Monday, 20 October 2014

SDW day 7: Amberley to Steyning

Before the cold wet winds blew in, we had one more leg of the South Downs Way to finish up.

When the train pulled into Amberly, it was like greeting an old friend.  The gentle green hills were back in my sight and I was blissed out and happy to be once again putting one foot in front of the other in the beautiful farmland and chalk hills of southern England.  

We chose an awfully warm weekend to complete our journey on the SDW.  It was humid and sticky, but easily some of my favorite days on the trail.  Red Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels were everywhere- I think I saw more different birds of prey this weekend than I have all summer.

We passed dozens of tumuli- the primitive burial mounds that dot the countryside.  Now that I know to look for them, I see them everywhere.

We hiked up to Chanterbury Ring, a hilltop fort, with a stand of beautiful wind-blown beech trees at the top.  

Local legend has it if that you run around the hilltop 7 times, the devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup.  I KID YOU NOT.

The breeze coming off the sea gave lots of good lift off the hillside for the birds, and I saw so many Kestrels here.  They are lovely fun to watch as they have the ability to hover, and swooping down and stopping inches above the ground, talons extended.  If I find a good spot to watch them hunt, there isn't much that would drag me away.  And mmmm, mice and voles, so delicious!

Bertrand Russel simply put it, "Any view that includes Chanctonbury Ring is a good view".

I can't find argument in that.

Alas, the sun was getting low in the sky, so moving became a priority.

A first along the trail, we walked through a pig farm.  Ah, these pigs.  The fragrance coming off the area was not soon forgotten, but they were living like happy pigs, outside in groups, rooting around and making all sorts of content pig noises.

We probably could have skipped this part of trail and headed to town early.  It seemed to go on forever, and I felt the need to wash myself of these piggy smells urgently.

We spent the night at a cozy little guest house in Steyning.  I was pretty excited because I had found a place for dinner that ended up being the best meal I'd had in a long time.  If you are ever in the area, check out The Sussex Produce Company.  They sourced local ingredients and treated them with love and respect- real farm-to-table ethics.  I had fantastic fresh mussels, lovely honey glazed roasted root vegetables, a beautiful piece of fish, and a decently delicious organic red wine from the south of France.  It was perfect, and so decadent after a 15 mile walk.  We raved and swooned our way through desert.  I would hike this bit of trail just to eat here again.  Even better, I noticed that the couple sitting nearby had that peculiar English quality of moderation when it came to alcohol and had paid their bill and left a half a bottle of good wine on the table.  A quick glance around and I made that bottle fly on over to our glasses, and we left the place quite jolly and relaxed.  

European goldfinch

I think the confluence of a perfect meal after a perfect day of hiking was just too much.  Was it going to rain puppies tomorrow?  Would some unicorn show up and grant me three wishes?  Probably not, but I had this optimism that something amazing was about to happen.

Perhaps running around the hill fort seven times wasn't such a bad idea after all.

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