Cocking to Hassocks: 60km (38 miles), 1,406m ascent (4,613ft)
The stay at the campsite on the outskirts of Cocking couldn’t have come at a better time. I’d avoided a nasty day of rain that would have been very uncomfortable to be out in, and also had a night of respite from the stresses of trying to find somewhere discreet to hole up. The rest hadn’t done me any harm either.
So it was that I set out on day 4’s walk with a bit more spring in my step. I climbed back up onto the escarpment and enjoyed one of my favourite hours of the walk. Heyshott Down was a lovely, largely flat, avenue of trail cresting the hill and the pleasantness continued onto Graffham Down. Ahead of me on the path a deer darted about.
There was one less pleasant stretch, where both the track and the detour were horribly churned up, but this was the worst hazard of the day.
I arrived at the top of Littleton Down and could see the twin masts of Glatting Beacon in the distance.
A succession of field edge paths climbed me up away from the A285 I’d just crossed, and brought me to those masts and my first proper glimpse of the sea: I’d had suggestions of the edge of the land before, but this was the first actual sight of water.
Next up was Bignor Hill with the Toby’s Stone memorial – the South Downs Way has a few like this.
The crossing of the A29 was, in a word, hairy, with very fast moving traffic and a long wait for a gap to make the dash. A lane on the other side brought me out on the hillside overlooking the Arun valley, and my lunchtime target.
It seemed to take ages to drop down to cross the river, but eventually I was on the other side and arrived at the water tap near the sewage works – empty.
With a long distance to cover today, I decided to skip walking into Amberley itself, and contented myself with looking at it from a distance at my lunch stop on the climb up to Amberley Mount. It was at this point that another hiker came by – the first person I’d encountered actually walking the whole trail. We chatted for a while: he’d started the day before me and was working to a more relaxed schedule than me. As he headed off, leaving me to pig my lunch, I expected to encounter him again, if only when I overtook him again.
Lunch done, I carried on towards Rackham Hill, passing said hiker taking his lunch behind a tumulus.
The afternoon was one of successive gentle hills, easy wide tracks, and me trying to decide whether to stay on trail for a wild camp, or head to Washington (not DC) for a campsite. I’d enjoyed using a campsite the night before and felt much more rested without all the arrive late/leave early fannying about that comes with wild camping stealthily, and so the link trail to Washington was taken.
This route took me over the A24 and past Washington church, before the final slog through homeward-bound commuter traffic to the site itself. A much bigger “proper” site with a lot of caravans and motor homes, it promised to be a lot less quiet than my solitary field in Cocking. But I found a pitch at the far side down by a stream, and it wasn’t too bad.
I emerged from the tent to find the other hiker drying his kit in the corner of the field. I’d thought the tent I saw being set up at last light was his, and so it proved to be. We chatted a while, as I didn’t expect to see him again as my plan for the next few days would surely put me behind him.
That plan involved more dodging the weather. For a day or two I’d been concerned that the winds forecast for Friday (day 5) night and all of the following day would make camping out on the Downs unpleasant, and I’d been looking for a way to mitigate the problem. This was supposed to be fun after all, and even though one night of wind shouldn’t be a problem, I was very much of the opinion why subject myself to it if I didn’t have to. Especially as the walking for that windy day would be directly into it.
As I went to bed, I’d pretty much decided that I’d find a campsite for Friday if I were going to continue, or I would simply stop Friday evening, go home and come back a week or two later and finish the trail off.
The new day, however, didn’t bring much of a change in the forecast, but it did bring new perspective. It seemed a shame to sack off the rest of the walk for one nasty day, when the forecast after that was very nice indeed. The solution was obvious – stay at the campsite two nights, and resume Sunday. This also had the advantage of a ready made set of things to do on the Saturday, the zero day. Assuming she was up for it, I could meet up with my daughter in Brighton. Good plan.
So before setting off, I tried to book a couple of nights at the campsite – Southdown Way campsite near Hassocks. All was going well until I tried to pay for the booking, when the site decided my bank card wasn’t real and fell over. Attempts to go back in and book using a different card failed as it then claimed no availability. This gave some hope that I’d somehow secured the pitch, albeit not been able to pay for it. I’d have to call the site when their office opened later on.
As I climbed up to Chanctonbury Hill, my phone rang – it was the campsite. Payment made, and some certainty for the next 48 hours, I could now get on and enjoy the day’s walk. And this was a day with plenty to enjoy.
I stopped to look at a dew pond on Chanctonbury Hill, before walking to the trig to look across at Chanctonbury Ring. The Ring itself was explored next, and I had a little sit down there, even though it was a bit early for a rest stop. Sometimes you just need to do these things.
A few miles of nice easy track walking across open Downland and farmland followed. Annington Hill was home to a load of pigs.
I dropped down to cross the River Adur and fill up with water at the tap just below the A283. A convenient snack van and a bench all close together sorted lunch out.
A long grind up to Truleigh Hill after lunch.
Just past here I got my first view of Brighton – a real sign of progress.
I was starting to flag a bit now, and with a fair distance still to go, it was time to put the earphones in. An hour of this bought 5km of distance and got me to the Devil’s Dyke.
I carried on past Newtimber Hill and Saddlescombe, flying along all the way down to Pyecombe and the A23. I stopped here briefly to buy dinner at the BP garage before setting about the last section of the day.
It was a long drag up through Pyecombe golf course to the Clayton windmills – Jack and Jill. I’d had enough by now.
I dropped down the other side of the windmills to head for my campsite – a slow drawn out series of steep muddy paths and inhospitable fields of the “keep to the path” kind. What is it with these people that they also tend have some of the worst condition stiles I’ve seen? I nearly fell off at least twice. There may have been some swearing.
A short stretch along the B2112 and I was at the campsite. With a concern over the wind, I’d asked for a sheltered pitch, and boy did I get one. Tucked in a corner by the amenities, which wasn’t the irritation you’d think it might be – I even had my own bench too.