Ishai and I had originally set out to climb the three peaks before Ishai reached 13 years old. By 13 he’d actually climbed the 3 peaks twice, with Snowdon a few more times. We decided to up the ante, and during the winter of 2015 we climbed Snowdon in the snow in crampons.
On the way down Snowdon, I talked to Ishai about our next challenge.
I had been thinking about a long hike for a while, and although the Pennine Way sounded good, we weren’t going to be able to take lots of time off school and work to complete it. I thought about breaking it up into several weekends, but living in London I knew we’d spend most of the weekend getting to and from Yorkshire rather than hiking. If we walked from one point to another we’d have to use the train.
I thought about hikes closer to home and knew people that have cycled the South Downs Way. This sounded ideal as it’s only an hour’s train journey from London.
The more I looked into it the better it sounded. It was reasonably difficult, and had several train lines running vertically through the South Downs National Park, so we could walk from one train line to the next in one weekend. We’d then return to the destination train line and walk to the next line.
To make the challenge a little harder, we (I) decided to not only camp over the weekend, but to be totally self-sufficient. We would carry our tents, food and stoves.
I hadn’t done anything like this since I was a Patrol Leader as Scouts, and Ishai had never done anything like it.
I did some research online before buying and gathering equipment.
There are two schools of thought with these types of hikes. Either do it on a budget, or ultra-lightweight – a topic of another blog post. We went mainly for the former, and refined the kit over the subsequent weekends. I wasn’t about to buy a full titanium cook set for example, mainly because I couldn’t face telling the wife that our hiking cook set cost more than our home cook set.
I was able to use Google Maps to do most of the research of where to stay and which stations to walk between. There are some guides to campsites and water stops from the National Trail website. Sometimes I wasn’t satisfied with this research and started firing emails to local councils for example, to find out if there were other campsite options.
The South Downs is a great walk. It’s completely undulating, rarely flat. It’s not very busy – we often went 30 minutes without seeing anyone, or anything man made. Those that we did meet were very friendly and remarked how heavy Ishai’s backpack looked.
The biggest surprise was how far from civilisation the whole of the path is. On the first two weekends we didn’t walk past a single shop to stock up with provisions. You need to be prepared. To get to our campsites, most of the time we had to walk 30 minutes from the path.
On a bike this isn’t a major problem, but on foot, popping off to a local pub for lunch can add a couple of hours to the day’s journey.
The path is very well signposted, with some parts having a post every few hundred metres. Whilst it is entirely possible to travel the length of the South Downs Way without a map, I wouldn’t recommend it in case you do need to venture off to a local village. Signposts back to the South Downs Way were inconsistent.