When I went to bed last night the rain was lashing down and I was hopeful that the storm would have blown through by the morning. Getting up and looking out the window of Sunnyside Cottage B&B my hopes for a dry day are dashed. It is still pouring down.
After breakfast and an interesting conversation with Pauline I am clad in my wet weather gear and heading off on my final day’s walking on the South Downs Way (SDW). By the end of the day I will have reached Eastbourne, but I have about 20 miles to cover first, the forecast is for wind and rain for much of the day so it is going to be tough. Leaving Sunnyside Cottage I am advised by Pauline to take the Piddinghoe Road towards Southease where I will pick up the SDW.
From Rodmell I take a permitted path running inside the hedge besides the road and then take the road into Southease.
As I walk towards the River Ouse I realise I should have put a few more layers on. I am already chilly and that’s before I get on top of the Downs. But there is no way I am going to stop here and take off my waterproof jacket. I will be soaked in seconds.
As I head along I keep an eye out for some shelter and arriving at Southease Station find cover from the rain on the platform. As I add layers a young chap comes along and asks when the next train towards Brighton is due. I have no idea but check the National Rail app on my phone and tell him he has a ten-minute wait. He says he has been staying at the local YHA for a couple of nights, apparently he has only recently discovered the joys of getting out of Brighton at the weekend and getting onto the Downs. After our brief conversation we part ways, him to the relative warmth of a railway carriage, me to the wet and windy downs.
I pass the Southease YHA and Courtyard Café and cross the A26 and then start heading up Itford Hill on the chalky track. The water is flowing down the track like a stream and the wind makes it absolutely miserable.
The path turns and I have the wind and rain at my back for a while, coming down the hill is a couple walking with the wind and rain in their faces and they clearly have no intention of engaging in conversation. We acknowledge each other as we pass, but this is not a place to chat. On reaching the top of the hill I stop briefly to bag my 113thtrig point at Red Lion Pond.
Below me I can see Newhaven but it is far too wet to stop and admire the view. Continuing along the ridge I soon pass the radio masts on Beddingham Hill, I have taken to looking at the view inland thereby keeping the wind and rain at my back.
After passing a car park I continue on the SDW to the trig point at Firle Beacon, my 114th.
As I head towards the car park above Bopeep chalk pit I can see the trail stretching out in front of me.
Over the hill I start the descent into Alfriston. On a wet Sunday morning the streets are deserted.
I have reached the point of the walk where I have to make a decision on which way to go. I could follow the SDW coastal route and head towards Seaford and then walk the Seven Sisters to Beachy Head, or I could take the inland route and on the way visit the Long Man at Wilmington. The thought of walking the cliff route in this weather does not inspire me, so I opt for the inland route.
I cross the Cuckmere River and keep going straight on, here the coastal route turns to the right, I go over another stream and turn to follow the path through water meadows.
It is not long before I am heading uphill again, after crossing a minor road the track follows a chalky path up Windover Hill. Lynnie and I walked this path last year on a warm spring day, a big contrast to my experience today. At a footpath on the left I leave the SDW to head along the side of the hill to reach the chalk carving of The Long Man.
I had assumed that this carving was chalk, originally it was but apparently in 1874 it was marked out by yellow bricks, prior to this it had been difficult to distinguish the detail of the figure except in certain light conditions. During World War II it was painted green to prevent enemy pilots using it as a landmark and then in 1969 it was remarked using pre-cast concrete and painted white.
After passing The Long Man I take a footpath heading steeply up the face of the escarpment and then turn left to bag my 115thtrig point at Wilmington Hill.
From there I head back to join the SDW and follow the track across the downs towards Jevington. Looking back to sea I spot the White Horse at Litlington, which was cut in 1924 to reinstate one that had originally been cut around 1838 to mark the coronation of Queen Victoria.
The rain is easing and as I descend into Jevington there are signs of blue sky. I recall from walking in this area with Lynnie that the church at Jevington had benches in the churchyard so wait until then to remove my wet gear.
Sitting in the churchyard in the warmth of the sun I eat my lunch. I am relieved the rain has stopped, since it started yesterday lunchtime I have missed out on some stunning views. However, on balance I cannot complain about the weather I have experienced since leaving Winchester on Monday.
Refreshed, dried out and warmed up I continue on the SDW, going through the attractive village of Jevington and then heading back uphill again. I know this to be the last serious climb of the week and have a spring in my step as I reach the trig point on Willingdon Hill. I have previously bagged this trig, from here you can see Eastbourne and although there are still a few miles to go it feels like the walk is almost over.
As Johnny Nash would say, “now that the rain has gone I can see clearly now”, and there are cracking views.
The SDW now heads along the ridge and I pass holes on the Eastbourne Downs Golf Course. It is now a pleasant afternoon for golf, but it would have been miserable up here a few hours ago.
I cross the A259 and reach the trig point at East Dean Hill; this is another I have previously bagged. Last year Lynnie and I stayed at the nearby Black Robin Farm caravan site and my morning walk with the dogs was to this trig.
I pass the entrance to Black Robin Farm and keep going to the trig point at Beachy Head, yet another I have previously bagged.
I am nearing the end of the trail, but there is still the small matter of the couple of miles from here to reach my hotel in Eastbourne. I walk back across the downs and follow the waymarks to head steeply downhill to reach the official end of the SDW.
Now I head into Eastbourne by joining the promenade and the throngs of people out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. I walk with an air of superiority; I have 120 miles under my belt in the last six days and can call myself a long distance walker. I have a real sense of achievement.
After checking into the Cavendish Hotel, a large seafront establishment lacking the personal touch I have experienced in every other stop on this trip, I wander into Eastbourne for a celebratory pint and bite to eat. Today I have clocked up just over twenty miles bringing my six-day total to 120. The total ascent for the walk has been 16,591 feet, equivalent to going half way up Mount Everest, and I have bagged twenty trig points and revisited four I have previously bagged.
Despite two bouts of heavy rain the weather has been good and I have not suffered from any blisters or severe aches and pains. As I sup my ale I consider calling Lynnie and suggesting I walk back home, but think I might be pushing my luck in staying away for another week. Instead I start to think about which national trail I will tackle next!
To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Explorer OL11 Brighton & Hove; and OL25 Eastbourne & Beachy Head
23rd September 2018
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2018)