Tag Archives: South Downs Way

South Downs Way

The South Downs Way in winter- water sources

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in winter 2018. I wrote a brief blog on that walk soon after. This piece covers my water sources on that five day trip of a tad over a hundred miles. I carried clean and dirty water bladders and a water filter, also a 0.85lt. bottle for drinking from during the day.

Three Points of the Compass travelled to the start of the South Downs Way at Winchester by train. The blue cuben bag in the side pocket of my Mariposa is my hydration kit comprising 2lt Evernew bladder for clean water, 2lt HydraPak Seeker bladder for unfiltered and a Katadyn BeFree filter. I also carried an 850ml Smartwater bottle for drinking 'on the go'

Three Points of the Compass travelled to the start of the South Downs Way at Winchester by train. The blue cuben bag in the side pocket of my Mariposa is my hydration kit comprising 2lt Evernew bladder for clean water, 2lt HydraPak Seeker bladder for unfiltered and a Katadyn BeFree filter. I also carried an 850ml Smartwater bottle for drinking ‘on the go’.

I was fortunate to enjoy fairly good weather for most of the walk. It was often simply cool and bright. However, it was a late in the year walk and I also experienced occasional thick mist, driving rain and sleet on the final day and cold frosty nights. Snow blanketed the hills two days after I finished. Some of the water taps provided along the trail are turned off for the winter months and I did find a couple that were not working. Other than that, I had absolutely no problem in keeping myself well hydrated both during the day and for night halts.

I set off early morning from a Winchester hotel where I had spent the night. I had a couple of mugs of tea prior to leaving and carried one and a half litres of water from the get go. My first halt to refill was at a tap near Keepers Cottage, SU 537 288. This is immediately beside the path and was specifically installed with cyclists in mind and also has a pump etc. This is a popular trail for cyclists and some times of the year can see as many cyclists as walkers. However, at this time of year I saw few hikers and only a handful of cyclists and horse riders.

My first halt on Day One for water was near Keepers Cottage in the Temple Valley

My first halt on Day One for water was near Keepers Cottage in the Temple Valley

If I had not replenished with water at Keepers Cottage my next halt would have been at Lomer Farm where, despite this notice stating that repair would be made in Spring 2018, it still hadn't taken place

Lomer Farm. Despite this notice stating that repair would be made in Spring 2018, it still hadn’t taken place

Tap at Lomer Farm- out of use (SU 601237)

If I had not replenished with water at Keepers Cottage my next halt would have been at Lomer Farm- however the tap was out of use (SU 601237)

It is advisable to take any opportunity to replenish with at least a bottle of water if a tap is passed as some sources are not only seasonal but could be vandalised, under repair or simply no longer in commission.

My first day was a little over twenty miles so I felt I had earned yet another halt in the afternoon when I passed the fly fishing ponds at Meon Springs. The fishing lodge (SU 655 215) at Whitewool Farm is often open as the fishery offices are situated inside, alongside a tackle store and ‘help yourself’ to hot drinks facility. Snacks were also available but I didn’t need anything as I was carrying just about all the food supplies I required for the whole trail. Instead, a mug of tea (£1) was very welcome. A tap was available here if it had been simply water I was after.

Fishing Lodge at Meon Springs, Whitewool Farm

Fishing Lodge at Meon Springs, Whitewool Farm

My first nights halt was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge (SU 676 190). This is a Friends of Nature Eco centre and due to my early away from Winchester in the morning, I arrived around 14.40, so not only had time to get the tent up in the lower fields, but also managed to get to the onsite Beech Cafe five minutes before it closed for a welcome pint. At this time of the year, night comes early and my evening meal of lentil curry was obviously eaten in the dark.

Day One on the South Downs Way saw me camping at the Sustainability Centre where water is readily available. Even if not staying there, a water tap is only a hundred metres off the main route

Day One on the South Downs Way saw me camping at the Sustainability Centre where water is readily available. Even if not staying there, a water tap is only a hundred metres off the main route

There is a cafe at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park however no water outside of opening times

There is a cafe at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park however no water outside of opening times

Day Two was a twenty four mile hike, so I rose early and simple breakfast and 500ml mug of tea saw me on my way while it was still dark. I had hoped for second breakfast at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park visitor centre (SU 718 185) but arrived to early and wasn’t prepared to sit around for a couple of hours waiting for it to open.

