Saturday, 15 September 2012

South Downs walkabout

A month or two back Mike, northernpies.blogspot.co.uk, casually mentioned something to me about a walk along the South Downs path and would I be interested? Probably I was in a bit of a dwam when I consented? Suddenly though it was a reality. Mike was actually going to come South, in actual fact Mike has a little list of particular hill tops he wishes to visit. These involve travelling to the far climes of the UK to actually tick them off. The usual flurry of e mails, lists drawn up and so forth. One thing became rapidly apparent. Camping was going to be difficult in some areas and there appeared to be a distinct lack of water. Also, as a departure from the usual, maps where dispensed with. The trail was well sign posted, plus Mike would be carrying a guide book and I had a singular Harvey's map which covered the whole route. Mike was up at some unearthly hour, long before the sparrows where out of their pyjamas, to arrive at Kings Cross shortly before eight on the Monday morning. Here, I was waiting for him and with little ceremony led him through tunnels and tube trains to Waterloo station. My apologies Mike, I am always on edge trundling around town.
We duly arrived in Winchester by mid morning, an indifferent pasty and a soft drink served as  brunch. The cathedral charged a fee for those who wished to enter and so we wandered past. A check with an ice cream man on a tricycle and we where soon heading down to King Alfred, a statue on a roundabout. There we found the first of the S.D.W. way marks. Before long we where out in open, rolling country in warm, dry sunny conditions. Our goal for the day was a fairly short one. Holden farm had come up on the net as offering a camping spot. Arriving there though, the place was deserted, the only sign of life two horses in loose boxes. A pickup truck came down the track and turned off toward a series of buildings. Wandering over we found out that the farm, as such existed only in name. the majority of buildings let out as industrial units. Finally we pushed on. There was pub at Millbarrow and we wondered if they would allow camping? Once more there was no sign of life. Finally a travelling salesman arrived and we found the pub opened at six. Again we wandered on, now considering a stealth camp in the wood we where passing through. Water was the biggest problem, there was none to be found. Finally, by asking a gent at Wind farm, we got permission to camp on a triangle of grass between two tracks. He also kindly gave us use of his garden tap.
Tuesday morning was a dew soaked one. Traffic had been moving up and down the tracks during the course of the night. Owls had been calling, foxes barking. Something had been munching grass close to the tents. Probably deer? Dew soaked tents where packed still wringing wet. The day was promising to be a hot one, shorts and tee shirts dress of the day. The downlands offered rolling hills, at times long, steady climbs and descents. Skirting around Meon Stokes the route on the ground and that shown by Harvey's differed a little. However, we stuck to the sign posted route and  before long we where heading high over the iron age fort of Old Winchester Hill. Descending to Whitewool farm, we stopped for refreshments at a fishing lodge. The ponds where well stocked with large fish that even a schoolboy with a home made rod would have little difficulty catching. There is a camp site there but we pressed on. The long haul up Salt Hill took its toll of us. There was no breeze, the heat was relentless and we where both suffering. Rather than struggle on we stopped at HMS Mercury an ex navy signals station, part of which is now the Sustainability Centre. They offer a campsite which was expensive. There are also wigwams and yurts for hire.. Solar powered showers and composting loos in the woods give the place a hippyish feel to the place. There  is also on offer sustainability burials and a chap was actually busy making wicker coffins in a lean to as we set up camp!

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We knew Wednesday was going to be a long day. Serious miles had to be walked if we where to complete the whole route in time allowing. Once more the tents where dew soaked but we wasted little time in getting away. Our first goal of the day was Butser Hill and then along drop down down to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. an excellent cafe served bacon butties which where washed down with several cups of tea. Two slabs of fruit cake where stowed in the rucksack for later in the day.A long, steady plod uphill.The track led us through mixed forestry, the trees offering welcome shade. Ascending a rough track Mike and I where surprised to see an electric  invalidity buggy bouncing and swaying valiantly upwards behind us. The chap had been a keen walker but illness had curtailed his activities, the buggy had given him a degree of mobility. That man deserves our respect. The downland tracks are composed of chalk with great quantities of flint.This makes it very hard on the feet, especially when carrying a full pack.The heat bounced off the surface in a shimmering haze. One of Mike's tops was Beacon Hill, oh my, a stiff haul up. Fruit cake and quantities of fluid where consumed at the trig point. We pressed on, our goal for the day a mile or two further on. A tap was marked on the map at Cocking. Harvey's map shows a discrepancy here. Manor Farm was on one of the lists as a camping spot. However, the map shows the farm some two miles off our route. Our only option seemed to be to lug our water up the hill and camp high. Suddenly, as we filled up with water I noticed the house next to the track was marked as Manor Farm. A quick inquiry and an encounter with a large black alsation, friendly though, and we had a camp spot for the night. A grassy horse paddock all to ourselves. Basic, but that was fine with us, cheap too, a fiver for the pair of us.

Thursday was going to be another long day. Once more we where heading uphill. By now we getting to grips with covering distance. The heat was something different, especially in the afternoon, it was relentless. Heatwaves are not something we are used to?!

Good walking with panoramic vistas, the valleys below shimmering in the heat haze. Long descents followed by equally long ascents. The heat was relentless and we had to drink regularly to avoid dehydration. A pub lunch at Amberly and then a long haul up to Rackham Hill.Possibly the heat was affecting me, but I found myself mentioning to Mike a few times that there was a diversion down to Washington to avoid a dangerous road crossing?The camp site at Washington is  very up market, with caravans and camper vans, some of  which looked more like luxury coaches. The facilities on offer where luxurious too.


