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Step by Step

Just a brief journey along the South Downs Way

       OMG!  OMG!  OMG!

       It's here.  Like death you wait your whole life for it and now it is come  . . .  are you really ready,  have you properly prepared.  No longer to run in circles,  no more screams and shouts  -  look,  he says,  look,  it is me,  such dexterous flag waving I'll be bound  -  I am here  . . .  and,  yes,  here I go,  out to see again.

       As people continue to disembark from the coaches,  many are looking almost dazed as if they have just got off The Mayflower having reached the New World.  There is a general milling around  -  there is no firm direction,  nothing prevails  -  some look for a shop and some for the toilets,  others are just standing still,  peering at the iconic statue of King Alfred and thinking their own personal thoughts  . . .  we have safely arrived  -  a new start and a new beginning  -  maybe,  is this merely just a photo opportunity?  . . .  and now,  a breathless hush descends,  we are helpless in our surrender and there is a silence over the crowds as all are waiting for the gun to sound,  to set us off,  to let us be on our way  . . .  but,  no,  there is no ceremony,  no fanfare,  just that racing charge towards the first hurdle,  that first hill as we all head out towards Eastbourne.

       Those expectant crowds are merely local shoppers in this,  the High Street of Winchester,  living under the defiant gaze of the Saxon king,  wishing these strangers,  with their rucksacks and bloody poles,  would all just  . . .  go away  . . .  and slowly,  we do begin to disperse,  like all invaders,  processing in an easterly direction.

       The clock marks the time.  Yes,  mark it well,  it is just on five past ten and I too am away to find that perfect solitude,  an isolation amongst all those crowded hills.  It is time,  I cannot wait any longer.  I too must go away.

       Yeah,  as the sounds roar in our ears,  they clap and cheer,  the notorious line will always still send you on your way and,  yes,  everyone is here,  all of those dear girls and,  of course,  with such a wicked smile,  there is Candy,  too.

       Yeah,  you go girl!

       But,  no  -  hang on a minute  -  that is not the way it was  . . .

Day 1  -  Winchester to Exton     12.4 miles

       The waiting is now over and despite having to set the alarm for 5am,  the early start and the journey to Winchester  -  it has all passed fairly smoothly.

       After leaving home soon after 7 o'clock, the train from Pulborough to Arundel was pretty much running on time and so it was just the wait for everyone else to arrive.  Slowly they began to appear and as they did so I began to recognise a few faces from previous years.  There was Amanda with her dog,  a Weimaraner named Barker.  I chat to some of the red-shirts and it is not long before Janet arrives and,  in only a few more minutes,  we are sitting together happily chatting on the coach as it makes the journey to Winchester.

       We appear to be the first coach to arrive  -  it is always good to take an early comfort break before the rush begins.  You really do not need people lurking behind you or looking over your shoulder,  it can be so very disconcerting.

       Anyway,  as I sit at the edge of the park getting my gear organised I keep a good look out for friends as they arrive on the different coaches.  It is a great treat to meet up with people I have not seen since the walk last year.  There is so much pleasure in seeing and meeting people that there seems to be no time left for walking however,  we soon get ourselves together and make a start.  At last,  we are back on the trail  -  yeah  -  it is so good to be out here again with everything waiting,  it is all spread out before us.

      With that most trepidatious of feelings inside,  we set off and leave King Alfred and his mighty sword behind as the way leads us alongside the fast flowing River Itchen.  I have begun the walk with Sue and Lesley and our cameras are merrily clicking away in the sunshine as it is so necessary to ensure that these visual reminders are obtained.  The gunnera by the sluice gate always looks special and,  hey!  -  are they the same two ducks as last year  . . .  and,  yes,  we must take a picture of me,  that is certainly most important.  Soon we are leaving the river behind and making our way up East Hill and so out of the city.  It is not long before we are going over the M3 and it is then out into the open country.  Yes,  wild and free.  Go wild,  go wild,  go wild in the country.

      At this point I allow my companions to walk on at their faster pace,  I trundle on more slowly soaking up the atmosphere as I go, letting people pass me by and heading on towards the pretty village of Chilcomb.  From there we head up Telegraph Hill and the views open out and the eye is drawn on the left to the alien structures now known as the Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium.  As we look around there are already strong displays of red poppies in the fields and,  as the climbing levels out,  we soon come to the first crossing of the A272.

       We have now reached Cheesefoot Head,  famous for being the location where Eisenhower addressed the troops prior to D-Day.  There are now new monuments in a field to our left as we head northwards but it is not easy to understand what this art,  if that is what it is,  is supposed to represent.  We walk alongside Temple Valley making the most of everything we see.

       It is a lovely day and the greens are bright and very varied and we see plenty of poppies and many other wild flowers scattered around to bring a lovely colour to this landscape.  Cows are resting in a field and it is so very peaceful walking along in the countryside.

       In the garden at Keeper's Cottage,  which is looking very well presented,   just before the sharp right-hand turn,  there are a couple of white ducks dabbling in a tiny pond.  Over-hanging the pond is a very small Christmas tree and other decorative foliage  -  the picture it was presenting did seem rather incongruous.  Heading on and around the corner we passed the area where tanks and other armoured vehicles can often be seen driving around the course that has been laid out.  Although there were some tanks and other vehicles that could be seen,  there certainly did not seem to be any activity.

       The trail is now heading south-east along with the King's Way and we are walking for quite a while along the tracks leading between agricultural fields before arriving at Gander Down.  This is a very pleasant spot in which to sit and enjoy lunch in the warm sunshine with friends.  The world goes quietly by along with some of our fellow walkers who overtake us for a while - we sit and listen to the voices of the skylarks high above us.

       After lunch it is soon time for the second crossing of the A272 and this is immediately followed by Holden Farm and the rather lengthy Holden Lane which leads us through much more agricultural land.  At this end of the South Downs Way there is much walking along the many tracks,  lanes and roads which can, at times, be a little uninteresting but it is,  nevertheless,  very pleasant on this lovely summery day.

       The tracks and lanes eventually lead us to the garden of the Milbury's pub at Beauworth and this gives another opportunity to meet up with friends.  It is very pleasant in the garden where I have a brief conversation with Sue and Lesley again.  To relax with a drink from the bar is good but also investigate the 300 foot well and massive treadmill,  both of which are inside the pub.

      It was just a short break to rest the feet before setting off again along the road.  One or two people were rather uncertain on direction and with my vast experience I guided them to the correct turning.  All was going well  . . .  and then,  suddenly,  disaster  -  absolutely gutted as I take the wrong path at Wind Farm  -  utter shame and embarrassment.  So,  like a complete novice,  I was called back and shown the acorn symbol on the post pointing along the correct path.  Shamefaced and with my head hanging so low,  it was then on again and through Lomer Farm and Beaconhill Beeches to Beacon Hill itself.  Standing by the commemorative beacon there are such incredible views across the Meon valley,  very spectacular and wide.

