This had been planned for a while, although the actual plans had a light touch – that is to say, we had little idea of how far we would walk or where we would sleep at night, except at the mysteriously hidden Youth Hostel at the end in Eastbourne. Dawn, though, had a list of campsites and hostels and things and our maps had the location of strategically placed and important water taps.
So, as planned, Dawn was at King’s Cross station last Monday and I followed her through tunnels and moving stairways and rattling tube trains amongst a ghostly population unable to meet a gaze – to Waterloo where a long wait eventually lead to an hour or so’s train ride to Winchester where King Alfred stood on his plinth and you have to pay to go into the main church for a pray, if that’s what you want to do….
We navigated ourselves out of the town in hot sun. We crossed a motorway into the wide and open spaces of The Downs, baking in heat and hard on the feet.
We covered ten miles or so on the Monday, trying a listed farm camp at Holden, at which there was nobody, and, speculatively in the car park of a pub with a paddock, at which there was nobody either. Dawn resolved the matter by knocking on a door. A chap, self-confessed train buff pointed to a patch of grass and a tap and both of these facilities were ours for the night – dry night amongst the trees in snaily grass and heavy dew, and a lot of off-road traffic.
In the morning we headed East. We weren’t perhaps, quite into the swing of things yet. Tuesday was hot and cloudless and the land is dry and hard and we bashed along as far as we could over Beacon Hill, Old Winchester hill, followed by a short break at the fishing ponds at Whitewool, where coffee and cakes and beer was had – and then over Whether Down– to eventually turn up at the site of HMS Mercury – now some kind of park with a hostel and a campsite with showers that worked (very effectively) off the sun and a composting toilet in a shed which was much better than it sounds. Two rats were seen to escape from a mound and make a dash across open space. The wind blew a hoolie during the night, but not a breeze ruffled the tents. A cold, dewy night gave way to another steamer of a day.
HMS Mercury was a Royal navy shore establishment dedicated to training and developing navigation and communications but is now closed and little seems to remain apart from a lot of razor wire…
Wednesday was hot! We had divided the rest of the distance remaining of the SDW into the number of available days and come up with the hard fact that we had to average around 17 miles a day to finish and catch the 09:55 train to Victoria on Monday morning. Dawn announced that Manor farm at Cocking was the place to go, so that’s where we headed.
In between, we bagged Butster Hill, a slightly off-route Marilyn, covered in dog walkers, had bacon butties at the Queen Elizabeth Country park, visited another Beacon Hill and traversed a long escarpment with big views to the North, bagged Linch Down and, as we eventually slumped sweatily by the public tap at Hill Barn, Dawn noticed that we were, in fact, at the very gates of a Manor Farm, although possibly not the manor farm we’d been heading towards. We were, in fact, filling up water bags for a wild camp further up the hill. But we’d had enough. We’d done 17 miles. Enquiries revealed that there was a tap and a paddock and that we could camp for a fiver. This was the second time that Dawn’s enquiries had produced a result.
Yet again, the sky for the night was clear and there was a heavy and wetting dew.