Tuesday, 21 October 2014

SDW Day 8: Steyning to Lewes

A cat, on a map:

MOVE, CAT.  Without looking at me, he somehow spread out his mass to cover even more of the map.  I am just never going to be a cat person, am I?

Our last day on the South Downs.  It was going to be a long day- a bit over 20 miles.  Even though this trail is fairly easy, 20 miles is 20 miles.  No matter how many times I hike that much, I don't think I'll ever get comfortable with that kind of distance.  And yet I keep pushing myself.

The brilliant thing was last spring when we did our first day on the SDW, we did a 20 mile day and I was pretty sure I was about to rupture something that last half mile, and the next day I found it really difficult to get moving.  I don't get terrible pain at the end of the day any more, which is a huge improvement from when this obsession with walking started. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I feel really fit.  This will all go to hell as soon as it gets cold and I refuse to leave the sofa for months on end while siphoning endless amounts of thick, comforting soups.  It's like a keg stand, but with soup instead of beer.  For now, I'm just pleased with myself.

The morning was wonderfully foggy and warm, and we stopped to explore the ruins of Brambler Castle.

There really wasn't much too it- a remaining wall of the keep and the foundations of some out buildings, and a really large earth lump in the centre covered in tall trees.   It was once an important fortification along the river Adur, which was probably helping create all this atmospheric mist.

 The church next door was just as old and is still in use.

Ah, but don't we have miles ahead of us yet?  After a quick explore, we continued on our way, climbing back up the hill to rejoin the trail.

I almost stopped for a snack:

Once we climbed our first hill, we couldn't see a thing.  Then an ocean breeze came up and cleared all the fog away, where it sunk down into the valley below.

 Suddenly, the sky was blazing blue, and the sun was much hotter than it should have been for this time of year.

 This wonderful weather, combined with the idea that it was a Sunday, meant the trail soon became crowded, with swarms of people arriving from the car parks just off the trail.

Another tumulus:

Rather excitedly, there was an endurance race going on, and all day long there were beautiful, fit horses taking on the long uphills at a gallop.

The trail got even more crowded as we reached Devil's Dyke, a National Trust site.

It's a unique dry valley, carved sharply into the hills by huge amounts of glacial melt water coming off the downs in the last ice age.  Either that or the Devil made it because really now.  What a terrible evil place.  There's also remains of an old fort on the hilltop, but at this point I was sick of seeing those.

There's a sizeable car park and a pub at the top of the hill here, and we gladly gave the ice cream truck guy all of our money for a late-morning Magnum bar.

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We stopped by Saddlescomb farm for a fantastic lunch- I had a green salad and a vegetable-packed pastie and some fresh juice...so much better than expected on a trail-side lunch stop.  It's that devil at work again, I am assured. Saddlescomb is a working sheep farm and you can rent a cottage here for an overnight.  This has been a farm for nearly a thousand years, and despite it feeling remote and lonely, it was only five miles from Brighton.

The rest of the afternoon was glorious- a perfect 10.


We took a detour to check out "Jill", a working windmill built sometime before 1780.  They still grind flour there and you can buy it in the gift shop, and if it is opened, there is a nice man who will tell you all about it and let you poke around and explore.  It was a really fascinating bit of engineering.

We kept walking late into the afternoon, and we had the trail to ourselves until we got to the turnoff at Lewes...the exact spot where we started the trail.  100 miles, whoo-hoo!  Actually, with all the detours we took and the miles spent getting to train stations and accommodation, it was more like 130.  But still...look at that!  It's just so lovely.  Memories of our first day on the trail came flooding back, and how much fun I've had this summer.

This has seriously been the best trail ever.  For the amount of energy spent to get remote and lovely views, it's a 10.  If you are in London and have weekends to spend, I can think of no better way than to take a series of hour-long train rides out and knock out some miles here.  If you are really motivated, you could do it all at once...8 days did us nicely, and we had three very long days over 18 miles.  But it was something I looked forward to be able to get a weekend to get out here.  It was much quieter and countryside out by Winchester, crowded like crazy closest to Brighton, and a pretty good mass of people near Beachyhead, but it stayed up high and far away from civilization- you really had to leave the trail and walk a mile down the hill to get to a village or a pub.

Speaking of Beachyhead, we were planning going back and doing that 13 mile stretch along the cliffs because I just loved it so much, and it feels wrong to end the trail in Lewes officially.

We headed into Lewes, absolutely exhausted.  We passed the stud farm that caught my eye the first day we had walked out of Lewes, where dozens of fit thoroughbreds cavorted in the fields, impatent for their dinner.

Lewes was still adorable and quaint, but we just wanted to get home badly and didn't linger.  It was kind of a pain in the ass, but instead of the hour train ride back from Lewes, there was weekend track work on the Brighton line.  We ended up having to hop on a Routemaster bus for a two hour rumble to the nearest open train station.  Instead of an hour to get home, it took us three.  I was knackered and in love with our giant bath tub to soak away the aches of the day.

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