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In Search of the Lost Chord

Walking along the South Downs Way

It’s all a dream      

Winchester to Eastbourne   8 to 16 June 2018

about 102 miles or so on the route I took this year

Be it sight, sound, the smell, the touch
There's something inside that we need so much
The sight of a touch, or the scent of a sound
Or the strength of an oak with roots deep in the ground
The wonder of flowers, to be covered, and then to burst up
       through tarmac to the sun again
Or to fly to the sun without burning a wing
To lie in the meadow and hear the grass sing
To have all these things in our memories hoard
And to use them to help us to find  .  .  .

Walking  . . .  Walking  . . .  Grass  . . .  Walking  . . .  Hill  . . .  Walking  . . .  Walking

Day 1  -  8 June  -  Winchester to Exton  -  20.03 km

     Enjoy this trip

     Enjoy this trip

          . . .  and it is a trip

     A whole year has gone by and the time has slowly been drawing ever closer  . . .  and now, in recent days, there has been a growing excitement. What will happen and what will it be like this year. As always, we are completely in the hands of the Gods.

     So, it was at an almost unbearably early start in the morning - by 6.40am I had already left home - this long-awaited day had begun. It was fortunate that the weather was good and I had both a spring in my step and a song in my heart, well almost - I know, it does not sound much like me. Anyway, the early train is fairly prompt, not exactly on time but close enough, and so there is no need for me to be concerned. The countryside swiftly passes the train window and it is not long before I am arriving in Arundel and ready to count down those final few minutes. The excitement builds.

     I am early, as usual, but I do not mind even though it is a fairly long wait before I start to see the arrival of other walkers. I am eagerly looking out for certain people, there is always this growing sense of expectation. People arrive and gather together and soon introduce themselves to each other. Before long, I begin to see people with whom I have become great friends over the course of the previous five years. These people who I have not seen for a whole year - it is so wonderful to have the opportunity of meeting all those good people again.

     I do think it strange, however, and find it rather odd that people now see me as a seasoned veteran of this event. Ok, I have done the miles, this is my sixth trip, but I know of many others who have been here many more times than I have.

     On this first morning I receive the polo shirt I had previously ordered, it is embroidered with the well-known Footprints logo for the annual South Downs Way walk. I am not sure whether my colour choice of iron was wise, it did seem like a good idea a few weeks ago. Still, it is another fine memento of these happy days.

Day 2  -  9 June  -  Exton to QE Country Park  -  16.89 km

     Well, the second day dawns and it feels as wonderful as it all did yesterday. The time is almost seven o’clock and the early morning sun is shining brightly as I set out from home and catch the train to Arundel. As is usual, I wait whilst the time passes and gradually, in ones and twos, the other people arrive and quickly join in the conversations. The annual walk had got off to a jolly good start and everyone is happy and looking forward to the new day ahead.

     The transport is again provided by Worthing Coaches and their standards have proved to be as good as they were last year. They are most certainly deserving of being described as luxury coaches, well done to them and there is grateful thanks for their achieving such excellence. Credit where credit is due and the coach arrives promptly and, after boarding, we are swiftly taken to Exton where we finished the first day’s walk yesterday.

     I do favour a more relaxed and gentle stroll through the countryside. However, as disembarkation took place, I sat and watched as many who were already off the coaches were immediately setting off along a trail that allowed the passage of both cycles and horses as well as those on foot. Why the rush - come on, take it easy.

     The Shoe is open and certainly ready for our arrival with tables filled with bacon rolls, sweet and savoury pastries and many other delicacies. There are also many cups of good hot coffee available. The Shoe always makes a special effort for our arrival and treats us so well. For me, it is the best place on route whether the day’s trek is about to start or, like yesterday, has just been completed. The sun always shines.

     I select a suitably good looking bacon roll and wrap it very carefully for later enjoyment. Then, after a visit to the washroom, there is time to stand outside and make the final few adjustments to both my pole and rucksack before setting off. It is a happy scene outside The Shoe as conversations continue and people make ready to leave.

     The road leads us through the village at the beginning of today’s walk. The sun is shining, I am feeling good and there are just a few fluffy white clouds in the blue sky above.

Day 3 - 10 June - QE Country Park to Cocking - 20.56 km

     Not such an early start today - the idea of trains and Sunday apparently do not seem to be a match - anyway, the taxi arrives at my door promptly at 7.45am and then whisks me away in suitable comfort down to Arundel. It was a lovely start to the day and well worth the tip!

     The eager crowd of walkers gathers at the front of the station and, like a few ankles, our ranks are slightly swollen by those who are starting out today on the shorter 7 day option. We also have the pleasure of receiving the coach first before it picks up a further complement of walkers in Chichester.

     Driving through the centre of Chichester always entails the endless circling of the one-way systems like some hungry predator at the water hole. A rather picturesque description of going nowhere fast and, in due course, we manage to make the pick-up rendezvous and are again soon on our way.

     The journey to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park passes reasonably well as there is not too much traffic on the roads and the A3 is fairly speedy. On our arrival at the point where we finished yesterday we each receive a complimentary bar of KitKat - a random but kind gesture from Footprints. However, as the bars each had two fingers I did speculate on whether there was some hidden meaning that needed to be unravelled. No, too much thought is not good and I am sure that there was certainly no such intention.

     Anyway, when all is said and done, another great day begins and as I have no need of the visitor centre I set off on my journey to Cocking. The trail begins today by taking me through some fairly uninteresting woodland that is in this part of the Country Park. The trees seem to be mostly coniferous and it is fairly gloomy beneath them. Walking pretty slowly I drift back through the stream of walkers until I find some space for quiet reflection. It is about now that I take the opportunity to enjoy my chocolate treat before it melts as the day warms up. The sun is most certainly out somewhere above the trees and the day is again promising to be good. The weather forecast has been very optimistic for the whole nine days and, so far, it is certainly proving to be the case.

     The carved stone sheep that rests on a pedestal at the side of the track is looking blacker and more discoloured each year as I pass by this spot. A passage of time that is counted in years. The glimpses of the countryside beyond the trees promises wide open spaces coloured in green and it is not long before we are making our way out of the park.

     The road that we now follow leads me and the others ever eastwards. There is little of interest at the moment as the road bends around the corners and goes up and down the slopes. These early miles gradually pass with not much to commend them except for the new finger posts with their wiggly design that probably won a major prize for the South Downs National Park Authority.

     One highlight, and it is always a delight to see when there is bright sunshine, is the avenue of copper beeches that borders the road shortly before we reach Sunwood Farm. They were looking so very special today in the bright morning sunshine.

     On leaving the road there is now a track that is known as Forty Acre Lane which runs steadily east/west between the fields. It seems to drag on for far too long but we do cross the Sussex Border Path and so enter West Sussex. Although I do not know exactly where the county boundary between Sussex and Hampshire actually lies, it must be around here somewhere.

   ( It was about half a mile back according to the map - Ed )

     At the end of the track is the B2146 and the western edge of the Harting Downs. The trail climbs steadily through some woodland and the prospect of an ice-cream gets closer and starts to become a reality - this thought is a most welcome encouragement as I walk uphill.

Day 4  -  11 June  -  Cocking to Whiteways  -  16.35 km

     Another fine day and everything is now all in full swing, everything is perfect and everything is just so good. The weather is proving to be great and that is set to continue. I leave home just before 7.25am and although it is feeling a little bit chilly, there is no reason to be concerned as I am sure that the day will warm up soon enough.

     It is not long before the coach sets out from Arundel and takes the road to Chichester to collect a few walkers and then, to our surprise, makes a strangely alternative route north towards Cocking. The prospect of the day ahead lies waiting before us and the sun is now breaking through to brighten up the sky. Unexpectedly, the briefest of a light rain shower does appear on the windscreen - who knew. Still, it is not long before we reach the start of today’s walk, on the A286, where the South Downs Way crosses the road just south of Cocking.

     At the beginning of the walk today there is a steady climb as the trail heads back up, following a concrete road which passes the farm buildings and then on up Manorfarm Down. There are many plants and flowers to be seen in the verges and at the edges of the fields. A fine example of some Bladder Campion takes my eye as I amble along, steadily working my way back through the line of walkers until I can achieve a little space and a relative solitude in which to enjoy my walking.

     The view behind me clearly shows the trail descending Cocking Down, the path we trod yesterday afternoon. There is plenty of space for thinking when up here on the top of the Downs.

Day 5 - 12 June - Whiteways to Washington - 15.50 km

     Well, so be it - today is surely a walk through God’s country. The prodigal return, footfall is coming home and - O my word - who knew what events were to unfold as we reach the mid-point of our journey along the South Downs Way.

     The time is almost 8 o’clock before I leave home today - such decadent luxury as the sun has already been risen for over three hours. I catch the train to Arundel and then the coach takes us on the very brief journey to Whiteways for the start of today’s walk. At only about nine and a half miles it is the shortest day of the whole event.

