As I’m planning on doing a certain epic, continent-spanning pants-shitting bear-dodging mother-fudging long distance hike next year, I thought it prudent to get in a couple of training walks before I go. You know, trying to get used to carrying all my gear, figuring out a comfortable pace, and forgoing all the usual things that society makes you do when you live in it, like showering. Stupid society. My destination this time was the South Downs, a beautiful stretch of hills located south of the North Downs, west of Eastbourne and north of, well, the sea. The South Downs Way runs from Winchester to Eastbourne along the escarpment, and it was of this trail that I decided to do a section.As seems to be a running theme with my London-adjacent trips, actually getting there was a bloody nightmare. The legendarily useless Southern Rail, which runs many of the train services to Brighton and the surrounding area, lived up to their corporate ethos of not only sucking harder at their jobs than the Human Torch in an ice cream van,but actively resenting you for daring to want to travel by train. But dare I did, and make it I did, eventually, to Shoreham-by-Sea, which would allow me to use the Downs Link, a path joining the South and North Downs Ways, to reach the trail.The Downs Link was a pretty cool start to the journey. Tightening upthe endless straps on my backpack and severely regretting the number of layers (another running theme, stupid Scandinavian genes) in thewarm summer breeze, the Link took me north along the River Adur, passing the imposing Gothic mass of Lancing College and apost-apocalyptic dilapidated bus
depot before dumping me out at the South Downs Way. I joined the trail more or less at the village ofUpper Beeding, and then headed east up the Downs. The Way is one of 16 recognised National Trails in the UK, and one of the shorter ones at that. The section I was attempting was only about 24 miles over 2 days, but I’d made the mistake of giving myself deadlines, one to makethe campsite before it closed, and one to make it to my train thefollowing day, so I felt the clock ticking from the moment I startedup the hill.
Heading up the valley and over the rolling hills, to my right I couldsee Brighton and the English Channel beyond it, and to my left was the great plain of the Weald. There was an air show happening down the coast so the skies were filled with the occasional buzz of antique helicopters, and there was a spine-tingling moment where a squadron of Hawker Hurricanes flew over. It was Saturday so the trail was crowded with people on mountain bikes or walking dogs, and as I made it to Devil’s Dyke, it felt more like I was at the beach than on a long hike. Frankly, guys, you’re harshing my buzz with your kids and your loudness. Devil’s Dyke, a dramatic dry valley either carved out by glacial meltwater or by Satan himself fannying around with a spade depending on who you ask, was a hugely popular attraction in the Victorian era, and it seems like not much has changed. I stuck to thetrail and moved swiftly on.Moving over hills, down into valleys, and through the lovely villages of Saddlescombe and Pyecombe, saying hello to cows and walkers alike, even dealing with a spontaneous lip bleed, once the crowds cleared I was having a whale of a time. I caught a glimpse of Jack and Jill on the crest of a hill, a pair of windmills that have been there since the 19th century, and headed straight for them. I passed through a working stable and witnessed a horse fight (which was epic I have tosay), before cutting down the hill and finding my campsite for theevening, Southdown Caravan and Camping near the village of Ditchling (I’d highly recommend it to anyone doing the South Downs Way).I suppose I should be somewhat informational, so here’s a mini tentreview as an interlude. My tent of choice is the Wild Country Zephyros 2, super light at 1.69kg, super cheap at £120, and super easy to put up (after a bit of practice). My top tip: don’t use a folded up shirt as a pillow, you’ll have a terrible night’s sleep and a crumpled shirt. This isn’t Wild Country’s fault really, but I’m blaming them anyway. 8.5 out of 10.I awoke early the next day to make it the 10 miles to the station intime for my train. My phone had died the night before so I wasn’t able to take any photos, but I’ll try and paint you a mental picture of my view once I was back on the trail. Close your eyes and imagine a field of wheat gently rustling in the breeze, running down into a peaceful valley fringed by trees and a windmill jauntily keeping watch in the distance. Now open your eyes again. Surprise bitch, I just stole your wallet whilst you weren’t looking. I had this planned all along. Don’t trust anyone motherfucker.Anyway, the views early on the second day were actually lovely, as the trail took me through Ditchling Nature Reserve where I again befriended some cows, and down through a picturesque arable valley where the wheat stretched to the horizon. Unfortunately, as I descended the wind began to pick up, and as I climbed up to Castle Hill the rain started as well. Ah well, it was good #training, as a certain fellow hiker would say. As the weather worsened, I kept ascending, and things started to take on a decidedly Wuthering Heightsian vibe. Silent figures passed me in the murk, and a pair of horses and riders flashed past me at full gallop. Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m freezing my balls off. Luckily, the trail started heading downhilland the town of Lewes, my final destination came into sight. With adamp bag and aching feet, I trudged to the train station with 5minutes to spare. Overall, a pretty damned good weekend I’d say.