A Rainbow in Curved Air
Walking along the South Downs Way
Aching Men’s Feet
Through the Grass Darkly
The sun comes up another day begins
And I don’t even worry about the state I’m in
Head so heavy and I’m looking thin
But when the sun goes down I want to start again
Eastbourne to Winchester 9 to 17 June 2017
106 miles or thereabouts
Life, the universe and everything
Day 1 -
Here we go -
And despite the coach taking the longest route possible and driving so slowly all the way along the seafront from the eastern end of the town to the west . . . why? Everyone is starting to get edgy and champing at the bit. Anyway, at last we disembark and make our way to the tea kiosk where the first green sward leads directly uphill -
Waking up at the crack of dawn is never the best way to begin anything but it has to be done -
At the start . . . Here we go
This first hill at Eastbourne still seems to be so steep as I slowly take those initial steps to get myself underway. The weather is looking rather gloomy and, as I set off, the wind is blowing very strongly into my face. Is that a touch of rain in the air or perhaps a little sea spray blown quite a distance up the cliffs and inland. The wind gets stronger as the weather slowly brightens and I remember that first day two years ago which was such a struggle against these strong westerlies. Sometimes, it is almost impossible to keep walking forwards.
There is no rush and I slowly climb the hill, with frequent pauses to look back and catch the breath that the wind is blowing away. The path is leading us away from Eastbourne and towards Beachy Head. There are many paths going in roughly the right direction and it is never obvious which one is the actual South Downs Way. Eastbourne fades and, not counting the public conveniences located halfway up the hill, my first stop is at the memorial to the men of Bomber Command. A quick photograph to catch the moment as the sea is crashing beyond the fence and far below.
Once around the next bend on the cliff top and suddenly the Beachy Head lighthouse comes into view -
For a while, there is always the nearby cliff edge and, if one is foolish enough to get close enough, there are spectacular views of the cliffs falling away to the sea. The beauty of the views that stretch away in all directions is glorious but is losing some of its fascination in the fight against this blustery wind which continues to strengthen. The sun is now out and a little further on, despite the “Cliff Edge” signs there is a further sight of the red and white lighthouse, now behind us and far below.
A downhill slope is always a welcome relief but this one is all too quickly followed by the steeply uphill track that leads us to Belle Tout, the old lighthouse. The building and the cliff edge again seem to have become one -
To the lighthouse
As the the trail now slopes gently down to Birling Gap I am able to clearly see the cliffs known worldwide as the Seven Sisters. They are shining a bright white in the sunshine as they march along the coast to the Cuckmere Haven and Seaford. The remaining coastguard cottages at Birling Gap stand defiantly for the time being but their days are most certainly numbered -
There is some shelter from the wind at Birling Gap and I briefly pause, a quick look around, not really for any reason other than to buy a Feast ice cream from the van -
The struggle up Went Hill takes place in a strengthening gale and when I reach the crest of the climb the landscape of the Seven Sisters fully opens up before me. Truly magnificent and I am now on this rollercoaster ride that is to take me westwards. First, I pass the Micheldene Obelisk -
I slowly make my way up and down the slopes. It is such hard work -
The Seven Sisters is barely two miles in length but it seems to be so much further, especially on a day like today. Baily’s Hill, Flat Hill, Flagstaff Point, Brass Point, Rough Brow, Short Brow and Haven Brow -
After lunch, heading back out into the wind, I continue on what seems to be an endless task. As I go up and down I take notice of my surroundings -
The sandy beach looks welcoming down below but there is no time to stop and rest. I turn to the north at Cliff End and walk down into the Cuckmere Haven. As if by magic the wind has disappeared and is no longer troublesome, the sun is now becoming very warm indeed. In the valley the river winds a difficult course although the man-
The A259 is busy, no surprise there, and crossing it without injury can be quite a skill. I eventually manage to get across -
At the brow of the hill we clamber over a low wall and into some woods that are part of the Friston Forest. There is cool shade with the sun dappling through the leaves and I am soon heading down the Friston Steps -
St Andrew, Cathedral of the Downs
Bleating and babbling they fell on his neck with a scream
A climb up through the trees and the day is starting to feel rather long. In the open spaces it is hot as the sun beats down and I am eager to find a seat for just a little rest -
Not far to go now and it is good to know that some refreshments are awaiting us in the village hall at Litlington. However, before we get that far, there are some cattle in the fields and everything is so very peaceful. It is downhill into Litlington and there is the welcome treat to enjoy, made ready by the ladies of the village. I choose to have coffee and a flapjack and this is enough for me to while away the time as part of a quiet and relaxing rest, sitting outside in the sunshine. There is plenty of time available until the last coach, only a mile to go and no need to hurry at all.