I was carrying just under a litre of water with me and this was sufficient until a water tap opposite Manor Farm at a minor crossroads of tracks at Cocking (SU 879 166).

A number of cattle troughs are passed on the South Downs Way, mostly on Days two and three, any water from these sources requires purifying or filtering. I had no need to use these sources as there were plenty of others

A number of cattle troughs are passed on the South Downs Way, mostly on days two and three out of Winchester. Any water from these sources requires purifying or filtering. I had no need to use these sources as there were plenty of others

Some of the taps on the South Downs Way have been placed there by cycling or walking organisations, others have been sited in memory of a much loved individual. The tap at Cocking was sited in memory of 14 year old Peter Wren.

“He loved the English Countryside and walked the South Downs Way in the summer of 1978”

Any wise hiker not only tops up with water at these sources but also drinks as much as he can before moving on. I had doubts on finding another source before this day’s halt so took opportunity to carry another two litres away from here in addition to my 850ml bottle.

Tap directly beside the path at Cocking. A notice beside the tap records that the next available sources are at Amberley, 11 miles east, or Buriton Farm, 4 miles west

Tap directly beside the path at Cocking. A notice beside the tap records that the next available sources are at Amberley, 11 miles east, or Buriton Farm, 4 miles west

I wild camped at the end of Day Two and it was a cold evening and even colder night so plenty of hot drinks with my evening lentil curry followed by the usual mug of tea in the morning took just about all the water I had with me. It was a cold and bright day with deer in the frosty fields and red kites overhead. Soon after crossing the River Adur, prior to reaching the B2139, south of Amberley, there is a tap and trough (203 124) provided by the Rotary Clubs of Arundel, Steyning & Henfield, and Storrington in the hope that…

“…those who drink here will remember those elsewhere who have nowhere to drink”

Tap provided by the local Rotary Clubs soon after crossing over the River Arun at Houghton

Tap provided by the local Rotary Clubs soon after crossing over the River Arun at Houghton

I reached this tap a little after nine in the morning and this refill saw me well until another, six miles on, in Glazeby Lane, near a road crossing south of Washington (118 119). As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few water sources on this trail and if one if unavailable for one reason or another, it is usually not too far to another. It is only if wild camping that a little care is required to ensure that enough is available for a nights halt.

Another tap directly beside the path south of Washington. Many of these are suposed to be turned off once the weather turns colder from October, but I found many were still operating at the end of November

Another water tap directly beside the path south of Washington. Many of these are supposed to be turned off in October once the weather turns colder and there is a danger of freezing, but Three Points of the Compass found many were still operating at the end of November

I didn't require it but there was also a working tap between the River Adur and the road crossing of the A283

I didn’t require it but there was also a working tap between the River Adur and the road crossing of the A283

While I had plenty of water with me and it was only a relatively short hike to my days end, I also drank a litre at the tap provided by the Society of Sussex Downsmen at Botolphs (TQ 197 093).

Day Three was a 19.5 mile trek to the YHA at Truleigh Hill. I knew that I couldn’t stay in the hostel at it was on exclusive hire however the warden had kindly agreed to my camping in a field opposite. Not only did I also have use of the campers w/c adjacent to the building, but there is also a tap outside for passing hikers (TQ 220 106).

Brewing up at Truleigh Hill

Brewing up at Truleigh Hill

It was another cold night and I was pleased to have ready access to unlimited water as I rehydrated and kept myself warm with a succession of oxo, tea and hot chocolate drinks.

