(Most Of) The South Downs Way – A Summary.

Having finished the Pennine Bridleway at the end of January I wanted to keep the momentum up and kick on to the next trail. The weather was still great for the time of year – crisp cold, dry days, perfect walking weather. I’d been ridiculously lucky with the weather so far…

So on Monday the 3rd of February I got the train South and headed for Winchester. I stayed in the same Travelodge as King Alfred used back in back in around c871 AD – but they had refurbished recently so you couldn’t tell if I got the same room…

Retaining my bad habits from work, I ordered a massive Dominos pizza to scoff the night before the start. Too much food really, but I reckoned I would burn it off on the 28km walk to Coombe the next day. Reality was it sat on my stomach all day, and I knew it had been a bad, but delicious, stuffed crust of an idea even as I monstered it.

I wanted to shift some timber on these walks, but my energy output has been more than offset by the calorie input. I can’t explain my lack of resolve further than saying the only thing I like less than being peckish when walking is being cold, or even worse – lost! I can control the risk of being peckish better than these other risks, so I snack to be on the safe side. 🙂

The weather down south was even better than I’d had on the Pennine Bridleway – glorious walking days, as I moved on from Winchester to Coombe, then Cocking, Washington, Pycombe on my way towards Eastbourne. According to The Spreadsheet I averaged about 27km a day on those first 5 days. Really wonderful walking up on the Downs, which I had assumed would be monotonous, but were not.

I got hints that the weather was turning early in the week, but by the weekend Storm Ciara had arrived and weather warnings abounded. Amber and Red warnings a plenty. Here is the map of the warnings affecting my walk… basically all over the Brighton (Southease) to Eastbourne section.

I had a long think about whether to press on, or change plans. I decided safety first, re-jiggled my rest day and sheltered at a friends in Brighton on the Sunday during the worst of it.

And I’m glad I did. Firstly – we watched crap TV and ate churros which was a fine use of our time, whilst the wind and rain battered the conservatory. Second – I got to play with Margo, a beautiful Staffy who has boundless energy and an awesome temperament. But Thirdly – and I think perhaps most importantly, I didn’t end up on the news as one of those berks who risks themselves, and the emergency services, chancing it, when there is no need.

As the storm subsided, my friend took me to the YHA South Downs, in Southease, so I could sleep over, before cracking on to Eastbourne the next day. When I rejigged my plans I’d done Southease to Pyecombe (East to West – i.e. the wrong way) on the day before the Storm, to avoid being out in the worst of it.

On Monday the 10th February I attempted the last leg of the SDW, and nearly completed it. I’ll be honest – it was still very, very windy, and whilst the walking was good in the morning, with not much debris in my path, as I walked along the iconic Seven Sisters stretch into Eastbourne I had a feeling I should go inland. There was no-one else about, it was incredibly windy, and a couple of times that wind moved / lifted all 120kg+, plus kit of me around too easily.

This doesn’t really do the blusteryness justice… but look at the waves!

As the SDW ends you go higher up, towards Beachy Head and it felt too risky to continue. Perhaps if I’d been in a group I would have agreed to press on. Anyway decision taken, and I think the right one. Plus I wanted to remember this section for the view, not the fact I was egging it in case I was blown away.

So I went inland, and after a fashion followed part of the SDW Bridleway to my accommodation at the YHA Eastbourne. After a shower and a nap, I walked back from the YHA to the trail and followed it properly, albeit in the pitch black to the finish in Eastbourne, as I needed grub and didn’t want to walk it in the morning. I walked 35km that day, diversions and all, so I’m happy to say I’ve walked Winchester to Eastbourne, albeit with a little section at the end I need to go back to in summer to properly bag the SDW. My chart says I’ve 4 km to do, so I think I’ll stay over in Eastbourne one day and do an ‘out and back’ trip before making sand castles on the beach!

I don’t mind having to go back one bit…an excuse to head south, and see this amazing stretch of walking in summer will be a treat! Hopefully get to see Margo again as well! 😉

Anyroad – here is the day charts, and then a gallery of pics:

Day 1 – Winchester to Meon Springs

Stayed at Meon Springs in the Shepherds Hut you can see in the gallery above…

Day 2 – Meon Springs to Cocking

Day 3 – Cocking to Washington

Day 4 – Washington to Pyecombe

Day 5 – Southease to Pyecombe (East to West because of the Storm…)

Day 5 – Southease to Eastbourne

Including diversions for wind…

So this is the bit (along the coast, not my route on the red line…) that I missed:

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