     Anyway, not to get ahead of myself, it is during the daily announcements on the coach that I learn to my complete surprise that my entry in yesterday’s quiz was successful and I have won a Regatta rucksack. Hooray  . . .  and from the loud cheering that occurredon the coach  it seemed to have been a popular win. Thank you, Footprints  . . .  Thank you, Regatta  . . .  Thank you, everybody.

     Gosh. My head is spinning and everything is in such a whirl as we arrive at Whiteways - my little heart is still all a flutter  . . .  and there is further congratulations from many of my other friends on the other coaches. People seem so sure that I must have won before - but, no, and like a virgin bride there always has to be the first time.

     I set out on the trail and begin to head for Washington - be still my beating heart - but almost immediately I realise that both my hat and camera are still in my rucksack. I stop and taking stock of myself as well as a couple of deep breaths I re-organise my kit. Even then I do not set off on the path I had intended to take - back through the trees - but mindlessly follow everyone else as they take the path that skirts around those same trees.

     The excitement has so very clearly all been too much for me!

     Starting again, there is no reason to hurry and after a further couple of deep breaths are taken - c’mon, get a grip on yourself - I am finally on my way.

     As the path leading back towards the SDW still remains far too overgrown, most of us walk up the edge of the field that was being cut yesterday. But wait, there, up ahead, at the edge of the field, is a group of people looking down at something on the ground  . . .  and it is certainly generating a fair amount of interest. I wonder whether it is perhaps an elusive bee orchid but when I arrive I can see no flower. I stand there looking but cannot see anything - what are we all standing and looking at? There, in the grass, at the edge of the field, warming itself in the morning sunshine, is an adder. It was so well camouflaged by the markings along its back that it was certainly very difficult to see, even when you knew it was lying there in front of your eyes. Once again, the beauty of Mother Nature at work.

Day 6 - 13 June - Washington to Devil’s Dyke - 18.59 km

     After all that has gone before, a day of calm to follow yesterday’s whirlpool of excitement - Oh, be still my beating heart.

     All calm and collected, as if, I leave home at 5 minutes to 8 o’clock in the morning and catch the train to Arundel. This routine is beginning to become second nature for me - who knew that early mornings could be such fun. Meeting and chatting with friends and soon the coach takes us off to Washington for the start of today’s walk.

     As the Frankland Arms is currently closed there is no coffee or bacon roll to consider and so no reason to hang around. Sadly, it makes the start a little lacking as Washington is usually one of the better start days - no worry, it is all about the walking and not the eating.   ( Er, I don’t think so! - Ed )   I am sure that next year things will be back to normal again at the public house. Anyway, without any further ado, I set off to face the stiff climb up the hill towards Chanctonbury and the Ring.

     The day is bright and sunny with another fair breeze and I take my usual route. It is much more peaceful, a footpath which passes close by the west of Elbourne House before joining the South Downs Way as it runs east from the A24. During the steep climb up the rutted, chalky path I slowly ease my way towards the back of the line of walkers. I seem to do this every day, finding a place where there is plenty of room to allow myself full enjoyment of the beauty and peacefulness of the countryside. The air is clear and I can see the sunlight sparkling on the waters off the coast beyond Worthing. This clear air is allowing great views into the far distance.

     On reaching the high ground, the grassy turf is a welcome cushion beneath my feet and the walking becomes even more of a pleasure again. The Ring lies ahead and gradually gets closer. It is, at last, beginning to recover its iconic shape after so many years following the storm of 1987. The views to the horizon to both north and south seem to be endless in this wide landscape.

     I had considered walking along the path at the bottom of the scarp slope as a change and so come to Steyning via Mouse Lane. Whilst it is a great walk along the foot of the Downs and would have been most pleasant and enjoyable, there is always a risk to every endeavour.

     As the trail continues gently onwards from Chanctonbury Ring through sheep country, the ever-present possibility that those modern-day Kiwi swagmen would be working hard with their shears. Whether likely or not, the chance of a jumbuck being tightly gripped and controlled in strong arms  . . .  and their ghost may be heard as you pass by  . . .  yeah, as if.

     Still, the sheep are there even if the shears are not, and they look as if they have already been shorn.

Day 7 - 14 June - Devil’s Dyke to Newmarket Inn - 19.85 km

     The sky is not looking very clear today and so I have put on a jacket as it does seem a little chilly. The time necessary to leave home is beginning to get earlier, it was 7.25am today - still, all in a very good cause.

     The early start means that there is so much time to hang around and, whilst waiting at Arundel for the arrival of my fellow walkers and then the coach, I sit on the station bench and put my mind to writing another stunning limerick. Almost surprisingly, it flows from pen to paper practically without thought, probably just as well - this one has just got to be a winner.

     The latest weather forecast had said that it would be dry today but cloudy and windy - wrong, the forecasting of the weather is not so much of an art more of an unfunny joke. As we stand at the front of the station awaiting the coach the rain begins to fall. No worry, we are all so cheerful that not even a spot of rain will dampen our spirits.

     By the time the coach reaches the start of today’s walk at Devil’s Dyke the rain has become persistent and the day was beginning to look rather grim. The cloud was low across the top of the Downs and many heads were already somewhat lowered. Still, it is only 12 and a bit miles today and starting in nasty weather, no problem.

     There is plenty of wet gear in evidence as we set off and walk around the southern edge of Devil’s Dyke. Unsurprisingly there is no view and the rain has made the grass slick and slippery. As we walk across Summer (!) Down and head down the hill we soon come to Saddlescombe. This property has been listed as a farm for over a thousand years and was once home to the Knights Templar. Fancy that.

     It is then a long climb up the next big hill which is followed by a trudge across the top before the long descent down the other side. We head towards the village of Pyecombe which is our next goal. The prospect of some shelter from the rain as well as a morning snack was evidently encouragement enough. We enter the village by crossing over the A23 and then make our way to the church.

     At the Church of the Transfiguration, the tapsel gate is open and so we enter and then go inside where the ladies of the congregation have laid out a splendid array of food. There were many varieties of cake and also plenty of savoury items, too. The choice was rather bewildering as it was all spread out alongside the pews and in any available free space. Having got wet, the walkers were keen to shelter from the weather but this was allowing the rainwater to steadily drip from our clothing.

     Footprints were treating us to this mid-morning snack and, to help assist the projects being undertaken by the church, we also chipped in with many donations to their church funds. This church have welcomed us for many years and we are pleased to show our appreciation and assist their good causes. The fruit scone topped with both jam and cream that I chose was certainly a most excellent treat, indeed.

Day 8 - 15 June - Newmarket Inn to Alfriston - 22.06 km

     The regularity of the routine assists with these early mornings and I left home at 7.25am again today. The walk to the station, the train journey to Arundel - the chatting to friends while we wait is always a pleasure - and this is then followed by the coach journey to the point where we finished the day before. Cannot fault the process - it works so perfectly.

     It is a lovely day and we soon arrive at the Newmarket Inn and, during this regular process of the morning I have taken the opportunity to hand in my latest limerick - fingers crossed for success but I wonder whether I will need more than crossed fingers, I have already re-entered last year’s failed attempt.

     The sun is out and the sky is blue, it is certainly a lovely day as we set off up the hill to where we had turned aside from the South Downs Way yesterday afternoon. As we walk along the side of a field - the rich greens of the grasses colour my world - the line of walkers stretches far ahead of me to the very top of the climb.

     In the untrodden verges are many wild flowers and close by are some of the more common of the orchids - lesser spotted and pyramidal, for example, were there - but, looking up, there are also many other sights worth noticing. There is the Amex football stadium and in the distance a field flushed red with poppies and, over there, the Ashcombe windmill.

     On this clear day, the views into the long distance stretch out endlessly all around me - there is so much to see on this 14 mile walk. As the trail passes around the top of Cold Coombes, for a while I am walking along the old Jugg’s Road - a track that once took the fish from the coast at Brighton to Lewes, the major town in times long gone.

     The scarp slope is exceedingly steep in some places as it drops quickly away just a few feet from where we are treading. It often gives a feeling of vertigo as one looks down and it only takes one false step and it is a long scramble back up again. There are always many cows here and their calves wander about on this part of the Downs. They do not seem to notice the severity of the slope and take everything in their stride. The cows and calves are so docile and they take no notice of us as we walk nearby or even pause to take a close-up photograph.

Day 9  -  16 June  -  Alfriston to Eastbourne                                                (via Jevington)  -  12.9 km

     The last day, it has come much too soon.

     I do not want it to end, it has been so good this year and we all want more.

     Anyway, on this last day I leave home at 7.30am and catch the train to Arundel where I meet up with my friends for the final time this year. Although everyone is looking forward to these few remaining miles which will take us to Eastbourne ,there is also the sad thought that there will be no tomorrow.