Hikers tap outside entrance to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill

Hikers water tap outside entrance to the Youth Hostel at Truleigh Hill

There is a small cafe, the Hikers Rest, at Saddlescombe Farm, but that was closed as I passed through. However the tap in the wall was still working

There is a small cafe, the Hikers Rest, at Saddlescombe Farm, but that was closed as I passed through. However the tap in the wall was still working

Day Four was just over twenty one miles to the South Downs YHA just three miles from Lewes. Not only did I have a dorm room booked for the night, but I knew I also had a couple of decent halts on this section. Setting off with a full water bottle, the first halt was at the tap in a wall at Saddlescombe Farm (TQ 271 114).

I had no real need to stop here as it was only another fifty minutes walk to the ‘Pilgrims Church’ at Pyecombe. With the aid of grant money, the parishioners here have provided an excellent extension to the church with not only w/c, but also tea and coffee making facilities for walkers. Just be sure to leave a donation.

I spent some time at the church wandering around and looking at items of interest, there is much to see here and it makes a great rest point.

Really good facilities are available at Pyecombe Church. Open 10.00 - 18.00 in the summer, until 16.00 in the winter

Really good facilities are available at the Downland Church of the Transfiguration at Pyecombe. Open 10.00 – 18.00 in the summer, until 16.00 in the winter

There are a number of dew ponds situated on the top of the rolling South Downs. All are contaminated with animal faeces and filtering and purification is an absolute necessity

There are a number of dew ponds situated on the top of the rolling South Downs. All are contaminated with animal faeces and filtering and purification is an absolute necessity if using as a water source

Tap in wall of Housedean Farm, A27

Tap in wall of Housedean Farm, A27

Walking on, I took time to explore the slightly off trail Jack and Jill windmills but my next halt for sustenance was a late lunch once I reached the A27. The trail turns right here to pass Housedean Farm prior to crossing the road via a bridge. In the wall of the farm is a walkers tap (TQ 368 092). However, a more favourable option is to turn left instead and walk down to the truckers stop where there is often a sandwich wagon.

It is only a hundred metres or so to the busy and noisy lay-by to ‘Oscars mobile catering’, where I chomped my way through two huge bacon and egg baguettes alongside a couple of mugs of tea. Never look a gift horse in the face…

Snack wagon beside the A27 on day four

Snack wagon beside the A27 on day four. Only a hundred metres off trail

Only a kilometre away from my days halt at YHA South Downs, I had no need to avail myself of the working tap in the wall of Southease Church. The uncommon tower is one of only three round towers found in Sussex

The uncommon tower of Southease Church is one of only three round towers found in Sussex. There is a walkers water tap in the wall here

Back on trail, I crossed the road and carried on, in deteriorating weather, back up on to the Downs. This is an arid stretch, with a lot of large agricultural fields however it was only a three hour walk to my nights halt at the relatively new and quite large hostel of YHA South Downs. Only a kilometre before my days end, I took time out to explore the fascinating interior of Southease Church. I had no need to avail myself of the working tap in the wall of the church ( TQ 423 052).

Reaching the YHA around 16.30, I booked in and was shown to my shared dormitory room.

Having showered, changed into clean clothes and rested, I declined from cooking yet another lentil curry in their campers kitchen and chose instead to eat in the hostel’s Courtyard Cafe. Hydration here in the form of a few decent beers alongside my evening meal of pizza.

Opened by HM The Queen in 2013, YHA South Downs is situated in a Sussex farmhouse

Opened by HM The Queen in 2013, YHA South Downs is situated in a Sussex farmhouse

After a nights decent snoring on the part of the two other room occupants, I rose at an early hour ready for my final day on trail. I had the usual mug of tea in the campers kitchen alongside a simple breakfast as second breakfast was only a few miles away. It was just under 22 miles to my day’s end halt at YHA Eastbourne, via the walk into town and back out again, finishing at the town pier rather than the official halt at the towns western edge. I don’t think that the sad little start/finish post is a fitting end and was to happily continue past it further down the coast to the impressive Victorian Pier. Prior to that I had a day’s walk to complete however.

Second breakfast in the Singing Kettle Tearoom in Alfriston

Second breakfast in the Singing Kettle Tearoom in Alfriston

It was raining hard when I set off from YHA South Downs and a halt at the Singing Kettle Tearoom (519 031) in Alfriston three hours later proffered an opportunity to dry out on the outside while I put a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich on the inside. The proprietor filled my water bottle prior to my leaving and this did me until I pulled into the Seven Sisters visitor centre (TV 518 995) overlooking the spectacular Cuckmere River meanders.