       It was now the final descent of the day to bring us into the village of Exton.  I passed the beacon but the steep path down across the fields did not appear to be in evidence and so was causing many people to follow the road instead.  Not wishing to miss out on the excitement of a steep slope down I backtracked across the side of the hill and eventually found the path I wanted.  It led me down and, following it,  I could see that ahead there was a field covered in cows which was still to come.  From their movement it was obvious that many more cows were still coming in.

       When I arrived at the field,  which by then was even fuller,  I could see that a long line of cows were still making their way along a track and coming in.  Fortunately,  they did not pay me very much attention and, from there, it was then only a short step or two to the finish of the day's walk.

       The Footprints banner was proudly displayed in the garden of The Shoe at Exton and many people were sitting there enjoying their fully deserved rest together with a drink in the late afternoon sunshine.  I joined them and ate a cone of strawberry and cream flavoured ice-cream whilst awaiting the arrival of the last coach home.

       It was a lovely day and a fine walk.  A great feeling to be back out again as part of this annual event and the highlight of the day  -  well,  meeting up again with all the people I have not seen since last year.  Everybody is a friend.

Day 2  -  Exton to Queen Elizabeth Country Park    10.5 miles

       Day two and the Arundel coach arrives early at The Shoe in Exton where we had finished yesterday afternoon.  Although it is still well before 10 o'clock,  the pub is ready and eager to welcome nearly two hundred customers.  It is also an ideal opportunity for me to use their porcelain facilities and still have plenty of time to buy a roll filled with freshly cooked bacon.  I carefully wrap it up and save it ready to eat as a mid-morning snack later on.

      It is a rather murky day and we will definitely be setting off in a light misty rain  -  nevermind,  that is what the wet weather gear is for!  As I sit outside the pub getting my kit together I meet up with many friends,  especially the happy crowd that are travelling in the Worthing coach.  Our conversations are disturbed as something has exploded inside  -  the crash brings a brief silence  -  it was something,  I believe,  containing the warm milk for the coffee and,  apparently,  became an opportunity for Barker to help clean the wooden flooring.

       I soon set off at the start the day's walk,  in the misty rain,  comparing notes with Sue and Lesley about our different experiences from the previous day.  The pretty village of Exton is definitely not looking as it would like,  there are puddles in the road and a heavy grey sky.  The River Meon closely follows the village road and we are soon crossing the A32 and heading into the countryside and towards Old Winchester Hill.

       We cross the river by way of a low wooden bridge and then make our way,  often in indian file,  beside what appears to be a dry river.  Once back out on open ground it is a steady climb but,  for the moment,  the views are very limited.  When I reach the summit of Old Winchester Hill,  quite a few of us have stopped to take a break  and I take the opportunity to sit in the light rain and eat my bacon roll  -  the fried bacon having now gone cold,  lovely.  Can't stay here forever and,  after a while,  in the wetness,  I set off again.  At the moment I am on the Monarch's Way which crosses the top of Old Winchester Hill as the South Downs Way circles around to the south but both trails will re-unite very shortly,  for a while.

       The cloud was beginning to break up and the misty rain eased off as we turned northwards for a short stretch.  Then,  by changing direction again,  we headed into another valley and towards Whitewool Pond,  a trout farm and fly fishing haven where rainbow and brown trout swim happily.  The weather continues to clear and soon warms up as we drop down into this very peaceful valley.

       A tranquility is all around as I sit there,  by the still waters,  resting and chatting with friends whilst we watch the menfolk dangling their rods in the water  -  every so often there is a gentle splash as another trout is landed and, struggling to escape,  it is clubbed to death.  Ah,  yes  . . .  Man the hunter!

       There is always time for a light lunch and then,  fully rested,  and as the sun becomes more evident,  I think about getting a few more miles done.  The fields are wide and the hay is being harvested and,  as the afternoon progresses,  the sunshine becomes ever stronger and temperatures rise as the path steepens.  We pass sheep resting beneath the trees and,  with a struggle,  we get up and over Salt Hill and Wether Down.  There is a little breeze up here and it is most welcome as the narrow trail bends its way through the cow parsley by the radio masts.  In the fields on our right is a small flock of black sheep.

       We soon pass the site of the demolished HMS Mercury  -  commissioned during the Second World War and formerly the home of the Royal Navy Signals School  -  it is now an unattractive estate of expensive and uninteresting new houses.  In compensation for this ugliness we arrive at the Sustainability Centre which has a holistic,  practical and creative approach to education.  It explores how we can all make greener,  healthier and more ethical choices.  For the less inspired,  it is another place to rest for a while with a coffee and a slice of chocolate cake fresh from the Beech Cafe surrounded by fellow walkers in the pleasantly leafy gardens.

       However,  unfortunately,  time does not stand still and neither can we.  It would be so nice to have another coffee or another slice of cake but there now follows a couple of miles of road and track which can be a little wearying.  Firstly,  along the northern edge of Hyden Wood before reaching a more open landscape at Tegdown Hill.  There are always plenty of wild flowers to see and,  as a treat,  we come to some views of the Isle of Wight which were indeed splendid and this almost foreign soil,  separated by a narrow strip of water,  appeared to be remarkably close.

       The mast at the top of Butser Hill was getting ever closer but there was still a little more road walking to be done before we could take the right hand turn away from the road and enter the nature reserve which is part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

      It has seemed like a very long day and,  at the end of it,  coming down Butser Hill,  I could hardly keep my eyes open.  The finish was just about in sight but,  halfway down the hill,  I sat on the grass for a rest to recover my strength.  One certainly needs to be looking good and at their best when crossing the finishing line.  Eventually,  I struggle to wake up and walk the last few hundred steps down the hill,  under the noisy A3 and into the visitor centre.

       Once through the door and then out into the cafe area,  there is the Footprints banner and plenty of happy faces to go with it.  I collect my ticket for the last coach and fill in the entry form for today's quiz  (maybe I will win the Regatta rucksack!  you never know)  and then,  everything done,  I sit down and enjoy a Strawberry Split iced-lolly and watch as the last few walkers come in to the finish.

Day 3  -  Queen Elizabeth Country Park to Cocking  12.8 miles

       It is now the third day of the walk and another coach-load of walkers are joining the event.  Originally,  the trail ran from Eastbourne to Buriton but in 1987 the route was extended to Winchester.  We start today from the Queen Elizabeth Country Park which is only a couple of miles south of the original finishing point.

       The weather today is certainly not good  -  there is heavy cloud and a steady light rain is falling.  It is into the wet gear to begin with but as it is not rubber we will not need the talcum powder.  Hopefully,  the day will improve as was the case yesterday.

       The route of the South Downs Way through the QE Country Park was hugely altered in 2015 and,  from the grumbles that were made,  it did not appear to be a popular change when we walked it last year.  So,  today,  wrapped up against the weather we are guided for the first mile by the new sign posts on a track through dark and dismal fir trees.  There is very little to enjoy in this gloomy coniferous woodland as I walked for a while with Will through the dripping trees.  Indeed,  I had wanted to follow the trail as I had experienced it in earlier years but did not feel that I could risk losing my way and adding more miles to the day's already lengthy total.  I don't know,  maybe next year.