     The coach takes us to Alfriston and it is another fine and sunny day. In the car park the coaches are all smartly lined up and their drivers chat together, the red-shirted team are also in a group and are no doubt discussing the day ahead in order to ensure our maximum enjoyment. All is ready for us to set off and complete our walk from Wichester to Eastbourne along the South Downs Way.

     There is a choice today, the scenic coastal route that crosses the Seven Sisters or the inland path that is a little shorter and goes via Jevington. As my feet were beginning to suffer at the end of yesterday’s walk, I decide to take the inland route which will allow me to walk at a more gentle pace. I have not walked this element of the South Downs Way in a single trek before although I have probably done most of it previously as parts of other walks.

     After crossing the White Bridge and leaving Alfriston it is strange not to follow most of the others along the bank of the Cuckmere River. My path leads straight on for a short while before it runs along the edge of a grassy field. I look back and can see the Cathedral of the Downs behind me disappearing into the trees. There are a few people who are taking this route but not too many.

     The trail follows a track that is lined by trees and gradually the climb which is taking me up to the top of the Downs begins. As the path continues upwards it soon comes out onto the open downland. The gradient quickly becomes steeper and my stride diminishes at a similar rate.

     I am heading up towards the top of Windover Hill and my slow pace helps get me there without too much difficulty. It has seemed a rather endless hike up but I am slowly getting there. Quite a few groups of DoE youngsters are scattered around the verge of the chalky trail and there are also several runners out for a little exercise as well  . . .  running up this hill, unbelievable!

     As I near the top of Windover Hill I am standing above The Long Man, a chalk figure carved into the side of the hill. Although it looks spectacular from the right viewpoint, this is not one of those places. The carving is not as old as the local tales tell - time exaggerates everything. Walking on a little further gives me a view that looks out over Arlington Reservoir - well worth pausing for a couple of minutes.

     Soon, the coaches take us to the celebratory reception at Sussex University. Why we drove through the centre of Seaford to get there seemed to be rather a mystery and I felt I would have been far happier on a different coach. Still, one can never second guess the future.

     At the reception there are a mass of walkers arriving with each coach and, as they enter, search for friends and look for a space to sit. There was a finger buffet and a complimentary drink - it was all most enjoyable. Eating and talking together as a montage of photographs taken on the walk this year played on a large screen.

     We collected our certificates and soon, amongst widespread applause, the prizes were awarded to the many winners - thanks must be given to Regatta for their kind generosity. My rucksack for winning the Day 4 quiz - a Blackfell 25 - was a most interesting shade of blue and it will be there carried on my back next June.

     My limerick, sadly, did not fare successfully. One can never be sad and I am sure that I will not lose heart. It is all just a bit of fun.

     The celebration and applause could not last forever and all that remained was to say goodbye to the many, many friends one makes on the walk. Looking out for people you have spoken to for nine days and may never see again.

     It is becoming a very large family and many, it seems, will be back again next year to renew the joy and pleasure of the walk. I do so look forward to this walk across the South Downs each year.

     A moment of quiet reflection as we listen to Keith as he reads the poem written by Bob Copper - a poignant moment to cast our thoughts upon our journey over the last nine days.

     So what was my limerick, was it worthy, was it deserving, what do you think -

             After we walked down from the ridge

             But before we crossed the Adur bridge

             There in the grass

             Dumped on its arse

             Was an old and abandoned fridge

              - as if - may be I should try a haiku verse next year.

     So, it is all over - what to do now - just the coach trip back to Arundel and then a hug and a wave until next year.

     The 40th Annual South Downs Way Walk will be organised by Footprints of Sussex and will be taking place from 7 to 15 June 2019.

      Eastbourne to Winchester - all the way.

Be there, because I certainly will be

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

     The Annual South Downs Way Walk is organised by Footprints of Sussex

     Visit them at footprintsofsussex.co.uk

     Or learn more about this walk along the National Trail at southdownsway.com

     This annual event is sponsored by Regatta and here is a brightly coloured picture of the rucksack which I won - a Blackfell 25 - one of nine they kindly provided for the winners of the daily quiz.

   Regatta  Great Outdoors

The event is supported by West Sussex County Council


The statue of King  Alfred -  Throw Down the Sword

The new post at the City Mill Winchester to Eastbourne

©  Colin Luxford

He’s behind you

Bladder Campion  -  there must be a joke there somewhere

There’s wheat in the field and water in the sea

. . .  and the papers want to know whose shirt you wear  . . .   -  this year’s memento colour is “Iron”  -

They’ll have the shirt off your back

In bloom - yes, we are on our way

Beacon Hill - standing tall

St Peter and St Paul, Exton

In front of The Shoe, getting our kit together

Le dejeuner sur l’herbe  . . .  Ice-creams at Harting Down - splendid

Beacon Hill (the other one) up ahead at 794 feet

Toby’s Stone   1888 - 1955

Snake in the Grass  -  Go Wild in the Country

Fields of Fire on Bury Hill

Walking is the best Way to travel

The footbridge over the Arun near Houghton

St Mary, Washington

Oh, yes  -  Sing girls  -  Once a jolly swagman  . . .


Looking back towards Chanctonbury Ring

Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecombe - a rainy morning

O, yes, They’ve seen it all before

Church of St Peter, Southease

We see stranger things, every day -Sheep’s head in chalk near Firle Beacon

Arlington Reservoir as seen from Windover Hill

The Hungry Monk, Jevington - blue plaque

The final descent

Are we there yet ?

How many is that now? - Six of the Best

Brings a warm glow to one’s cheeks

     Once we are near the top of Telegraph Hill the ground becomes much flatter and so the walking is much easier. Soon, we are waiting for a gap in the traffic and then make the crossing of the A272 - as this is the countryside, I suppose that we should be using the Green Cross Code. Once across, we have now arrived at Cheesefoot Head - although all is quiet today, it was here that (General) Eisenhower addressed the American troops prior to D-Day.

     Past, present and future - every step of the way is full of interest - leave no stone unturned. The sign on a post declares that I am now at Morn Hill Teleport -this is one of a number of Satellite Teleports that make up a large percentage of the UK’s space infrastructure - hmm, beam me up, Scotty!

     As I casually follow the trail as it heads north alongside Temple Valley, there is a clump of red poppies. The sight of these field poppies makes me feel that the event is now well and truly underway - the vibrant red of the petals backed by the deep green of the undergrowth behind. The walking is good, the sun is out and there is also shelter in the shade of the trees. Soon, there is a sharp right turn just after Keeper’s Cottage and I feel the increasing heat of the day as I walk along a track which runs between the fields.

     On my left is the area where tanks can be driven but nothing appears to be moving today. All is peaceful except for the occasional walker - well, about 200 of us set out from Winchester but we are now very spaced out (both mentally and physically) after only a few miles. There is, of course, always an occasional dog and their owner. I am beginning to look forward to lunch as it is usually taken as a pleasant rest in the grassy fields near Gander Down - to sit quietly in the pasture and listen to the larks as they singing high above in the clear blue sky. Maybe I will chance to meet up with Amanda and Barker.

     Maybe not - there are now some electric fences which guide us closely along the line of the footpath  . . .  and so I continue on to a further field where I can sit on the grass beneath the wide blue sky. I eat my sandwiches and some cake and watch a few of the later walkers as they pass by. There is little movement or distraction and it is nice here, ideal to just relax but I am still only a little over halfway on my journey to The Shoe at Exton. It is time to move on.

     The second traverse of the A272 soon approaches and the road is crossed with little difficulty despite the very frequent rush of traffic that travels along it. After passing through Holden Farm I come to another long stretch of track and road as the trail follows a course between the large agricultural fields. The heat from the sun makes it weary travelling but I eventually pass Windmill Farm and know that it is now only a few more yards until there is a chance to glimpse the Milburys coming into view. A lonesome but welcome pub in the middle of nowhere.

     As always, there is time for some rest and refreshment although there is no sign of any of the people that I am particularly looking out for. No worries, there are plenty of others here enjoying the day. The pub is a very welcome spot and its name is a contraction of the nearby Mill Barrows which lie just to the south. After a bit of a breather I set off again with the hope of having an ice-cream at the finish - why else would I walk? Why, indeed.

     The final stretch of the day passes along more tracks and roads - Wind Farm and Lomer Farm come and go and it is now so hot that I am especially looking out for suitable places to stop and rest. Oxeye daisies are common and bring a touch of brightness to the land as they look up at the sun. However, there is some shade in the wooded area known as Beaconhill Beeches and, travelling through, soon brings me to the summit of Beacon Hill at 201 metres, as marked by the triangulation pillar.

     As I stand there on Beacon Hill for a while to both rest the feet and admire the magnificent view, I look out across the broad valley of the river Meon. All is quiet and peaceful - it is so glorious.