There was little open at the Seven Sisters visitor centre, however there was a working tap outside the open public w/c

There was little open at the Seven Sisters visitor centre, however there was a working tap outside the open public w/c

Most visitor centres have a working tap somewhere outside. While many are intended to provide water for dogs, a tap is just as welcome to the thirsty hiker. It had only taken me around an hour and a half to reach here after leaving Alfriston and it was another ninety minutes jaunt along the lovely rolling Seven Sisters before I reached my final tap (TV 553 960) on the South Downs Way. This was at Birling Gap, adjacent to the Coach Park.

Easily missed, there is a tap at Birling Gap. Again, with an open w/c alongside

Easily missed, there is a tap at Birling Gap. Again, with an open w/c alongside

I was on the home stretch now and I had no need to refill my bottle for the rest of my walk as it was only another two hours walk to Eastbourne Pier. After which it was the long haul back out of town where, rather than travel home that night, I was stopping for the night at Eastbourne YHA. And that was it. 108.11 miles since I left Winchester. I had absolutely no problem in finding plenty of water or alternative drinks along its entire distance. There are a lot more options than I have shown above. There are other farms and pubs that can also provide water either directly on the trail, or close by.

The above was correct for the dates of my walk- 16th – 20th November 2018. As it turned out, I had no need to use my water filter, not the emergency sterilisation tablets that I carry in my ditty bag. There was good potable water readily available on every day.

There is a downloadable guide to water sources on the South Downs Way via the National Trails website. But it doesn’t appear to have been updated in some time and fails to list quite a few points. Their mapping system is useful as you can list the points of most interest to you which can include water points. An online cyclists’ guide has a similar list, equally wanting in places. However it includes some useful images.

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in November 2018

Three Points of the Compass walked the South Downs Way in November 2018

Austrian stamp

Organised outdoor adventure in the UK- Friends of Nature

The Friends of Nature was founded in Vienna in 1895. Variously known as Naturfreunde / Naturefriends / Amis de la Nature in Europe and USA, it is an organisation with enjoyment of the outdoors at its heart. Emerging with the burgeoning Social Democratic movement, it sought to link people and countryside by facilitating travel and accommodation. Buildings were taken over or built. In other places simple huts sufficed. These provided affordable accommodation for people walking the mountains and countryside. They continue to do the same today.

Georg Schmiedl was a socialist, free thinker and teacher. He placed an advert in a Vienna newspaper inviting like minded people to found a touristic group. There were some thirty interested people, including  Alois Rohrauer and Karl Renner (future President of Austria). They had their first meeting on 28 March 1895 and a founding committee was formed.
The first clubhouse opened in Vienna in December 1900, the first Swiss and German groups formed in 1905. By 1920 there were over 20,000 members and a group had been formed in England by 1925. Banned by the Nazis in 1933, the organisation was revived following the Second World War.

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friend of Nature Eco camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Three Points of the Compass stayed at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn while completing the North Downs Way in 2017

Simple overnight accommodation at the Ec-camping barn, Puttenham

Simple overnight accommodation at the Friends of Nature Eco-camping barn, Puttenham, on the North Downs Way

One of the largest non-governmental organisations in the World, the organisation now has over 500,000 members in 47 countries yet its impact in the UK has been relatively small. There are over 800 houses in Europe, USA and elsewhere yet at the time of writing, Friends of Nature UK lists only eight houses affiliated to Naturefriends International. These are mostly run by volunteers and pre-booking is advisable. All are situated in great walking locations and are in considerable demand. When Three Points of the Compass completed the Pennine Way in 2018 there were few accommodation options in Kirk Yetholm. The Friends of Nature hostel, also affiliated to Hostelling Scotland, was a great place to finish.