       We catch up with Sue again near the stone carving of a sheep,  it is nice to see some splendidly colourful wet gear - a sign that a little rain is not going to stop people's enjoyment.  Eventually we leave the park behind us and walk along more tracks and roads for another couple of miles,  still under a heavily cloud-laden sky.  Coulters Dean Farm is up for sale as,  indeed,  it was last year.  The light rain comes and goes and our eyes are generally often downcast as there are very limited views.  However,  shortly before we reach Sunwood Farm,  there is a splendid avenue of copper beeches.  Beautiful in the sunshine of summer but,  even today,  it is one of the very few interesting things we can see on this dull morning.  It will soon be completed but this stretch of the trail is rather burdensome on such a day as this and the lack of interest continues until we cross the B2146 and begin the climb up the western flank of the Harting Downs.

       The climb through this wooded area gives some shelter from the rain but we soon come out on Harting Down.  There are many people here and,  because of the inclement weather,  the ice creams are being served this year from a camper van.  I catch sight of many of my friends who have been enjoying their ice creams in the rain and,  after a brief chat,  they are soon leaving to continue their journey.  Assisted by my voucher,  kindly provided by the Footprints team,  I purchase a butter and toffee treat which was most welcome as I sat down in the wet grass to enjoy it as part of a light lunch.

       The green spire of the church at South Harting was barely visible and,  with no view to enjoy,  there was no reason to stop here too long.  As I headed onwards the clouds were looming overhead and,  at times,  were barely above us at all and visibility was extremely limited.  Next to come was Beacon Hill with the exceedingly steep climb to the summit which appeared to be shrouded,  if not lost,  in the misty clouds.  In view of the ground conditions it seems wiser to follow the trail around the southern slopes  -  indeed,  that is the actual route of the South Downs Way.  In previous years I have always gone over the top and so this was an ideal opportunity to add a few more yards  . . .  well,  most probably a good mile  . . .  of the SDW that I had not trod before.

       We are now truly on the rolling downland and soon,  as the day wears away,  the clouds slowly begin to lift and the light rain lessens.  We cross Pen Hill and pass Buriton Farm and now the Downs are often becoming well wooded.  As we travel on the afternoon gradually brightens.

       A quiet moment of reflection as we pass the memorial to the German pilot who was shot down in 1940 and then,  after a sharp left-hand turn,  comes the opportunity to explore the Devil's Jumps.  A series of five large bell barrows,  burial mounds from the Bronze Age,  with two smaller ones which are situated close by.  As I wander around there is an indefinable feeling of loneliness and isolation which is held by this ancient site  -  in the chalk downland that surrounds the barrows is usually a good display of wild flowers but,  today,  the poor weather is not helping to show them at their best.

       The woods around Monkton House are soon left behind as we come out into the open at Didling Hill.  The temperature is warming up in the sunshine on this stretch of downland as it rolls along towards the day's finish.  As we head on and pass Linch Ball there are plenty of yellow buttercups,  pink periwinkles and fields covered with a sea of ox-eye daisies.  There are many other colourful plants and as the trail continues,  heading down Cocking Down,  we pass a huge chalk ball.  It is one of fourteen installed by Andy Goldsworthy in June 2002.  Opinions differ regarding these sculptures  -  is it art or is it not

       The plants in the hedgerows hold one's attention as I close in on the finish  -  there is livestock in the fields and a tiny pony to be seen before reaching the A286 just south of Cocking.  Another day over.

       In honour of our arrival,  the farmer has set up his stall in the corner of a field and we are served delicious home-made refreshments.  A great opportunity,  and what could be better than to rest in the grass with a cup of coffee and a rather enormously large slice of cream sponge.  This was a really lovely end to the day and did encourage me to buy some of their delicious pork and chive sausages  -  home-made,  of course.

Day 4  -  Cocking to Whiteways     10.2 miles

       It is the fourth day and although not actually raining  (yet)  the cloud cover is pretty heavy.  The coach journey is getting shorter each day and as we drive into the car park at the side of the A286 there are a couple of Buddhist monks waiting there.  This is surely not the lower slopes of the Himalayas  -  to be sure,  the possibility of spending the day chanting mantras might always become an option.

       Anyway, we set off and the day begins with the long but fairly gentle climb of Manorfarm Down to return us to the ridgeway which is fairly well wooded at this point.  We are being joined today by the two Buddhist monks who come from Cittaviveka,  the Chithurst Buddhist Monastery,  which was established in 1979 and is located near Midhurst.  It is well worth taking the opportunity to understand their beliefs and way of life.

       As we crossed Heyshott Down and headed on towards Graffham Down the weather was steadily deteriorating and the splendid views across the Sussex Weald were becoming increasingly infrequent and shrouded in heavy mist and cloud.  A patchy light rain falls and we cross the New Lipchis Way.  It is a pleasure to walk for a goodly stretch on the green turf that is also known as the West Sussex Literary Trail.

       But,  once we pass Tegleaze Post  -  this is near Crown Tegleaze which is the highest point on the Sussex Downs  -  this opportunity of grass underfoot ends as we return to the chalk and flint and,  worse still,  the rain begins to become much more persistent.

       During a break in the clouds,  on my descent of Littleton Down,  I try to take lunch in a brief dry spell but the gods are certainly against me and the cloud quickly closes in again and a heavy shower began to fall wetting my lunch box  -  oh,  well,  no point worrying about it.  The chalk and flint trail was now closely following the rise and fall of the mist-enshrouded Downs.  Slowly climbing back up,  after crossing the A285,  seemed to be very hard work underneath all of the wet-weather gear which became increasingly uncomfortable as the temperature was still quite warm despite the rain.

      Glatting Beacon with two radio masts is soon behind us and the brief few yards of Stane Street comes and goes in rather a blur as the rain continues.  Eventually we reached Bignor Hill car park where the ice-cream lady,  sheltering under a wide canvas awning,  was bravely providing us with a selection of delicious treats  -  the vanilla and stem ginger was indeed lovely.  So there we were,  the English summer,  sitting in the rain eating ice cream and nearby,  on top of a post,  was an enormous snail which was very unusual and looking very much like something out of a tropical rainforest.  It was certainly enjoying the warmth and the rain.

       At last,  as we set off again,  and the skies begin to clear as we pass near to the summit of Bignor Hill.  Maybe we can have a little sunshine for the last few miles.  We soon pass Toby's Stone and I make my way down the rutted track to the three barns at Westburton Hill.  The sun is now out but,  unfortunately,  the weather has rather overshadowed the day.  We make our way to the finish at Whiteways which is now all bathed in a hot sunshine and there is nothing left to do but eat a few biscuits and wait for the last coach home.  Yes,  indeed,  a bit disappointing but another day completed.

