Tag Archives: YHA

The Cleveland Way- fifty years old in 2019

The Cleveland Way: Days 1 to 3, Helmsley to Margrove Park

View from the western edge of the North York Moors across the plains to the Pennines

View from the western edge of the North York Moors across the plains to the Pennines

The journey from Kings Cross to York had been uneventful. I had just a few minutes before boarding the packed Trans Pennine Express to Scarborough. After inquiring at the nearby Info Centre, I was directed the 100m to the correct bus shelter and hadn’t long to wait, alongside my aged and heavily laden fellow passengers, for the No.128 to Helmsley Market Square. It was still mid afternoon when I arrived at the pretty town but market stallholders were already packing up. Straight into the Co-op for a packet of curry powder for the week, then a wander down through the town to try and find the Helmsley Brewing Company. I was determined to find a suitable pint for my send off, for the next day would see me setting off across the North York Moors on the 110 mile Cleveland Way.

pulling my pint of the excellent 4% ‘Striding the Ridge’ ale at the Helmsley Brewing Company, closely followed by pints of their best-selling 4.2% Howardian Gold and 5.5% H!PA IP

Pulling my pint of the excellent 4% ‘Striding the Ridge’ ale at the Helmsley Brewing Company, closely followed by pints of their best-selling 4.2% Howardian Gold and 5.5% H!PA IP

The Grade II listed monument to the second Baron Feversham in Helmsley market square

The Grade II* listed monument to the second Baron Feversham in Helmsley market square, c1867

I arrived at Helmsley Youth Hostel before it opened at five, two long distance cyclists were already outside, lounging on the grass. When-o-when will the YHA begin opening their hostels earlier. They are trailing in the wake of dozens of independent hostels by continuing this outdated practice.

Inside, warden Katherene was already frazzled, short-staffed, and I decided it wasn’t the time to winge about being kept outside in the cold but dry and sunny courtyard for just fifteen minutes. I shared a single sex dorm room with just two other occupants- a young lad and an older hiker who turned up later that evening. Having showered and carried out a last check of gear, including filling water bottles in readiness, a short walk back into town to look for a chippie. The first I passed was open but had no trade, the second, nearer the town square was heaving. I decided this was the evening rush and went back down to the brewery for another pint of excellent Striding the Ridge. I regarded this almost as a duty as this is the ‘official beer of the Cleveland Way’ and a donation is made to the trail with every pint sold. The chippy was a little quieter when I returned so I was able to sit at the foot of the imposing memorial to the Second Baron Feversham in the darkening market square and enjoy haddock, chips and mushy peas, watching the bats circling around the floodlit stone picking off the odd moth.

Helmsley Youth Hostel

Helmsley Youth Hostel

Day 1- Helmsley to Osmotherley

Leaving Helmsley it is easy walking on gentle paths through rural landscape with the moors still ahead

Leaving Helmsley it is easy walking on gentle paths through rural landscape with the moors still ahead

I was abed by ten and slept well before rising at six thirty. I had ordered a cooked breakfast so that I could set off well-fortified but this was barely adequate fare. Made up for by my snaffling a breakfast banana and some mini cheeses for later. I still didn’t manage to set off until eight thirty. Walking back through town, the Saturday morning was sunny and sleepy with few people, mostly the odd dog walker. Two of whom were kind enough to pause and take my obligatory ‘start of trail’ photo. Out of town and immediately on to good grassy paths, a few gentle ups and downs.

Every now and then there were reminders that the Cleveland Way was celebrating its fiftieth birthday in 2019

Every now and then there were reminders that the Cleveland Way was celebrating its fiftieth birthday in 2019

This was a cool late autumn walk and I was only wearing shorts and a polo shirt yet I was already sweating with my load on the modest climbs. Hundreds of pheasants whirred away from me, the ‘chit, chit, chit’ of nuthatches rung out and squirrels scolded me. Life was good and happy to be there I determined to get as much from the trail as I could. This included the diversion from the line on the map and the short walk up the valley to visit medieval Rievaulx Abbey. I am baffled by the trail walkers that do not bother to make this visit. This is one of the prettiest ever of ruined Abbeys and it is in an idyllic setting.

I arrived before it opened at ten but simply spent a few minutes hydrating outside waiting for it to open. The ticket desk minded my pack while I quickly wandered the site. Having sated my cultural self, at least for now, it was then time to sate my inner self with a swift pot of tea in the cafe. Topped up water bottles and back on trail for eleven.

