Day 3 held a few disappointments – nothing major but even minor things can effect your mood.
The first was a silly mistake on my part, I forgot to start the distance logging on my watch so I knew my distance would show up short on the day, I just didn’t know how short. The next minor thing was because I reached Amberley so early the cafe was shut and I had really been looking forward to a decent coffee and something other than dried food to eat.
On the plus side I did meet three people training for the Summer Fan Dance (a brilliant event !) running up and down the hills outside Amberley. Looking at the size of their packs and the fact they were wearing trainers I though they were training for the clean fatigue version but chatting to them they were training for the load bearing edition. I did think of them a few weeks later and wondered how they got on !
Anyway, I was back on the part of the South Downs Way that I know and the sun was shining. I stopped for a coffee about 10:30am and put on some sun cream (sun burn is never a pleasant experience). Well, I say sun cream but I didn’t have any with me but I did have a pop of moisturiser with an SPF 30 so that was liberally smeared all over !
By lunchtime I had reached the Farmers Grave at Steyning so I stopped in a nearby field to heat up my couscous and tuna. I also took the opportunity to take my boots off for an hour and this really did help with teh rash that I get round my ankles when it is warm. I also wanted a reasonable break because I knew the hills coming up would be in the hottest part of the day in full sun…
My plan for the day was to walk to Devils Dyke, have a nice pub meal, walk for another hour or so and then pitch up for the night. My plan was, however, thwarted. When I arrived at Devils Dyke I found teh pub was closed due to a burst pipe. I had a brief stop for a drink and to give Millie some biscuits and then decided to push on to Ditchling Beacon.
As I left Devils Dyke I could see the fog starting to form out to sea and head inland, I wasn’t sure how much longer the visibility would last for. As I headed towards Ditchling the fog came in, the temperature dropped and the wind increased. It got to the point where the visibility was only a few meters and I didn’t see the Jack & Jill windmills as I passed them.
By the time I got to Ditchling Beacon the weather was a long way from the sunshine I’d had a couple of hours ago so I started to look for somewhere to pitch for the night. I found some bushes that provided sone protection from the wind and decided that it was time to stop. The first thing that I did was to put a warm top on and put Millies fleece on her to keep her warm. The tent went up making sure that the door was facing away from the wind to provide some protection for my stove when I was cooking. With some warm food and a hot chocolate I settled down for the night. I heard a few people walk past and a few cyclists. I don’t know if they could see me through the fog but no-one seemed bothered that I was there.
An hour or so after I fell asleep it sounded as though a helicopter was about to land on my tent. I thought about looking outside but I was warm and settled and didn’t want to let the cold in. I later found out it was the Police helicopter looking for two runaway boys (they were later found safe and well in a local town) so I guess the thermal imaging camera would have shown just me and Millie in the tent.
Looking at the maps and a very rough estimate meant I had 27 miles to cover on Day 4 so I decided to push on to finish on Day 4. To do this in daylight I got up when I woke up just after 5am and after having breakfast and packing up I was up and walking by 6:15am.
It was only when I woke up I actually saw the amazing views from where I had pitched. There is something very special about early mornings; the peace and quiet and coolness of the air mixed with the feeling of the sun on your skin with the smell of the dampness on the ground and the bird song. I also realised I’d pitched my tent right in the middle between two footpaths although in the fog I hadn’t been able to see any of this !
Although I stopped for drinks on the way and to refill my water bottles I didn’t have a real break until lunchtime (I’d wanted to cover as much ground as I could before it got really hot). For lunch I stopped at the YHA at Southease. They have a lovely cafe where you can sit outside, ideal when you have a dog with you and may not smell too pleasant after a few days without a proper shower !
It was when I saw the signpost at Southease YHA I realised I still had 19 miles to go rather than the 14 I had thought. All along the SDW are signposts that point in each direction and add up to 100 miles… this also matched up with the GPX track I had downloaded from the National Trails website but the actual route turned out to be 105.8 miles. I was averaging 2mph inc breaks so an extra 5 mies equates to 2.5 hrs and I knew these last miles would be over the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.
At this point I had two options. I could head for Alfriston, spend a couple of hours there before heading out and pitching up for the night leaving me about 10 miles to cover the following day. Or I could dig deep and get on with it.
I chose the latter.
I met up with a chap called Neil near Firle and walked with him to Alfriston. It is funny the people you meet along the way, I’ve always worked on teh basis that you are more likely to meet a nutter in teh middle of a town than the middle of nowhere !
Neil did warn me that there would be no more taps after Alfriston so I took the opportunity to make sure that all my water bottles full ( I still had 10+ miles to go, it was 24C and the backpack wasn’t getting any lighter !). It was lovely walking through the shade of Friston Forest, quite a welcome break after the full sun I had been in.
I stopped for an ice cream and a short break at the entrance to the Seven Sisters national park. I also bought another couple of bottles of water and this ended up costing me more than lunch !
Then it was just a case of onwards and upwards over the Seven Sisters (there are more than seven !!) and over Beachy Head. I found these hills tough and found myself leaning on my walking poles quite a bit. From Beach Head it is pretty much down hill to Eastbourne. There is no sign to say you’ve finished, you just get to the road….
Just before this Millie spotted Honey (my other dog) and they were so pleased to see each other. Then, from behind a bush Phill & my parents appeared. They had all come to meet me complete with some very welcome coffee and cake.
I had made it. I had walked the whole length of the South Downs Way (105.8 miles) in 4 days.