There is also enough time for a quick visit to the crystal shop -
Moving on, the final mile along the bank of the Cuckmere River is taken at a very gentle stroll. I walk slowly, gazing at the countryside, seeing the cattle and the flight of birds as well as the many wild flowers. It is with all the time in the world that I head towards St Andrew’s church. The Cathedral of the Downs, with a spire emerging from the trees and reaching into the sky. As I walk I pass many pink markers that are set out ready for tomorrow’s charity marathon -
Eventually, I cross the White Bridge and reach the finish for today in Alfriston. The first day is now over and it has been completed successfully. I sit and rest near the Footprints banner, filling in the answers to the quiz and waiting for the last coach to take us home. It is all so lovely, we have so easily got into our stride again, roll on tomorrow. A happy smile.
Day 2 -
It is the second day and as we arrive in Alfriston it is certainly bright and sunny, warm with a gentle breeze -
The transport, all under the banner of Worthing Coaches, is smartly parked. The coaches are side by side, in a line, and there is not much reason for us to hang around. It is nearly 14 miles to the finish today and so I set off quite promptly. As I walk through the busy streets of Alfriston there does seem to be a lot of activity and buzz of expectation in the air. The people take little notice of us, perhaps the town is getting ready for the hordes of Macmillan walkers who will be passing through in a few hours time. We avoid the traffic in the narrow streets and it is not long before we are leaving Alfriston and head out into the countryside.
There is a long and steady climb that leads away from the town and we are soon spread out as the line of walkers begins to stretch. As we gain altitude the views in all directions begin to fully open out and we find ourselves as just a very small part of the wide downland. There are herds of cattle here and flocks of sheep there, all scattered about. On our right is the Weald stretching away into the distance with Ardingly reservoir not too far away. Behind us are the hills we walked over yesterday.
As we continue the climb that eventually heads up to Firle Beacon, we begin to pass the first of the green-
On a bright day such as this the views that run north across the Weald seem to be endless -
Upon reaching Firle Beacon I take a rest, enjoy the view and eat a banana -
Bull in Field -
Heading onwards, Firle Beacon is left behind and is that Firle Tower far below nestling amongst some trees? Up ahead the masts of the radio station on Beddingham Hill are slowly getting nearer. Walking on, the wide open sky is just above our heads, and in it an old biplane is flying quite low in the blue. I try to quickly take a photograph but I think I only managed to record a patch of the cloudless sky. No matter, we shall have to wait to see what was captured on film.
It is not long before I finally reach the top of Beddinghan Hill with the two radio masts, they are excessively well protected by high fences, barbed wire and many massive padlocks. Not particularly interesting but it is there and a marker to show that we are slowly getting the miles done. The ground beneath our feet is now gradually descending and we move on towards Itford Hill. It is in this area that there was a bovine herd -
After Itford Hill we see the expanse of the wide valley in front of us with the River Ouse running along the bottom of it and just beyond that lies the village of Southease. The descent steepens as we go down into the Ouse valley. It is a chalky, rutted path that leads us down to the South Downs Way bridge over the A26 at Itford Farm. There is now the prospect of lunch only a mile away and I am certainly ready for a good rest. I do not stop at the Youth Hostel but carry on, make my way over the railway crossing before reaching the swing bridge that crosses the River Ouse. Once across the river and the green tide finally dries up -
The green is filled with people, most of them are walkers on their journey along the South Downs Way, eating their picnic lunches. It is good to find a bit of shade under a tree and I settle down to eat and recover sufficiently for the second half of today’s walk. After I have eaten I go and look at the church with an unusual round tower -
After leaving Southease, the trail takes a course along the bottom of a dry and dusty valley that heads towards Cricketing Bottom. It is then a sharp turn to the right that sets us on the very steep climb up Mill Hill. I struggle up the hill, walking along between some sheep and, eventually, the path takes me back up to the ridgeway. Looking across towards Lewes the chalk cliff faces that lie to the north of the town are showing up very clearly.
