South Downs

Allan embarks on his first expedition – a training walk across the South Downs.

By Allan
31st January 2022

I decided that today would be my first serious hike and I chose to explore the South Downs. At 271m elevation, not quite the summit levels (nor weather conditions) of Scotland, but testing enough for me. My starting point would be Butser Hill – a national nature reserve, south-west of Petersfield in Hampshire. My planned destination was Creech Wood, 8 miles to the south. I thought a 16 miles round trip seemed ambitious, but….let’s see how far I can go!

Preparation took longer than expected and I had a challenging time putting together and finding how to lock the hiking poles. I needed to keep warm, so I donned the Long Johns and grandad vest (the “base layer” is what the professionals call them). Out came the remaining Christmas pressies – hiking boots, waterproof lightweight jacket, fleece, comfy cushion socks and my favourite of all – Chunky Bob beanie hat. My wife Pauline did me the honour of a packed lunch (sandwiches, crisps and fruit) which I placed safely in one of the compartments of my new rucksack and off I go. The sunglasses were probably a bit OTT, but you never know with the weather in the south.

My usual walk buddy is Baxter, our excitable 8 years old poodle cross, but I decided that this trip would be too much for him, recalling how he had collapsed in a heap a few weeks earlier after a gentle 10 miles stroll along Southsea seafront.

My walk buddies for today would be Google maps and JK Rowling, masquerading as Robert Galbraith in an Audio book which would be played through my earbuds, all, of course, subject to possible restraints on Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and satellite signals).

It must have been at least 11.30am when I finally arrived at the car park in Butser Hill. Quite an impressive view, I reckoned.

I did have an Ordnance Survey map of the South Downs, but decided that I would play it safe and use Google maps to keep me on the right path. With hiking poles firmly in my grasp and rucksack on my back, the lyrics of “The Happy Wanderer” started playing in my head.

Less than two hours later, it was time for lunch. There was no obvious resting place, so I meandered down a narrow lane, with plenty of bushes cover from what was then a chilly wind, and ………. scoffed my sandwiches and crisps. The hike continued along quiet country lanes, with a few ups and downs (glad that I brought the hiking poles), past a pub called The Rising Sun Inn which had decided that opening on a Monday was no longer viable (just as well for me). At just after the six miles point (at Denmead village), I checked my watch. It was well past 3pm and I didn’t fancy walking the final mile back to base in the dark. Creech Wood would have to wait for another time.

The return trip became quite tiring as the sun set. Things would have been fine if I had not turned down a lane taking me away from the car park. After fifteen minutes of self-doubt, I consulted Google maps. “You need to turn around” was the clear message. With phone battery% approaching single digits, I held off using the torch on my phone until I arrived at the barriers of Butser Hill car park. Phew….I made it.

Can’t wait for the next adventure!