Day 5  -  Whiteways to Washington     9.6 miles

       Day five and it is the shortest day,  not the summer solstice but you know what I mean  -  it is not that much over 9 miles and,  for once,  the weather seems to be dry even if it is rather overcast.  With all the cloud and rain that we have had so far it would be good just to have a day in shirt sleeves and be able to catch the sun.

       It is never great getting everyone up the narrow and rather overgrown path back to the South Downs Way  -  it is no wonder that so many of us set off down the Monarch's Way to Houghton.  I do my best to follow instruction and,  despite the crush of people and a rather annoying dog  -  why the owner allowed it to keep running up and down the line of walkers in such circumstances,  who can say  -  we are soon back on the actual trail.  There is now a little more space in which to walk before we cross the A29.

       It is then a chalky and very uneven track down to the River Arun however, the view along the Arun valley is wonderful as usual.  There are plenty of wild flowers in the edges of the fields and,  in the sunshine, there is the feeling of the wide open space.  All the colours are bright and magnificent as we are able to look a long way into the distance.

       At the bottom of the valley the river,  at this point,  has a natural beauty of its own.  It is wonderful to enjoy walking along the river bank with the cows nearby and soon we are crossing the bridge over the river.  It flows in such a peaceful way that it washes all the angst from our minds and a feeling of calm surely descends.

       Once we are over the river there is a choice before us  -  follow the path along the bank of the river to Houghton and take refreshment in either the pub or tea room,  both of which are well worth visiting.  To pass an hour or two there would be great,  or stay on the South Downs Way and take the left turn and continue this lovely journey more directly.  Like Aleister Crowley,  I choose the left hand path as so many have done before.

       Passing by the fresh water tap and the WWTW  (wastewater treatment works)  and then the cow sheds which can sometimes be a little unpleasant nasally,  we come to the  road bridge which crosses over the railway  -  the Mid Sussex  Line which is also known as the Arun Valley Line.  Amberley railway station is situated close by.

       There was an excellent view across the fields to Amberley Castle shortly before we reached the busy B2139 which can often be very difficult to cross.  So,  with all due care and attention,  we make our way over the road and then walk along High Titten.  Keeping a wary eye open for the wild flowers we walk fairly slowly  -  a bee orchid was seen here last year and nobody wants to fail to see it should it be in bloom again.

       The road continues to climb and we soon reach the steep path which makes its way up Amberley Mount.  With many a stop to admire the view across the Arun valley and also to catch our breath,  the hill continues onward and upward as if it will never end.  On and on.  But,  at last,  we are back up on the ridgeway and it is not much farther before I stop for lunch at Rackham Banks.  A splendid and popular resting place with wide views in every direction.

       After lunch I have the enjoyment of walking uninterrupted over the rolling downland  -  Rackham Hill,  Springhead Hill,  Kithurst Hill and Sullington Hill  -  with the sun increasing in strength and the temperature steadily rising as I go.  Despite all of these hills it is a fairly gentle stroll although it is mainly on the chalk and flint track.  There is plenty of time and opportunity to enjoy all of the scenery that the Sussex Weald has to offer and I pay particular attention to Parham Park that is lying directly below.

       The ice-cream lady was in evidence again, today at Kithurst Hill car park,  it will be the last time we shall see her this year,  and,  taking a short rest,  I sampled the delight of the honeycomb flavour.

       Walking along I soon go by Chantry Post with so many fingers pointing in all directions and then,  a little further on,  is the old barn before the alternative route takes a left turn to lead us safely down Barnsfarm Hill.  The descent can wait for a few minutes whilst I take the opportunity to photograph the memorial seat dedicated to Charles Spencer Denman and his wife,  Sheila Anne Stewart.

       The final mile soon goes by and,  as we crossed the bridge over the A24,  we arrive in the village of Washington  -  passing a couple of donkeys and then the church of St Mary before we reach the finish.

       The end of the day finally came with a Footprints voucher to assist with the purchase of a cool and refreshing drink which could then be pleasantly enjoyed in the garden of the Frankland Arms.  No need to catch the last coach today  -  as I am so close to home it is very much quicker just to catch the local bus back to Pulborough.  This I did and,  in doing so,  met up with Pete who I know from previous years but,  strangely enough,  had not seen so far this year.  It was another good day and we are now over half way there.

Day 6  -  Washington to Devil’s Dyke     11.5 miles

       The sixth day already and,  as the start is at Washington,  it is so much easier just to catch the local bus.  Most importantly,  I can leave home an hour later than I would have done otherwise.  I am not alone as Pete is also catching the service bus and,  in the bright sunshine,  we make the short journey.  When we arrive at the Frankland Arms,  it is not yet open and we wait in the beer garden with a local lady who has also made her own way to the start.  It should not be too long before the pub opens and the coaches arrive.

       However,  as the day begins with the steep climb up to Chanctonbury,  I take the opportunity to get a head start on everybody and soon set off on my way.  I may be first off but I certainly will not be the first to arrive at Devil's Dyke.  I walk along the minor road heading south from Washington and pass the footpath way-marked by the Footprints team.  In preference,  I take a footpath that turns left off the road further up and then I take to the chalk and flint trail of the South Downs Way at the car park which is much nearer to the A24 crossing.

       How far will I get before the lead walkers begin to overtake me  -  not far apparently as I was just about to reach the next turn which is sign-posted by Footprints when the first person shot out in front of me.  I do not know whether she even noticed me,  she certainly had a fixed and determined look and,  about a minute later,  the next person went by me  -  his eyes were tracking her and the attitude said that she was being hunted down.  For goodness sake,  I thought that this was just a walk in the countryside and not a blood sport.  I continued up the track looking out for any interesting flowers in the wayside and the further people who passed me by were friendly enough to smile and say hello.

       It was quite a bright and sunny day as I made my way slowly up the steep trail and,  I must be getting the hang of this,  I reached the junction at the top of the climb in record time  (well,  for me,  anyway).  Once up at the top,  the walking on springy turf was so good for the feet and the views across to Cissbury and beyond in the warm sunshine were most pleasant.  Sue and Lesley came up alongside of me on this stretch and we walked together for the remaining short distance to Chanctonbury Ring.

       At this point I took my mid-morning break and,  sitting on the grass,  watched the steady stream of walkers drift by  -  Erica, Will and Julie also went by as I rested and there was many a wave and shout of encouragement.

       Time now to put some miles under my feet before lunch and so I set off with a most cheerful heart and witnessed such glorious views to the north over the Sussex Weald which were opening up.  Walking on the downland there are usually plenty of sheep in this area and this year was no exception as they stood in the grass or lay in the shade beneath a tree seemingly with no care in the world.  However,  very soon,  in a field,  a flock of sheep were being sheared  -  no,  I think that should be shorn,  maybe,  perhaps,  whatever  . . .  still,  some splendid alliteration always sounds good.  Whilst it did not quite seem to be the Australian outback,  I suppose that I would have been happy to stand there and watch for just a few hours  . . .