     Standing beside the beacon there is always time for a photo opportunity. With such wonderful people, there is always a friendly walker not too far away who is happy to assist this lonesome boy.

     The finish is now almost in sight. All that remains is the very steep descent of the hillside, across some fields and over a few stiles, and then into the village of Exton. Taking care not to stumble on the steepest parts, there are more stiles in these couple of hundred yards than there are in all the other hundred miles..

     On arriving in the village there is just the last few yards to walk in order to reach The Shoe and so complete this 13 mile trek. The day was done and the walking had felt so good.

     It has been a lovely day. Nothing could have been better and, although I spent much of it walking alone, it gave me the greatest pleasure of enjoying the peacefulness and the beauty of the countryside which is all around. It is always such a joy.

     Here, at last, it is The Shoe in Exton. There in the garden of the pub is the Footprints banner - journey’s end - and the River Meon quietly flows passed at the bottom of the garden just a few more yards away. Time to rest and enjoy the pleasures of a cone loaded with ice-cream, one scoop was white chocolate and the other scoop was chocolate with hazelnuts. What a treat and, undoubtedly, utterly splendid.

     As I waited for the last coach home, it was a chance to reflect upon a great day and this was such a splendid way to start the 39th Annual South Downs Way Walk.

     Yep. The boy done good.

     As I headed out of Exton and crossed the busy A32, I was immediately surrounded by all the beautiful countryside that there could be. The sound of the traffic had vanished and nature clearly held sway over everything - natur uber alles - my world is fully enclosed in various shades of green. It is a most perfect world as the sunlight was shimmering on the cool waters of the Meon - truly an idyll.

     Crossing the bridge and passing along the trail, there followed a most awkward path that seemed to comprise mainly of entangled tree roots. This path was high above the bed of a dry stream and needed careful footwork to avoid the twisting of an ankle. At the end of this little stretch there was an old disused railway cutting. Once across this meeting of paths I began making our way out of the Meon valley. The ground was gradually starting to rise and the slow climb was soon in evidence to lead us up towards Old Winchester Hill.

     The South Downs Way actually follows a course that edges around the side of this National Nature Reserve but everybody (well, almost everybody) follows the Monarch’s Way as it runs across the top of the ancient earthworks that pepper the summit.

     A steep path runs through a pleasant wood before emerging into the open at the hilltop. The ground is covered by wild flowers and earthworks but if one looks up, the views stretch away, rolling into the distance. It was near the triangulation pillar (198 metres) that I sat and ate the bacon roll. A few words exchanged with fellow travellers whilst I rested and enjoyed looking out across the countryside that was all around. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and also a place of frequent UFO sightings - I wonder whether the aliens will be landing today?

     Unfortunately, sitting here forever is not really a viable option and so I pack my bag and get ready to move on. We ride the waves on this rolling downland and, on reaching the eastern side of the hill, find that it has become colonised by a flock (or is it a flight) of colourful para-gliders. They soar and swoop on the air in the sky above, gently rising and falling. All very nice and I take a picture or two with the hope that I can capture their majesty and elegance. Still, there is no time to stop and stare and so I walk onwards leaving the hill behind. After a while, I turn to look back and witness the full splendour of Old Winchester Hill as it appears pinned against a cerulean blue sky.

     The old hill eventually becomes lost to sight and it is soon time to descend into another branch of the Meon valley. Through the grassy fields I pass by some grazing cows, they pay me no notice and stand there concentrating on their chewing whilst I head down towards Whitewool Farm. The day has become hot and I look forward to having some rest with my lunch as I sit and reflect on the quiet beauty beside the still waters of Whitewool Pond.

     It is always a fine sight to see the walkers gathered on the far bank and, with camera in hand, I am ready to capture the scene. I turn the corner only to find an alternative view that is more than sufficient to take one’s breath away. So, moving a little further forwards I take my picture of the walkers at the trout farm.

     In time, I sit on the bank beside the still waters and enjoy my lunch - a sandwich and some cake, as usual, an energy boost for the next stage of the journey. Although there were no fishermen to watch, the views were still very good, indeed.

     As I walk slowly through this pretty village, I take the opportunity to visit the parish church - St Peter and St John, two saints for the price of one. It is looking very neat and tidy, the grounds are so well tended.

     The present church dates from the 13th century and has an unusual south weeping chancel  . . .

     ( For those of you who are actually paying attention and think that this is a typo or merely a spelling mistake - d’oh - a weeping chancel is where there is a difference between the alignments of the Nave and the Chancel. Y’know, in a cruciform church the Nave represents the body of Christ and the Chancel is his head. The misalignment between the two is representing Christ’s head in death! - C’mon chaps, learn your architectural religious symbolism.   Ed. )

      Yes, you learn something new every day and it is certainly well worth taking the time to pay a visit to the church  . . .  and, whilst there, do ensure that you also have a look inside.

    Here in these gentle and placid surroundings, on this annual walk, the stream of walkers are arriving and leaving. There is a constant sense of movement with people coming in with one group and going out with another. I am soon feeling rested and, with my lunch over, I set off to face the next part of the journey - there, ahead of me is the arduous climb up Salt Hill that needs to be done and as the weather continues to warm up the humidity rises.

     Passing by fields where crops grow and other fields where sheep graze, I take a steady pace and slowly get closer to the two masts that stand tall on the hilltop. The ground becomes very broken as I climb and the many roots of the trees are also making the going tough. All things must pass and, given time, I soon reach the level ground at the top of Salt Hill which happily makes the walking a little easier. The masts reach into the sky above me as I pass them by and the focus of my attention soon moves onwards. There are several groups of Duke of Edinburgh youngsters resting in the grassy fields on the top of Wether Down as well as a few hang gliders and their supporting personnel.

     The hard work for today is now all but done and the trail gently descends towards the site of the former HMS Mercury. The thought of refreshment beckons once again as I head towards the Sustainability Centre in Leydene Park. It is a centre for sustainable living  . . .  and it is is another ideal place to rest for a while and meet up with friends and fellow travellers. Whilst resting and chattering with friends, I gladly take the opportunity to enjoy a mug of tea and a slice of banana cake with chocolate chips.

     It is a leisurely walk that is frequently interspersed with many chances to eat and drink and rest. Oh, yes, we are in our comfort zone. Anyway, there are still six kilometres to go - I mean, how far is that in English money - so I had better set off on the final leg of today’s 11 mile walk.

     Heading in an easterly direction, time sees us slowly pass the splendid view which lies north from Hyden Cross. It is a magnificent view across the landscape towards East Meon and far beyond. A few minutes here is never wasted before taking the track that wanders through the northern edge of Hyden Wood.

     There is now another stretch of track and road walking and it does not feel very interesting but rather wearisome. There is a view south to the Isle of Wight - that is nice -  but little else to look at. The radio mast on the top of Butser Hill can be seen from a great distance, a beacon on the skyline, and given time I soon begin to get nearer to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

     Leaving the tarmac of Limekiln Lane I turn into the country park and know that it is all downhill from here, more or less. Not much further and all that remains is to walk down the steep slope of Butser Hill with the wide view of the A3 running along the bottom of the valley. On reaching the said valley bottom the path passes under the traffic that is rushing along the A3 before it reaches the Footprints banner and the finish for today in the visitor centre.

     Another day is done and whilst we wait for the back-markers to arrive and then the last coach to take us home, I enjoyed the pleasure of a Cornetto ice cream. As the cool taste slipped down I reflected on the day’s walk - at times I was in the company of other friendly souls but often I was alone with only the pleasurable sounds of birdsong for company.

     A final moment of solitude and I go to look at the pond which is surrounded by some yellow flag iris and the white cow parsley. The surrounding shades of green give a mighty depth to all these bright colours.

     It’s all a dream. It is such a great pleasure.

     Slowly climbing up through the wooded area known as The Bosom I come out from the trees onto Harting Hill. There ahead of me is the lovely ice-cream lady who is dispensing her frozen treats to the surrounding crowd. I use the complimentary voucher (courtesy of Footprints, thank you) to assist my purchase of a Butter Toffee flavoured delight. It is a surprise for me to find that this flavour is still available as last year was said to be the last. However, as life repeats, it is again said to be the final year as the salted caramel has apparently become so popular - though not with me. I shall have to wait and see what the future may hold - who knows what awaits us in the future.

     The sky is blue and the grass green as I sit with Amanda, Kate and Heather looking out over the village of South Harting. The church is there, highlighted by the green copper on the spire. I eat my lunch as well as the ice-cream whilst deep in conversation with my friends. The talk revolves around the viability of making a detour to the Royal Oak at Hooksway for some further fluid refreshment. I am not sure whether having a beer prevents dehydration. Nevertheless, having made a decision the girls set off with the prospect of the pub as their next goal to head for. The trail today is the best part of 13 miles long with many hills and, personally, I do not feel inclined to add to that distance.

