We were hoping to make an early start on day 2 in an attempt to avoid hiking in the middle of the day where possible. The previous day’s relentless sunshine had been tough on both of us and the Met Office forecast suggested that things were likely to get hotter add the week went on.
Unfortunately by the time we were putting one foot in front of the other is was already past 8 am.
The first objective was to follow the path to to the summit of Old Winchester Hill, which wasn’t terribly difficult to find as it had been looming over us all the previous evening.
As we plodded up the side of the hill it became clear that other people were clearly more successful at getting an early start as we were passed by numerous groups of bike-packing cyclists descending the hill at speed.
One cyclist was clearly less than happy about descending the rough track on a bike with drop handle bars and advised us to keep clear!
The final 200m was a steep climb but it we were richly rewarded when we finally reach the summit.
On top of Old Winchester Hill sits the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and the location is no accident.
The site commands a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding countryside below and would have given the occupiers ample early warning of dangers.
Once we finished looking around this lovely archeological site we headed off once more, keen to make clock up the miles on what was clearly going to have to be a long day.
We headed down the next valley, past the Meon Springs farm and fishery.
Surface water is rare on the the Downs due to the porous nature of the chalk and so the springs valuable sources of water for agriculture and fishing.
By lunch time we had covered 7 miles and reached The Sustainability Center, our original target for the previous day. We had an excellent vegetarian lunch at the cafe, topped up our water at the free water supply tap, and headed straight back out. We still had a good distance to travel before we could think about resting for the day.
By now we had reached the point in the trail where the Downs’ true form revealed itself as a long chalk ridge running the length of the trail, the northern flank dropping off into a steep escarpment, the southern flank trail off gently towards the sea, with rivers carving a path through every 7 miles or so.
The South Downs way sticks as closely as it can to the northern edge for the majority of the route, offering unhindered views of the Weald below.
By 2 pm we had reached the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, a large forested recreation area, and we stopped to grab some food and to arrange accommodation for the evening.
There were few camping options within walking distance of the trail and so after a couple of phone calls Lizzy had managed to arrange a room in John’s B&B near South Harting transport to/from the trail. A splendid result, given that otherwise we would have been wild camping and eating dehydrated rations.
The next hour or so was spent hiking up through the park, through one of the few wooded sections of the trail.
The forest canopy gave us much needed relief from the relentless sunshine that had been beating down on us all day and I was more than a little bit reluctant to carry on when we reached the other side and headed back out into the inferno.
We hobbled on for another hour or so (both our feet were hurting by now and Lizzy had a couple of blisters forming) before we finally reached out pickup point at the viewpoint near Harting Downs.
An enthusiastic man waved at us as we approached the carpark and introduced himself as John, our host for the evening. We hopped in his car and were transported back to civilization and the comfiest bed I’ve slept in for a long time!
Accomodation – Silver Birch B&B Elsted Marsh, John – 01730 816797