Walking along a track that lies between fields, I am soon encountering the Meridian Post -
East meets West -
The ridge takes us along, high above Lewes, and I can make out the castle but the heat of the day and the distance of the walk is starting to wear me down. The ground is still gradually climbing and, as a consequence, the speed at which I am travelling begins to falter and the people in front of me steadily get further away. Front Hill and Iford Hill -
The concrete finally ends as I reach Swanborough Hill and, at last, I can find some grass upon which to sit and take the weight off -
The day seems endless and I try to make out where, in the distance, the Newmarket Inn could be and the line of the trail that leads down to it. My feet hurt and, ahead of me, I see walkers embarking on another hill as the Jugg’s Road heads up Newmarket Hill. I do not remember this from before but there is a Footprints waymarker pointing up the hill, it must be right, and so I follow the trail as it now makes a wide circle above Cold Coombes before heading back down towards the Newmarket Inn. The Amex Stadium is not far to my left and it seems to be much closer than the finish.
Although it is now all downhill, the feet are really hurting and I need to make quite a few stops to rest them in order to keep moving forwards. I keep a look out but, fortunately, I cannot see the back-
It has been a nice day and there have been plenty of cattle and sheep roaming at various points along the trail. They all appear to be content. And yes, aching men’s feet -
Day 3 -
It was rather overcast when the coach arrived at the Newmarket Inn this morning and, as I did not really want a bacon sandwich, I had no reason to go inside the pub. Taking a little time to get myself organised, it was only a few brief minutes before I embarked upon today’s walk to Devil’s Dyke. Retracing the steps I had taken late yesterday afternoon -
We were now following the National Trail again and taking the turning to continue on our journey -
It has taken a fair amount of time but I am finally heading away from the noise of the road. It was a steady pace that took me up the steep climb of Long Hill with just a few pauses to catch my breath and, as the day was warming up, take my jacket off. After the climb up it is immediately followed by a steep descent through the trees of Bunkershill Plantation. Coming out of the trees into the peaceful downland countryside -
The ground is rising steadily as I travel across Balmer Down towards Buckland Bank. It is a gentle walk over the grassy downland but, before too long, we turn to the right and follow a path heading in a northerly direction towards Blackcap. This path finally takes us up to the ridge and, on arrival, it is another opportunity to call a halt and rest. Seated on the grass to the west of Blackcap one can enjoy the views which reach across to the ridge where we were walking yesterday. In the far distance, and now seeming to be a long way back, is Firle Beacon -
After a brief rest and energy boosting chocolate biscuit it is soon time to move on. Learning from past years, I take the opportunity to walk on the access land as the grass is so much easier on the feet than the chalk and flint path of the official South Downs Way. The trail takes me across Plumpton Plain in the direction of Ditchling Beacon and I head for a clump of trees which seem to be ideal for a comfort break. On arrival I find that a small crowd, not enough for a flock, of sheep are sheltering under trees. Well, that is inconvenient -
Although the sun is shining, there is rather a strong breeze at times and this is giving a rather chill feel to the day. Do the cattle notice the weather as they stand in a group near to the route I am taking. The access land is now no longer suitable for my purpose and I have to return to the chalk and flint -
At Streat Hill I look for the Bee Orchid that was found at this location last year but I could find no sign of one today. No worries, and onwards I go crossing over Western Brow and then Home Brow before stopping for lunch just before Ditchling Beacon. I am seated amidst a yellow carpet of buttercups (and some dandelions, too) looking out over a wide view across the Weald. Laid out below were Ditchling and Keymer and Hassocks.
I could feel that the time was ticking away and so I quickly hurried on, only stopping long enough to finish my lunch break with a Feast ice cream from the nearby van. Nothing ever seems to be straightforward and I must try and find a way to eat these frozen treats before they melt and drip everywhere. At the moment it is not a particularly warm day -
It was certainly a day for cattle and sheep to be grazing peacefully up on the ridge and I passed many as I wandered through this rolling countryside. It is not long before I pass the Keymer Post which marks the county boundary. I travel from East Sussex to the more genteel West Sussex -
Continuing on my way, I am soon not far from the Clayton windmills and it is here that I see a small group of gurkhas run towards me. In their green tops I was reminded of the green tide of the Macmillan walkers from yesterday, but this tide was very brief and with cheery hellos was soon gone. It is at this point that I take the opportunity of making a small short cut so that I could enjoy a longer rest at Pyecombe church. Looking across, as I tread this lonely path, I could see the vanes on Jill were slowly turning in the breeze whilst Jack stood motionless nearby -
Walking by the side of Pyecombe Golf Course the track descends and there is some new seating which I gratefully take advantage of in order to give my feet a brief respite. A few yards further on and there is the crossing of the A273 to make and, once this is done I head into the village of Pyecombe.
The Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecombe
I am soon arriving at the Church of the Transfiguration which has an unusual tapsel gate. There is quite a gathering of people when I arrive and it is here that I meet up again with Erica and Janice and catch up on the day’s news of their walk. Inside, the ladies of the church are happily displaying the home-
From the church, the road heads down to the A23 and, fortunately, there is a bridge to aid our crossing. I seem to have returned to the modern world but very soon I leave it behind by clambering up East Hill. It is very steep and, in the pauses, there are good views as I look back at the landscape of the last few miles. As usual, after going up there is a downhill to follow, and we descend West Hill to reach Saddlescombe. Once home to the Knights Templar, this working farm was mentioned in the Domesday Book and appears to be having an Open Day.
Nearly there, and after the last descent it is time to make the steep ascent of Summer Down. Having already done the best part of 12 miles today, this is hard work but, once I have completed the climb, that is it. I am now above Devil’s Dyke and I can take the time to relax and experience the wonder of this landscape. There is now no reason to hurry and the Dyke is looking truly magnificent in the bright sunshine. Surprisingly, distant voices sound so near at hand as the steep valley amplifies the sounds.
I soon reach the end of the day’s walk at the Devil’s Dyke Hotel and, near the Footprints’ banner, I sit and await the last coach. Although tiring, it has been a most enjoyable day.
Day 4 -
Another day and the weather was a bit chill -
Heading in our usual westerly direction -
It is not long before I am beneath the masts that tower so high above me at Truleigh Hill. They overlook the scarp slope which lies below and, yes, it is time for me to take a break -
Truleigh Hill mast
Too chilly to sit around for long and I soon continue on and find there is a crowd of my fellow walkers taking their break at the youth hostel a little further on. I pass them by and walk along the road as it makes a long and gradual descent into the valley that has been carved by the River Adur. In the far distance is Chanctonbury Ring -
The work that is being done for the Rampion wind farm (named after the Round-
We follow the path as it leads us on and down Beeding Hill. The day slowly brightens and there are splendid views all around us -
The valley bottom is reached and I quickly find a sufficient gap in the busy stream of traffic to allow me to cross the A283 near Dacre Gardens. It is now only a short step or two and I reach the River Adur -
Again, I am conscious of the time and I cannot stop long enough to look inside the church. There is just time to take a quick snap outside and I must set off to retrace my steps back to the South Downs Way. I am not looking forward to the stiff climb up Annington Hill -
I know that I am slowing down and try to maintain the momentum of my pace across the ground as it is steadily rising in front of me as I head onwards. All too frequently I am looking backwards to see if I can catch sight of the backmarkers -
Passing Steyning Round Hill and the Horseshoe -
From now on it certainly does seem to be sheep country that I am walking through and the chalky path across the Downs rolls slowly on towards Chanctonbury Ring. As the afternoon wears away, the sun has finally become strong enough to break through the clouds and the heat is quickly building. Passing the crossing of footpaths at Wiston Bostal, it is now the last hill of the day up to the Ring -
The time ticks on relentlessly and I leave the shade to journey the final mile or two to the finish. Refreshed from the rest, I make good progress over the soft and springy turf -
It seemed a lonely path but the finish of the walk today is at the Frankland Arms and the blue Footprints banner flutters in the garden of the pub. After collecting my ticket for the coach to take me back to Arundel, I rest among friends and enjoy a cold glass of coke together with a complimentary packet of crisps -
It is good to be able to rest and not feel the need to be looking out for the back-
Day 5 -
There was boundless sunshine from start to finish on today’s walk through the area in which I spent many happy years wandering as a lad . . . and growing up. Did the open spaces of this glorious countryside create in me an ideal being -
With nearly all the pleasant attributes of a home-
It is jolly pleasant to walk through the village, passing the recreation ground and the school and heading out towards the South Downs Way. I pass St Mary, the parish church, and soon cross the bridge over the A24. The countryside lies ahead of me and, instead of taking the direct route, I make a sharp left turn and follow my preferred route back towards the national trail.
Walking along the edge of fields which run parallel to the dual carriageway, I make an undulating journey southwards. After a short but steep climb the path drops quickly down before it soon reaches the forbidding barrier of Biggen Holt. Now, the climb really begins and soon becomes very steep indeed as it clambers up the uneven and broken steps that are set in the side of this wooded hill. I struggle upwards, frequently stopping to gather my breath and wonder why I insist on coming this way. Eventually, I reach the South Downs Way and spend a few precious minutes recovering before setting off along the trail. The path is still heading upwards as it tackles Highden Hill and I do the best I can as the extra distance of this unofficial route is surely putting me even further behind the other walkers.