     After my lunch I set off across the Harting Downs and I am now travelling over what I feel to be true downland. The rolling, green hills always seem so magical and the scattered line of walkers stretches far ahead into the distance. After cresting another rise I am faced by the steep edifice of Beacon Hill. Towering above like a green mountain, it is looking a bit big and the closer I get the steeper it appears to be.

     On reaching the fingerpost at the base of the hill with the ground immediately rising sharply beyond, like any true man, I follow the finger that directs me to follow the South Downs Way and take the easy route around the bottom. Even this path requires a fair bit of uphill and I watch as most people make the effort to go over the top.

     Although not many of us are going around the side of the hill, I am soon to discover that it is not such a simple task to find an unoccupied tree or bush for that occasional rest stop. As one crashes through the undergrowth that grows amongst the trees, looking for that hidden spot, it is not only the feathered birds that are flushed out! Oops, sorry.

     Back on the trail things are much more straightforward and the way ahead is clear to see. There are a couple of blokes with their cycles waiting at a gate for a friend. The Lou Reed song jingles through my mind as a few words with everyone you meet cheers the day and brushes away any weariness as the path leads on. No, not Perfect Day although I suppose that too would be appropriate.

     Although I always try to keep an eye open and a good look out for anything of interest, I later learn that I missed seeing the Bee Orchid that was on display in this area, the eastern side of Beacon Hill. Shame, never mind.

     This is a fairly tough day and some people have struggled and found themselves to be wanting. It is usually a lack of adequate preparation that causes people to suffer and drop out. Whilst the South Downs Way is not difficult, it still needs to be respected and complacency can take a heavy toll.

     The trail continues to make a way up and down the chalk hills in the full heat of the day - Pen Hill and Mount Sinai both come and go. Sometimes I can walk on the grass and sometimes it is necessary to walk on the unforgiving chalk and flint. Buriton Farm is a little south of the trail and this is the point where those who have journeyed to The Royal Oak often rejoin the rest of us.

     The path again grinds endlessly upwards and the pace is dramatically slowed as I concentrate on placing one foot in front of the other time and time again. Eventually the ground becomes more level and the shade of the trees is very welcome indeed as I cross Philliswood Down. A chance to recover as there are now no more hills to climb, just the rolling Downs as we head along the trail towards Cocking.

     Stopping for a moment, there is a brief pause as I reach the memorial to the German airman, shot down during the last war over this small part of southern England. A sharp left turn soon follows - it is an easy place for the unwary to go wrong, especially when coming the other way. The way signs are there but if one is not paying attention it is not too long before you can stand in front of The Royal Oak and wonder how that happened.

     Next to the trail, on the left and on the side of Treyford Hill, are the Devil’s Jumps - an alignment of Bronze Age barrows - which are an interesting feature to spend time exploring. The history stretches back many thousand years - indeed, this trail along the top of the South Downs has been walked by man for some 8,000 years. Anyway, this site is a place where some rare flowers and butterflies can often be found by those who know what to look for - today I can only see a few lonely foxgloves.

     As I walk through Monkton Wood on this sunny day, the trees create a gloomy darkness and hidden bythe trees is Monkton House. However, we continue onwards and eventually return to the open downland near the summit of Didling Hill. There are long views to both the north and south but I head east. It is now a long and straight path as I walk directly eastwards to the finish of today’s journey. At times this part of the trail seems to be an endless journey as each crest on these rolling Downs only serves to reveal yet another crest some way ahead  . . .  and, no doubt, there will still be yet another crest before we reach the finish at Manor Farm on the A286 just south of Cocking. Tired at the end of this long day when we have hiked up and down so many hills.

     Crossing this green downland I pass Linch Ball and Bepton Down and the easy stride allows me plenty of opportunity to look all around - the horizons stretch away into the distance but near to hand there are many sheep as well as a few cattle. All around, like a sea, the fields are massed by waves of ox-eye daisies that wash to and fro in any breeze and lap up against the verges.

     Cocking Down takes me gently downhill and there, on the right, is the chalk stone of Andy Galsworthy. One of many that are in place in the surrounding landscape. They gradually erode.

     My feet are starting to feel the miles and are beginning to hurt a little but it is now all downhill, a gentle slope. I stop to take the weight off of my feet, it does ease the weariness but that hurt is only a little discomfort as the day has gone well and I am just about to reach the finish.

     At Manor Farm, the kindly owners have set out their stall in the corner of a field to welcome our arrival. They offer us a wide selection of refreshments to eat and drink as well as various items from their range of organically farmed meat products. I am tempted by a fruit scone filled with jam and cream - there is certainly never any reason to resist temptation - and I sit in the grass to enjoy the taste of my reward.

     As I quietly sit there, I think of all the people I have spoken to today - whether they be walkers on the trail or bikers coming the other way, all are friends with a smile and a pleasant word or two. Soon, the last of the walkers arrive with the back-markers and another day is done and the last coach is called to come and take us home.

     The coach ride back to Arundel turns into a race against the clock. On a Sunday, it is an hourly service on the train from Arundel and it is going to be a close run thing. What is the traffic to be like through the notorious jams of Chichester and Arundel? Hopes are raised and then dashed  . . .  and, then, as we begin to come through Arundel it is starting to look promising again. The clock is ticking and the countdown is in progress as I eagerly make my way to the front of the coach and stand by the door ready to jump off as soon as it pulls up at the bus stop.

     With a wave goodbye to a chorus of cheers from my fellows, I quickly leave the coach and leg it up the footpath to the station. One should only run in the direst of emergencies - it is so undignified - but the thought of the train arriving before I get there hurries me on. The train is scheduled to leave at 18.54pm and as I reach the platform the clock still says 18.53pm. Phew! made it.

   ( . . .  and the Lou Reed song was not Walk on the Wild Side either  . . .  hmm, interesting  -  Ed. )

     The ground eventually begins to level out as we reach the head of Heyshott Down and cross the route of the New Lipchis Way which runs 38 miles from Liphook to West Wittering. The path we are following soon leads through a fairly wooded area and, as we continue towards Graffham Down, runs for a while with the West Sussex Literary Trail.

     The heat from the sun becomes stronger and the temperature has quickly risen. The chalk and flint path is tough underfoot so I take to the grass whenever the opportunity allows. The views to the north certainly take the eye but the camera is unable to do justice to such a wide and distant horizon. These memories, however, will always be there to look back on and remember.

     Tegleaze Post is clearly a meeting point for many as they picnic in scattered groups on the soft turf. The views are splendid and the company is always welcoming. We are near Crown Tegleaze which at 255 metres is the highest point on the South Downs in West Sussex. Glorious it may be but I do not rest here and continue a little further onwards to lunch on the down slope of Littleton Down with the sight of Glatting Beacon ahead.

     Lunch does not take long and, after it is consumed, I continue on down the hill towards Littleton Farm. Once I have reached the narrow bottom of this valley and crossed the A285, it is then a very long and tough climb to slowly make my way back up the other side. It has been hard work for sure but all the effort is rewarded by reaching Sutton Down and then taking a place in the grass with my friends who have watched my slow climb whilst they ate their lunches.

     Now that I am back on top of these hills, the trail heads towards the two masts which stand high up on the top of Glatting Beacon. As we pass to the south of the masts, it is not long before we are briefly walking along Stane Street, the old Roman road, just a few yards. Next up is the Bignor Hill car park and the ice-cream lady, we hope, awaits our arrival with the prospect of some delicious frozen treats. On this sunny afternoon I am tempted by the Honeycomb flavour and the rich golden yellow taste certainly lives up to my expectation.

     After a brief rest, I start to make my way up to the summit of Bignor Hill and, when I am there, I am rewarded by such long views in all directions. The quality of the air is good at the moment, at times today the views have been shortened by the heat haze that rises up. Over the top of Bignor Hill I go and I am soon passing Toby’s Stone, a mounting block that is a memorial to Toby Wentworth-Fitzwilliam who was secretary of the Cowdray Hounds. Remember a day.

     Once I have gone by the memorial the path then drops steeply to the Three Barns that stand on Westburton Hill above the village of West Burton. The final stretch of the day’s walk is along a very uneven and rutted path which I always find rather wearisome. It ambles along the chalk Downs between fields and is home to much cow parsley and hog weed that together strive to brighten the verges.