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel, 13th July 2018, end of the Pennine Way

Prior to writing this blog I had a brief search to investigate which of the eight houses affiliated to Friends of Nature I had passed, seen or stayed at. I was surprised to find that I have actually stayed at four of them, half of their UK total. That is perhaps testament to how well situated they are in walking hot-spots. Though I had actually camped at two of these- Wetherdown Lodge and Court Hill Centre.

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

Three Points of the Compass camped at the Friends of Nature Court Hill Centre, Wantage, while walking the Ridgeway in 2016

At both of the Friends of Nature locations where I camped, I was able to make good use of washing, drying and basic kitchen facilities. Always a boon for a hiker after a day of rain, as it was on both occasions.

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

Camping in the grounds of the Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way in November 2018

In 2016/17/18 Three Points of the Compass stayed at:

Court Hill Centre, Oxfordshire on Ridgeway

Puttenham Eco Camping Barn, Surrey on North Downs Way

Kirk Yetholm hostel at the northern end of the Pennine Way

Wetherdown Lodge, the Sustainability Centre, Hampshire on the South Downs Way

There is a timeline of many of the most important or influential UK outdoor organisations over on my main website. I will be covering a number of these later in the year. Do have a glance at the list and see where today’s organisation fits in, you may even be able to suggest a glaring omission to the list!

English language leaflet, 2012

English language leaflet, 2012

Friends of Nature UK

A winter walk on the South Downs Way

A winter wander on the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile National Trail between Winchester and Eastbourne. it follows the northern escarpment within the South Downs National Park for most of its distance and is a fairly gentle walk along the chalk downs with only occasional drops to cross river valleys.

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay overnight. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be 'the oldest bar in England'

Three Points of the Compass travelled down to Winchester to stay there overnight prior to commencing the South Downs Way. This not only permitted a late night wander of the city, taking in Winchester Cathedral, but also a pint in the Royal Oak, reputed to be ‘the oldest bar in England’. Building of the cathedral commenced 1079 on the site of an earlier Saxon Church. The pub dates from around 1002

Three Points of the Compass completed a five month 2000 mile hike in 2018, much of that time was taken as unpaid leave so consequently still had a few days holiday left to fit in before the end of the year. So I decided to knock off another of the National Trails. I walked this trail decades ago when I was in the British Army, but the memory has dimmed. Not only that, but it used to be considerably shorter, originally extending only as far as Buriton until the circa 25 mile extension to Winchester was approved in 1989.

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

Nigor Wiki-up 3 with Hex Peak V4 single person inner nest

I decided to complete the Way as a winter thru-hike, doing a mix of camping and accommodation. My Z-Packs Duplex had been worn out completely on my Three Points hike earlier in the year so I took my Nigor Wikiup 3 pyramid tent instead. In a nod to the colder conditions expected, instead of simply using a bivi-bag inside the shelter as I have in the past, I took a small one person nest to make the nights a little more comfortable. This was the Hex Peak single inner V4A. It worked brilliantly and the three nights slept inside were all very comfortable despite winter arriving with a vengeance while I was on trail.

The paraphernalia of an evening meal- now soaking in boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration in the interim

The paraphernalia of an evening meal on the South Downs Way- sitting in freshly boiled water, my lentil curry continues to cook beneath my down beenie while a hot OXO provides much required re-hydration while waiting. There is plenty of room within the Wiki-up 3 shelter to enable cooking inside while it rains outside

My complete gear list can be found here. Accepting that the weather had turned, I carried a few more comfort items of clothing in addition to those I usually take on longer hikes- a mid-layer, puffy trousers and jacket, down beenie etc. Base weight was 9615g but because it was a pretty short hike I carried much of the food I would require. This meant less reliance on infrequent shops, less time spent hunting down meals when the daylight hours were short and less miles added to my total. Cooking was simple- lentil curries, hot drinks such as tea and OXO, granola for breakfast, plenty of chocolate. Tortillas and tuna pouches for three lunches. A few flapjacks were also stuffed in. For this trip I carried the little 25g BRS 3000-T ‘bumblebee’ stove and a 110g  gas cartridge.