Museum of the moon installed within the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey

The seven metre wide Museum of the moon installed within the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey

Feeling strong I was keeping up a good pace on the easy paths and lanes, passing a couple of day walkers on trail and a large and noisy group. Ever curious, I poked my nose over the wriggly tin entrance to an isolated barn near Cold Kirby and frightened the life out of a few dozen pigs inside, their squeals followed me down the track. A couple of rats startled in turn by the pigs squeezed their way out of the barn and led my way for a few hundred metres down trail before turning round and running back between my feet.

James Herriot proclaimed that standing on Sutton Bank offered the 'Finest View in England'

James Herriot proclaimed that standing on Sutton Bank offered the ‘Finest View in England’

I arrived at the busy North York Moors National Park Centre at Sutton Bank in time for a late lunch. This is a popular spot and has w/c and cafe alongside an information centre and inevitable shop. Backtracking not far from here trail walkers can enjoy rubbish views of just part of the head of the Kilburn White Horse cut in 1857 and measuring 96m by 69m. From Sutton Bank it was a great walk round the escarpment. The reputed “finest view in England” is not, but is certainly a fine vista. From here it was up onto the lonely moors, now beginning to get a flavour of the North York Moors proper.

Despite my narrower Osprey Exos proving uncomfortable with the heavier load being carried, the Cleveland Way paths are invariably good and easily traversed

Despite my narrower Osprey Exos proving uncomfortable with the heavier load being carried, the Cleveland Way paths are invariably good and easily traversed

Worryingly, the stony paths were beginning to bother my feet through my Altra’s, also my Osprey pack’s hipbelt was beginning to rub. The first problem I dealt with by removing my orthotics, risky  but necessary, the latter bothered me throughout the trail. Uncomfortable but not debilitating. I hadn’t got round to replacing my Gossamer Gear Mariposa at that point and the narrower hipbelt on my Osprey Exos can be uncomfortable on my wide hips. Especially when carrying heavier loads and on this first day I still had six days of food on my back.

View from the escarpment

View from the escarpment as my first day on trail draws on

I had been halting a few times, at the Abbey, Sutton Bank and a few breathers en route, so I obviously hadn’t been making speedy progress but when I reached the high and lonely High Barn, I was still shocked to see a sign reading ‘9 miles to Osmotherley’, it was time to get a move on. The trail was lovely though, the sun sank in the sky and I had to tilt my Tilley hat brim to reduce the sideways glare. A stiff cold breeze turned up to accompany me as I approached Osmotherly. I was not too pleased with a final series of steeper ups and downs and I was now running out of steam. I walked down to the large Cote Ghyll Mill hostel as dark began to fall having completed just under 23 miles on my first day.

YHA Cote Ghyll

YHA Cote Ghyll

YHA handstamp from my trail journal

YHA handstamp from my trail journal

The owners of the neighbouring award wining campsite snapped up the large old mill when the YHA sold it about five and a half years ago, they then carried on running it as a YHA. There were two other beds booked in my single sex dorm room but no-one else had turned up. Excellent and appreciated shower then down to the kitchen for re-hydrating and salt replenishment with hot OXO and a pint of water, followed by a lentil curry with Idahoan mash. While that was cooking I went on the hunt for a couple of bottles of beer from the mill reception. These were excellent ‘Three Brothers Thai’ IPA which went well with my curry.

Day 2- Osmotherley to Lord Stones

Felt good in the morning. No aches, feet good. A good nights kip had worked its magic. Today was a very short day of less than ten miles as I wanted time to visit Grace Priory. Not open until ten and situated just beyond Osmotherley I therefore had a late start at nine-thirty. Few hikers on the Cleveland Way bother to visit Grace Priory and I can somewhat understand why as it is a hell of a drop down off the height gained with the prospect of toiling back up hill afterward. But still, I was out to see what I could so made the steady drop down the contours, all very close together on the map. Mount Grace Priory is a lovely Carthusian monastry with interesting two storey monks cells, each with its own little garden that the monks could tend without going outside and disturbing their solitary existence.

Founded in 1398, Mount Grace Priory is the best preserved of the nine medieval Carthusian charter houses in England

Founded in 1398, Mount Grace Priory is the best preserved of the nine medieval Carthusian charter houses in England

I was again asked by those minding the till and shop if I would like them to look after my pack while I visited but I declined this time as I had a plan in mind. The map showed tracks beyond the Priory that led back up the hill. The staff I met never told me how to access these, nor was I taken outside and had the way pointed out to me as it is through private woodland and that would be wrong. So having wandered and explored the ruins, church and cells, I never ducked through the gardens and trees, not did I walk back up the hill on private tracks to where the Coast to Coast Path joins the Cleveland Way.

