I think it was fair to say I was quite apprehensive on the drive to Winchester… it seemed a long way from home and I was going to be walking that distance and then about the same again !
Day 1 – 21.4 miles
Phill dropped me at Winchester Cathedral about 9am. The National Park people have now moved the start of the South Downs Way to a Watermill and it now has a posh new sign and everything but I wanted to start at its traditional starting place. The route out of Winchester isn’t brilliantly marked, possibly the worst part of the whole route, but I had a map, a dog and enthusiasm so off I went ! After a couple of wrong turns I did find my way out of town and some parts of Winchester do look very pretty. I had to keep Millie on the lead to start with because a) she is not a town dog and not used to roads and b) she kept turning round looking for Phill and Honey and I was a bit worried she would shoot off looking for them and she can run far faster than I can.
I had planned to walk about 20 miles a day and was going to spread the walk over 5 days. This was based on what I thought I could maintain…. I knew I could easily do 20-30 miles in one day but wasn’t sure how I would cope on days 2,3,4 and 5. Also on Day One I knew I would have less walking hours, I planned to be up and walking quite early each morning and stopping about an hour before sunset to pitch my tent and cook something to eat.
About lunchtime on the first day I found myself walking past a pub… it would have been rude not to stop for something to eat so I found a shady table outside and took a break… This was also a handy point to refill my water bottles. I had decided to take 4 x 500ml bottles with me rather than one large bladder because:
- A large bladder is a pain to get in and out of a very full backpack to refill
- If it springs a leak you have lost ALL your water and your only method of carrying it
- You can’t easily see how much is left
After lunch I continued on. As I continued I found it increasingly hard work with a real pain across the top of my shoulders from the pack. My aim was to get to Hyden Hill where there is an area of woodland. On the map (and google earth !) this looked like it could be a very good place to stop. When I got there I found it was fenced off with no easy access in so I continued to walk… The biggest problem at this point is that I knew it wasn’t much further until I came to a road. I was tired and it was starting to get on a bit…. Luckily a bit further down the path I came to another footpath that joined the South Downs Way running through a field. This field looked as though it had cattle in it an one point but I couldn’t see any recent signs of them so I found a spot off the path and slightly out of view to pitch up for the night.
I wrote in my diary “I’m shattered and so is Millie and it is only Day 1.” I felt sick but knew I needed to eat something so cooked up a freeze dried Chicken Korma. I struggled to eat this one spoonful at a time but knew I needed the calories. I spent the night feeling really sick at times and wondering if I would be able to make the whole walk. I had owls in the trees above me overnight, luckily Millie is used to the noises outside so she just curled up with me and went to sleep.
It took awhile before I could get comfortable, my back and shoulders were really aching but I did fall asleep and slept quite well in between the feeling sick !
My view from the tent…. it made the walk worth it 🙂
Day 2 – 27.1 miles
It is amazing the difference a nights sleep makes. I woke up without as many aches and pains as I thought I would have and we were up, packed up and walking by 7am. I had initially woken up about 4:30am as it was getting light but stayed in my sleeping bag dozing for another hour… Breakfast was a good reminder of an old lesson….. Don’t try doing anything that you haven’t tested ! I had made up 5 days worth of my instant porridge mix the same as I had made it at home to test… but I decided to add a few more calories in the way of sugar and put in 1tsp sugar for each day. This doesn’t sound a lot but it made quite a difference and the whole porridge mix was quite sickly and to be honest a bit disgusting. But, I didn’t have anything else to eat for breakfast and I’d already carried the stuff miles with me so I ate it anyway.
The other “learning point” of the day is that enamel mugs are not ideal. The number of times I nearly scalded myself pouring boiling water in to an enamel mug was beginning to get a bit silly. I made sure that I didn’t need to hold the mug when pouring water in to it but sometimes this is easier said than done… The other thing I found is that my beanie had made an ideal cosy to put the breakfast mix bag in to keep it warm while it absorbed the boiling water… and it also rolled up easily and fitted inside my mug.
I had managed to find all the water taps marked on my map. In the end I took a Harveys XT40 map of the South Downs Way with me rather than the OS 1:25,000 maps for the route. This was primarily due to the bulk and weight; the OS Maps for the route weighed in at nearly 1.5 kg and the Harveys map for the entire route weighed a mere 60g. I’ve never used Harveys maps before and it was a 1:40,000 scale which isn’t one I’m used to but my compass has a 1:40,000 rover on it so this wasn’t too much of a problem. The map did also have all the water taps on the route marked so I knew where to start looking for them !
The forecast for the day was overcast; I much prefer the slightly cooler weather to the heat and sunshine when I’m out like this so I though I would see how far I could get in a day, especially as the forecast for the rest of the week was for it to warm up, be brilliant sunshine and getting to 25 C.
I could see form the map that I wouldn’t be passing any pubs or cafes at any sort of “sensible” time so I planned my breaks on time and distance rather than aiming for a specific location. I started walking about 7am and planned to stop for a coffee about 10am and then for lunch at 1pm.
When I stopped for breaks I needed to find somewhere a bit off the path…. Millie became quite protective whenever I stopped and would “woof” at anyone that came near us (at least until they stopped for a chat !) but being just a bit off the path made for a more peaceful break. I did also take my boots off each time I stopped to help with the rash that I get just above my ankles (I think this is due to heat and sweating and it certainly isn’t anything rubbing).
One thing that struck me is how intensively farmed the South Downs is. Large parts of the South Downs Way and fenced in on both sides and even the parts that aren’t normally have livestock in the fields. On Day 1 I went through a field with some young dairy cattle. I always have Millie on a lead if I’m in a field with livestock, I think she would be ok with them but it just isn’t worth the risk. These dairy cattle where very inquisitive and which ever way I went they wanted to come up and say hello. This scared Millie so I ended up picking her up and carrying her… and the cattle still wanted to come and see us !
The other thing I noticed is that you didn’t need a map to let you know when you were getting close to a car park… you could tell by the amount of rubbish people had left behind. I really begin to see why the landowners aren’t always so fond of walkers/cyclists etc. It does seem that the mindlessness of a few people spoils it for everyone.
Lunch was my couscous mix, luckily something I hadn’t tampered with so it was actually quite tasty (especially after the disaster that was breakfast !)
I found a suitable overnight stop just past Bignor Hill on the edge of a field. The field was full of pheasants and had half a dozen deer grazing in the middle of it. The sun was just starting to set as I pitched for the night, the only other person I saw was a solitary runner…
Dinner that evening was a freeze dried Shepherds Pie (extreme adventure) and it did taste quite good, far better than the previous nights curry but in all fairness I’m not sure if that was just because I was feeling quite sick before I started eating….
Having completed 27 miles I realised that completing the walk in 4 days was actually a realistic possibility (especially as I still thought it was 100 miles at this point !).
A break for lunch in the shade……
Finally managed to find a suitable spot to pitch for the night…
Rewarded with an amazing sunset..
Millie curled up next to me x