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for my hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Tried and trusted, if a little worn out, my Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack was used for this hike. This had ample room for everything I required, including a few extra cold weather items

Having enjoyed a pint in one of Winchester’s older establishments, I followed this with a meal in the local Wetherspoons. A big mistake, going for cheap and plentiful calories I waited over an hour for my food which was dire and even the selection of beers was poor. A shame as I can normally rely on a ‘Spoons to deliver what a hiker needs.

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preffeirng to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

There are a lot of guides and maps for the South Downs Way. Despite being well-waymarked, it makes sense to carry a map and a guide book can only add to the enjoyment of the walk. I carried the Cicerone guide book, but left the Cicerone map booklet at home, preferring to take the A-Z Adventure Series that contains good 1:25 000 O.S. mapping with a wider coverage than the Cicerone version

The following day, a Friday, I left my hotel at six-thirty, an hour or so before dawn and it was a short walk to the start of the trail beside the City Mill, from there it was an easy well-marked trail, following the River Itchen out of town. I crossed the M3 and was immediately into the countryside. I was carrying around 1.5 litres of water as I set off as I was unsure on how water supply would be. I had been told that many taps are turned off from the end of October. I’ll do a separate blog on the water sources I used.  Suffice to say, I had no problems sourcing water throughout the hike. Highlights of that day were lovely leafy tracks, mostly soft walking, deer, partridges and around a million pheasants…

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

Beacon Hill on the South Downs Way. The mist barely cleared on my first day on trail

With sixteen miles completed by 11.40, my first halt was a little later for lunch at the Bronze/Iron Age site on Old Winchester Hill, just one of many National Nature Reserves I passed through. I knew that with short day light hours I was going to have to get a move on to that night’s halt. But I still took a break for a mug of tea at the fly fishers little cafe adjoining the tackle shop at Meon Springs. Friday’s camp site was at the Sustainability Centre, Wetherdown Lodge. Arriving at 14.40 after slightly more than twenty miles, I had a winter pitch booked which still meant I had a warmish shower and compost loos to use. There were no other campers and after pitching the tent, I managed to get to the cafe on site minutes before they closed for a pint and a bag of crisps. Back to the darkened tent for lentil curry and instant mash. With a long night before me, I settled down in a warm quilt at 18.50.

I slept well, the campsite was silent beyond a few owls, a mouse rustled through my rubbish bag outside but cleared off when I muttered at it. I rose at five as I had a twenty four plus mile day to complete to where I hoped to wild camp that night. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was pleased I had bought a full set of insulated clothing as camp wear. Quite a bit of condensation on the inner surface of the shelter, nothing within the nest however. I wiped this down while the tawny owls set off again, breakfast, ablutions, packed and away prior to seven. A bit later than I had hoped but I frequently faff around a bit too much on my first morning. It wasn’t long before I was into the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. it was good walking through the wooded park until the wonderful long and sweeping descent down to the crossing of the A3. I held a gate open at the bottom for a couple of horse riders who after thanking me, set off at a fine gallop up the slope toward the ancient field systems below Butser Hill that were very evident that morning with the misty low sun and long shadows.

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

Horse riders gallop up the national trail toward the radio station on Butser Hill

I had held faint hope of a bacon sarnie at the cafe in the visitor centre beside the carpark but that didn’t open until ten. I wasn’t waiting around for two hours so after a brief chat with a marshal setting up for a Park Run taking place later (it was a Saturday), I walked on through the park and out the other side. It sounded as though World War 3 had kicked off as there were shoots taking place in all directions. The path was pretty stony today and the feet felt it a bit in my mostly worn out Altra Lone Peaks. Time for a new pair perhaps.

The mist cleared a little in the afternoon but soon gathered again as the early evening approached, so views were modest. My planned halt that night was at Glatting Beacon but I found that there was a cold wind whistling up the slopes so hunted around for a bit looking for shelter. I eventually settled for a quiet little flat space immediately next to the entrance to the compound containing the masts. It looked as though the place had few visitors, as evidenced by what appears to be arson attempts to the buildings within the compound.