The broken steps at Biggen Holt
Hurrying on, I still have hopes of reaching the point where the official alternative route which comes up Barnsfarm Hill meets the route I am taking. That alternative route is the way the back-
Heading on as the downland rolls by, I pass the barn at the top of Sullington Hill and then go through the field which is, like today, usually frequented by cattle. I catch up with the last of the walkers who appear to be in no hurry and, as they have stopped, I walk on by. I am soon rewarded with a treat as the ice cream lady is waiting for us, today she is positioned at Chantry Post. A choice of the butter toffee flavour was made and this was very welcome as I sat enjoying the rich taste whilst small knots of gurkhas came running by.
I could not stop for long and I shortly find myself passing by Chantry Hill and Kithurst Hill. Soon the car park which lies to the west of Kithurst Hill is reached and, as this is the mid-
It has been all treats so far today and the splendid views to the north as I wander over Springhead Hill and Rackham Hill are magnificent. This trend was set to continue as I rested at Rackham Banks for lunch. This wide view of the Arun valley is pretty much without parallel, so glorious -
The pleasure of the walk continues as I set off again and I can see the river gently winding a way through the countryside, it all looks so peaceful and tranquil.
On reaching Amberley Mount, the trail sharply drops from the ridge and down into the valley. Far below, the cattle are in the field and I make my way down towards them. The sun is oppressive and making the day very hot and our water bottles are quickly emptying. As we walk along High Titten, people are looking in the verge at the roadside for the chance of spotting a rare plant -
I skirt around the village of Houghton and begin to cross the valley bottom -
It was then not much farther until I reached the bank of the swift flowing river, it is a most tranquil spot to briefly rest and watch the whole world go by. I see others that I know relaxing a little further upstream (or is it downstream, probably depends on which way the tide is flowing) and we wave to each other, so civilised. In a while I walk further along the bank of the river and, before long, I am crossing the footbridge over the Arun. This is an area where several major trails are within a stones throw of each other -
There are now just a couple of fields of green grass to cross over, some with cattle, before it is time to begin the long climb back up to the top of the Downs. On the uneven chalk track, it is very hot and humid as the white chalk is reflecting the glare and heat of the bright sunshine. The climb is hard and, with frequent stops to catch my breath, it allows me time to enjoy further views of the Arun valley and the spire of Bury church which nestles nearby among the trees. The track continues and slowly climbs through fields growing a cereal crop before passing the southern edge of Coombe Wood.
At last I reach the busy A29 and safely cross the road before there is a little more uphill work which lies across the side of Bury Hill. It is now not very far to go but first there is a very overgrown path which I must follow. It is certainly not interesting but does take me due south to the finish at Whiteways. As usual, at the very end, I take a short detour through the edge of Houghton Forest to the car park.
In the car park at Whiteways, the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) had their display van on show. Presumably they were aware that the walkers on the Annual South Downs Way Walk would be arriving in numbers and so took the opportunity to be here. This gave me the opportunity to pick up a leaflet or two.
It has been a lovely day -
Day 6 -
It is another fine morning and the day looks as if it will be splendid, too. The coaches are all parked in a neat line at Whiteways as I set off into Houghton Forest wondering whether to head straight for the South Downs Way or not. I am very apprehensive about walking back along the overgrown footpath -
In the end I took the overgrown footpath leading directly north and, to my surprise, there seemed to be hardly anyone around. I am not sure why but I am certainly grateful. I soon reach the South Downs Way and follow the trail westwards alongside the farmers’ fields. There are clear blue skies above me and, as I pass by, there are many fields of flax with their delicate blue flowers. A regular line of people are passing me by and I let them get ahead so that I can more appreciate the quiet solitude and the endless countryside. To be on the ridge with a sense of loneness, looking south across the land to the distant waters of the English Channel.