       Although the sheep were struggling hard in the firm grip of the men,  they were certainly being shorn cleanly with no cuts and streaks of blood.  Everyone was stopping to watch and I think that the men wished they had chosen a different day to shear or had not stationed themselves quite so close to the track we were walking on.  Anyway,  reluctantly,  dragging my mind back to the here and now,  the job in hand  . . .  the trail leads us on to the area around Steyning and the Langmead memorial is next to be passed in remembrance of some well-respected local farmers.

       The coast is not too far away and the Shoreham Power Station can clearly be seen and,  also silhouetted but a little further into the distance,  is Brighton and beyond  -  we will soon be there,  in just a couple of days,  not long.  This cultivated land brings us many glimpses to enjoy  -  a stand of bright red poppies at the edge of a field, the rolling slopes in the valley and the line of hills stretching on towards the horizon in the distance.  There are cattle resting in the grass as we cross over Annington Hill and it is not long before we come to the pleasure of the pig farm.  The pigs are looking healthy and strong and are a delight to watch as they snuffle around or just laze in the sun  -  there seem to be a lot more pigs this year with plenty of youngsters scuttling about.

       The shape of the Downs now drops fairly steeply into the next river valley and we pass through Botolphs before reaching the river Adur.  This little section seemed a bit endless in the hot sun and I was certainly glad to reach the bank of the river and stop for lunch  -  this is a frequent stopping point for me in whichever direction the walk is heading.  Today, the tide is well out and the river very low causing the swans to paddle in the mud at the edges  -  but it was still nice to sit and enjoy a peaceful lunch while watching the river gently slide by.

       Afterwards,  it was across the river and then immediately face the relatively stiff climb up Beeding Hill with many a stop to survey the views and catch one's breath,  again  -  Bramber Castle was certainly showing clearly and standing proud.  When the gradient began levelling out we passed amongst some cattle,  some of whom seemed to be giving us a bit of a warning look  -  this was their field!

       Upon reaching the road,  we followed it up the long and steady incline until it ran out at the Youth Hostel and became just a track  -  there was plenty of indication that the groundwork for the cable from the wind farm  (named Rampion after the Sussex county flower)  was being undertaken,  cutting a temporary scar across the chalk Downs.

       The Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill was our next stop,  an opportunity to meet up with two different groups of my friends  -  and where I also enjoyed a Feast ice cream  -  and chat with Janet and her friends,  there is so much to talk about.

       After a fairly lengthy break for R & R,  there was then the radio masts at the summit of Truleigh Hill to notice before the walk continued over yet another rolling stretch of downland.  We pass over Edburton Hill,  Perching Hill and Fulking Hill to finish the day at Devil's Dyke with the village of Fulking nestling below at the bottom of the scarp slope.  The weather has been so good today and the views wide and far-reaching but,  most of all,  the walking is such a wonderful experience.

       Another day over,  even more memories and those weary feet are ready for a rest.

Day 7  -  Devil’s Dyke to Newmarket Inn     12.3 miles

       It is now day seven of this pilgrimage over the southern slopes of England.

       After the sun of yesterday,  today it is a very misty and murky morning as the coaches head up the narrow road to reach Devil's Dyke.  The windows are all misted up and it is not easy to see whether it is actually raining or not  -  but as we disembark there remains no doubt about it.

       A quick visit to the toilets and then it is a struggle into the waterproofs.  With no view to enjoy there is nothing to delay my setting off on this leg of the journey.  Firstly,  it is around the southern edge of the Dyke itself and then we are heading down Summer Down to Saddlescombe.  Listed as a working farm since the Domesday Book and once owned by the Knights Templar themselves,  it certainly has had some history.

       Trudging along we soon reach the first climb of the day at West Hill and,  fortunately,  as we climbed,  the misty drizzle soon begins to ease and slowly drifted away.  With the cloud lifting as we crossed the fairly fIat hilltop and taking care to avoid the scattering of bovine waste,  it was then downhill again before we made the crossing of the A23 and reached the village of Pyecombe.  Armed with today's Footprints voucher,  we made our way to the Church of the Transfiguration where the ladies of the church were busy providing refreshment  -  donations were also most welcome to help fund their worthy causes  -  a cheese scone and a flapjack were indeed very palatable and most worthy of both a voucher and a donation.

       After resting on the grass in the churchyard for a brief bite to eat,  it was soon time to get back out there.  No rest for the wicked  -  didn't I say that last year,  dear reader  -  and,  as we go,  not forgetting to notice the tapsel gate with genuine Pyecombe shepherds crook  . . .  we finally moved on.

       Once through the village,  the signpost on the verge of the A273 was leading to a fair amount of confusion as it did not appear to be pointing in the right direction.  Fortunately,  many of us knew that the newly re-surfaced path alongside Pyecombe Golf Course was,  indeed,  the correct way to go and so we ploughed our furrow in that direction.  We walked along trying hard not to disturb the golfers as they swung and also to avoid those waywardly hit balls.  This newly laid path was a delight and we were soon back up on the ridge.

       As we are so close,  it is worth a short detour to visit Jack and Jill,  the Clayton Windmills,  and also admire the view across to Wolstonbury Hill.  Two windmills,  one black and one white.  There,  that did not take long,  and returning to the trail,  we do not have far to go before we are passing Keymer Post which marks the boundary between East and West Sussex.  The turf is soft here and there are several dew ponds on this stretch which leads us towards Ditchling Beacon.

       I stop near the Beacon for lunch as the clouds are becoming much heavier again and it is looking as if the heavens are most likely going to open up and drench us in rain.  The strong breeze is swirling around  -  so it seemed most opportune to have lunch before the rain fell.  As I sat there huddled up and munching away on a sandwich a group of DoE lads came along and sat nearby and also had a bite to eat.  They were soon joined by a couple of their leaders who were making sure that all was well and as they stood there for a while giving the lads some instruction I paid close attention  -  most informative.  It was quite blustery but the rain was just about managing to hold off and so,  after a while,  I packed myself up and carried on.

       Obviously,  I could not resist the chance of purchasing a Feast ice-cream from the van in the car park and pretend that it is summer.  Give yourself over to absolute pleasure,  where is the harm in that.  So,  walking over Home Brow eating my ice cream and then Western Brow,  the Downs ahead were frequently being shrouded in mist  -  one moment there was a view and the next, a bank of cloud.

       It is a good day and there were certainly plenty of lads out doing DoE with their kit in huge rucksacks that were almost as big as they were and,  at one point,  a small group of Gurkhas ran by.  Yes,  all human life is here.

       Next up in this never-ending panorama of life,  a bee orchid had been discovered at Streat Hill and was causing quite a flurry of excitement  -  it was a fine example,  standing proud and alone in the chalky turf surrounded by a circle of small stones.  Many people were taking the opportunity of witnessing the find with a photographic memento.  Another tick in the box.

       The chalk and flint trail is tough on the feet and it was now that there was an opportunity to move off the trail and walk on the grass in the fields of some access land.  It was,  by far,  a much more comfortable way to cross Plumpton Plain.