     The sun blazes down and as Bury Hill comes closer the sounds of traffic can soon be heard - getting louder as it races along the A29 which lies not far ahead. Before the road is reached, I turn aside from the trail and take a path to the right which will take me to the finish at Whiteways. This long, final path is exceedingly overgrown and currently most unattractive - it is hard work pushing through all the vegetation and undergrowth, avoiding the nettles and brambles and trying to ensure that tired feet do not trip or stumble. The farm vehicles can be heard as they are working in the field next to the path, where the hay is being cut

     For the last few yards I walk through the very edge of Houghton Forest and arrive at Whiteways where the Footprints’ banner flies to herald the finishing post. Sitting on the grass at Whiteways, there is a little wait for the last few walkers to arrive and, when they have, it is time for the last coaches to take us home. Chichester and Arundel in one coach, Worthing and Shoreham in the other.

     Although Arundel is so close, almost within walking distance, it takes a little negotiation to arrange for the coach to drop us at the west side of Arundel rather than take us all the way to Chichester and back in rush-hour traffic. We pile off the coach near the Ford roundabout and set out for home - an extra few yards, no matter, there is no complaint and we all enjoyed ourselves having a great time trying to get the perfect photograph of the castle.

     It has been a most pleasant day indeed - good walking and friendly faces - what more could we ask for. There can be nothing better. Even though there has been no special highlight to remember, it has been another great walking day. Roll on tomorrow.

     Despite the people standing on all sides, the snake barely moves. Although it is most fascinating, there is no time to stop and stare  . . .  time and tide will not wait  . . .  and so I continue to walk along the edge of the field. Upon reaching the point where we had left the trail yesterday, I turn to the right and head east.

     After only a few more yards, there ahead on the slope of Bury Hill was the sight of a field flushed red with poppies. It lay on the eastern side of the A29 and the field was truly aflame with a bright orange-red glow.  

     I cross over the A29 without too much difficulty and follow the track as it descends into the Arun valley. On the way down there is a large mound of farmyard manure lying to one side, this is presumably ready for spreading and will enrich the thin soil.

     The chalky track is heavily rutted and drops quickly down to the River Arun and, as the descent is made, the views across the valley widen into a wonderful display. The river is below, the hills are beyond and the green fields placed all around. There is so much to behold and it is so much more than just pleasant to walk slowly and enjoy every single moment.

     As I cross the flood plain, one is taken back in time to an earlier age. The grass is green and the cows are at rest. The pastoral countryside is peaceful and the river flows by so swiftly as I make my way over the iron footbridge. This place always feels so eternal, so right, this small stretch of the world in this green and pleasant land - to be here forever. I wish.

     As I walk along the bank of the river, I pause to reflect upon the day so far  . . .  it is time for a rest and a banana to restore the energy levels. Just a brief pause in this funny old world and then I soon begin to make my way onwards again. As tales of the riverbank flow by I head along the path away from the river and, as I do, I can see the back-markers coming along. Fortunately, they head into Houghton, whether to the pub or the tea rooms I know not, and I see them no more today.

     The mind wanders and time passes as I go by the cattle sheds and the wastewater treatment works  . . .  and then over the railway line with the tracks running in a straight line like Stane Street does. There is a fine view of the entrance to Amberley Castle and it is not long before I reach High Titten. The bottom of the valley is no more and it is on this metalled road that the ground begins to rise and announces the slow climb back to the top of the ridge.

     The long and arduous climb of Amberley Mount is now in front of me and, taking it slowly, is completed with only a couple of pauses to admire the view. The Arun valley stretches away to the north, truly a green and pleasant land in this early summer sun. The view continues to stretch further as I climb ever higher.

     The Rackham Banks are a popular spot to take a break and also it is a great place to stop for lunch - slowly munching my sandwiches as I sit and survey all the land that lies before my eyes. The fresh breeze is blowing and two gliders playfully swoop so low in front of me riding on the updraft from the scarp slope.

     The day passes and the rolling downland marches onwards and, as I walk into the afternoon, the hills go by underfoot in quick succession - Rackham Hill, Springhead Hill, Kithurst Hill and Chantry Hill. The springy turf eases me gently along as I look out over Parham Park and the village of Storrington - it was all so much more rural back in the day when my eyes saw this land with a fresh sense of wonder and delight. Happy memories of a time long gone by.

     High on the hills beneath the wide sky, it is here that the halfway point of this national trail occurs. It has been great so far and the prospect of the second half being as splendid as the first is almost inevitable as one brings the pleasure and enjoyment of the journey with you each day.

     While here, l try to find the Centurion tank that was abandoned in a corner of a field during WWII and used for target practice. I am never very sure which of the footpaths I need to follow to find it and the one I choose does not seem to be right. No matter, best not to search endlessly and so I stop looking and return to the South Downs Way. It should not be too long before I reach Chantry Post.

     The prospect of finding the ice-cream lady had drawn me to this point. Yes, it is the Butter Toffee flavour again  . . .  for the very last time? Maybe, maybe not  . . .  who can tell, and with some arrangements made for next year I shall have to wait and see. There is another little rest, the last of the day, whilst I eat my ice-cream.

     Nearly there, not very far to go now and, after passing Sullington Hill, it is at Barnsfarm Hill where the trail takes a left turn to take the alternative safe route down to Washington. However, before I make the descent, I take the time to seek out the memorial to the 5th Baron Denman who had lived his final years nearby.

     As I go down the hill, there are some horned sheep on these chalky slopes who stand there and regard me with such a look of disdain. I do not recall ever seeing them around here before but they certainly look like hardy little creatures.

     The path leads into Washington and the parish church of St Mary welcomes us into the village. It is a fine looking building that was built by Philip de Braose and is worthy of a visit. A little further on and there is the village hall where the Footprints banner awaits our arrival at the finish.

     Yes, it has been another good day with sunny intervals and a fair breeze and, most importantly, great walking. Despite the untimely closure of the Frankland Arms the week before, Footprints have made every effort and endeavour to continue making this event special and, without doubt, they certainly do succeed.

     Cissbury Ring is passing by to the south of me and the chalk track under my feet reflects the heat from the sun. The walking seems a little tough at the moment and I look forward to a brief pause at the Langmead memorial. Once there, a few minutes is enough for a quick rest and a snack, to ease the feet before starting again.

     The trail now heads around the top of the Steyning Bowl and then crosses over Annington Hill. I make my way through the grass towards the pig farm with the Adur valley beginning to open out before me. The South Downs are a farmed landscape and have been since they were cleared of trees over 3000 years ago.

     The pigs and their arks move around the hillside each year and it is this variation that seems to create a natural living process. It is good to see these creatures at rest or snuffling over the ground - descendants of the wild boar that used to roam across the Weald in days long gone. Along with the other domesticated animals, such as the cattle and sheep, this working environment continues to change with the seasons and is all part of the rich tapestry of life.

     The path now heads down the hill into the Adur valley and I pass some of the other walkers who are sitting in the sun and enjoying their picnic lunches. It is a very steep downhill towards Botolphs and the River Adur and this reveals a broad view ahead. Looking across the river I see the old and abandoned cement works, our industrial heritage is here and through the years we watch it slowly crumble and disintegrate. The site remains defiant against the planners and all who would see it destroyed - I would be sad if it were no longer there.

     Making my way further into the valley bottom, at the side of the track is a fridge freezer that has been dumped. Why do people do that? Where is there any respect for our countryside anymore?

     I walk along beside the river - the tide is high this year - and on my right, nestling within the trees, is the Saxon church of St Botolph’s. Just a few yards further, near the footbridge, I sit down in the grass on the bank of the  river and eat my lunch. The river looks good when it is full and this is a lovely spot where I can rest and watch both the river and the world go by. It’s all in a dream and life passes quietly by.

     Of course, time also passes and soon I have to move in order to continue my journey for today’s finish at Devil’s Dyke. One does not need to wait long before some more of my friends come along and together we use the bridge to cross the river. Beeding Hill rises before us and it is time for another breath-taking climb. Each time I pause to rest during the climb, it allows me the opportunity to turn and enjoy the sight of the river valley. It is spread out below in all of that glorious splendour.

     The trail continues to rise and once again crosses the path of the Monarch’s Way which soon ends at Shoreham harbour. There are more horned sheep in the field at the side of the road which I am currently walking along. Pausing to look back, there is a great view of Chanctonbury Ring silhouetted against the sky. Pinned there for all of eternity.

     The road goes ever on and on and the work that is being done to lay the cable for the Rampion Wind Farm continues. The line of exposed chalk stretches out over the Downs and cattle stand in the corner of their field and calmly bear witness to this ongoing progress.

     Eventually the road reaches the youth hostel near the summit of Truleigh Hill and this is yet another opportunity to rest. It is an excellent place to stop with full facilities and refreshments - I can also purchase a Cornetto ice cream, the mint flavour seemed a very good choice. Sitting outside in the sunshine with many friends, nibbling away. Good treat, well deserved.

     The radio masts stand tall, high on top of Truleigh Hill, as I head towards them. The day has certainly been another great one and I am now getting closer to the finish at Devil’s Dyke. There are only a couple of miles and just a few hills still to go. Already, the clump of trees by the Devil’s Dyke Hotel can be seen along with the sunlight glinting off the parked cars. The home stretch and the 12 miles have sped by quite easily.

