 miles

     It was rather overcast when I began walking this morning but the sun soon broke through and it turned into rather a nice day, although there was rather a strong breeze at times.

     A steady climb took me up Long Hill and Balmer Down to Blackcap where the views reached across to the ridge where I walked yesterday. After a brief rest, the trail took me across Plumpton Plain to Ditchling Beacon. Lunch was taken seated amidst a carpet of buttercups with a wide view across the Weald before finishing the meal with a Feast ice cream.

     It was a day of cattle and sheep grazing peacefully up on the ridge as I passed the county boundary and went from East to West Sussex. Keymer Post marks this change and I am soon passing the Clayton windmills. The vanes on Jill were turning in the breeze whilst Jack stood motionless nearby.

     Soon I arrive at Pyecombe church where refreshments were available and, seated on the grass outside the door, I enjoy coffee and fruit cake. From here, there was not far to go but first I must clamber up East Hill before descending to Saddlescombe and then, finally, make the steep ascent of Summer Down.

     Devil’s Dyke was looking truly magnificent in the sunshine as I reach the end of the day’s walk which has been most enjoyable.

Day 4 - 12 June - Devil’s Dyke to Washington - 11.6 miles

     The weather was pretty gloomy and overcast and the wind was again blowing strongly in my face. Setting out from Devil’s Dyke, the trail heads west across the rolling downland towards Truleigh Hill.

     After passing the masts which overlook the scarp slope, there is a gradual descent into the valley carved by the River Adur. The path leads me to the bridge over the river and then, a little farther on, it is time to stop for lunch. In the grounds of the Saxon church at St Botolphs, the patron saint of wayfarers, is an ideal spot to enjoy a sandwich.

     Then, it was the stiff climb up Annington Hill and through the pig farm - this was hard work. A brief rest at the Langmead memorial and then the Downs rolls on to Chanctobury Ring. By now, the sun was breaking through and the day warms up but there is just the rugged chalk and flint path leading down to Washington to navigate.

     The finish of the walk today is at the Frankland Arms and the Footprint banner flutters in the garden of the pub. We rest and await the arrival of the last bus home.

Day 5 - 13 June - Washington to Whiteways - 9.7 miles

     There was glorious sunshine from start to finish on today’s walk through the area in which I grew up. It was a great day, indeed.

     Well, I began at the Frankland Arms with a very good bacon sandwich before setting off back onto the South Downs Way. A steep climb that was rewarded by the ice cream lady waiting at Chantry Post. A choice of the butter toffee flavour was made and this was very welcome as I sat enjoying it whilst small knots of gurkhas ran by.

     At Kithurst Hill, the mid point of the trail between Eastbourne and Winchester, there was celebratory squash and biscuits. Again welcome as temperatures rose in the sunshine and the pleasure of the walk continued as I rested at Rackham Banks for lunch. The wide view of the Arun valley was so splendid.

     Coming down at Amberley Mount, I crossed the valley bottom - over the railway line and then passing by the wastewater treatment works where the tanks were being cleaned out, a job (like all housework) that had been waiting many years to be done.

     Reaching the bank of the swift flowing river, it is a most tranquil spot to rest and watch the world go by, before crossing the bridge over the Arun to soon begin the long climb back up to the top of the Downs.

     Across the busy A29 and it is not far to the finish at Whiteways where the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) had their display van on show. It was a lovely day - although it is disappointing to think that there is only 4 more days left - if only it could all last forever.

Amberley Mount

Day 6 - 14 June - Whiteways to Cocking - 10.2 miles

     There has not been a cloud in the sky all day, just continual sunshine and it has also been great walking.

     Setting off from Whiteways, I followed the ridge along and passed many fields of flax with their little blue flowers. After Toby’s Stone near the top of Bignor Hill there is a spot where the view stretches endlessly in all directions.

     The ice-cream lady was waiting in the car park and the choice today was vanilla and stem ginger, very nice. Butter toffee is to be axed next year, a gloomy prospect to come. Anyway, Stane Street is soon behind and the trail passes Glatting Beacon before dropping down at Littleton Farm. This is then followed by the climb back up to Tegleaze Post.

     In the springy turf, the South Downs Way and the West Sussex Literary Trail run along together across Graffham Down and Heyshott Down. It is a rolling countryside with a lot of woodland nearby. There are cattle and sheep in the fields as I drop down towards the finish of today’s walk near Cocking.

