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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

South Downs Way Day 2 - Exton to Buriton

More nightmares last night. They are very wearing, but maybe part of the process. Waking on full alert in the pitch black is something I'm getting used to, but could manage without. And getting to sleep was typically difficult as it often is after a long walk. Many people assume that I collapse into an easy slumber, in fact it can be harder to sleep than normal. My legs twitch and my feet are often stiff, and the adrenaline of the day can make it hard to relax. All part of the experience, and even though I'm only at the start of this walk, the many previous days of walking give me the confidence not to worry about the sleeping issues, as long as I'm lying down quietly my body appears to get the rest it needs.

I created an excellent breakfast from the groaning fridge, porridge, yogurt and fruit. And then made a packed lunch for tomorrow from a small percentage of the food left over. It truly is a miraculous place. I had a great chat with Sue who owns the B and B last night, and she was saying that she's fully booked for months. I can absolutely see why.

The chat was also very helpful, as it meant I got some local knowledge for dodging the worst of the floods today. Sue walked the SDW a couple of years ago, and it was on her suggestion that I got tomorrow's lunch sorted, as it will be a much more remote day on Friday. Given I've not walked more than about 6 miles, and never with a full pack since the middle of November, I was pleased with how everything was bearing up this morning. I was a little achy and my back was a bit stiff, but it only took a mile or so to loosen up again.

The detour Sue recommended followed the cyclists South Downs Way for a bit. For a lot of time both walkers and cyclists share the path, but periodically they deviate. I was taken a short distance along a disused railway line, where I got a taste of the wet conditions to come. There's a lot of water on the ground, and a lot of mud. I felt happier to be a walker with the chance of steadying myself with poles, than a cyclist trying to stay upright in these conditions.

In the Chilterns, where I live, we're very proud of our chalk streams. They are very rare and have a very fragile ecosystem, but mainly I love them because they are beautiful, with the clarity of their water. Walking the Chiltern Way last autumn it was a joy to spend time alongside them periodically. So I was delighted to encounter more today, most particularly the river Meon. But mainly the water I have seen has been in the form of enormous puddles.

It's always good, after a big breakfast, to take on a nausea inducing steep hill at the start of a walk. I was glad of the chance to stop to read the text of the memorial half way up Old Winchester Hill. An awful air crash happened near here on the 4th April 1944, killing 33 men whilst the planes and gliders were practising for D Day. Such a waste.


Onwards up the hill. The SDW skirts around the summit, but I wasn't having any of that given I was almost there, so I ploughed on upwards, reaching the remains of the hill fort at the top. It had been quite the structure, with various types of barrows covering burial sites, and then in the Iron Age a large fort added to it. When I write that, I am taken aback. The Bronze Age structure was there 3,800 years ago, and the Iron Age addition was built 1,300 years later. It feels normal to talk about time intervals like this for these periods of humanity - these communities seem such a long way away from us. But how many people would have lived there through those centuries, imagine the difference between now and 700AD? The information board told me that the barrows surrounding the fort were excavated in the Victorian times, but the fort has been untouched, and will remain so, 'thus keeping its secrets locked beneath the ground'. That feels somehow more of a testament to those people who were born and died up there.


Brilliantly, it wasn't raining, there were even patches of blue sky. And a sky lark was giving it some. I couldn't see as far as the Isle of Wight, which I'm told is possible on a clear day, but to be on the top of a hill again made me exultant. And my hair felt much the same. Neatly coiffed I'm not, but the joy was absolute. History and a high place, I couldn't ask for more.


I had been told of three refreshment stops today, which was extremely exciting. David was keeping me company on the phone when I was approaching the first one, at Meon Springs. This is an example of farm diversification, there are yurts, glamping and fly fishing pools on the farm site now. And a cafe, or at least I thought so. David had to listen to my extreme disappointment when the first building, with picnic tables outside, was empty. But then he had the pleasure of hearing my delight as I approached the correct building. I hung up on him in a frankly perfunctory manner in order to get inside and get my daily flat white. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that the cafe staff have a leisurely timetable, and were probably not going to arrive before lunchtime. I was offered an instant coffee instead, which I ate with half a cinnamon bun from yesterday.

But it was not all bad, because in the cafe, similarly bereft at the lack of cafe action were Charlie and his dad Ian. They had been fishing, and Charlie had landed some excellent trout, which is represented photographically!

They were good company, with Charlie in particular very intrigued by my walking endeavours, asking me really thoughtful questions. And Ian wondered why the SDW was there, which I couldn't answer at the time. Further research tells me that it was opened in 1972, with the extension to Winchester added in 1987. It doesn't follow an old drovers path, or similar, but it mainly follows the northern crest of the South Downs escarpment. And it's the first National Trail to be developed as a bridle way throughout its entire length.

The three of us listened as a local hunter came into the cafe describing his latest shooting events. I particularly enjoyed his description of heaving deer carcasses into his truck, dismissing Ian's suggestion that they might be too heavy with the throwaway comment 'I'm a 22 stone ex professional wrestler, a deer is no problem for me.' And that, right there, is why I love these expeditions so much.


