Tuesday 28th May 2019
With three days behind me, I crossing the halfway point in my expedition along the South Downs Way. This one would develop in to a stand-out occasion in my series.
It had been a good evening spent at the Washcamp site. I can’t pretend that I slept too well (I never do) but I felt well prepared for the day ahead.
A quick-tip on tent pegs when backpacking:
Last year, while soldiering along The Ridgeway, I carried the unnecessary burden of a mallet in my rucksack. After the first day, I realised that I could push the pegs in with my foot. I tried this more recently on the South Downs, only to encounter stubborn ground and you can see the results of that above!
I also carry with me a “sawn off” tennis ball. Its purpose is to sit underneath the walking pole that supports the centre of my shelter and stop that from sinking in to the ground. I’ve also realised that I can use this same item to protect the palm of my hand and push the pegs in to even hard ground with greater control.
Alternatively, I tried using the lid from my camping mug but the half-tennis ball conforms better to the shape of my palm.
From Washington, I walked south along the roads to rejoin the South Downs Way, via a bridleway climbing up past the site of a disused quarry.
To my left was an area of Open Access Land bearing examples of man-made forms and earthworks. Had I not consulted my map at this point, I might’ve mistaken this for Chanctonbury Ring.
…Was lay further ahead, along the hill and surrounded by trees.
I walked on to the site of Chanctonbury Dewpond.
…Which was running dry, after several days without a shower.
Exploring the edge of the pond, I spied a trig point further along Chanctonbury Hill.
At 238m above sea level, there were good views north, across Horsham and to what I believed must be the North Downs… But, having now looked at a map, I’m less certain.
Chanctonbury Ring is a circular hillfort with a healthy covering of trees.
I could understand perfectly, the lure of spending a wild night sleeping beneath these trees.
But I find it hard to forgive people who go to the effort of building a fire pit, light a fire and leave their mess the following morning… Personally, I’m not a fan of fires in such uncontrolled locations. It’s why many of us carry stoves. Headtorches and a layering system shoulder cater for any other needs. In my opinion.
Walking on and I could see the makings of a fair or festival in the vale beneath me, Can anyone shed any light on this?
Back to the track. Less-chalky in its appearance but still forever hard underfoot. I don’t remember the state of my feet at this time.
Off to my right was a trig point in a neighbouring field, as I continued my descent, bypassing the western edge of Steyning. I decided not to make the detour, given the lack of ‘path’ leading to the pillar.
There would soon be a stile… Albeit ‘tagged’ with a phrase of a topic I do not like to discuss (politics).
I then met this memorial stone, with a surrounding seat frame, large enough to also provide for the local cyclist working his way hard and fast up towards me. I didn’t get his name but he told me of his own efforts, while also surprised to learn that I wasn’t a local…
Does a fifty-litre rucksack not suggestion anything to people of West Sussex?!
He also talked (with a background in architecture) of his distaste towards the off-shore wind farm that sat in front of us. Apparently installed around two-years ago. Would anyone bother to maintain it properly in the future, with it being so hard to reach? What are the long-term effects of disturbing the sea bed and its native marine life? It also disrupts an otherwise clear-blue view.
‘It’s not about whether or not you can cycle up the hill, it’s how fast you can do it’, he told me… After a short break, he continued to pedal further uphill, while I walked down towards the road; meeting again with the Monarch’s Way for a few moments.
Following the clear way forward led me along a track and down past a flourishing pig farm. Piggery? Very occasionally, do I see pigs while out on my walks. But never had I seen so many and all at once.
Unfortunately, the “artist” who’s work I discovered previously had also followed the trail this far.
I passed one of the farmers with a friendly hello and was surprised in myself, not to hear a west country-twang thrown back at me. I could’ve spent twelve days walking this trail and yet I would struggle to place a south-east accent with your typical working farmer.
Following the road past Annington Farm, I did wonder what this man-made chute may once have been used for… A hark back to the Victorian days, when the wealthy would leave their bodily waste to the streets, perhaps?!?
Approaching the crossing of the River Adur and another reminder of my increasing progress along the South Downs Way.
There’s also a point from which you can follow the Downs Link (more appealing to cyclists and runners, I imagine, at thirty-six miles in length); a bridleway that links the SDW with the North Downs Way.
Having crossed the River Arun back in Amberley, I’d felt as though the landscape ahead of me was changing. More greenery, dirt and a reduced volume of chalk beneath my toes.
Before reaching the next busy road and car park, there’s a fully functioning water tap and trough. It’s only in this moment that I’ve realised the troughs are ideal for thirsty horses, with this section following a bridleway!
I hope that this tap will not fall out of action anytime soon.
Over the A283 just south of Upper Beeding and the hills were waiting for me.
To my left, I noticed a fox pouncing after its pray in the long grass. Just as you might see in a nature documentary. I wanted to scare the thing off and was surprised it wasn’t already deterred by the loud passing traffic. But this is nature, after all and man has meddled with far too much of it already.
Beneath the top of Beeding Hill, I could see two Police cars parked beside the small parking area at the top of this field. Was I about to be arrested for having fixed a smartphone to the top of my walking pole? To be charged with capturing inappropriate images?!?
Judging by the amount of ‘muck’ along the road and the boisterous cattle in the field across the road, I’d gathered that one of the bulls had managed to escape and, with the help of locals (who’d probably phoned the Police), they were trying to contain the situation until the landowner could be contacted and arrive at the scene (I also tried to listen in to their radio conversations as I ploughed on up the road).
It was almost befitting a scene from Hot Fuzz. But I dared not take a single photo of officers on duty.