     Edburton Hill, Perching Hill and Fulking Hill soon come and go as I pass them by. The rolling Downs are encapsulated here and I soon reach the Dyke. The end of the walk today has seemingly rushed to meet me and, at the finish, I meet up with all the friends who are waiting there. We wait together for the remaining walkers to arrive and the last coach to take us home.

     On this day, it was especially good to see and meet up with Ann, compiler the booklet Flowers along the Way, who had come along to the finish to greet us all. Lovely lady.

     The days are steadily ticking by, there are now only three left to go. It is not enough and we all want more.

     Back out into the weather and the rain had been getting even heavier whilst I was in the church. It was obviously not going to pass over very soon and, seemingly, had maybe set in for the day. In these circumstances I took the opportunity of using some shelter that Pyecombe had to offer and managed to clamber into some wet weather gear. It was not what I had wanted to do but needs must when the Devil drives and, inevitably, it is really not such a completely perfect world after all. No, perhaps not.

     Anyway, as I made my way out of Pyecome and across the A273 I was now prepared for the worst of the weather. According to my map, it is here that the trail passes over the Clayton tunnel. Deep underground the trains are rapidly travelling on the line that runs between Brighton and London - the Brighton train it goes real soon, my Brighton Belle is in her room - those were the days. Memories fade. Yet the path still climbs gradually back up to the top of the ridge - and as I slowly gain this height, the cloud gradually sinks lower until it is all around me.

     As I walk along the side the golf course, no one seems to be playing a round and the further I went the less I could see. Here I am, passing the Clayton Windmills but this was a case of map reading as I could not see them. The visibility had rapidly dwindled and become pretty minimal. It was now impossible to keep anyone else in sight and, when the wide track was no longer there, I was rather hoping that I was continuing to follow the right footpath across the grass.

     Directionless - one could only see the thick cloud and about two foot of misty grass - and wonder whether that shadow up ahead was a person or just an image on my water-clogged glasses. I hurried to try and keep up however, the fact that the image always stayed ahead of me was convincing enough that it was not real. Chasing shadows - seeing things that are not there. Has it come to this? A boy could get lost, let alone the DoE lads who were also wandering around up here.

     I continued on my way knowing that as long as I did not go downhill I was going in the right direction - sound logic there, I think, send out the life guards. It is very silent in the rain and nobody is around however, after a while, someone does catch up with me and asks if I had seen her two friends  . . .  Er, no! - I have not seen anyone or anything for the last couple of miles  . . .  and then she too disappears into the mists ahead.

     I knew that I was getting ever closer to Ditchling Beacon and it was with some relief when it finally arrived and proved that I was still on course - not that I had had any real doubt. Well, not really. There were just a few cars in the car park and, regrettably, no ice cream van. No frozen treat today for me, then.

     In view of the rain I was not going to stop for a picnic lunch but paused briefly to transfer a few items from my rucksack into my pockets. I ate a few bit and pieces as I carried on walking. Anyway, it can feel good to walk in the rain, the water washes away those cares that we carry around with us. Also, there are some unexpected benefits of rain and reduced visibility - any useful tree or bush did not need to be quite as secluded as would have normally been required. Bit of a plus there for future reference.

     Continuing on, the weather remains rather bleak as I cross  Home Brow and Western Brow and so I eventually come to Streat Hill. Almost suddenly, the rain seems to ease off and people seem to start becoming visible again. Whilst I was walking over Plumpton Plain the rain does cease and visibility fully returns as the clouds break up and drift away. The day rapidly changes from rain to sun and it is now too warm inside the wet gear and so I soon stop to take it off.

     As the sun finishes breaking through the remaining cloud I close in on Blackcap where there is the sound of many cattle calling - it seems to be mothers and calves that have been separated. A sharp right turn occurs and it is now mostly downhill to the finish. The sun shines and the temperature rises creating a rather muggy atmosphere. The views once again stretch away and the green Downs now look both fresh and clean.

     The trail continues gently downhill as it crosses the wide and open Balmer Down. The walk is become more of a stroll and the world it seems is at peace but, all of a sudden, this tranquility is rudely interrupted by a steep climb at Bunkershill Plantation. A short, sharp shock - like some prison sentence that takes your breath away.

     Soon, the climb is over and I come out of the trees into a wide open space again. There, before me, stretching out across Long Hill and shining a rich golden brown are fields of barley with their drooping ears wafting back and forth in the breeze under a heavy, louring sky.

      As I walk down Long Hill it has become quite hot and humid but there is not too much further to go now. On the other side of the valley is the ridge along which I will be walking tomorrow - it looks to be a green and pleasant land. Whilst that phrase has seemingly become somewhat overused, it does accurately describe both the scenery and the feeling for it.

     Up next, there is the crossing of the A27 at Housedean Farm and then, when I am on the other side of the road, the path runs alongside the railway line. A little bizarrely, when I am barely a stones throw away from the Newmarket Inn, the trail goes underneath the railway and soon begins to head uphill.

     Fortunately, before it goes too far, there is a path that cuts back and heads for the finish at the Newmarket Inn. Some young cattle are watching through a gap in the hedge as I pass by, everything is interesting to them. Finally, I walk along the edge of a field, passed some houses and back under the railway line, again. Here we are at the end of another day with the Footprints’ banner proudly being displayed.

     It is so good to take a seat and sit with friends. We are all relaxed and I am drinking a nice white coffee. The coach to take us home will be along soon. It is not the last coach but the penultimate one - I sit there considering the thought that it is probably the first time that I have not been on the last coach home since the mighty thunderstorm at Firle two years ago. The conclusion, I suppose, is that I do not dawdle so much in the rain.

     Despite the trials of the wind and rain, it still felt as if it were a good day’s walking over the Downs. To see the countryside in all of the different elements, sunshine after rain. Another day done and it takes me a little closer to the final destination - make it last forever.

     Walking for fun - collecting for charity - this year I have raised £70.00 for Cardiac Rehab Support West Sussex.

     It is a local charity that helps people with heart problems.

     Every little contribution helps them help more people - they sure helped me when I needed it.

     Please pass any donation to me for onward transmission.

     As always, many thank to Footprints of Sussex and their enthusiastic team of red-shirts who do an amazing job to ensure that every day of the nine runs so smoothly. It would not be the same without you. Thank you.

     The long and straight concrete track is a gentle down slope in this easterly direction but it always leaves us feeling exposed to the sun as the heat radiates up from it. Crossing over the tops of Iford Hill and Front Hill it is not long before we reach the meridian post. The flint cairn surrounding this finger post never seems to be the same from one year to the next - who knows, it just seems a bit strange - anyway, it is passed and is soon left behind me.

     To the south-west of Rodmell, once home to Virginia Woolf, is Mill Hill. As I slowly descend the steep slope I enter into a dry valley that runs out of Cricketing Bottom. The weather continues sunny - hot and dry - and there are many wild flowers at the edges of the fields that run along the bottom of this waterless valley including a fine mallow plant with violet flowers. It’s a mighty long way down a dusty trail.

     Not far now to the village of Southease - it is more or less halfway for today and an ideal prospect for the lunch stop. At the village green, I sit on the grass in front of the church - it is solidly built and resplendent with a round tower. I eat my lunch, a sandwich and some cake (as usual) with perhaps a cereal bar as well just for a change. It is most pleasant here in the shade of the tree - restful and drowsy.

     Rather unexpectedly, however, whilst I was resting or maybe even drowsing, the back markers rolled up and sat down near by to eat their lunch. Time to move on.

     I set off on the second half of today’s walk - there is still a fair way to go and I pass through Southease village. Then, as I walk along the straight road the imposing sight of Itford Hill is there in front of me. It is a mountain and the tiny figures can just about be seen as people are clambering up the steep slope.

     Before I get that far, I am looking down as I cross the swing bridge at the waters of the River Ouse. They are certainly fast flowing at that moment, strong enough to wash any stone-laden heroine away. It appears to be rushing upstream, maybe the tide is coming in. Any road up, after the bridge the road carries straight on until it reaches the railway line and then, with safety in mind, the tracks are crossed. That must be a good half mile walked since I had lunch so I am ready to take the opportunity to stop at the youth hostel - maybe I can make up for the ice-cream I missed yesterday.

     Making my way straight for the cafe, it does not take long to select and purchase a white Magnum. Many of my friends are here already and also making use of the facilities on offer - it is a hive of activity with the constant movement of people arriving and leaving. A few words and I am catching up on the latest bit of gossip.

     With my frozen treat in hand, unwrapped and ready to be eaten, I step back out into the warm sunshine and nibble at the cool taste that is already beginning to melt. The South Downs Way bridge allows an easy crossing of the A26 and, once across, the long and hard climb up Itford Hill is there before me.

