So we had to make a decision; do we take it easy between here and Winchester and give ourselves another three days? Or do we beast through and do it in two? We only had 33 miles to go. Even us with our tendencies to plod and stop a lot to gawp at scenery like slacked jawed imbeciles would struggle to drag that out. We had enough food until Monday morning, we might have to pop off course into a village for a shit but other than that we could just walk walk walk. So two days it would be. Sorry, feet.
The first thing we did was get distracted by the fiery skyball making an appearance in a spectacular fashion, then completely missed the fingerpost directing us right. Fuck. We were half a mile the wrong way down the road before we realised what we’d done and had to backtrack. Tarrant was very sad, she abhors a double back, especially when it’s our own bastard fault and it’s on the best waymarked trail we’d ever done.
It’s near-impossible to go wrong on the South Downs Way if you’re paying attention, they even have signs when there’s no other way. You can only go left and a fingerpost will be there, like, hey you need to go left, buddy. Cheers, fingerpost. If I went anywhere else I’d be tits-deep in gorse and questioning whether I should be allowed out anymore. Buuuut apparently it doesn’t matter how well waymarked a trail is, we will find a way to lose that trail.
Another thing that would distract us would be trigpoints because nerds gonna nerd. We packed up and hit the trail before breakfast on account of my utter paranoia that the farmer whose field we commandeered for the night would show up and bollock us, and we figured we’d have brekky with a view at Beacon Hill trigpoint. We also decided to skip 0.2 miles of the Way so we didn’t have to walk back down the ridiculous fucking hill from the trig just to walk back up the trail. Three-years-ago-me would be looking on in absolute horror but I’ve fortunately managed to chill out a bit since then. Being a purist is exhausting.
The eyehole fodder alone is worth the climb, even if you give exactly zero fucks about obsolete concrete pillars. It was predictably breezy so we huddled against a pillar with one of those plaques telling you what towns were in what direction, next to the object of our affection, to rehydrate some carbs whilst applying the mist creeping over the hills liberally to our eyeholes. What another stunner of a morning.
After a detour down, and subsequently back up, a fuck off great big hill to South Harting to utilise their public facilities, the next thing that took us off trail was… wait for it… a trigpoint! Tarrant was reluctant to go for it as it was a convoluted detour up a hill and through some woods but I read the logs on the trigpointing website and assured her it was doable. That didn’t work so I whined a little bit and she relented, then she regretted her decision when the ubiquitous brambles sprawling across the forest floor wrapped around her legs and did some damage. Bless her, they seem to hone in on her. I escaped relatively unscathed. I don’t think Tarrant wants to go trigponting with me anymore.
The trail certainly ups its tree game the closer to Winchester you get. Eyehole fodder is abound but it’s glimpsed through foliage rather than the sweeping unfettered views of the Eastbourne end. I guess this is why it’s usually walked west to east, so it just gets better and better as you go. There is, however, the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and it is fucking wonderful. We wandered through tall trees, I was quite enamoured with them, then we emerged to a large picnic area with barbecues for everyone to use.
There’s a café here too with public toilets that we took full advantage of, and there’s a water refill point. If we’d known about this place before I think we could have easily eked out the last few miles over three days. The climb out, however, can fuck right off. It is brutal. It’s a not so gentle reminder of how much lactic acid your legs can produce in one hit.
The rest of the day was just a plod. We had an idea to aim for Old Winchester Hill but kept an eye out for a suitable pitch as we went. We ended up doing over 23 miles which is a big old day for us. I don’t think we’ve ever walked so far with kit in one day before and my feet made it very clear that they didn’t consent to any of this. Tarrant had some epic blisters by the end of the day too.
We did end up at the hill fort where we had some dinner, enjoyed the evening then retreated back to the yew trees we’d eyed up as we walked by. I do love forest camping, it’s my favourite kind because it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket of nature.
Didling Hill, West Sussex to Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire, England
Stayed at: Wild camp amongst the yew trees near the hill fort
Useful shit to know…
- South Harting has a shop as well as a public toilet.
- Queen Elizabeth Country Park has everything you could ever need. Café, water refill, dog wash, public toilets, the works.
- There’s apparently a water refill at the Sustainability Centre but maybe check if it’s tied to the café opening times?
- There’s another tap outside the campsite at Meon Springs.
- I’ve read that people have wild camped at the hill fort at Old Winchester Hill but there is a sign up explicitly forbidding this. There is plenty of space amongst the yew trees before (if you’re walking east to west) for a cheeky camp though.