Our first goal  on Friday was Chanctonbury Ring. An atmospheric place, much more density of trees than  I remember from from my last visit. A wonderful place for a wild camp, even though water would have to be carried up.It was a fine day for walking. Straight forward enough, the way is well sign posted. As we approached Devils Dyke so the hoards of people increased. The hot weather had brought folk out in their hoards. We stopped for another pub lunch and sat for a while watching the heaving mass of humanity.






Dropping down to Saddlescombe farm we spotted a sign for a National Trust tea room. Surmising that they would have a loo, I headed over with Mike in tow. Sure enough, they did, " Please bolt the loo after you or the chickens will get in!" Mike had ordered cups of tea while waiting. Also, he had spotted a little sign for camping. We conferred and made a few inquiries. Yes indeed, there was a camping field. Possibly someone may come around to collect fees, but if not please leave camping fee in honesty box. It was an easy call. We camped early.


Saturday meant an early start. Unfortunately this darn Parkinson's slows me down, I take longer to do things, which can be very frustrating. Mike was up and packed long before me. Despite my slowness, we still managed to be away fairly early.

Ditchling Beacon was our high point and then on to Blackcap before descending down to Housedown farm. There is a camp site there. We had miles yet to cover though and after filling up with water  and a short break, we strode on. If anything the temperature was even higher than yesterday, whew!



As we climbed the hill following Juggs Road, a herd of cows stood listlessly on the track. They where totally unfazed as we eased our way through them. Dropping down to Southease, we stopped to stock up with water and have a break by the village church. Chatting to a lady organizing some form of church event we made friends with her dog. Not a cute, pretty dog, some may say ugly, although I would disagree. Ollie was a polite, well mannered dog with character, posing for Mike as he took his photo. At this point I was not feeling good and we still had another hill to climb. My energy levels had fallen through the floor. Plenty of water drunk and some sticky, cloying chocolate consumed and we shouldered our packs to head off once more. It was a slow plod up Itford hill. A combine harvester droned in a field close by, enveloped in its dust cloud. Finally we reached our goal and set up camp. It took me a long while to get the tent up but we both agreed, this was our best camp yet.

Sunday was our final day of walking. An amazing sunrise, the bonus of our first morning with dry tents and it was not long before we where away. Following tthe ridge line, past the masts at Beddingham Hill and on to Firle Beacon.


We had intentions of breakfast at Alfriston. However, the place was totally geared to the tourist trade and prices reflected that. We opted to make our own sandwiches and washed them down with a bottle of soft drink. In some respects it seemed incongruous, the local church bells where ringing out, calling the faithful to worship. Some of whom where arriving in very posh, classy cars! All around though was this materialistic drive to make money. Tea shops, restaurants, pubs, antique shops and so forth, driven by commerce. From Alfriston the trail divides, one branch goes inland, the other heads  for the coast. We followed the coast route. On past Litlington, plunging in to woodland that offered some cool relief from the blazing sun A couple of steep climbs where taken very slowly. Suddenly though a style led over a low wall, there below us lay Cuckmere Haven.
The place was awash with humanity. Filling up with water and an ice lolly from the ice cream van,we moved on. With our packs and boots, looking hot and trail worn, we presented an odd sight in comparison to the throng of folk around us, all heading to the beach. Push chairs, buggies, excited children, everyone out to enjoy the day.
Our route soon saw us heading up hill once more. We where now on the Seven Sister, a series of rolling switchbacks high above the sea. We pressed on, both of us suffering somewhat from the blazing heat radiating off the surface of glaring chalk. Ascending, descending until finally we made Birling Gap. In need of more fluids, we stopped at the cafe, I had to ask the lass who served me if she would carry the glasses to the table for me. Tired, and with energy levels low, I had a case of the shakes.

The wind picked up and sea fog clouded the sky as we came over Beachy head. Finally we reached our desired goal as we descended down to Eastbourne. Once again Harvey's map proved inaccurate In an insert it indicates the youth hostel in town. We had seen a sign post for village shops and headed in that direction in search of a cash point. The co'op cash point was broken but  a kindly gent had offered to guide us in the direction of the hostel. Guiding us through the back streets, he then gave detailed instructions on how to get to the hostel. Unfortunately they went against the map. We stuck to the map, a mistake. The map was wrong and the chap correct. Muddle finally sorted,we eventually found the hostel on the outskirts of town. Mike looked wearied, I felt wrecked, but we had achieved our goal and felt pretty pleased with ourselves. On Mike's estimation we had covered roughly 108 miles over the course of the week and in a heat wave too!

A pair of North Face Hedgehog mids, less than a year old. Not up to the job??

8 comments:

Alan R said...

Very good and interesting post Dawn. It would make a excellent winter backpacking walk. Might be worth organising as you now know the lie of the land etc. (Only if you fancy doing it again of course).

Do i spot some new tentage or has the stock room been raided.

Dawn said...

Hello Alan, yes indeed, a good winter backpacking trip. The stock room was raided, Mike has my MacPac on loan and I was using the Shangri three. Possibly a mistake, if I had know how hot it was going to be I would have taken the baby Shangri.

Mike Knipe said...

As for me, I'm rehydrating with some Fight Club Hikers at Alston tonight. It's medicinal, obviously...
Its a cracking walk, though and Dawn's negotiating skills for patches of grass and taps shouldn't be underestimated.

Dawn said...

Enjoy Mike, you deserve it. That trip was a tad special.

chrissiedixie said...

Lovely write up Dawn. Walking in heat can be so draining on the energy levels, can't it? Bet it could be quite fun there in the wilds of winter!

Dawn said...

Hi Chrissie, yes, the heat was something we where not used to. A winter trip would be fun, (I think?)

Gayle said...

An excellent (and enticing) account. The South Downs Way is now on my hit list!

Dawn said...

Fantastic Gayle, go for it,it is a lovely walk.