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I am well on my way - come rain or shine

7th Annual South Downs Way Walk

7 to 15 June 2019   Eastbourne to Winchester

Day 1    7 June    Eastbourne to Alfriston

                       via Jevington    8.06 miles

It was an early start this morning and I was waiting at Arundel station before half seven. As the time passes, old friends soon begin to appear and the rain starts to descend from the sky.

When the coach reaches Eastbourne the rain is continuing to fall. It is not very heavy and we are all prepared with our wet weather gear. I am still undecided whether to brave the Seven Sisters or play safe and go through Jevington.

I take a few pictures of the new start point which matches the one in Winchester. The first hill is steep as I clamber up and I use this to gauge the strength in my legs. As it is a tough day tomorrow I opt for the easier option and soon turn northwards and take the inland route.

It is pretty gentle walking and it is not long before I reach the dew pond which sits high above the town. The golf course is drifting back behind me as Amanda and Barker catch me up. The stroll is pleasant and the rain is already getting lighter as we walk across the top of the Downs.

The trail soon heads downhill into Jevington, home of the Banoffee Pie, and we stop at the church for lunch. There are quite a fair number of walkers taking this route - the weather forecast seems to have a lot to answer for. The climb out of Jevington is hard work before we reach the open downland again.

The views are excellent as we cross the top of the Downs, the rain stops and the clouds begin to break allowing sunshine to reach us. Over there is Arlington reservoir and nearby many sheep crop the grass. The chalky track winds along as it descends into the Cuckmere valley,

Entering the fields in the valley bottom we see a caterpillar nest high in a bush that has been stripped of leaves. Will the little creatures eventually emerge as moths or butterflies - I do not know.

We reach Alfriston in the early afternoon and go in search of a tea room. There are certainly plenty to choose from here and, when the choice is made, refreshments are purchased and slowly enjoyed.

Heading for the finish we are still in time to catch the third coach but, whilst we wait, I realise that my walking pole has been left at the tea rooms. I set off to recover my pole and, as I am walking across the car park, there is the pole being brought to me by friendly fellow walkers. Everyone is always so kind.

The day has been great - a nice walk - and plenty of friends whom I have not seen since last year  . . .  and, in some cases, from several years previously.  

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

Every evening at about 10pm, a brief report will be posted describing that day’s highlights.

Red poppies on Telegraph Hill, stretching endlessly

Raising funds for Cardiac Rehab Support West Sussex

Helping local cardiac patients

Please make any donations direct to me.

The total for 2019 is £50.00, so far

People are so kind. Thank you.

Day 2   8 June   Alfriston to Newmarket Inn   13.71 miles

Well, it is the second day and it is the long walk at a distance of almost 14 miles. Without any delay we set off promptly and head out of town.

People have suggested that I mention the wind  . . .  well, today has quite a breeze blowing and it feels like a gale. It is unbelievably strong and once the open downland is reached it is surely enough to knock you off your feet. It blows almost directly into our faces and we will be fighting it today on every step of the way.

So, it is uphill and against the wind as we head towards Firle Beacon. If this is not bad enough we soon encounter the Macmillan Mighty Hike. There is no pleasure just an endless struggle.

Up in the sky, with the wind blowing hard, the larks fly and swoop and sing. They are far above the troubles which  bother us.

We pass Firle Beacon and then the radio masts at Beddingham Hill before descending Itford Hill. At the bottom of the hill we pass the last of those on the Mighty Hike. We pay a quick visit to the youth hostel (comfort stop) before walking the further short distance to the village of Southease. A picnic lunch in front of the church on the village green.

After lunch we continue to fight against the wind and see the “spider seat” at the foot of Mill Hill - something of a treat. Struggling up the hill, the wind is getting ever stronger and we come across a guy who is placing markers for the Centurion race tomorrow. Something else to look out for!

What is next? The Meridian Post has been refurbished and is looking a lot smarter this year. The concrete road is never ending and, against this wind, the thought of giving up crosses the mind. Keep plodding on.

Finally, the last few miles and then we head down the slope to the Newmarket Inn. It is done, we have got there.

This has been such a tough day.