Near the top of this road, I passed the Youth Hostel for Truleigh Hill.
Both accommodation and a café are available here for travellers along the South Downs Way. Another potential opportunity to shed a few grams by carrying one day less of snacks. It didn’t appear to be overly busy on this Whitsun Week Tuesday.
Views to the south coast. Shoreham-by-Sea, Southwick, Portslade-by-Sea and maybe Hove.
A trig point exists at the top of Truleigh Hill and somewhere near to these twin masts, which appear to sit behind a private residence. With a van driving towards me, I was not prepared to head up the driveway and risk trespassing to slap a slab of concrete.
I passed some other walkers nearby, who’d stopped on the calm side of the hill for lunch, while I walked on towards the viewpoint highlight on my map…
This led me to the Fulking Escarpment above Fulking and Edburton Hill. I found a bench and put my jacket on for the first time along this Way; facing in to the wind, with the distant view of unknown hills on the horizon and London somewhere beyond.
Before leaving Washcamp, I deposited a whopping 80p in to the vending machine for the prize of a Lion bar… My first proper chocolate bar (excluding wafers) since Saturday lunchtime and my first of this brand… In very many years! It was worth the expense.
Looking north from my seat, I could see the faint guise of rain falling hard and fast. With the wind still blowing towards me, I guesstimated that I had maybe an hour before those clouds would meet me along the South Downs Way.
It was indeed forecast to rain here at 16:00, which still offered more than a couple of hours of respite before I might need to thoroughly wrap up.
These showers seemed inescapable.
I was only a few miles from the Devil’s Dyke. With the wind speed and chill increasing, it was almost as if Satan himself was challenging my endurance.
My metaphoric walls were closing in. It was like being caught in a swell… Almost.
Cows caused no bother as I continued along the Way; keen to push on.
I spied another trig point, away towards what appeared to be a pub and car park. A worthwhile diversion, 217m above sea level.
This might’ve been a photo of Devil’s Dyke; it might not. Had the conditions not begun to turn against me, I would’ve no doubt lingered for a clearer view and definition.
My intention for this day had been to walk as far as Ditchling Beacon, then drop down from the trail to reach my intended campsite near a village. Time was ticking as the clouds rolled over the miles now behind me.
Again, I was surprised by the number of walkers not making use of these water taps. A couple of dog walkers hadn’t even seen them before began to fill my600ml Sigg bottle. This was at Saddlescombe Farm and right beside the trail, with no need to drop in to the National Trust property.
I overcame West Hill from here, ahead of a descent in to Pyecombe. Looking back, I was willing to believe that I might’ve evaded the showers for another day. As I walked down the hill, a mid-twenties girl was pulling a cart-load of kit (yes, an actual cart, not a rucksack on her shoulders) up the hill and along the trail. She looked far too exhausted to be questioned upon her motives.
I paused for one final moment, feeling as though I still had time to reach my destination before the weather would arrive from the north.
Another part of my plan was to stop off at the Clayton Windmills (named Jack and Jill) before heading to the campsite.
Where the Way descends towards the A23, I was pleased to find it soon ascends and follows the road bridge over the dual carriageway.
This was Pyecombe.
Before heading on to cross the A273, I discovered Emily’s Home-Made Brownies at the end of someone’s driveway. I think they were £1.50 each. I went for lime with chocolate, where you could alternatively choose chilli or something else… Possibly orange? I would’ve spend another £1 buying one of the cards but was concerned about keeping it flat and dry with two further days of walking to follow and then the long journey home.
Before crossing the A-road, I passed two other backpackers who must’ve only recently started their westbound journey from Eastbourne. Until this point, I don’t remember meeting or passing another soul who was walking the trail, on this day. The Bank Holiday was over, as I followed a bridleway that divides the local golf course.
I’ve written before about my often-negative experiences of following public paths across expansive golf courses. I was pleased to find this seating arrangement beside the South Downs Way, donated by the Captain [I didn’t know golf had captains?!], Lady Captain and other members of Pyecombe Golf Club.
At the top of this climb, I made a short detour towards the Clayton Windmills. Suddenly, there were other people about. I also noticed a car park positioned locally on the map!
I was sad to find that access to the windmills is currently restricted, after reading in advance (or so I thought) that they were owned by the National Trust and that access may be permissive at certain times.
…I now realise that I was probably confusing myself with the National Trust-owned Pitstone Windmill that I didn’t visit towards the end of my Ridgeway walk, last year.
It’s still possible to get a good photo of Jill (on the right) without having to cross private land. I took this one from the free-to-use car park close by.
Jack was a little bit harder to capture and this one came courtesy of a bridleway running up beside the property.
To be honest, I was never that keen on stepping inside either of them and, with the dark mass drawing closer, it was beyond time to move on.
Crossing the downs toward Ditchling Beacon, I passed another example of what might’ve been an original National Trail sign. Or at least, something based on the original design.
I’d hoped to get as far as the trig point before making my way down to the village just north of here… But I was suddenly out of time. This forecast rain had arrived prematurely and would soon develop in to a shower of hail! There was no immediate escape! Wind howling. I hadn’t expected anything quite like this in the south-east of England.
Somewhere down in Westmeston was my camp for the evening. I couldn’t see any tents from this high up but I kept my faith.
I actually left the downs prematurely and arrived on the road west of where I’d intended to be.
I’ll tell you more about this campsite in a separate post… For now, I can say that I did make it and manage to avoid another wild camp and late-night hunt for water.
A part of me felt as though the next day would be my last. This was my fourth consecutive night of camping… A record I was only equalling, following a long weekend in Shropshire a few years ago. Yet I knew I had two days of walking to follow.