Saturday night's camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Saturday night’s camp was on Glatting Beacon. I arrived around 16.30 and immediately pitched, it was dark by the time my shelter was up

Another lentil curry and plenty of chocolate. I had a good signal there so was able to chat to Mrs Three Points of the Compass for a while as I sank hot drinks, first an Oxo, then tea, finally a hot chocolate, then early to bed as I could feel the temperature dropping.

I didn’t sleep fantastically that night. I was warm enough but the cold was evident in the morning with a heavy frost. My alarm failed to sound at five thirty, possibly affected by the cold, but I woke soon after anyway. Hot mug of tea and granola followed by ablutions. I had picked a pitch away from the cold wind but condensation was heavy, this immediately froze as soon as I opened the tent flap in the morning. Being frozen, it was easy to shake this off when packing up. It was a lovely clear morning when I hit the trail a little after seven.  It was Sunday and this was the busiest I saw the trail with quite a number of dog walkers out.

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating through the wooded slopes

Little mist on my Sunday on trail. Gentle slopes could have made for reflective walking if it were not for the blasts of shotguns reverberating from the wooded slopes. Quite a few pheasants would not see another morning

There were quite a few deer in the fields, running as soon as they saw me, stopping to gaze at me from a safe distance, then turning and running again. Partridges cher cher cherred away in low loping flights. Yesterdays Buzzards were now joined by numerous Red Kites. It was a good days walking with the best views so far on trail.

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Disused chalk pits on Chanctonbury Hill

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Approaching Chanctonbury Ring. A feature of the South Downs, it is visible for miles to the north and south. The original ring of trees, long since replaced, were planted on the site of a prehistoric hill fort

Sunday was a nineteen and a half mile day to Truleigh Youth Hostel. I hadn’t been able to book it as it was on exclusive hire but emailing them, the warden had kindly informed me I was welcome to camp in their field opposite- “hide in the field, by the pond or under the trees”, she had also left the campers w/c and shower unlocked for me. I made sure to leave a generous donation in the charity jar when I left the following morning.

Sunday night's camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

Sunday night’s camp was in the field opposite Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. A lovely still evening and a cold night

When I arrived at the hostel, quite a few of the group that hired the hostel were outside the entrance smoking. What they were smoking I had my suspicions. Drinking and dancing was taking place on the first floor. In chalk smeared outdoor clothes, I felt alien to what was going on but stood chatting to the small group on the steps. I was asked where I had camped the previous night, I told them it had been a wild camp- “wow, that’s awesome”, I quietly demurred- “it was just the one night, not much of a pitch, no view to speak of…”, he interrupted ” yeah, but wild anything, that’s  cool”.

A couple of them were unloading a large sound system from one of the vans- “its a fiftieth birthday party, it’ll be going on ’til the morning”. Oh great! I held out little hope of any sleep but as it was, barely heard anything tucked away some 100 metres away. I slept pretty well that night and condensation was limited in the morning.

The weather was cold with clear skies and good views for much of Monday mornings walking. There were a couple of highlights to visit today. Having crossed the Hulking escarpment, it wasn’t long before I was passing through scrubby downland above Devils Dyke; Britain’s largest single coombe of chalk karst, this is a steep dry valley. Through Saddlescombe, the Hikers Rest cafe closed at this time of the year, then a leisurely halt at the Shepherds’ Church at Pyecombe. The village itself was hit badly by the plague in 1603 and is now split with part of the village now situated half a mile away from the remainder.

The Norman built Shepherds' Church, Pyecombe

The Norman built Shepherds’ Church, Pyecombe

Famed for the Pyecombe Hook, a particular design of shepherds’ crook, I was only slightly more fixated on the dedicated room newly built on to the rear of the church specifically for pilgrims. I declared myself a pilgrim and stopped in to use the facilities and make a cup of tea followed by a hot chocolate. Eating flapjacks and bars  and chatting to a parishioner meant this was a prolonged halt.