Day 3  9 June  Newmarket Inn to Devil’s Dyke  12.34 miles

So, this is the third day and the weather is looking set fair - it could end up being the best day of the week. The sun is out and there is only a gentle breeze.

The coach takes us from Arundel to the Newmarket Inn where we finished the walk yesterday. Leaving the luxury transport we set off with little day and head back up the hill to the National Trail. The countryside is looking good and there is a decent scattering of poppies.

Resting near Blackcap there is plenty of time to enjoy the splendid view across the valley to the ridge we walked along yesterday - Firle and Beddingham stand out clearly.

Walking along the ridge towards Ditchling Beacon is most pleasant with views to all sides stretching both far and wide. After lunch there is ice cream available - my first frozen treat of this year’s walk.

Heading onwards, we pass near the Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton and then walk along the side of the Pyecombe golf course. The church at Pyecombe with a tapsell gate is our next target. The ladies have set out a delicious spread of refreshments - I enjoy a lemon sponge with raisins.

The final leg of the day includes two steep hills - they are hard work to climb but once that is done, it is just a stroll around Devil’s Dyke before we reach the finish outside the pub that is there. It has been a good day.

Day 4   10 June   Devil’s Dyke to Washington   11.55 miles

   The fourth day sees the weather turn a little nasty - the light rain falls from dark clouds - a colourful turn of phrase will brighten any day.

For some reason, the day we start from the Dyke is invariably damp and today is no exception. It dampens the grass but not our spirits. High above the Weald we head west towards the masts on top of Truleigh Hill.

The rolling Downs are pleasant despite the rain and the first moment to note is the tractor which reaches a gate on the trail at the same time as I do. The signs we have seen posted on gates say “Meet the Farmer” and so I chat with the man behind the wheel and also offer to shut the gate once he has driven through.

There is a brief pause at the youth hostel near Truleigh Hill for a banana break and comfort stop. The trail then heads us down into the Adur valley and the rain gradually becomes more heavy. After crossing the river we stop in a small wooded area and foolishly hope for shelter whilst we eat our lunch. Unfortunately, the trees give little shelter.

Uphill, out of the valley and through the pig farm. The pigs are sheltering in their arks, appropriate in this weather, as we pass them by. The trail heads on and a mist descends enshrouding Chanctonbury Ring in the clouds. There is now no view, we cannot even see the trees as we pass.

As the rain gets ever heavier, the chalky path is all but a river falling down into Washington. The road is awash and we make for shelter, at the finish, in the Frankland Arms. There we receive a very warm welcome from the newly re-opened pub.

A wet day, indeed.

Day 5   11 June  Washington to Whiteways  9.63 miles

We are reaching the halfway point of the walk and do so wish that it could last forever.

Today we start from the Frankland Arms but before we leave there is time to buy a bacon roll. There can certainly never be enough treats to enjoy.

We head out of Washington and are soon struggling up Barnsfarm Hill. It is hard work and when we are at the top we go to the stone seat which commemorates the 5th Baron Denman of Dovedale - to sit and eat the bacon roll. The wind farm out at sea is clearly seen as is the Isle of Wight.

Walking along the trail I see a deer running through the crops - maybe it is a red deer. A little further on, Footprints have set up a stall near the Kithurst Hill car park with refreshments to celebrate our reaching the halfway point on the South Downs Way. Not far to go, now.

Lunch is taken at Rackham Banks in lovely sunshine. There below is the glorious view of the Arun valley but, at our backs, there is a threatening dark cloud.

Amberley Mount leads us down to Houghton village - we are not tempted by the pub or tea room and head on to cross the bridge over the railway and then pass the wastewater treatment works, the farm and the water tap.

We reach the River Arun and follow the trail around some fields before confronting the east face of Bury Hill. It is a long climb but frequent stops give me a chance to admire the panorama spread out below.  The A29 is at the top of this climb and there is now not much further to go.

Heading along the footpath which leads to Whiteways I trip on an embedded flint and go down. Not elegant but there is no one around to see how the mighty fall. I seem ok and pick myself up. No damage done, I hope, and with barely the slightest of limps I reach the finishing post. Another day done - that is 42 in a row without missing a step.

Lovely day, lovely weather and such special people.