     No longer can I delay. There is no escape from the blazing sun and I take to the hill with a slow pace. With more than a few pauses I gradually make my way up the winding path. This is hard enough but many people are taking a shorter route and cutting off the bend. That is just so steep, they are using their hands to help make the climb and I am glad that I did not even consider it as an option. Yes, the climb up Itford Hill needs to be given due respect.

     As I pause for breath I look out over at the town of Newhaven with the winding river in front of it and the wide sea beyond. The sunlight sparkles off of the waters, glinting and shining. Moving on, I eventually reach the top of the hill and, while I take some time to rest, I look back over the valley that I have just left.

     The journey along the crest of this ridge has some long views to both north and south, lovely to look at but the walking can seem to be rather endless. Perhaps because this year has been so warm but most probably because my boots got soaked yesterday and the inner lining has become a bit loose. It is a very long day  . . .  Walking  . . .  Walking  . . .  Grass  . . .  Walking  . . .  Hill  . . .  Tree  . . .  Walking  . . .  Grass  . . .  Walking  . . .  Walking  . . .  one more step after another.

     A triangulation pillar breaks the monotony and the radio masts on Beddingham Hill gradually get nearer. Not fast enough and it seems to take longer to reach them today but finally they are passed. The cows with their calves are wandering around up here - do they enjoy the views that we so admire. The sea is on my right and the village of Firle nestles in the countryside on my left.

      My feet are starting to hurt and are requiring frequent stops to take the weight off. Still a few miles left to do but soon enough Firle Beacon arrives and with it the thought that it is generally downhill from here. Nearby, in the grass, was a lump of chalk that looked as if it had the shape of a sheep’s head. It was a large chunk of chalk and certainly could not have been casually dropped and left. Nobody remembers seeing it before - has Andy Goldsworthy been at work, again?

     Although the last few miles of the walk look as if they are a gentle descent into Alfriston, a pleasant thought with which to end the day, it certainly did not feel that way to me. The miles were lengthening and taking their toll as I neared the finish.

     Slowly the hills recede behind me, I pass Bopeep and Bostal Hill feeling each piece of flint through the soles of my boots. Nevermind, take each step in turn and in due course I do reach Alfriston and the pavements feel a lot easier than the flinty tracks. All the shops are open and many walkers are taking it easy and enjoying the lovely afternoon sun.

     There were plenty of tempting offerings on display in the shop windows, plenty of things to eat or drink. I celebrated the completion of another day with a Feast ice cream and it was not long before I began making my way to the finishing point where the coaches were waiting.

     Although nothing much seemed to have happened today - don’t forget the 14 miles - the views have been absolutely glorious and all that remains is to sit near the Footprints’ banner and await the last coach to take me home. Super day.

     High up on these hills, the air is fresh and a stile makes a convenient resting place to eat my banana and watch the world go by. Just a brief rest and then it is onwards again as the trail continues over the open ground across the top of the Downs. I head from one waypost to the next as there are no other markers, nothing to aim for, and on the ground only grass. Peaceful and alone I listen to the birds singing as they ride high in the sky above.

     I had been wondering who it was that was slowly catching me up as I walked across the Downs. At Holt Brow, I waited to see who it might be. The trail was about to begin making the steady descent into Jevington and I could now see that it was Molly who had been catching me up. It was a pleasure to then spend a couple of miles walking in the company of the event’s senior participant and talking happily on a variety of subjects. It made a fine contrast to most of the previous days when I was often not very far from young Sam and his family. How they carried this lively youngster for over a hundred miles - there are many amazing people out on the walk each day.

     The route into Jevington brings us to the church of St Andrew which dates from the early part of the tenth century. We arrive whilst preparations are in full swing for the summer fete which was to be held later in the day in the area that is around the church. There was still an hour or more before the opening ceremony and so I could not wait to enjoy the festivities.

     In the centre of the village stands The Hungry Monk, the birthplace in 1972 of the Banoffi Pie - a contraction of the main ingredients, banana and toffee. The building still exists but it is now a private dwelling - the blue plaque on the wall remembers a time not too long ago.

     After taking my picnic lunch on a bench in the centre of the village, I was just about ready for another long climb. This time it is not so steep and goes up Bourne Hill to reach the western fringes of Eastbourne. Again, there are many DoE students around, peering at their maps and carrying large quantities of gear.

     The trail continues with the walk taking me along the western side of Eastbourne. There are not the much-loved views that can be seen on the coastal route but this way has a different kind of beauty and pleasure.

     It is a surprise how far the western side of the town stretches. It certainly seems a long way as I head south passing stone markers and the golf course to eventually stop for a rest at the circular pond near a triangulation pillar. Apparently, I am sitting here 168 metres above sea level, well fancy that. A Crunchie bar, full of honeycomb delight, assists my resting and helps pass the time.

     The path continues southwards as it is still heading towards the sea - I’ll stop when am starting to tread water - and, soon, the sight of Eastbourne seafront appears and confirms that we are almost there. Not far now.

     Finally, we meet the other SDW trail as it heads east - they have spent time on the Seven Sisters, at Birling Gap and over Beachy Head. The people join together and make their way to the finish at Eastbourne.

     Are we there, yet? - Almost, not far now as the last and very final descent comes into view. It is steep, straight down and there, at the bottom, is the finish.

     Steady as she goes, those last few steps to reach the final finger post at the bottom of the hill. Winchester to Eastbourne - 100 miles, 9 days - made it.

     There is a steady stream of happy people arriving at the finish and there is always time for a final few photos to commemorate the completion of another journey  . . .  the red-shirted team are there in force and are kind enough to assist the taking of pictures. I stand by the finger post and almost manage half a smile as Sonia obligingly clicks the camera.

     The flags are flying and to celebrate I choose to enjoy a Feast ice cream. It is Sussex Day and the blue flag with six yellow martlets is waving in the breeze, flying proudly beneath the Union Jack. I sit on the grassy bank eating my ice cream and applauding the finish of many of my friends.

     These are happy scenes to remember.

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     As if by magic, the red-shirted team who are in control of the Arundel coach manage to keep their flock together and soon get us all safely boarded when the coach finally arrives.

     During the journey to Winchester we are given plenty of information regarding the days ahead - what to expect and how it all works with such smooth efficiency. Of course, us old-hands sit at the back of the bus, we have heard it all before and “listen” with a smugness that comes from knowledge. There is the daily prize quiz, information about those pesky little ticks and, most importantly, where to find the Footprints banner which will herald the finish of each day’s walk. We are very lucky on our coach as we are also entertained every day by John with his informative daily talks about the area we will shortly be walking through - it is hard to think of anybody with more knowledge.

     Eventually, we arrive in Winchester and disembark - there is no rush, there is all the time in the world to enjoy this day. I am probably the last off the coach, I usually am, under the watchful gaze of the Saxon king. With all the people milling around I spend some time taking photographs of the King Alfred statue and also finding the new official starting point which is at the City Mill. It is an interesting post that represents the journey we are about to undertake - it is fine but it just does not have the epic mystery of the statue - the image of King Alfred as he wields his mighty sword.

     I wanted to fully soak up the atmosphere of the start in Winchester as the finish of last year’s walk had been such a painful hobble for me. Taking it all in - so, you’re fixing your mind on the road ahead, at last you are going to be free. It is a good day, the crowds of walkers are dispersing, there is nothing left to say. But, anyway, time passes like water and soon enough I was also on my way and heading off, over the bridge by the City Mill, and then softly walking alongside the River Itchen. This fast flowing river is remarkably clear and so picturesque for the centre of a city in this, the modern world.

     The ducks paddle quickly in order to hold station on the water and there is the splendid gunnera next to the sluice gate. Everything remains in place from one year to the next giving a comfortable sense of security. The streets gradually climb away from the river as we head towards the eastern edge of Winchester - this line which so clearly marks the boundary of the city is the 20th century river known as the M3, so fast flowing like the Itchen. We hear the powerful rush of the traffic and then see the footbridge that carries us quickly over the motorway - taking us from this world into a previous one. The constant rush and roar of the traffic is immediately supplanted by the peace and tranquility of the countryside. Directly, we are now in a much older age. The golden dawn arises.

     After crossing a couple of fields we soon come to the pretty little village of Chilcomb. The houses that we pass are large and grand and there is more than enough room in which to breathe. With lungs deeply filled by fresh air we are blessed. After passing through the village, the trail gradually begins to climb as we make our way slowly upwards on Telegraph Hill. As we gain height, the views open out and we can look behind us and see Winchester, mistily shrouded, or look ahead and enjoy the richness of the greens that are all around. On my left is the Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, clearly in view are the white radio telescope dishes.

Walking  . .  Eating  . .  Walking  . .  Ice-cream  . .  Hill  . .  Walking