South Down Way

Day Two - 7th April 2007: Meonstoke to South Harting – 14 miles

We awoke feeling good and rested with no signs of problems other than a bit of stiffness in our legs.

Breakfast was adequate and after settling up we went back to the room to finish off packing our back packs. The weather was good and due to be warm again so we left with high spirits even though the day’s mileage was greater than the day before. We were eager to get going, but first we had to restock our supplies from the local store which was just up the road on our route back to the SDW path.

Meonstoke village store

Having re-supplied we walked back up the road and re-joined the path which was quite muddy in places as it was near the River Meon. The path for part of the way was a sunken path and took us through woods and along a trickle of a stream before taking us up and over a disused railway, across some stepping stones and then out of the trees. We could see Old Winchester Hill high above us as we crossed fields and then ascended the escarpment. Just as we came out of some scrub onto open downland we caught up with a couple of young ladies that we had noticed the previous evening sitting outside the pub. We stopped for a while to catch our breath and noticed that they were carrying huge packs, far larger than ours. They said that they were in training for an overseas expedition but admitted that they were suffering slightly. We said farewell and as we looked up we noticed that my brother in law, Jon, had appeared at the trig point, having pre-arranged to meet us there.

Jon at Old Winchester Hill

He had cycled the SDW a couple of years before and his trip had been the catalyst for us doing our walk. When he knew that we were doing it he had decided to join us for the day. He lives in Bedfordshire and had driven down that morning to South Harting and then cycled all the way to Old Winchester Hill to meet us. We would then all walk/ride back to South Harting which was our stop for the night. It wasn’t even mid morning yet and we were amazed that he had managed to cycle the distance he had.

We set off around the hill and after about a mile decided to have our first stop of the day. It was now quite warm and the rest was most welcome. We took our boots off, as had become the norm each time we stopped to eat, and chatted. It was far too comfortable sitting there and we tarried a bit too long really but it was good to catch up. We pressed on, crossing the access road before coming off the hill down to Whitewool Farm and Whitewool Pond which is a fishing lake. As we went to carry on past, Jon suggested that we stop for a drink as the shop selling the tickets also sold food and beer. It was a lovely spot and the weather was very warm but we had only come about a mile since our last stop and I was impatient to keep going. However, I had to remind myself that the walk was to be enjoyed, and we didn’t want it to turn into a route march, so, we did stop and it was nice to have a beer.

Whitewool Farm fishery

We then set off again along the farm road and then on tracks until we climbed to the top of Salt Hill and Wether Down before arriving at Mercury Park a naval facility. We stopped for a few seconds to look at the base but decided to carry on until we made it to Hyden Cross. The sight of a bench at the crossroads begged the question whether we should stop for more food. We decided that we would and again spent far too long before setting off in the direction of Butser Hill.

I was getting more concerned about the quantity of stops as well as the length of time of each stop but we had company and Jon had taken the effort to support us so I had to suppress my feelings which wasn’t easy. We still had quite a few miles to go and it was looking like we wouldn’t make it before early evening. This wasn’t a major problem but our B&B was about a mile and a half from the nearest pub. After sorting ourselves out we would then have to turn out again and I was fearful that the pub would not still be open.

The route was good and fast all the way to Butser Hill with a bit of road walking thrown in for good measure. Having arrived at the hill, which is the highest point of the SDW, we were then faced with a very long and steep descent down to the underpass to take us under the A3. I had great admiration, for how Jon had ridden up this hill earlier in the day and the energy taken to do it and then to turn around and do it all over again.

Having re-appeared from the underpass it was a short walk to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park where we used the facilities and had a most welcome ice cream. The sun was getting lower in the sky and although not as warm as it had been, being within the confines of the trees meant it was still warm enough, as there was no breeze. We set off again through more trees and the path went uphill and it was now that I felt that I was running, not quite on empty, but not far off. I had a slight groin strain which didn’t help and I was concerned it might get worse. At the top of the hill we stopped for some water as we were now sweating profusely, so much for thinking it wasn’t as warm! Jon had a flask of coffee that needed finishing and our Platypus’s were long empty so we were now having to take from our Sigg bottle reserves which meant having to stop and get then out of our packs. The route was now thankfully down hill for a while but soon the path stopped and it was onto tarmac which wasn’t quite so good. We stayed on the road for about the next 2 miles as it made its undulating way towards our ultimate goal for the day. Finally we turned off the road and started steeply uphill onto a flint track. Legs were starting to weaken now but we knew we were close to the finish and within about 20 minutes we arrived at the path that would take us to our B&B. Our route would take us north away from the path and off the ridge and down to Torberry Cottage, Jon would carry on and back to his car a couple of miles further on. We stopped and took off our packs and rested for a while. Jon produced a large batch of Jordans bars for us, to keep us going for the days to come, he working for Jordans at the time, which was a nice thought. It was a shame to see him go; he had been good company and brought a different dimension to the day.

We waved him off as he cycled into the distance and then our attention turned to the path that went slightly uphill before going steeply down the escarpment. It didn’t seem to have been used much and was overgrown with a lot of fallen branches but we persevered and once we got to the foot of the hill all we had to do was cross a field and we were at our B&B.

We had taken a lot longer than I had hoped but it was only just after 6pm, so not too bad.

We were met by Maggie Barker and then shown to our room which was well presented and looked out the back across the fields. Maggie had said, when we had made the original booking, that as it was Easter she would only take a two night booking. This suited us as we wanted to have a rest day on the Sunday but what hadn’t been mentioned, and it only transpired as we made small talk, was that she expected us to vacate the premises by 10.00am and not return until 4pm. We hadn’t planned on doing much anyway as we wanted a rest day which meant resting. We would have gone for a stroll to the pub and back at lunch time but we were now being forced out for the whole day which was a bit much – we just hoped it didn’t rain. However, she did offer to run us to the pub that evening which was good as it took the pressure off (although we would have to stagger…..I mean walk, back). We arranged a time and then set about getting our things unpacked and us showered.

Her husband had been seconded into lift duties and duly dropped us off at the Ship Inn which they recommended to us as serving the best food. The pub was fairly quiet but the food was fine and we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine. It was good to wind down after a long day but bed was calling and so we made a move to walk back to the B&B. We had taken a small torch with us which on our unlit route back was essential. All started well but just as we lost the last remnants of light from the village the torch bulb blew. It was a Maglite torch and they have a spare battery in the base cap but it was so dark there was no way I could attempt to change it. As it was quite late there weren’t many cars about so we walked in the road as much as we could and then jumped on to the verge when a car came along. We have certainly learnt our lesson as we now take LED head torches.

We made it back to Torberry Cottage in one piece and went straight to bed.


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