Day 6   12 June   Whiteways to Cocking   9.63 miles

I was a little apprehensive about my knee following yesterday’s fall - it was rather stiff with a tendency to hurt a little bit. Still, we would give it a go - the brave soldier.

When the coach reached Whiteways, it had stopped raining but it was none too bright. For a change, and to avoid the crowds, we entered Houghton Forest and followed the Monarch’s Way - making our way along The Denture. It was gentle walking and we aimed to join the South Downs Way at the car park near Bignor Hill. My knee seems to be improving with the walking - that is good.

The ice-cream lady was there and already doing a good trade as the walkers stopped to purchase their frozen treats. My favourite flavour had been pre-ordered and was there waiting for me - a special treat, the lady is so kind.

Moving on, we cross Stane Street and pass Glatting Beacon - the day is becoming brighter and it is good walking with friends. We head down into the valley, cross the road and immediately begin the climb back up the other side. On Littleton Down the light rain begins to fall again and so on go the jackets and coats.

At Tegleaze Post, near Crown Tegleaze which is the highest point on the South Downs in West Sussex, there is space for a picnic lunch. It is a little damp but never mind, the view is still good to look at while I munch.

After lunch the trail follows the ridge eastwards across Graffham Down and Heyshott Down. The light rain steadily gets heavier and persistent, it is certainly not the light showers that were forecast. However, it is still good to walk, high on the Downs, on paths that are becoming quite muddy and through the wooded areas.

The miles seem to be stretching out and I am tiring as I slow down. I feel heavy, the people pass and re-pass each other as we walk and rest at different moments.

The rain continues as the path gradually heads down to the finish at Manor Farm. There are many sheep in the fields, they do not worry about the rain but patiently crop the grass. Manor Farm always make us welcome and provide delicious refreshments for us.

Coffee and fruit cake is most enjoyable and I sit there nibbling whilst the sounds of Jerusalem are quietly sung around - and did the countenance divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?

There is no better place to be.

Day 7   13 June   Cocking to QE Country Park   12.65 miles

The dawn of another day breaks and the gang all assemble outside of Arundel station - nothing dampens our enthusiasm.

The coach takes us to the point where the SDW crosses the A286 south of Cocking. The weather is very overcast but it is dry as we set off up the long climb. It is not steep but it is relentlessly heading us up into the sky.

Walking along the ridge there is dampness in the air but the rain holds off until the moment we step into Monkton Wood. It is rather gloomy under the trees which are giving some shelter from the rain.

For a change, us three amigos head south to the Royal Oak at Hooksway - on the way Barker spots a deer - and we all enjoy a pleasant drink in this lovely haunted pub. We head back to the trail through a long avenue of copper beeches. They must look splendid on a warm sunny day.

It is on the south side of Beacon Hill where we return to the South Downs Way, not far in front of the back-markers. Heading on we reach the Harting Downs where the wind is strong and find the ice-cream lady. She shelters from the rain but is still bravely selling her flavoursome treats. Eating ices in the rain and letting Barker lick the tubs clean.

There is now a long slog along tracks and roads - plenty of mud and lying water to navigate around. The rain continues but does ease off and eventually stop. On reaching the Queen Elizabeth Country Park there are still more hills to climb but we know we are nearing the finish.

It was good to meet up with Anne again and have a few words.

The country park never seems to be inspiring but it serves a purpose and I celebrate another good day with a very tasty ice-cream on a stick.

So, there was more rain and some wind - it seems to be the way it is this year. Still, the forecast is a little better for tomorrow.

Day 8   14 June   QE Country Park to Exton  10.68 miles

The penultimate day and it is overcast and chilly as we wait for the coach.

The weather is no better when we reach the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and so we immediately tackle Butser Hill. It is as steep as always and the climb is breathtaking - I stop frequently for recovery and eventually crest the summit.

I leave the country park and walk along Limekiln Lane and see the rain approach across the hills. I stop to put on some wet gear and walk in the rain. For once it is only a shower and does not last too long - so off comes the wet gear.

Passing through the edge of Hyden Wood we come to Hyden Cross and soon reach the Sustainability Centre. I meet up with some friends but only stay long enough to eat a banana.  Moving on I cross over Salt Hill with the two radio masts before the steep broken descent which has a stream of mountain bikes coming up. We struggle down and they struggle up, it is all very amicable.

