They say that the first step in any journey is the hardest and in the case of the South Downs Way this way this was definitely true for this trip, mainly because we couldn’t actually find the start. Eventually after an accidental tour of the city centre we eventually stumbled upon a rather modest little plaque behind a railing, half hidden by flowers and bunting. To save future walkers the same hassle we had I have added a pin to Google Maps so people know where to go!
For the first mile or so the trail winds its way through the the eastern suburbs and it is not until you cross the foot bridge over the M3 motorway that you truly feel like you are on a real hike. Soon however the drone of the passing cars drifts away and you get a first taste of what of the flavour of hiking that you will be experiencing over the coming days – rolling hillsides blanketed with crops.
The fast draining chalk landscape, together with the warm, dry climate make excellent growing conditions for the wheat, barley and other crops that grow in abundance along the length of the SDW, especially in the first 50 miles or so.
After an hour or so of walking the trail opened out and climbed up to the top of the first proper hill. At the top of the hill stood the remains of an iron age ‘tumuli’, one of countless mounds that can be found along the top of hills along the way.
We stopped for a quick bit to eat and photo opportunity before carrying on along the route.
Soon after reached Matterley Bowl, a bowl shaped depression in the side of a hill that forms a huge natural amphitheater. The area was used extensively throughout World War Two and was the location chosen by Eisenhower to give his now famous order of the day speech to troops on the eve of the D Day landings .
By mid morning that temperature had already reached the mid twenties and I was worried that we were going to struggle to reach our intended destination for the first day The Sustainability Center campsite at Leydene Park. At 21 miles for the beginning of the trail it was a good distance to walk even in ideal conditions but the heat made tough going so it was likely that we would have to find somewhere a bit nearer.
We decided to change our plans and shorten our day. After a bit of googling we located and booked a pitch at Meonvale Farm Campsite. At 14 miles it was easy enough to reach but still a respectable distance for the first day of our trip.
After another hour or so plodding along we reached the top of Beacon Hill, the highest point on our trip so far and then began our descent into Exton.
After stopping off at the local pub for a quick pint we walked the last mile or so to the campsite where I set up my new Arixcii trekking pole tent for its first proper test.
- Distance Travelled: 22km
- Height Climbed: 420m
- Accommodation: Camping at Meonvale Campsite booked online.
Route MapDownload file for GPS