Walk the Chalk: South Downs Way – Part 3

Hassocks to Eastbourne: 57km (36 miles), 1,422m ascent (4,665ft)

Day 6

Last night’s dinner was awesome, and bloody well should have been as I’d carried it from the BP garage. Pasta Arrabiata (of sorts) cooked on a camping stove, reminded me of how great it is to have real food rather than just rely on dehydrated stuff. This is an approach I’m going to use a lot more – the morale effect is worth the extra weight and bulk.

The pasta also turned out to be fortuitous as overnight I had a crazy idea. I was due to meet my daughter in Brighton at midday(ish) for lunch, which left quite a long period of time to fill if I just hung around the camp site. And it was Saturday morning, so why not……?

A bit of looking at railway timetables and estimating the distance to and from the station at each end, and I came to the conclusion I could just about do it. So I did…

At 9am I was lining up on the start of Preston Park parkrun.

It wasn’t the greatest time I’ve ever run, not helped by how long it took to cross the start line due to the number of people, nor the fact that I clocked the 5km course at nearly 5.2km. But I did it. Barcode scanned and I strode off back towards the station. Back at the campsite for 10:30, I just had time to shower and make myself presentable before I was walking back to the station to head all the way into Brighton.

Lunch was duly taken, and paid for by me, as we are dealing with a student here! I picked up some supplies on the way back to the tent and had a chilled out, but chilly night in.

Day 7

In a way it was a shame to leave the campsite – it was perfect for my needs. I can thoroughly recommend Southdown Way campsite.

After the troubles I’d had getting down from the escarpment on Friday, I decided to head up a different way and avoid the Stiles of Death. I climbed up a spur about 1km further down the trail, missing nothing out other than some nondescript track walking.

I was now very much into the territory of dew ponds, a particular feature of the South Downs. There were a few along this ridge.

At the top of Ditchling Beacon I spent a few minutes talking to a chap flying his drone, then pushed on. As I neared the right turn on Plumpton Plain, I kept being passed by runners – first a few (not unusual along the Downs during this trip), then in ever more frequent clumps. It was clear there was some sort of organized event on.

It turned out this was a marathon. All the way down to Housedean Farm I kept having to hug the left hand side of the path to let a constant stream of runners past. It started to get on my wick, if I’m honest. Throw the occasional cyclist in and it got a bit congested.

At Housedean though, I made a point of sitting opposite the water tap and brewing up, an act of petty revenge in taunting the runners with my enjoyment of a hot coffee. But then it appeared the tail end had gone through as the marshalls there started packing up: oh well, at least the rest of the walk should be uninterrupted.

The “other” hiker also rolled in while I was coffee-ing up. He’d apparently slept up on Ditchling, and had been confronted by local dog walkers. Possibly may have something to do with this sign…

I thought I’d seen the last of this chap due to my rest day, but it appeared that even 2 days head start wasn’t enough. This would be the last time I’d see him though.

Across the A27 I climbed up once more onto the Downs and entered the land of para-gliding.

It would have been a disappointment not to see some.

The walking now became a bit less interesting with a succession of dull farm tracks and then a really long stretch of concrete.

The only thing to break this relative monotony was crossing the Greenwich Meridian – marked by a cairn and a signpost pointing respectively to each hemisphere.

At Southease church I topped up with water and had a good long sit for lunch. A nice peaceful spot.

It was a right slog back up from the Ouse valley, but ok once I’d hit the top of the ridge. I made gentle progress along the ridge to Beddingham Hill and then Firle Beacon.

At which point I started killing a bit of time. I walked on a bit further until I found a suitable spot, then sat and watched the sun go down for the last night on the trail.

Day 8

I was away early, as it was a pretty visible spot if you bothered to look to your side as you passed. Haze and valley mist were the main views though. It was a quiet walk down to Alfriston, where I found the village asleep – it was still early. Far too early to bother waiting around for any of the tea rooms to open for breakfast: I’d have to hope for somewhere further on.

Alfriston is the point at which the South Downs Way walker has to make a choice: between the shorter route over Wilmington Long Man, or the longer, more drawn out drama of the Seven Sisters. Cyclists don’t get a choice – only the inland route is bridleway all the way.

There was never any doubt though as to which way I would go – it would be unthinkable not to take the clifftop route, even if it did now mean contending with stiles and very narrow kissing gates.

A short way south of Alfriston, at Litlington, the Cadence Cycle hub at a local farm was the first place I found open for breakfast, and so I stopped. There was also a brewery there, but luckily that was shut!

Back on the way and it was an irritating slog up and down to Westdean and Exceat, but at least the best was being saved until last.

At Exceat, the last main road of the walk was crossed, in the form of the A259, and I was into the Seven Sisters Country Park. Before hitting the cliffs, though, were impressive views over the Cuckmere Valley.

Then I started encountering people again, as I hit the Sisters themselves. A constant trickle of folk.

The Seven Sisters were, of course great, and reminiscent of that first stretch of South West Coast Path I walked in 2008. Up and down, and up again, repeated multiple times. I wasn’t in any hurry though and simply stopped to rest and admire the view whenever I felt like it.

Birling Gap yielded an ice cream, and an impressive view back the way I’d come.

It wasn’t long before I was passing the lighthouse on Belle Tout and doing the final climb onto Beachy Head.

And then, I was looking down on Eastbourne, and I could see the whole of the rest of the walk before me. And it wasn’t very much.

I walked down to the board marking the end of the trail, and was lucky enough to get someone to take a picture.

I was less lucky with the adjacent cafe which was closing up, so walked into town for my just rewards.

…or you could say my just desserts…

And it was done.

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