     The farm has a butchery and I buy some homemade sausages as well as a very large slice of vanilla sponge loaded with jam and cream - a rare treat to enjoy whilst waiting for the last coach home.

     Also today, I have handed in my entry for the limerick competition. I have high hopes of success, not only because of the wonderful rhyme scheme but because it does not try to rely on any smutty innuendo. We would not wish to sink to the level of Hilaire Belloc, now there would be a rhyme to conjure with  . . .

Day 7 - 15 June - Cocking to Queen Elizabeth CP - 12.8 miles

     A lovely day today, a few clouds but plenty of sunshine and a little breeze as well. So good for walking.

     I set out from the roadside and begin the steady climb, passing by the chalk stone that sits beside the trail, and enjoying the company of the many friends that are walking. The skylarks are out in force again and their song is constantly clearly heard.

     Soon after entering the woods around Monkton House a large group of gurkhas is running towards us and they continue on amidst a chorus of hellos. There is then the Devil’s Jumps to explore and next up is the memorial stone to the German pilot shot down in this area.

     Moving on, the Chinook helicopter continues to sweep the area in a very low flight - maybe it will find a crash site. Anyway, I soon take the path over Beacon Hill and look to find the fairy is still lying there beneath the windswept tree.

     On Harting Down the ice-cream lady awaits and I enjoy the butter toffee flavoured treat for the last time. It is here that I meet up again with the group from the London Blind Ramblers and walk with them for a while until they begin to outpace me.

     It is then a long walk along tracks and roads to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and I follow the extended trail up through the woods in a very roundabout route before reaching the finish at the cafe in the visitor centre. Another day done.

Day 8 - 16 June - Queen Elizabeth CP to Exton - 10.5 miles

     The day was fairly cloudy to begin and it soon became sunnier as time went by. Yes, another lovely day.

     The long climb up Butser Hill, the highest point of the trail, began the day but with a steady pace the summit was soon reached. There was a stretch of walking along road and track to follow before passing through the edge of Hyden Wood. The view north from Hyden Cross towards East Meon was well worth stopping to admire.

     The Sustainability Centre provided a nice rest whilst I enjoyed a slice of cake, banana and chocolate chip - very nice, indeed. Passing by what was once HMS Mercury, it was then up and over Salt Hill and Wether Down before taking a pleasant lunch at Whitewool Pond. The trout were rising as we sat watching the men landing their flies on the water surface. To make an attempt was every girl’s dream.

     Passing through a herd of cattle we climb out of one arm of the Meon valley and then head to Old Winchester Hill. The Iron Age hill fort was rising majestically from the surrounding countryside and the top heavily peppered by many native flowers and butterflies.

     I took the descent down to Exton fairly quickly in the hope of an ice-cream at The Shoe. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity for a treat by just a few minutes. Shame but nevermind, it was just as good to sit with friends in the garden by the river.

     Only one day to go, it has all been so very wonderful.

Day 9 - 17 June - Exton to Winchester - 12.5 miles

     It was a very sunny and very hot day right from the get-go, there was just no respite from the heat and little shade to be found.

     The mass of people inside The Shoe was significant and so I did not wait to buy a bacon roll. I set off on this final day but it was soon very hard work climbing up Beacon Hill. The path became steeper as I neared the top but I eventually got there to be rewarded by some stunning views.

     The trail then followed tracks and roads as well as passing through farms before reaching The Milburys pub. A brief rest to recover and then it was onwards along further tracks and roads and through other farms before reaching Gander Down for a lunch break.

     I had dallied through the morning (and probably dillied as well) and so the back-markers were now hard on our heels. It was hard work trying to keep in front of them and the opportunity for rest disappeared. Hurrying on we reach Temple Valley and Cheesefoot Head before crossing the A272 (again) and begin the descent to Winchester at Telegraph Hill.

     Passing through the pretty village of Chilcomb, it is here that the back-markers catch us up. With hurting feet, there were two more large fiels to walk along the side of and then it was the M3 and the entry into Winchester. The heat is still oppressive as we make our way through the streets and along the river to the statue of King Alfred. The walk is now done, another South Downs Way completed successfully.

     The celebration of the walk took place in the Guildhall where the certificates and prizes were distributed. Saying goodbye to the many new and old friends - another year over.

      The sun shone out bright and true

        From a sky so filled by blue

        As our walk across the Downs

        Knew no restraint or any bounds

        The glory of our land was for the chosen few   

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