Fields of Flax
Looking ahead I can see the masts that are on top of Glatting Beacon but first, the trail drops down to the three barns at Westburton Hill. The barns are something of a landmark and it is here that the path turns sharply to the left for the steep climb up a deeply rutted chalk track. I find that this climb up Bignor Hill is best taken at a slow and steady pace. There is a great sense of relief when the climb is over and I reach Toby’s Stone, a mounting block, that is close to the top of the hill. Time for a rest and a banana and, for some unknown reason, the back-
As the trail continues on, there is a spot where the endless views truly do stretch out forever in all directions -
Only a little further and there we find the ice-
Frozen treats near Bignor Hill
Anyway, back to this year, there is now a very brief walk along Stane Street, the old Roman road, and this is soon to our rear. The trail crosses fields, usually occupied by sheep, and passes to the south of Glatting Beacon. The two masts at the summit stand sentinel and are clearly visible for many miles around.
The trail continues, rolling along beside the tree-
A little refreshed from this short break, I pack up my things and continue on my way up the rest of the hill. When the ground stops rising it enters a wooded area and it is cool in the shade of the trees and, on the other side of this wooded area, there are magnificent views to the north. There is Tegleaze Post, the meeting point of several paths, standing tall and proud. It is here, in this soft and springy turf, that the South Downs Way and the West Sussex Literary Trail run along together above Graffham Down. At this point, I walk for a while with Shirley and one of the London Blind Ramblers. It is a great day, with great people and there is this wonderful landscape rolling along with us.
All of these different shades of green that are in the countryside, they are all around us -
As I walk through this lightly wooded landscape, the trail passes between many small areas which are protected and allow many plants and butterflies to thrive undisturbed. The day wears on and, leaving the trees behind, the heat continues to build. A sign directs the traveller to the Unicorn Inn, 20 minutes down hill -
There are cattle and sheep peacefully grazing in the fields as I cross the top of Manorfarm Down and soon begin the long walk down the gentle slope. It is not very much further to the finish of the walk today which is located on the A286 just south of Cocking.
Footprints have erected their banner at the farm just a few yards before the finish and this allows us to rest in reasonable comfort -
Absolutely lovely. There has not been a cloud in the sky all day, just continual sunshine, and, despite the heat, it has again been great walking.
Also today, I have handed in my entry for the limerick competition. Oh, dear! As if pride will always come before a fall, which certainly sounds like one of the Jane Austen novels giving a social commentary on the pursuit of marriage. Remember the disappointment of last year. Anyway, ever the optimist, I have high hopes of success -
Day 7 -
I set out from the Cocking Down car park on the roadside of the A286 and begin the long, steady climb upwards. It is not steep but it does continue on forever until we have almost reached the sky. We pass many wild flowers including the huge seed heads of the Goat’s Beard (or Jack-
Goat’s Beard seed head
Eventually the landscape opens out as we near the top of the climb and, shortly, I pass by one of the 14 stones created by Andy Goldsworthy using chalk taken from Duncton Quarry. They are an art installation created in June 2002 and this stone, like the others, sits in the landscape slowly eroding -
The trail rolls along and I take my morning banana break near Linch Ball and there I meet up again with Erica and Janice. Sitting in the grass looking at the view stretching away to the north. It is a fine time and after a short while we continue in the joyful company of people that are also walking the trail. Heading towards Didling Hill, the skylarks are out in force again and their song is clearly heard -
Heading into the west we are soon entering the woods around Monkton House and it is here that a large group of gurkhas is running towards us, we stand aside and they hurry on by, passing us amidst a cheery chorus of hellos. On through the woods and it is now not much further until I reach the Devil’s Jumps on Treyford Hill. A chance to explore this Bronze Age barrow formation which is aligned with the setting of the sun on midsummer’s day -
Continuing on through woodland, the trail makes a sharp turn to the right and before long I reach the memorial stone which remembers the young German pilot shot down in this area in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. It is a quiet and thoughtful moment.
As I move on through this wooded terrain, the Chinook helicopter returns and begins to noisily sweep the area in a very low flight -
Onwards I travel, following the path both up and down, it passes Mount Sinai and then goes over Pen Hill. Next I come face to face with the awesome Beacon Hill, it stands there tall in front of me. The path of the South Downs Way takes a route to the south of the hill but I decide to take a shorter path which goes over the top. It is a steep climb up and this requires me to make quite a few stops for recovery. Looking back I can see a few people already such a long way below.
Whilst at the summit of Beacon Hill with its triangulation point (242m) I stand and look towards the horizon which is a very long way distant. Whilst here, I take the time to look and see if the fairy is still lying there beneath the windswept tree. Yes, it is there and is now framed by a border of flint -
The extremely steep descent is taken very carefully -
I later learn that if I had followed the route of the South Downs Way around the southern slopes of Beacon Hill, I would most likely have seen the Bee Orchid that was discovered today. Hindsight is such a wonderful thing. I am still only on a total of two seen in five years, this does not seem to be such a great achievement.
