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Jay Walking

South Downs Way: Cocking to East Meon

Another Sunday morning, another early start, getting to the tube station and finding the Central Line is suspended for the day, I get a District Line train to Victoria. Somehow I’ve got on a rain District Line train that goes to a branch line, so I switched to a train that eventually got me to Victoria just in time to catch the 7:32 am train to Chichester. The journey took around two hours and the weather does not look good, it’s cloudy and looks like it is going to rain. At Chichester but station I was told that I have to go some way up the high street to get the bus which is due in around 4 minutes, I rushed up the road and found the right bus stop but luckily the bus was late. While the bus is on the way to Cocking it began to rain, and I started to look forward to a wet and overcast day. Alighting the bus just South of Cocking, I headed directly along the path, going through a car park where some walkers are getting ready for the day. I didn’t walk for long as after a few hundred metres there was cafe, where I got a coffee and a cake, the rain had stopped, so I sat outside, eating and drinking, while texting a taxi company to arrange a pickup later in the day. The cafe had some small groups of walkers all sitting outside, I spent some time re-arranging my bag, putting my waterproofs towards the top of the bag, so I could get to them quickly. My backpack was heavy as I was carrying a tent and all the camping equipment required for a night’s camping, not that I was intending to camp tonight, but I wanted to get used to carrying the extra weight. Though in truth without water my pack can’t really weigh more than 6kg, the only thing I had not brought with me was a sleeping bag.

Looking Eastwards from the Downs above Cocking
Looking Westwards from the Downs above Cocking

I brought a takeaway coffee and set off along the route. Opposite the cafe was a house with a number of geese which were being fed, while a collie herded them around the garden. There was quite a menagerie in the garden; 2 Shetland ponies, two collies and the geese. The route continued along a track for a little way before starting to head up to Cocking Down, where the track changed to a chalk path. The top of the downs was soon reached, the path continued along the ridge for a few kilometres, passing various tumuli and viewing points. After a while the path joined up with another, where a number of teenagers carrying large backpacks and carrying maps were walking. I continued on ahead of them and caught with another group of younger children, they kindly got out of my way to allow me to pass, and we had a brief chat. They were a group of scouts and had been out walking for the whole weekend, having done 24 km yesterday and a further 16 km today, though they are approaching the end, having been walking for 3 hours already today. They sounded glad to be finishing.

Group of tumuli

After a few more kilometres, the path entered a wood and started a slight descent, passing left of a group of 3 large tumuli at the Devil's Jump. A few 100 metres further on, I stop for a break and something to drink, meeting a few more scouts who have been sent to look for some sign that has been left for them, though they head off without finding it. There has been a lot of bikers coming along both directions and a number of them come along here at speed, one nearly hitting me as he tried to turn late. The weather seemed to be improving, the sun was coming out and the clouds seemed to be disappearing. I headed off again, the route taking a right-hand turn towards the North West, heading gradually downwards though a wood and then onto a steeper path before reaching another (public path) where the path turns left and then quickly right. There are a number of scouts relaxing in a field, it looked like they had finished for the day.

The path entered Philliswood Down, emerging a few hundred metres further on, the sun had come out and the day was starting to look good. I met another walker coming in the opposite direction, he was carrying a large backpack, we chatted for a few minutes. He was doing the whole route over a couple of days, intending to wild camp somewhere after Cocking tonight, though he had been caught by a farmer the previous night. After skirting another wood, I head on towards Pen Hill, where there were good views across the Downs and to the North, directly West is a view point at Beacon Hill, but for some reason the South Downs Way, veers off to the South for around a kilometre before heading off in a North Westerly direction to emerge on the other side of Beacon Hill. At a meeting of the ways, where 2 footpaths meet, I took a break for a few minutes, having something to eat and drink.

Setting off again, the route climbed fairly steeply and then continued along the edge of the escarpment over Harting Downs. There were quite a few people here, some walking their dogs, others hiking. I passed another couple of walkers carrying heavy looking backpacks. I overheard them saying that they are aiming to get to Eastbourne by Tuesday. It was already past midday Sunday, so I guess they had about 70 miles or over 110 kilometres to walk in 2 and a half days. Certainly beyond me, however if you're fit and put in some long days it’s possible, though I find walking on the flinty chalk to be quite hard on the feet. I headed on past a car park and passed through an ancient wood where one needs to be careful if it is windy (or so a sign informed me). Crossing a road the path changed to a track bordered by hedgerows called Forty Acre Lane, and after a kilometre or so the track crossed a small road and where it met the Sussex Border Path and the South Downs Way finally crosses into Hampshire, it finally felt like the route was coming to an end. The junction of the Forty Acre Lane and the Susses Border Path was quite busy, there were a number of cars here and also a large group of older scouts resting or getting talked to by their leaders.

View North from Harting Downs
Track which is followed after Forty Acre Lane

Continuing along on Forty Acre Lane, which widens into a larger track, I pass a number of scouts heading in the opposite direction and after a while the Lane reaches a small road, which the route follows for a while. I passed another couple of walkers, both bare chested in the heat and both carrying heavy packs, it looks like a lot of people have decided to do a few days on this trail. After reaching a turning in the road, I decided to rest for a bit and sat on a handy tree stump to finish my lunch and have some water. It was quite a glorious day by now, a really nice one to be out walking, it was warm without being over-bearing and the walking was easy and level. After resting, I headed off again, there was a little more road walking, after which the path gradually descended through the woods of Coulters Dean Nature Reserve to a road where there is a car park for Queen Elizabeth Country Park.

Car park at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park
Marker stone for the shipwrights way

From the car park the route heads gradually uphill before entering a large plantation, this area is popular with mountain bikers and there are special paths allocated for them, and there are a lot of them about. After a while the path approaches the A3 which can be heard rather than seen, and then turns sharply north leading to a large car park and a cafe where I stopped to have a cup of tea and fill up on water. The cafe was quite busy, with lots of dogs and bikers, it even has a dog washing facility which cost 3 pounds, a sort of car wash for dogs. I was hoping to see it in action and luckily a golden retriever decided to have a bath in the lake next to the cafe, coming out totally muddy, so her owners decided to give her a clean. She wasn’t keen to get in and by the time she’d got in it and her owners had figured out to get the machine working I had to head off, so I was unable to fulfil my wish to see the machine in action.

The approach to Butser Hill

After going under the A3 the path heads steeply North towards Butser Hill, over a mile or so, during which I met a friendly Labrador who bounded towards me and slobbered all over my right leg, could have been worse I guess. The path does not actually get to Butser Hill but heads off Westwards with about a kilometre of road walking. It was still a lovely day though the heat was lessening, the sky was still clear and there were great views back towards Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I only had a couple of kilometres to go and headed off Westwards along a ridgeway, passing fields and through a wood before crossing a road and arriving at the Sustainability Centre, a learning and study centre, which offers accommodation, camping, a cafe and if you're really keen on re-cycling you can be buried here. I was hoping to get a cup of tea here however I’d missed the cafe, after some too-ing and fro-ing I managed to arrange for a taxi to come and pick me up. Generally I am not keen on taking taxis but there was not any other option, as on Sundays there is no bus service near to this part of the South Downs Way, a lot of people head towards Petersfield, just before they reach the Queen Elizabeth Country Park but this was not really an option for me. After waiting for about 15 minutes and the taxi driver arrived to take me to Peterfields where there was a short wait for the train.

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