South Down Way

Day One - 6th April 2007: Haywards Heath to Meonstoke – 12 miles

In some respects we had set ourselves up for quite a daunting and demanding first day really.

We had a very early train to catch so we had to be up even earlier, do the train journey and then walk 12 miles to our first night’s B&B, doing something we had never done before – so, no pressure then! We had packed as much as we could the night before so in the morning all we had to do was pack some food and set off on foot for the station. But, first we had to say goodbye to our children who were going to have to fend for themselves for a week. It wasn’t the first time we had left them to their own devices and fortunately both they, and the house, had survived. We were also doing a video diary each day so we sat, rather self consciously, talking to the camcorder doing our first piece to camera. It was a nice thing to do and looking back certainly gave a flavour of how we felt at the time.

So the time had finally come to step into the unknown and with that slight feeling of apprehension mingled with excitement, we closed the door behind us and set off. The weather was fine and the forecast for the whole week was warm and sunny but the early morning chill saw us putting fleeces on. The walk to the station took us just 15 minutes and after a short wait, our train, which would take us on our first leg to Brighton, appeared. Although Winchester is on a level with Haywards Heath there are no direct rail links. Consequently our route was down to Brighton, change and then along the coast until we then went inland up to Winchester. It only took about 20 minutes to get to Brighton but we then had about half an hour wait for our connecting train. We took the opportunity to get a coffee and sat on a seat, on the concourse, watching the world go by. It was quite surprising how busy it was, but with it being Good Friday, people were obviously intending on making good use of the sunny weather that had been forecast.

Our connecting train came in and we joined the throng that was heading that way. The train was only a few carriages long and so we boarded fairly quickly only to be confronted with most of the seats being reserved, which was unusual. Most (if not all) Southern Trains do not have a reservation service so it took us and a few other people by surprise. Not having reserved our seats it was a bit of a bundle to find two seats together. In fact there weren’t two together, initially, but there were after I had moved one reserved ticket from one seat to another! Did I feel guilty, no not really all I had done was put two people that had reserved seats, together – I’m sure they got on very well! It was a bit of a weird system as the seats weren’t numbered but they had a card sticking out of the top with a seat number printed on it. Consequently it was just begging to be moved! As the carriage was very full, people were jostling about trying to get by or get a better position and just as we were getting ourselves settled someone spilt some coffee over my backpack and boot which didn’t please me but fortunately it wasn’t much and I brushed it off. Perhaps it was pay back for moving the reserved ticket!

We finally got underway with most people ultimately finding a seat but there were a few that had to stand. The train made its way out of Brighton and along the coast before swinging inland and roughly northwards. We struck up a conversation with a couple that had cycles with them and it transpired that they were cycling the SDW. They had to do about 25 miles to get to their first B&B which we thought was quite keen! We made it to Winchester station at around 10.30am so we had enough time to do our 12 miles, but first we had to find our way to the start.

We walked through the town and eventually found the Cathedral and the King Alfred statue which is now deemed to be the official start point. After making use of the toilet facilities and taking some photographs we set off on our 100mile trek. It was after 11.00 now and so we needed to press on and get some miles under our feet. We felt excited as we set off, realising that we were starting the walk proper now. All the planning had brought us to that point and we were raring to go.

Let's Go!

Relatively quickly we were outside of the town and approaching the M3 footbridge. Once the other side, we stopped to take a layer off and re-lace our boots before making some friends with the nearby horses. We were now on soil and crossing fields so we felt that we were really on our way. We passed through the pretty village of Chilcomb and then climbed steadily to the top of Telegraph Hill, stopping for photographs every now and again, before crossing the A272 at Cheesefoot Head.

Winchester from Telegraph Hill

About half a mile later we decided to have a food stop just at the side of a clearing. Suitably refreshed, we set off again following easy paths until we crossed the A272 once more before ultimately arriving at Beauworth and The Milburys Inn.
We were very warm now and the thought of a cooling pint was too much for us to ignore. We succumbed to the pub’s charms; sitting outside in the sun managing to surreptitiously eat our own crisps without the staff seeing – what rebels!

The Milburys

It really was very warm and with back packing being new to us we knew that this was different to what we had done before. We weren’t struggling but knew that we would be glad of our bed that night. Reluctantly we dragged ourselves away from the pub and set off towards Beacon Hill in the distance. On this first day there was quite a bit of road walking which wasn’t great but needs must as we crossed that area before getting to the ridge of the South Downs proper the following day. As we approached Beacon Hill the path crossed a field with some sort of crop in it which was quite high. Our little guide book told us to aim for a lone tall tree in the hedge. Having read this description previously I thought it rather strange to use what were after all things that could be removed or cut down, as waymarks. But, sure enough as we crossed waist high crops there it was, exactly as described. The view from the top of the hill saw us looking down on Exton which is just north of Meonstoke, our bed for the night. But first we had to get off the hill which was very steep in places and then cross large open fields. I was starting to flag a little and it was getting late in the day so I was keen to get to our lodgings but this entailed a further mile or so from Exton.

Meon Valley from Beacon Hill

We found our B&B, the The Bucks Head, and took some photos of the surrounding area with its chalk streams and meadows. We found that the pub was closed, but after knocking on the door we were let in and shown to our room which was fine and had everything we needed. This was our first taste of pub or B&B accommodation, so we didn’t really know what to expect. We had always stayed in hotels previously, but so far so good. We sorted ourselves out and did our ablutions before doing our video log for the day – still bad at it and still very self conscious! By now the bar was open and food orders were being taken so we headed in to the restaurant and got stuck in to some nourishment.

The Bucks Head

We had survived our first day, and, it had been a long day, due to the early start and the travelling but we felt encouraged and grateful that we had made it in one piece. Sleep came very easily.


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