After lunch there is a little more climbing to do before I reach the Harting Downs. This is a lovely area and I look down to see the village of South Harting nestled in the countryside below. There is the green spire of the church standing out clearly on this fine sunny day. At the western end of the Harting Downs, there is the ice-
After crossing the B2146, the walk trails along tracks and roads which are not particularly interesting and, after a while, the Blind Ramblers soon begin to outpace me. As usual, I am left trailing along to the rear. Nevermind. I wander on, and sometimes I am alone and sometimes I am in the company of others. The afternoon wears on and, eventually, I pass Sunwood Farm and move from a dirt track to a tarmac road. The avenue of copper beech trees that line the road spread a glorious colour in the sunlight.
As the miles continue to pass, I travel on and it gradually becomes a byway rather than a proper road and is deeply rutted with potholes as it scrambles up and down. It is a long day and the walking was getting tougher as the day wore on and, as a consequence, I began taking frequent opportunities to rest and ease the feet. I knew that there could not be many people behind me and so I tried my best to press on.
Finally, we have come to the entrance into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. It is a relief to know that the finish is almost in sight, however, I just want to sit down for a while and rest. Unfortunately, there is no time, we know that the back-
We walk in with the back-
Day 8 -
The day was beginning fairly cloudy and I take a quick wander around the visitor centre -
So, without inspiration and without any further delay I set off to walk to Exton. The journey begins by going under the A3 and facing the long and steep climb up Butser Hill. It is the highest point on the South Downs Way and stands there with a radio mast at the summit. What a way to begin the walk today, this the penultimate day. With a steady pace I make the ascent and about half way up I am caught by Amanda who is accompanied by Barker, the weimaraner. We travel on together and the summit is eventually reached.
The cloud starts to break up and the sun is becoming more evident as the trail stops climbing. After the climb we take a fairly gentle route out of the park and travel along Limekiln Lane. The South Downs Way has entered a different phase and there is now frequent spells of road walking. The surrounding landscape is now more flatter, gently making its way along. This stretch of the walk follows both road and track and passes over Tegdown Hill before crossing Hyden Hill on the northern edge of Hyden Wood -
Flower and Butterfly -
However, once we have come out of the trees at Hyden Cross, the view north towards the village of East Meon is well worth spending a little time to stand and admire. The day has become sunnier and warmer as the time has gone by. Yes, it is another lovely day.
A little further on and I come to The Sustainability Centre which seems to be an oasis amongst all of the expensive housing. It is a welcome break on the journey and is able to provide a good rest whilst I enjoy a slice of their cake, banana and chocolate chip -
Turning north I head deeper into the countryside again. The trail makes its way up and over Wether Down with two masts towering high above us before crossing over Salt Hill. The green downland stretches away to either side as I walk the path between the hedges that border the fields. Soon, the ground falls away as the path, broken by tree roots, steeply descends. This slows the pace but we are soon back on firmer ground to continue the walk.
In the hot sun the sound of the insects is drowsy and each step like sleep-
Apparently, to make an attempt was every girl’s dream. So, after a few brief words, Carolyn was favoured with having an opportunity to try her hand with this chappies’ rod -
I set off after lunch with a small group of people and we pass through a herd of cattle as we climb up out of this arm of the Meon valley. Once out of the valley we are heading towards Old Winchester Hill. There are many little paths in this area which are frequently diverging only to meet up again a few hundred yards later. It did not really matter which one was taken, all paths lead us on. Soon there were splendid views of the Iron Age hill fort as it rises majestically from the surrounding countryside.
Taking the route of the Monarch’s Way in order to walk across the top of this National Nature Reserve, it gives gloriously views all around. The ground beneath my feet was heavily peppered by many native flowers and these were being visited in turn by the flitting of numerous butterflies. Inside the perimeter of the hill fort there are many Bronze Age barrows which give the ground an uneven and bumpy nature. Oh, yes, just to be able to sit up here in these peaceful surroundings and imagine such times gone by.
