Thursday, 11 September 2014

South Downs Day 5: Petersfield to Cocking

Arriving back in London, I suddenly had to scramble for warm clothes.  The last two weeks of August ended up being dreary- cold and wet and windy for days on end.  Ah, this is the famous summertime weather I had been warned about.  How lucky I felt the June and July were spot-on perfect weather.  Although, it was hard to have sympathy when I'd ring up my friends from New York.  "It's hot and sticky and humid and SO HOT" and I'd be ah, I'm wearing a sweater and wool socks and I have the big down duvet on the bed.  

It had been a while since we hit the South Downs.  Finding accommodation on the trail has been kind of a problem, as we usually wait to see what the weather is predicted to be like before committing to a hike, and with only a handful of options trailside, it's easy to end up a little screwed.  

Luck would have it, and over a bank holiday weekend I found a room in the town of Cocking on a Sunday night.  We would strike out on Sunday morning from Petersfield, spend the night in Cocking, and make our way to the train station in Amberley on Monday.  Sure, there was a little rain in the forecast for Monday, but I figured it wasn't hiking in England until you've had a bit of a walking bath.

With cheery optimism, we set out from Petersfield.  The South Downs Way is a few miles south, near a hamlet called Buriton, but lucky for us, we could follow tree-lined footpaths in the countryside almost right away.

We came to a freshly mowed field that was awash with crows.  More than I maybe have ever seen.

They made a racket as we startled them and they collectively flew off.

But that was about all the noise we heard.


Buriton was slightly adorable, with thatched-roof cottages, an old church, and a duck pond.  I would have stopped to see if they had a pub (it's not a proper town unless it has a church and a pub)

 We didn't linger, and soon we were on the wide chalk hillsides on the South Downs.

It's been really amazing for us to be out here and see the changing landscape.  From the mud and bright greens of early spring, to the lush green summer, and now the harvested fields giving everything a golden glow.  

Across Harting Down, where we stopped for lunch on a handily-placed bench in the shade of some tall trees, with views over the valley and the North Downs.

The trail actually skirts around the next big hill, Beacon.  We debated the merits of the view versus "not actually doing the entire Southdowns trail" by leaving the trail for a mile, and began the trudge up the steep hill.  Completion certificate be damned!

It was so worth it- views to the Isle of Wight and the sea.


we got a little airshow courtesy of the Red Darts.

We lazily made our way back down and re-joined the trail.

This is why I love the South Downs.  It's not difficult.  You have a big climb up the ridge when you start, and a climb down at the end of the day, but once you are on the ridge, you have mostly gentle elevation gains, unobstructed views, and a feeling you are far from everything.  It's just the most pleasant walking.   Plus, the chalk trail sheds water easily, so you are rarely in mud.  

We hit a little off-trail spot of interest, labeled on the OS map as the "Devils Jumps".  They ended up being a series of well-formed bronze age burial mounds.  That was just crazy- many thousands of years ago, people were cremated and buried here.

The skies were getting darker as we neared the village of Cocking.  An ominous humidity was hanging thick in the air.

I startled a group of pheasants who were busily doing the same thing that we were:

The blackberries were perfectly ripe weeks earlier than expected.  This might have been the slowest 14 easy miles we've ever had because of them.

We turned off the trail and walked the mile into the village of Cocking.  Looking back on the downs, what a tremulously elegant sight:

Cocking was a cute little village, and the name made me te-he-he every time I had to say.  We found a place of interest: a column of the villages' history.  It's too bad that it was so tall that we couldn't read anything near the top, but eh.  It seemed interesting.

And also kind of sad.

The B&B that we stayed had an adorable tea house.  You have to cross the cafe to get to your room.  The cakes proved too much for us, and we finished off our hike with a very English snack of Victoria Sponge and tea.  It was fantastic

It really made up for a dismal pub dinner.

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