This was our fourth and final weekend walking the South Downs, totally self-sufficient carrying tents, food and cooking equipment.
This weekend started in Falmer, next to the Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club stadium and opposite Brighton University, and finishing in Eastbourne. We agreed with the rest of the family to meet us half way through the second day (Sunday) for lunch and join us for the walk into Eastbourne.
We were aware that during the winter period we’d have lost our training advantage of the previous three weekends – our bags felt heavier and the hills felt steeper and longer.
I worked from home on the Friday which meant it was the first time we left the house together for the train station. In the past, Ishai has met me at work and we’d gone on a train from central London.
Two and a half hours later we were in Falmer, and walked along the extremely busy, loud and fast A27. It was a two mile walk to the campsite, and we couldn’t wait to get away from the road.
Housedean Farm camp site was lovely. We found a pitch overlooking the farm (and unfortunately the road), set up the tent and built a fire. Ishai enjoyed cooking his dinner of tinned sardines on the fire and we had an early night.
We woke up after some eleven hours’ sleep next to a couple of young lads who had made their camp for the night from two tarpaulins and their mountain bikes. We enjoyed a nice big breakfast and set off at roughly the same time as those two boys.
It was refreshing getting back to the South Downs Way. We’d been looking forward to this final weekend throughout the long winter. After walking for about ten minutes though, we’d forgotten the up/ down and never flat nature of the walk, and we found ourselves walking alongside the same, tired boys from the camp site, pushing their bikes up a never-ending hill overlooking Falmer.
The rest of the day’s hiking was back to the familiar up then down profile of the walk.
Crossing the River Ouse was lovely – the landscape opened out before us and there’s something about river bridges which appeals to everyone. The problem with rivers on the South Downs Way though, is that it’s always the start of a massive climb back up to the ridge.
Despite the break since the last walk, we hit some good momentum and each time we checked the map, we were slightly ahead of where we thought we’d be – such a morale booster.
After 15 miles we entered Alfriston village and I thought we’d take a shortcut – a path that wasn’t clearly marked on the map, but it lead in a direction I thought the campsite was in. The path was narrow and muddy, and when we emerged on to a road Ishai said we had done a full circle!
We stuck to the route from this point on, only a few hundred metres from the camp site, Pleasant Rise Farm.
Once we got to the site, we set up the tent, and just as I climbed inside, it started raining. It was one of those times when you appreciate that sometimes it rains at the worst time, and sometimes you’re lucky. Today it was the latter.
Once we’d sorted our kit out, we headed for the shower block. The site had run out of hot water.
We headed back to the tent, it was still raining, and rested there. An hour later we went back to the showers and they were still cold. Things like this, when you’re camping are a sap on morale and it’s all too easy to become despondent, but we decided to go back into the village and get some food.
Alfriston is a wonderful little village. It has a few hotels and two very old pubs. One of them had a sign to say the earliest report of this being a pub was when it was sold in 1397! Two fish and chips later, with an ale and a pint of regular Coke, and we were feeling great.
There was no mobile coverage in Alfriston – from the campsite to the village pubs, so we used the Wifi to let the family know we’d arrived safely.
It was still raining when we walked back to the campsite. We passed by the shower block on the way to the tent and there was hot water! We quickly grabbed our towels and wash kit and returned to warm showers.
At about 2am that night, I woke up to loud music. This had been the first campsite along the entire South Downs Way where we’d encountered this kind of antisocial behaviour. The music continued and eventually I fell back to sleep.
Although we gave ourselves a lay in the next morning, we still woke up before 8am and slowly got ourselves ready. It had rained most of the night, so the tent was soaking. I took the outer tent flysheet off and it dried by the time we packed everything up.
We set off trying to take our time – we were meeting the rest of the family only five or six miles away, and had three hours. We knew we had a couple of steep long hills, but we seemed to cover them more quickly than we’d thought.
We met a woman riding a horse at the top of the first, chalky hill. The horse was slipping around at the top of the hill, and I warned her it had been much more slippery on the steep walk. She continued going downhill and a short while later she caught up with us and said she’d abandoned the downhill because of the grip.
The whole weekend had been windy with a cold wind. It’s hot work climbing all these hills, but each time I went to take off my long-sleeved shirt, it was just too cold.
We met the girls (my wife and three daughters) for lunch and walked with them to Eastbourne. It was lovely to do this, and for them to join us for the last few miles. Despite walking no more than twelve miles that day, the last couple of miles always seem to feel the toughest. When we walked on to Eastbourne Pier on the Sunday in the early afternoon, we were both super proud of the 100 miles we’d walked from Winchester.
In reality we’d walked further than that because many of our camp sites and train stations we away from the South Downs Way path.
As usual, there was a combination of utter jubilation and sadness at the end of the hike. Jubilation – we’d finished a well-known walk as father and son. It was a hard walk, it took a lot of logistics, and was the first time either of us had aimed for a self-sufficient walk.
The sadness, was that Ishai is now fourteen, and doing this kind of activity again is unlikely to compete with mountains of school-work and the call of cool school friends rather than spending time with me!
I had loved every second of this adventure.