The Coast to Coast joins the Cleveland Way for a few miles of its length and the number of walkers seen increases as a result. Care must be taken to not wander from the correct path

The Coast to Coast joins the Cleveland Way for a few miles of its length and the number of walkers seen increases as a result. Care must be taken to not wander from the correct path

The sky clouded and it became quite warm and muggy. On climbs I began to find some of the ‘sting in the tail’ that the Cleveland Way occasionally exhibits, especially that up to Round Hill where I was more than ready for my lunchtime halt of tuna and tortillas. Here, on my second day, I met a couple preparing for their forthcoming Great Glen Way walk, this was their fourth day on trail since leaving Helmsley. There is no ‘right’ way to tackle a path but that was probably taking it easy to extremes.

At last- on to the Moors

At last- on to the Moors, flagged paths through the heather

Approaching Lord Stones Country Park the still air was thick with flying ants, ladybirds and flies

Approaching Lord Stones Country Park the still air was thick with flying ants, ladybirds and flies

Fortunately not biting, swarming insects were annoying nonetheless

Fortunately not biting, swarming insects were annoying nonetheless

Not only was it muggy but where the air was most still, thousands of small flies, beetles and ants were swarming. When I reached one trig point I found it covered with insects and many settled themselves around and over me as I walked. The afternoons walking was short and it wasn’t long before I reached Lord Stones Country Park where I had booked a pitch for my tent. The shop there closes at four but I arrived early enough to purchase a couple of bottles of IPA for later.  Not only that, despite carrying sufficient food, I also bought a couple of locally made meat pies and a tin of beans for later- never turn down the opportunity for ‘real’ food.

I was the only one booked in so had the pick of the pitches. Light rain started and heavier was promised for later. Darkness fell and I made my way back down to the site restaurant that was about to close. Here I purchased a couple of pints to drink outside, sheltered from the now heavy rain under a huge parasol. placed there for daytime diners. Returning to the tent, I heated up my evening meal to enjoy with one of the bottles of beer. On returning to my tent afterwards having washed my Evernew pan I was surprised to find a latecomer had pitched up across the small field from me. I hailed the occupant and the two of us stood in the heavy rain chatting about all things trails. Chas and Molly, his little dog, were on the last section of their Coast to Cost walk, expecting to reach Robin Hood’s Bay the following day. All right for food, he bemoaned the lack of a nearby pub as he was craving a drink. I was pleased to donate my last bottle of beer ‘to the cause’. Returning to the tent I watched a film on my phone, chatted to home and turned in early. The rain continued outside.

Chas and little Molly were section hiking the Coast to Coast path

Chas and little Molly were section hiking the Coast to Coast path

Day 3- Lord Stones to Margrove Park

I rose at daylight but had a leisurely breakfast, again finding time for a natter with my neighbour who left before me on their final day. I was packed and away for eight-thirty. The rain had stopped but mist swirled around the dips and hollows. The trail was really pretty along this stretch with enjoyable climbs. A Merlin swept past, later, a good deal louder, an RAF jet also streaked down a valley.

Day two and grand walking in the North York Moors

Day three and grand walking in the North York Moors

I passed Wain Stones, pausing briefly to recall my last time here. Some five years earlier, my wife, daughter and I had visited here on a day walk while holidaying locally. I saw a sign for the Cleveland Way on that day and looking around at the beautiful surroundings, vowed that I would walk the trail someday. Here, on the trail’s fiftieth birthday I was finally doing it.

Three Points of the Compass when last visiting the Wain Stones in 2014

Three Points of the Compass when last visiting the Wain Stones in 2014

Red Grouse on the Cleveland Way, 2019

Red Grouse on the Cleveland Way, 2019

Red Grouse were frequently seen, most noisily flapped away on my approach, scolding me as they left. On sandy tracks I could frequently get quite close before they noticed me. When they did, they leapt in the air in desperate fright before going just far enough that they could land on a bit of higher ground, and, bending low, creep through the heather while keeping an eye on me. One bird however wasn’t having any of it. It was his bit of land and he wanted me away from there. He never flew. Instead, he stood his ground as I approached. Raised his tail and made a number of charges toward me. I gently fended him away with my trekking pole but  he continued to escort me away from his patch. A brave fellow, I left him to it.

