Some days everything comes together nicely; Saturday was one such day. Armed with confidence in the weather forecast, a bit of forward planning and a few slices of chocolate brownie, Gareth and I met at Victoria station at 10am for a day out on the South Downs. We first did this walk a couple of years ago, at about the same time of year, and the few months I've been yearning to repeat it.
It is a fairly strenuous walk - about 10 miles with three fairly steep climbs and the corresponding descents - but the effort is rewarded with fabulous views of the downs, the south coast, and the surrounding countryside. The walk starts in the lovely town of Lewes, which is dripping with chi-chi delis and quirky little gift shops, very pretty and heaving on a sunny Saturday morning. Halfway round is an excellent pub, The Ram at Firle, which serves Harvey's beer (made in Lewes) and hearty sandwiches or full meals if you are really hungry.
If you are interested, the walk is in this book by Helena Smith, although my version is an earlier edition. While this particular walk is easy to follow (you could probably even work it out from an Ordnance Survey map) I wouldn't recommend the book as a purchase. Ms Smith has a very flexible approach to distances; what's the point in saying 'after 50m take the path on the right' when in fact it is more like 250m? If you are using the book it's wise to carry a map with you so that you can check your route - of course you should carry a map anyway and I'm sure it says that in the book itself, but it should be there as a back-up rather than as the main source of information. There is a bit too much focus on quirky notes about places along the route (very interesting and adds to the enjoyment) but not enough on the actual route description (yes I know it's the 'boring' bit but essential!). I get the feeling no-one has test walked them, and there is a lot of reliance on landmarks which may not be permanent. 'Cross the rusty metal gate' is not a reliable instruction. Six months later than might be a new shiny wooden gate or even a stile.
But we'd done it before and knew the route; the walk didn't disappoint. After a steep climb out of Lewes you drop again into a silent and strangely other-worldly valley which seems miles from the hubbub of the town.
forge housed in an Arts & Crafts building which is almost painfully cute.
After lunch in Firle - a pleasant interlude only slightly marred by a braying hoard of Hooray Henries and Henriettas - we set out for the final climb, up onto the South Down Way. It's a steep climb and quite long - we struggled partway but were urged on by the fact that the elderly woman in front with the walking stick was leaving us behind, and the family with young kids behind was catching us up!
From the top of the ridge the views are glorious - right across to Newhaven and the English Channel. The sun was low and we were walking right into it, but despite the annoying factor of having to squint the whole time, it did create some beautiful shadows across the hills.
As we started the final descent to Southease station, along with some model plane enthusiasts who were just packing up for the day, the light was fading. It was almost 5pm. Even having a half hour wait at the station for the next train had its benefits; as we surveyed the surrounding scenery from the top of the footbridge we saw a barn owl flying low across the fields, off on its evening hunt.
The day was rounded off by a soak in a hot bath laced with Origins ginger bath foam to ease the aching muscles. Champion!