       Just before Blackcap the trail takes a sharp right-hand turn.  This is a lovely place to stop and look at the wide views that stretch across to the ridge running on the south side of Lewes.  From here the DoE lads were continuing to head east towards Mount Harry and,  presumably,  Lewes and a cluster of their leaders were grouped here encouraging them on their way.  Little groups of these lads under their enormous packs were stretched out into the distance.  Unfortunately,  people on the SDW trail would see these walkers ahead and,  totally ignoring the signpost,  follow them.  Most,  hopefully all,  were stopped before they went too far and brought back and pointed in the right direction.  It was rather amusing to watch  -  especially as they would ignore my instruction of where to go despite knowing that I was doing the SDW walk myself,  I suppose Terry would imagine it is that carefree and knowing twinkle in the eye.

       Anyway,  reading between the lines,  and taking the correct path with that wicked smile,  I headed south.  After a while I came to a large flock of sheep,  they had already been penned and were no doubt wondering if this was it and were soon to be on their way to the slaughterhouse.  The end can be all too unexpected however,  a man  -  the shepherd  -  was inoculating them against intestinal parasites  . . .  or so he said.

       The weather was continuing to change and the steady descent across Balmer Down was completed in some fine sunshine.  The poor weather earlier in the day is forgotten and people are now happy to sit around and enjoy the brightly shining views.

       It was here that I learned about the efficacy of wool from the sheep which,  when cleaned and washed and positioned around the affected parts,  stopped feet being so painful when long distance walking.  This process was definitely given the thumbs up by one of our number whose feet had previously been suffering.  Not very far to go now,  just a few short sharp climbs and descents.  First it is down into Bunkershill Plantation and then clambering steeply up and over Long Hill which brings us out to the crossing of the A27 at Housedean Farm.

       Although so close to the finish that we can just about see it a little further up the road,  we are not there yet and have to walk along a path that runs between the road and the railway line before it cuts up the hill and back down again to reach the Newmarket Inn from the rear.  The Footprints banner is there to welcome us in.

       At the end of the day,  a chance to sit and enjoy a refreshing drink,  chat with friends and complete those quizzes and limericks  -  it is so very odd that no no one  (oops!  bit of a literary stutter there)  seems to think of rhyming grass with brass  . . .  or even,  perhaps,  pass.  No matter, there are greater concerns and,  unfortunately,  to the extreme discomfort of some of our ladies,  the drains are blocked and the toilets out of action.  One can never rely on there being another bush nearby to shelter from view behind.  Oh dear,  nevermind.

       Home is the range.

Day 8  -  Newmarket Inn to Alfriston     13.7 miles

      Yes,  indeed.  We are come to the day before the last one  -  that so infamous day  -  what has the world in store for us on this most fateful of days.  If only we had known the half of it.  Well,  dear reader  . . .  read on.

       Yes,  indeed,  day eight.  It all began in the usual way,  it was raining as the coaches drove towards Lewes and soon we arrived at the Newmarket Inn  -  no change there,  then.  We scurried inside and all seems to be well  -  the toilets are working today,  the bacon rolls are being prepared,  friends are meeting for another day of walking.  However,  there is that rather uneasy feeling of normality which is lingering in Bodega Bay.

       A quick visit to the porcelain room and then up to the bar to buy a freshly cooked bacon roll.  With almost fourteen miles to cover today there is no time to linger longer so I carefully wrap the bacon roll up for later consumption.  As the coaches continue to arrive the room becomes ever more full as I pull on my wet-weather gear.  Then,  finally,  all ready,  I set off,  not too dissimilar to Captain Oates,  out into the drizzly rain.

       With the rucksack on my back,  hat on my head,  pole in my right hand and bacon roll in the other I take the circuitous route back to the South Downs Way.  Round the bend,  passed the garage,  under the railway bridge,  passed some nice little cottages and the postman  . . .  and then up the track to the mist covered heights looming to the front of us.  It was reasonably tough going as I was multi-tasking  - concentrating on eating my bacon roll and not getting too wet as well as walking  -  three things at once,  amazing.  But I also had the company of Bob Catlow,  regional sales for Regatta  -  the outdoor clothing and equipment company who help support/sponsor the Annual South Downs Way Walk.  It took me a little while to actually realise who this nice chappie was,  I am never too quick on the uptake especially when going uphill  . . .  however,  it was very interesting to learn about Regatta being a family owned company.  Well done,  Regatta!                        ( Now that has got to be worth a rucksack  -  Ed ).

       As I slowly continued to work my way to the top of the hill the rain gradually eased off and we passed many of the DoE lads from yesterday coming the other way.  After the rain finally stopped the day was quickly brightening up and as I did not want to walk all day wrapped up in the wet gear I took it off  -  there's initiative for you!  However,  too lazy to take my boots off first I sat down and tried to pull the waterproof trousers off over them  -  it just does not work!  -  so there I was, on the ground,  being ably assisted by a kindly red-shirted team member who was helping to pull my trousers off.  No names,  just a hundred witnesses.  Strange days!

       We were now on the Jugg's Road for a short while,  overlooking the Ashcombe windmill before the ridge turns south-east and runs along the rolling downland with the very steep scarp slope falling away below.  Now bathed in bright sunshine we soon pass the Meridian Post which now has a large flint cairn in front and a mound of manure behind.  I am sure that this is telling us something but it is not easy putting your finger on it  -  some sort of imitation of life,  I suppose.

       It is a good walk along this stretch and,  at one point,  the young cattle were showing undue interest and closely followed us to the gate in the corner of a field.  This was perhaps going to be a problem for the walkers still to come,  but I did not look back to see how difficult it might be proving.

       We reached Mill Hill where some people took the path to the pub in Rodmell,  well that was the way the SDW used to go before one of the many alterations that have occurred over the years.  I continued along the current route as it goes steeply down Mill Hill to Cricketing Bottom and then follows the dry and dusty valley to the pretty village of Southease.  This village is more or less exactly at the halfway point of today's walk and the green in front of the church,  with its round tower,  the church not the green,  is a popular spot for a picnic lunch under the big blue sky.

       It was getting very hot as we walked the long straight road from the village and over the swing bridge which crosses the River Ouse and on to the railway station.  The flatness of this river valley is soon behind us and the ground begins to rise.  Slowly at first as we go over the South Downs Way Bridge which crosses the A26 and then becoming steeper as there is the prospect of Itford Hill now before us.  Step by step,  slowly I turn,  in the heat of the sun,  looking back across the fields flushed red with poppies.  The road goes ever on.  It was certainly weary work.

       Whilst I was still only halfway up this hill a light rain had begun to fall and the clouds were beginning to gather.  There had previously been the distant rumblings of thunder throughout the day but now the clouds were rapidly getting darker and heavier and more ominous with the promise of what they were holding pent up within.

       The minutes hung heavily as I heading on towards the radio station atop Beddingham Hill,  high up on the ridge,  we could see the heavy black clouds that were hanging over Lewes and hear the thunder roll as swathes of heavy rain began pouring down on the town.  Although the thunder was sounding all around us,  and the storm so close,  the rain up here on the ridge was still fairly gentle.