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds' Pyecombe Hooks. These were made for around 200 years

The tapsel gate at Pyecombe church is opened by one of the famous shepherds’ Pyecombe Hooks. These hooks were made for shepherds and Church of England bishops for around 200 years. A tapsel gate is made of wood and rotates through ninety degrees on a central pivot. Unique to Sussex, only six such gates survive

Then on to the equally famous Clayton windmills, better known as the Jack and Jill windmills. I diverted slightly off trail to go and see these. Jack, a dirty black smock mill is a pretty poor sight now. It has no sails and is a private residence. The nearby Jill, a white painted post mill looks superb.

Post Mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles

Post mill Jill is one of the Clayton windmills and can be seen for miles. She was originally sited in Dyke Road, Brighton and was bought to its current site by a team of horses and oxen in 1852. Occasionally open to the public, she was closed during my visit

 

The uncommon circular tower at Southease church

Southease church tower

handstamp impression from my journal

Hostel handstamp impression from my journal

Despite my halts and diversions, Monday was still a hike in excess of twenty one miles but I was less concerned with finding a camp site as tonight’s halt was YHA South Downs. It was still cold but dry, however the blue skies were clouding over and it was obvious that a change in the weather was imminent. I still made time for a halt at a roadside caravan where two huge bacon rolls were consumed. Also a brief halt to admire Southease church with its rare circular tower. There are only two others in Sussex.

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Three Points of the Compass on Ditchling Beacon, the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex

Having booked in to the attractive Youth Hostel, situated on a farm, I found myself sharing a room with one of the most taciturn men I have ever met, also one of the friendliest! Showered and clean, I made my way to the hostels courtyard cafe where the two young wardens- Chaya and Steph, provided me with a series of good beers and the unhealthiest of food options.

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

Accommodation buildings at YHA South Downs

I slept well in an overheated room, only a little snoring from the other two occupants. Both were contractors and were away early to their work. On my final day, Tuesday, I had breakfast in the campers kitchen and was away soon after eight for my walk to the coast, I enjoyed second breakfast at the Singing Kettle Tearoom at Alfriston. I was headed toward the lovely walk along the Seven Sisters via Cuckmere Haven. My final day also had the greatest amount of ascent- 4892′. This was all easy enough though and would make for a great finish to the hike.

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

About to descend to the famous winding meanders of the Cuckmere River

However the weather had indeed changed and it was rain for much of the day, if it wasn’t raining, it was mostly sleet or hail, such fun! It didn’t really bother me as it was driving in to me from behind or my left, so I was able to keep the hood of my Velez Adventure Lite smock up and was warm and dry to the great extent. My legs got wet but never cold, if it briefly stopped raining, the Montane Terra trousers dried quickly in the stiff wind. This was almost twenty two miles from the Youth Hostel to Eastbourne Pier where I was finishing my South Downs Way hike. Then about face and another long ascent back out of town to that nights halt at YHA Eastbourne. I arrived before five  and had to stand outside until the warden unlocked. This remains a ridiculous YHA requirement that has been largely done away with by independent hostels. I was also less than pleased to find there was no food provided on site and there was nowhere in the vicinity. Not fancying another slog back down into town that night, I was able to rustle up sufficient from my almost totally diminished food supplies supplemented by a little pasta left in the kitchen to make an ‘OK’ last meal. The warden even found a bottle of wine for me, bonus.

Walking toward Birling Gap

Walking toward Birling Gap on my final day on the South Downs Way

With my little diversions off trail and the extra couple of miles up to my Youth Hostel from Eastbourne Pier, I completed 108 miles over my five day hike of the South Downs Way. It had been a cracking walk. The mist had obscured views at times but it added another element to the walk in itself. This has to be one of the finest chalk downland walks to be found anywhere. I wouldn’t do it again in a hurry but am pleased to have completed it.

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England's National Parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, al of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty

While the South Downs Way originally opened in 1972, the South Downs National Park is much younger. It is the youngest of England’s national parks and first became operational from 1st April 2011. It is heavily advertised for all forms of leisure activity and can become swamped at certain times of the year. A winter walk means that it is much quieter and beyond a handful of horse riders, three cyclists and less than a dozen walkers, all of whom seemed to be on day walks, the paths were empty beside dog walkers never more than a mile from their cars