Moving on, the trail that leads down from the hilltop passes through a little wooded area and the leaves on the trees make the sunlight dapple and shimmer on the root-
A few steps down
Then, finally, I come to the River Meon which, on this hot day, is like a breath of fresh air. It flows so gracefully with the sunlight glinting on the surface of the water, gently rippling. The greens have a feeling of delicate coolness and it is so like finding life renewed in the pleasantry of a water-
The River Meon
Trying to stay out of the way of a reversing coach was the next obstacle, not sure if it was one of ours, bur Mr Driver gives me a wave so maybe it was. There is now just a short walk before reaching the pretty village of Exton, a name derived from the old English meaning “farmstead of the East Saxons”. There is no hurry and enough time remains to take the opportunity to go and get a look at the church of St Peter and St Paul. For such a small village, the church looks quite formal in these rural surroundings.
Gutted. Unfortunately, it was this small detour to visit the church which meant that I missed the chance of an ice-
The end of the day and the red-
Day 9 -
The coach arrives at Exton and we walk down the road to The Shoe Inn -
The ground quickly steepens and it soon becomes such very hard work to climb up another Beacon Hill. As we cross each field and clamber over the stiles, the path becomes ever steeper and the line of walkers gradually stretches out as if we were on elastic. The summit gradually gets nearer each time I stop to recover my breath but it is difficult getting used to these stiff challenges at the start of each day. Eventually, the beacon at the top of the hill comes into view and I head straight for it. A little recovery time and then the reward, turning around to see some stunning views of the Meon valley which lies far below. The view has quietly opened out to our rear -
There is still a little more climbing to be done before I reach Beaconhill Beeches and then the trail again follows various tracks and roads. Along the side of fields we travel before reaching and passing through Lomer Farm and then Wind Farm. The rising heat of the day is very oppressive and is making the distance stretch out and the dogs are already beginning to struggle. It is a relief to eventually reach The Milburys, a pub that lies about a mile south of Beauworth. A brief rest in the grounds of the pub, a little recovery is welcome and it also gives the opportunity to take on a snack and a drink.
Setting off again, it was more of the same -
Next is the first crossing of the A272 and then it is through a field or two before reaching Gander Down. We stop for lunch in the shade of some rather scrubby trees -
Whilst the back-
Hurrying westwards along the track we pass an area where tanks and other military vehicles are often seen being driven and shortly after this we reach the left turn at Keeper’s Cottage. The trail now ran south alongside Temple Valley and if it were not for the encouragement being given by Amanda I think that I would have just stopped -
After reaching Cheesefoot Head, it was the second crossing the A272 and the beginning of the long descent into Winchester. We pass by Telegraph Hill and soon see the white radio telescope dishes that are sited away to our right. Although it is now a gentle downhill I do not feel much better, just the thought that there is still about three miles to go is burdensome. We could now see who that group of people in front of us were but still we were unable to further close the gap to them.
Onwards we went and it was whilst passing through the pretty little village of Chilcomb, with still a couple of miles to go, that I just have to stop to sit down and ease my feet. It is here that I fall into the clutches of the back-
With hurting feet I continue on with the back-
There is supposed to be a new route through the streets of Winchester to the finishing post but, at this moment, no one seems to care -
The statue of King Alfred, the Saxon king, standing tall and proud above the modern city -
It is done . . . It is finished.
The 5th Certificate
The celebration of the walk over these last nine days takes place in the Guildhall which is just a few yards further on and still within the sight of King Alfred. I am only twenty minutes late and other walkers are still being urged into the building. There are refreshing drinks and, in time, a lovely finger buffet to enjoy and, most importantly, seats to sit on. The certificates are available for collection -
I sit with Erica and Janice and the congratulations are fit and proper as well as the odd photo or two for the album. As the slide show of pictures taken during the walk this years rolls on a screen behind, Keith begins to bring the annual walk into focus and drawing together what has happened over the last nine days. Despite the difficulty with the public address system and the raucous applause, the prizes are distributed to the lucky winners. No, my limerick did not win -
The man celebrates
Gradually, the event is drawn to its conclusion with the reading of Bob Copper’s prayer to the South Downs. A solemn moment, a pause to think, at the end of this happy experience.
All that is left, whilst we wait for the coaches to be driven to the foot of the statue outside, is a last chance to say goodbye to the many friends, both old and new. Yes, another year is now over and we ask each other whether we will be here again next year -
A Hundred Years in the Sunshine
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
These are such happy days, indeed.
Just a few words to thank Footprints and their team of red-
Footprints of Sussex
The outdoor and leisure clothing company
A total of £60.00 has been collected in recognition of my endeavour to walk along the South Downs Way in 2017. These donations have been made to assist the work of Cardiac Rehab Support West Sussex. If you would like to help the efforts made by this local charity -
It is all very much appreciated. Thank you. Colin x
(c) Colin Luxford