       The storm seemed to be moving along the north edge of the Downs and,  for a while,  it looked as if we might be spared the worst of the weather.  However,  as we continued walking,  the storm began circling to the south in front of us and the thunder could now be heard coming from the sea which was on our right.  It continued to circle as we walked along the rolling downland and, when I was still about five miles out from Alfriston,  well before we had reached Firle Beacon, the storm finally came to rest only a very few feet above our heads.  The rain was torrential and the lightning frequently flickered overhead with the almost immediate boom of the thunder as each blast then slowly echoed away.

       Every boom of thunder was another stroke of lightning that had missed me and the rain was continuously pouring so relentlessly from the sky.  The rain is pouring on the foreign town,  the bullets cannot cut you down.  Rage!  Blow you winds!  You cataracts and hurricanoes  . . .  for that way madness lies,  yes,  indeed  -  and poor Tom's a-cold  . . .

       On we trod to Firle Beacon soaked to the skin,  every step a squelch as my boots,  like everyone else's,  were now filled with water and the tracks we walked on were themselves a flowing river of water.  The thunder,  the lightning and the rain became such a constant that I stopped thinking about it and just took pleasure in the walking  -  I knew where I was,  where I was going and I had plenty of time in which to do it.  No problem.  Yeah  . . .  !

       The long descent seemed to be rather endless with the storm continuing and water,  water everywhere.  As I neared Alfriston,  each road was a river running off of the Downs and into the town  -  the rain had been very heavy and still was,  it had not diminished at all for the last five miles.

       As I walked through the streets of Alfriston I met with several friends who were hunting for a tea room that would offer them some respite from the weather but none seemed to want to know.  I think that they eventually found somewhere that had an open courtyard to the rear.  In the circumstances,  it was certainly not possible to get any wetter.

       I eventually got to the car park  -  although there was no sign of the Footprints banner,  in the prevailing conditions,  I forgive them.  The car park was gradually going underwater and,  splashing through the puddles,  I found that a coach was ready to leave.  It was not the last coach but I did not feel that I could say that I wanted to stand in the pouring rain for another hour and wait  -  not that I would have got any wetter but there was nothing much to do in the town.  So I got on the coach and with water pouring off of me made my way to the back of the coach  -  there did not seem to be many smiley faces.  Come on,  cheer up.  Where is the spirit of adventure,  where is the sense of fun.  Strangely enough,  although the coach was pretty much full,  there were two empty seats together.  I plonked myself down and the coach immediately drove off.

       The journey home,  well,  that was another adventure all of its own.  The coach had not left the car park before it came across the problem of flooded roads.  Traffic was having difficulty moving and the weather outside continued but I did not care,  I was too busy trying to get out of some of my wet clothes.  I did have a dry top in my bag  -  well,  with all that water it was only rather damp,  so good enough!

       With the volume of water that had been brought onto the coach,  which was packed full of people and some dogs,  the windows soon steamed up and the atmosphere became more than a little tainted.  However,  as we found out,  things were not going to improve.

       Once we had reached Shoreham and then taken an unbelievably tortuous route through Lancing,  Sompting,  Broadwater,  Durrington and who knows where, nose to tail in traffic with roads closed and diversions in operation because of the flooding  . . .  and then  . . .  and then,  no I think I've lost the plot with that one  . . .

       The formidable British spirit when in adversity now began to surface  -  fortunately,  we did not quite get as far as community singing but it did seem to be getting awfully close at times.  After well over an hour and a half we were still trapped in the borough of Worthing and barely moving  -  stop the bus I want to get off,  that thought certainly kept crossing my mind.

       People who were in texting contact with the earlier coaches discovered that one had taken three hours to do the return journey!  Grief.  I am unsure whether this news brightened our spirits to think that others were worse off than we were or did it just spread a gloomy pall that the nightmare might yet still be very far from over.

        Anyway,  before we descended completely into despair,  some sort of miracle dawned  -  the rain stopped,  all traffic vanished once we reached Titnore Lane and the last stretch to Arundel station had never been quicker!  Disbelief.  A look of shock,  what happened there?  Everyone was looking around in wonder and,  to end the day,  amidst all of the ongoing rail chaos,  barely two minutes after I had walked onto the railway platform, and to the cheers of many waiting and long-suffering passengers,  a train turned up from nowhere to take me home to Pulborough which seemed to have had hardly any rain at all.

       With no time to catch a breath  -  from despair to a hot shower in no time at all.  I breathe for you.

       It certainly was a day to remember and we certainly got our money's worth on that one  . . .  eat your heart out Mr DiCaprio.

Day 9  -  Alfriston to Eastbourne     10.4 miles

       The final day dawns,  day nine.  It seems quite unbelievable that it has all happened so quickly  -  where have these days and all of the miles gone.  Sad to think that there will be no tomorrow.

       So,  with a fresh pair of boots  -  yesterday's were still dripping wet this morning  -  we head along the roads to Alfriston.  The water has run away and there is no flood waters left to delay our journey.  The thunderstorm we experienced yesterday is now just a distant memory and is very much in contrast with today which is looking reasonably bright and pleasant.  Oh,  yes,  God is in His heaven and all is well with the world.

       Firstly,  we make our way to the white bridge.  Whether one is taking the Jevington route or the coastal path,  it is only here the divergence comes  -  two cyclists made the gentlemanly mistake of letting us cross the bridge first only to discover that the line of us walkers was,  indeed,  endless.  They were still cheerful when I crossed.  I only hope that they managed to get over and on their way eventually.  Anyway,  once across the white bridge it is a gentle walk following the bends of the Cuckmere River downstream.  Over on our right is St Andrew's,  the Cathedral of the Downs,  on a loop of the river.

       We walked down the river to Litlington where,  just before the village,  a stretch of the path was comprised of a very clinging mud.  Coming out to the metalled road which runs through the village,  everybody was knocking the mud from their boots and this was leaving a very wide trail of mud up the road.

       At this point I took a quick detour to the Crystal Store,  just to see it for myself,  which offers the sale of crystals in a clear and positive environment.  Unfortunately, the store was not open,  maybe it will be next year.  I was soon heading back towards the village hall where,  once again,  homemade refreshments were on offer to tempt us walkers as we went by.  As it was still early,  some elderflower squash and a piece of shortbread was a good treat to enjoy before the day's walking really began in earnest.

       Our way headed south and the undulation of the hills soon became evident,  especially when we reached the edge of the Friston Forest and a very uneven flight of steps were cut into the side of a hill.  The village of Westdean is always nice with a green telephone box and a pond,  also looking very green  -  both the surrounding foliage and the surface of the waters.  A quick stop for a banana but there was no time to go and admire the church as the Friston Steps are rising steeply in front of me.  Some reports state that there are over 200 steps,  one after the other,  a big flight to contend with but I can never get that far before I need to stop for breath and,  in so doing,  lose count.