The sun comes out and it warms up nicely in time for our arrival at Whitewool Pond. No one is fishing for the trout and we sit on the grassy bank enjoying our picnic. We begin the afternoon in shirt sleeves and clamber out of this arm of the Meon valley - all the hillsides seem extra steep today, after eight days my legs are feeling the exertion.

Old Winchester Hill is next and the walk across the top commands a fine view in all directions. There are many barrows in evidence and we keep to the path to avoid trampling the ground nesting birds.

The finish is not far away as we go down the far side towards the River Meon. On reaching the disused railway line us three amigos choose to follow the temporary route which allows horses and bikes to continue. None of us had gone this way before and so it was an interesting experiment. The trail was easy to follow and much easier to walk and we soon arrived at The Shoe in Exton.

The river is fast flowing at the bottom of the garden and I sit there enjoying my ice-cream treat. Two scoops, one is sticky toffee pudding and the other is almond something or other. It is pure greed that has me top it off with a flake.

The day is over and there is only one more to go. This year has seemed most strange as we ride the waves in relatively poor weather - it is never the same from one year to the next.

Day 9   15 June   Exton to Winchester   12.34 miles

The last day - it is here already, as the axe is falling the memories are recalled to mind. We are all up for it - but to achieve the finish or want it to last forever  . . .

The coach encounters heavy traffic. The time ticks by and it will be a late start on this most important of days. We reach The Shoe at Exton and quickly buy our bacon butties (mine wrapped for later consumption) and use the toilets.

It is after half past ten by the time I am away to begin the day’s walk and manfully face the ever-steepening Beacon Hill. It is a tough struggle but eventually I make it to the beacon. The trail then climbs further to reach Beaconhill Beeches and so give a magnificent view across the wide Meon valley.

Helping to recover our breath and the strength in our legs there is a nice flat stretch along track and road. Lomer farm has a fine sculpture on display and the rain has already drifted over and falls on us. We do not stop at the Milbury’s for long, just long enough to shelter under a garden umbrella and eat most of my bacon butty,

There is more road and track to follow through agricultural land as the rain comes and goes. We arrive at Holden Farm which is changing over recent times - now with campsite, cafe and shower block. With benches to sit on we take the opportunity to eat a light lunch and enjoy an ice-cream before using the facilities and leaving.

Moving across the A272 we head over Gander Down where the SDW and King’s Way follow the same path. The day is brightening and warms up as the sun breaks out. The armoured vehicles are motoring around their field beside the trail.

After the left turn at Keeper’s Cottage we aim for Cheesefoot Head and it is then all downhill to the finish. Crossing the A272 again, we find the hillsides to the west of Telegraph Hill are covered in masses of bright red poppies. I have never seen such a display stretching across so many fields.

The village of Chilcomb and then there is just one large field ahead before we reach Winchester. The footbridge takes us over the M3 and here we are. As the party must have already begun, the 3 amigos decide to cut a corner and save a few minutes, it has been that sort of year.

Time for the last photographs, the River Itchen is splendid, the westerly start point at the City Mill is not so impressive and the the statue of King Arthur wielding his mighty sword is magnificent. All done, so it is straight into the Guildhall for the party.

The room is thronged with people and we find the seats saved by our friends and settle down to enjoy the celebratory atmosphere. Andy Gattiker, Trail Officer of the SDW, is standing nearby and I take the opportunity to chat with him. I am just one of many and so do not suppose he remembered bringing the SDW sign to me a few years ago.

The food is eaten, the praises sung and the prizes given out - all are in good spirits and the noise volume increases - it is almost over, just Bob Copper’s prayer to the South Downs and then the coaches are called to take us home. Distant homes to reflect on our cherished memories.

What a great week.

On the way home, as the coach drives through yet more rain and with most of the farewells having been said, I concluded how much I had really enjoyed this year. Despite the rain and the wind, the areas of mud and slippery trails - it has been a great year.

On 5 June 2020 many of us will reconvene in Winchester under the statue of King Alfred  . . .

King Alfred, Statue of

Spider chair, Mill Hill

Kithurst Hill, Footprints celebrate reaching half way