On up the chalk path to Salt Hill, glad of that old pastry to fuel the ascent, and then I saw a different sort of information board, where the farmer, Will Atkinson who works this area had placed his photo and a QR code to allow people to find out more about him on his YouTube channel.


The path became harder and harder to negotiate, with deep puddles stretching to the fences on either side. At times it felt like skiing, with my boots sliding through the mud and my poles seemingly propelling me instead of steadying me. It was very lucky that I managed to keep the water below their tops. If they'd got wet it would be days till they dried. And wet boots aren't fun.


The second possible meal stop was at the Sustainability Centre. This used to be part of HMS Mercury, which was a signal school for the Royal Navy. Now it is a tranquil place managed to show practical sustainability in action. I would have happily spent some time there, but I had friends to meet, so pressed on.

There have been many more supportive messages today, for which I'm grateful, they really give me a boost. And I had a great chat with my friend Janet too. Although this is a solo walk, having continued contact with my friends is really important to me. I sent her what I could see at the time, which was a group of sheep that looked like they'd been to a colour festival. Quite a vibrant look.


After having had a few flurries of rain during the morning, suddenly the weather went for it. The skies went opaque and the rain came down with intent. I passed some miserable looking hikers, who when I asked them to confirm the path they had just come from looked bleakly uncertain. And a runner in shorts and a thin top who appeared to be deeply regretting his fitness activity choices. But my waterproofs are effective, and my poles were keeping me upright on the slippery descent from Butser Hill, the highest point of the Way.


And in front of me, sporting a dashing umbrella, were my friends Liz and Janna. They had driven down from Bucks, parked at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and then walked up to meet me. It was great to see them. We dripped into the cafe, and caught up over soup, their kind support hugely appreciated.


Fortunately the weather had improved after lunch, so that we could make the most of various photo opportunities, and they walked a little way through the park with me before going back to move the car to the end of todays walk.


My path climbed up towards the top of the tree line. The trees are still looking pretty wintry, bare branched and gnarled. I was struck by a silver birch that had grown with two trunks wrapped around each other as if saying farewell for the last time. The wind caused the trunks to move against themselves, creating a groan of sadness.

With the magic of WhatsApp location technology, I could see Janna and Liz coming towards me as I finished the last mile or so, walking past the Buriton chalk pits and limeworks, which had been the source of employment here for 70 years.


Buriton village is very attractive, with the chalk stream feeding into a large pond. And there was my pub for the night, waiting for me.

The fun didn't stop here though, I had the luxury of being driven into nearby Petersfield for tea and cake before they drove back to Bucks.

It's been a good day today. Doesn't mean that tomorrow necessarily will be, I've learnt that these things don't go in a linear way. But every day that's good tells me that it's possible to have another good day in the future.

And it ended with a fantastic meal at The Nest, being made to feel so welcome by Amanda and her daughter Emily. Amanda had let me in as I arrived today, apparently unfazed by my filthy appearance, gave me a room with a bath, chatted with me before dinner about outdoor pursuits and then after dinner gave me some chocolate mini eggs. That's my sort of pub.


Stats

Distance travelled - 13.7 miles

Total ascent - 1663 feet

Calories burned - 2042


Local tipple - Perridge light ale from the local Flower Pots brewery

Dinner at The Nest - excellent

Pan roasted sea bass with baby hasselback potatoes and crispy broccoli on a roasted tomato sauce


Video of the day

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16 Comments


Janna Ruth Holder
Janna Ruth Holder
Apr 05

It was lovely to join you on your adventure, even if we did end up getting rather wet! Xx

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Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 06
Replying to

It was great to see you both. X

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Kay Walker
Kay Walker
Apr 05

I’m enjoying reading your blog again Jane. I hope the weather is kind to you and there isn’t much more slippery mud to negotiate.

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Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 06
Replying to

Thanks Kay! Sadly I think the mud will be an ongoing feature….

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David Perry
David Perry
Apr 05

Oh Jane - so sorry that the weather has been so rubbish for you. The South Downs Way is a stunning route when the weather is fine with wonderful panoramic views. Always a great pleasure to read your beautifully written blogs.

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Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 06
Replying to

It’s actually been a lot better than expected, so I’m grateful for that. And today, Saturday, I’ve had sunshine! The views might not be as clear as possible, but have still been pretty good, it’s a great place. Thanks for reading.

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valbaty
Apr 05

I always enjoy reading snippets of information about the local history. Admist all that mud you keep smiling, particularly when flanked on either side by Janna and Liz!

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Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 05
Replying to

I’m glad you like the history, it’s always been something I’ve loved.

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sophie.holroyd67
Apr 05

What a great read … loved the first pic of your face glowing with health and happiness! The wall-to-wall mud looked horrendous. Love your meetings and chats xxxxxx

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Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 05
Replying to

Thanks. Yes, the mud is spectacular. Exhausting to battle through. Maybe a bit like the snow you’ve got atm?!

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