The sweeping horseshoe trail followed for much of the day

The sweeping horseshoe high level trail followed for much of the day

The 18th century Guide Stone was a welcome aid to those traversing the moorlands in the mist

The 18th century Guide Stone was a welcome aid to those traversing the moorlands in the mist

Today’s walk is a grand sweeping horseshoe round the plains below. Roseberry Topping looms ahead but steadily draws nearer. I really enjoyed this days walking. The path rises and dips, but is mostly pretty easy going. The mist swirled away to elsewhere and views were grand. Barely a soul on trail. I was feeling pretty good today and pleased that a bit of the easy gait that I developed on my long walk in 2018 was still with me and I even, despite my weight gain since finishing that walk, happily jogged on a couple of easier downward stretches. Near Jenny Bradley’s Cross I left the trail briefly to visit the 18th century Guide Stone. There is a hollow on the top of this, protected by a small stone. By tradition money could be deposited here for walkers in need. I left a handful of coins with those already present.

The weather was kind to me this day but conditions can be brutal. On January 1941 a Hudson aircraft from 224 Squdron and on patrol crashed near here. The four crew, though injured, all survived the crash. In the depths of a hard winter, they all died from exposure before discovery two days later.

There is seldom the need to wildcamp on the Cleveland Way but there are some great sites where it would be possible

There is seldom the need to wildcamp on the Cleveland Way but there are some great sites where it would be possible

The 15m high Captain Cook monument on Easby Moor was reached late afternoon. Below lies Marton, a suburb of Middlesborough, where the man was born in 1728

The 15m high Captain Cook monument on Easby Moor was reached late afternoon. Below lies Marton, a suburb of Middlesborough, where the great navigator was born in 1728

I reached Roseberry Topping around six in the evening and still had another five miles to complete the days hike. I was going to be finishing in the dark. As I began the steady descent from the hills I passed an idyllic wild camp spot with shelter and a fantastic view over the plains. But it was a dry site, I had only a little water left so carried on. Tonight’s halt was a caravan site and by the time I arrived the reception was locked up and unoccupied. I wandered around a little but could find nowhere that might resemble a tent pitch. Fortunately I came across one of the site workers and Keith offered to show me where I could halt. It was a tiny patch of grass hidden away between some caravans only a few yards from the dated but perfectly adequate and spotless toilet block. He took my fiver and drove off leaving me to quickly put up my Z Packs Duplex, followed by a great hot shower and evening meal of lentil curry washed down with OXO.

Evening meal

Preparing my evening meal. I was experimenting with a new cook system on this walk and it performed faultlessly

Mrs Three Points of the Compass had presented me with a bar of good quality dark chocolate before I left and that rounded up my evening. There was no signal so I couldn’t even call her to thank her. Raining hard again while I watched a film on the phone, I was asleep by 11.30. Today had seen another 22.9 miles knocked off. Tomorrow, I would reach the coast.

Margrove Park Caravan Site, my third nights halt

Margrove Park Caravan Site, my third nights halt

Centre and right are YHA Chief Executive James Blake and outgoing YHA Chair Peter Gaines

YHA Showcase & AGM 2019

Three Points of the Compass attended the Youth Hostel Association’s (YHA) 2019 Showcase and AGM today. For a number of years I have lamented the direction in which the organisation seemed to be heading and today I fully expected to hear a litany of corporate speak and talk of commercial direction backed up with more closures of small hostels and grand designs on city centre hotels. However, for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. It seems the YHA is back on track.

“we are thriving, a confident organisation”

Peter Gaines, outgoing YHA Chair

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

Appointed Vice Chair in 2017, Margaret Hart today became the first female Chair of the YHA

The past few years have seen swathes of much loved and usefully situated smaller hostels closed. It used to be that anyone completing one of the longer National Trails could walk from hostel to hostel, that hasn’t been the case for quite some time. A questioner from the floor made the point that ‘what used to be a network of hostels is now more a patchwork‘.  Outgoing Chair Peter Gaines admitted that

the YHA has had to close a lot of hostels.. [there has been] a legacy of under-investment but [this] has resulted in a present day portfolio of sustainable hostels. If a hostel has only 20-30 beds, it is very difficult to make it financially viable unless subsidising it from elsewhere in the network’.

This statement was subsequently polished but there can have been few present that didn’t recognise the truth in his comments. And sustainable it is, the YHA, now the ninth largest UK Charity by membership, has been making a healthy profit for some time now.