       Emerging from the trees high above Exceat there is an incredible view along the line of the Cuckmere valley as it heads away towards the sea,  with the meandering river lying like a gentle snake before our eyes.  Making my way into the Seven Sisters Country Park,  as has become usual I walk in the peaceful quiet along the path by the bank of the river  -  let everyone else follow the South Downs Way up and down another hill.  Indeed,  whichever way one goes,  the climb up to the Seven Sisters soon comes along.  Taken at a steady pace I slowly make the ascent and eventually reach  the cliff edge at Haven Brow and stop.

       Looking back across Cuckmere Haven the line of sight is drawn to Seaford Head which is most spectacular and will justifiably grace many a photographic plate.  If this were all it would surely be enough but,  no,  a few steps more to the east and the whole panorama of the Seven Sisters opens up in front of me.  Crumbs!

       It is just not possible to take a poor photograph.

       The series of steep ups and downs,  known as the Seven Sisters,  is taken steadily and I stop halfway down one for lunch.  It is in sight of a beautifully white cliff face that looks as if it has recently lost ground as a toe of chalk reaches out from the base to the water.  A crack in the rock at the top of this cliff gives the thought that more will most likely follow soon,  plunging to the waters below like a glacier calving  -  can I wait,  camera ready,  to witness the landscape evolving.

       The beauty of the Seven Sisters cannot be rushed,  the vibrant colours and bright sunshine make it a journey worth enjoying to the full.  Passing the Robertson Obelisk,  a memorial commissioned by W A Robertson in memory of his two brothers who were both killed in World War I,  there is always the reminder that life and death are all one.

       All too soon we walk down the eastern flank of these remnants of dry valleys in the chalk South Downs and I arrive at Birling Gap.  Time to pause and look around at the beach with the line of cliffs which stretch in both directions.  I buy a Feast ice-cream from the van parked there and enjoy it whilst setting off on the climb up towards Belle Tout,  the former lighthouse.  As the ground rises I look back at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters  -  it is a most awesome view.

       I walk along with Pete for a while  -  he has finally disentangled himself from the survey which was being undertaken at the Gap and,  together,  we reach the old lighthouse which is again getting perilously close to the edge of the cliff.  At the very edge,  and they now no longer use the back door,  there is a little shop which sells all manner of frozen treats  . . .  and so why not,  it is the last day after all.  I choose a white Magnum which was certainly very nice.

       The candy stripe lighthouse down by the waters edge at the foot of the cliff is now clearly in view and the climb up towards Beachy Head begins.  The chaplaincy team is clearly in evidence today and the cliff edge is never far away  -  it is always closer than you think.  Strangely enough,  the summit of Beachy Head never seems to arrive and,  although we thought that this was the last hill,  it did not prove to be so.  The ground continued to roll up and down like the never ending waves far below.

       There did not seem to be any respite but eventually the hills do come to an end and I passed the Prayer Stone and the Lloyds Watch Tower Base.  There is the Beachy Head pub and then the sight of Eastbourne comes into view as we begin the lengthy descent down to the finish.

       Then,  all of a sudden and all too soon,  it was the final downslope and there was the finish getting ever closer  . . .  too soon,  too soon  . . .  and then,  we are there.  At the signpost with an acorn on the top and a finger pointing back towards Winchester and telling us that it was 100 miles.  There is no fanfare.  No cheering crowd and no tape across the chest.

       Where are the young men  . . .

       They think it's all over  . . .  well,  it is now.  It is all over for another year.

       Je ne regrette rien.

       But wait,  there is more.  The closing celebration.  The last hurrah.

       This year the end of walk party is being held at the University of Sussex in Falmer.  The coaches take us to the party where there was a free drink available from the bar.  Our certificates were ready to be collected and there was also the opportunity to purchase various items and mementos that were for sale.

       Once everyone had arrived and got their drink,  there was a wide selection of finger food,  both sweet and savoury,  made available.  The party atmosphere was certainly in evidence and rapidly growing as everybody had a story to tell about their experiences during the last nine days.

       As a back-drop to the event a continuous slideshow of photographs,  which had been taken during the walk this year,  was being displayed on a large screen  -  so many images and so many memories.

       The winners of the various competitions were introduced to the sounds of great applause and awarded their prizes which were provided courtesy of Regatta and presented by Bob Catlow, their regional sales manager  -  there were the 9 daily quiz winners,  the author of the "just within the bounds of decency" limerick and,  new for this year,  the collective noun for a group of red-shirts.  Indeed,  the stunned silence was undoubtedly almost palpable when the winning entry for the collective noun was not announced as a  blister  of red-shirts  . . .  Where has the world gone wrong.  Another conspiracy theory heads off out into the ether.  Anyway,  the cheering was long and very vociferous and nothing was going to spoil the glorious day.

       Amongst all of the speeches was a letter from Andy Gattiker,  Trail Officer for the South Downs Way,  which was read out as he was unable to be with us personally.

       In conclusion,  to endless cheering,  there was the final round up of all that had happened over these past nine days as seen through Keith's eyes.  And now,  at the end,  with the speeches all made and the words all said,  there was nothing further to say.  We all sat and quietly listened as Keith touchingly read the poem by Bob Copper,  "Now swell the downland air with song"  -  it seems to say it all.

       Suddenly,  there is no more time to say goodbye to all these friends and acquaintances and,  as those for the Chichester coach were filing out first,  and passing by where I sat,  so many were calling out my name.  Goodbye,  Colin.

       Yes,  goodbye and we all hope to meet again next year.

       Just a couple of words to thank the Footprints team for making the Annual South Downs Way Walk such a wonderful experience.  Thank you.  It is no surprise that so many people return year after year.

       So far this year,  a total of £60.00 has been collected in response to my effort of walking along the South Downs Way in 2016 in support of Cardiac Rehab Support West Sussex.  If you would like to help the efforts being made by this local charity  -  please pass any contributions to me.

       It is all very much appreciated.  Thank you.  Colin x

(c)  Colin Luxford

The Seven Sisters  . . .  yeah, as if

Winchester to Eastbourne   10 to 18 June 2016

Got the badge

  . . .  and also got the polo shirt in “amber glow”

Throw Down the Sword

Gunnera on the River Itchen

The Madcap Laughs

Fly fishing at Whitewool Pond

Scenic views and wide open spaces

Into the midsts on Harting Downs

Dandelion seed  -  a seed head!

Heading away from Cocking

OK, so who’s got the map? Didn’t I say it was left after Cocking

Crossing over the River Arun

Memorial  -  5th Baron and Baroness Denman of Dovedale

Window shopping  -  certainly could have stood there for a few hours  . . .


Jill  -  one of the Clayton Windmills

A orchid  -  Bee Orchid  -  yes, just the one

The South Downs Way Bridge over the A26

The storm breaks over Lewes

The Friston Steps  -  it’s nice here with a view of the trees

A couple of the red-shirts  -  always cheerful  -  shiny happy people laughing

The Last Post

Home is the Hero  -  yeah, nobdy’s home and Nobody’s Hero  . . .

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