With some 150 hostels in England and Wales catering for over 900 000 visitors each year, hostel revenue is now circa £50 million per annum, up from circa £39 million in 2010. Much of this is being reinvested. There has been an almost complete refurbishment of all their hostels, with major refurbishments of Bryn Gwynant and Truleigh Hill taking place this year. It is hoped that the difficulties around the completion of the showcase YHA Stratford will soon be resolved. That hostel will be an earner for the organisation as it can be occupied year round.

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at slimbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Sir Chris Bonington has long been a friend of the YHA. He spoke of staying at hostels as a boy when he and a friend made a poor attempt at climbing Snowdon in the winter of 1951. Wearing hob-nailed boots from an Army Surplus store and a cut down school mac, he was carried down on an avalanche. However, he was then hooked on climbing

Ten years ago the YHA was realising an average of around 50% occupancy across all hostels, this is now around 59%. This is not the case in many of the large city hostels, while Cardiff is around 60%, London Earls Court is 85% and YHA London Central is 89% occupancy. The YHA has enjoyed a trading cash surplus of £3.2 million, which while down £1.3 million from the previous year, is still their second highest trading cash surplus ever. The Executive team is expecting £2 to £3 million to be the annual norm moving forward.

The YHAs strategy for some years previous has been focused on putting them on a firm commercial and operational footing, making themselves sustainable.  We have all been witness to the cuts made, the closures that still rankle with many. It is not now all about the money though.

The outgoing Chair, Peter Gaines has been forthright in his aim to make the YHA more democratic. He has been largely successful in this and can retire with pride. The number of Company Members has increased from 136 in 2018 to 796 in 2019 and the explosion in voting numbers has resulted solely from it being made an online facility. There is still some work to be done in making it more accountable to its 145 000 members, but they are well on their way.

Myself and about 350 others at today’s event heard of plans to provide 500 new beds in key locations in the north of England. There was little more information on that divulged, one can only hope that it is not all city centres. With financial worries mostly behind them, the YHA is making a return to its original charitable aims:

To help all, especially young people of limited means, to a greater knowledge, love and care of the countryside, and appreciation of the cultural values of towns and cities, particularly by providing youth hostels or other accommodation for them in their travels, and thus to promote their health, recreation and education

YHA Charitable object

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this 'conversation document' are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

YHA Strategy 2020. The contents of this ‘conversation document’ are ambitious and bold. In draft form at present, it is to be hoped that the final strategy document has not deviated too far from this

Only signed off by the Executive days before, the YHA proudly distributed its new Strategy 2020 Conversation document, ‘hot off the press’ (so newly printed it arrived mid-morning), this sets out ambitious priorities for the next five years leading up to their centenary in 2020. It is still a working document and the YHA is seeking comment on the content, However I for one can only be impressed with the vision contained within:

In 2038, every 18-year old in England and Wales will enter adulthood having experienced the positive impact of YHA. They will have lifelong access to hostelling as their route to a world of affordable sustainable travel

(draft) YHA Strategy 2020

Writer, journalist and 'wild sleeper' Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wil camp she "ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us... a youth group!"

Writer, journalist and ‘extreme sleeper’ Phoebe Smith delivered an amusing and joyful presentation. On her first ever solo wild camp she “ran into the one thing that strikes the fear of god into us… a youth group!”

To put that into context- there will be some 750 000 children born in England and Wales next year. The YHA was born out of social reform in the 1930s. At that time the ambition was to transform the lives of young people born into crowded and polluted cities. The YHA’s very first handbook laid out their early plans… ‘to improve the health of body and mind… [offering] cheap lodging as a means and not as an end’. The YHA’s vision laid out today expands upon this.

As well as providing budget accommodation for members and non-members alike, The YHA is stepping up its charitable ambitions- it provides free family activity breaks for low income families with additional complex needs, hosts residentials for youth groups and schools, free weekend breaks for some families with disabled children, offers socially inclusive volunteering opportunity and works with young people with special educational needs.

There is plenty of evidence showing how young people thrive when exposed to the outdoors. Outdoor adventure is the second-most effective in advancing learning in young people (after 1:1 tuition). Hostels, and the activities run out of them, provide that outdoor facility. The YHA has been voted the number one ‘not for profit’ hostel operator on the international stage and their stated ambition is to be the leading charity in health and well being, particularly with young people. I for one am impressed by this refocus and wish them well.

‘Because where you go changes who you become’

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

Handstamp impression from YHA St. Pancras International. The 2019 Showcase and AGM took place only a few hundred metres from this well-appointed London hostel

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