“The Downs… too much for one pair of eyes, enough to float a whole population in happiness, if only they would look”
Virginia Woolf, diaries
After hiking along the gorgeous white cliiffs and enjoying the dramatic views at the North Sea coast during our first days in the UK, we didn’t expect the South Downs to be that more beautiful. We were wrong. The vast national park stretches for 140 kilometers through softly ondulating hills, where sheep graze on endless lush green meadows. It has been a great pleasure walking on the South Downs Way on top of the hills, observing the sea and coastal towns on our left and scattered villages in the valleys on our right. By the way, “Downs” is not the opposite of “up”, but an old English word for “hills”. What added to a good hike was that the trails were mostly dry and firm – less muddy boots and trousers on this part! You can get your own impression of the breathtaking scenery in the following gallery:
Our destination on hiking day 227 was the pretty village of Alfriston. After strolling through its narrow lanes and admiring the medieval stone buildings, we enjoyed wonderful cake at the inn/pastry shop, where we spent the night.
The following day was a historic one for these two coastline hikers: Not only did we complete 4,000 km of hiking, we also crossed the Greenwich meridian! From now on, we were walking in the Western hemisphere. Only nine degrees longitude separated us from Lisbon, which didn’t sound bad at all. Our starting point Tallinn was already 24 degrees further east. (Of course, we were still pretty much north in relation to Portugal.)
On days 229 and 230, we had some unusual sights on our walks: A herd of black and white sheep coming out of the fog and disappearing in it, a lunch break in the shelter of a golf course (despite the lack of visibility and the cool and wet weather, eager golfers would soon enough show up), black bulls nibbling peacefully on their supply of hay (still, we were grateful for the fence between us and the animals), and a huge farm of free-range pigs (if you ever wondered how they are grown, now you know).
Upon our arrival in Buncton, where we had reserved a room in a countryside B&B, we had an unpleasant surprise, which turned into a heartwarming experience. We finished hiking quite early that day and would only be able to check into our lodging in the late afternoon. We knew that before and had checked the bus timetable to go to a nearby town for lunch. The B&B was in the middle of nowhere, but there was a bus stop right in front of it. It started to rain exactly when we stopped walking, and we had about 40 minutes waiting time until the next bus. Needless to say, there was neither a shelter nor a bench. At the scheduled time, there was no bus in sight. Ten minutes later, still nothing. José managed to contact the bus company and was informed that the bus had a technical problem and wouldn’t come. The next scheduled bus was about one hour later.
It was cold. It was raining. Moiken was getting hungry and extremely unhappy. José even called two taxi companies, but they couldn’t be bothered to send us a cab. Last resort – try to convince a good soul to give us a ride. Two muddy and wet hikers with huge backpacks.
What happened next still makes us wonder if there is some kind of guardian angel watching over us: A small red car came by and stopped. The young woman called us to step in, after she stored one of the children seats away. We squeezed in and Elloa told us that she had already driven past, then decided to turn around to pick us up. We had a great chat with her while driving to the next town. Unfortunately, she was late for a meeting, we would have loved to talk more over a cup of hot tea.
Three more days we were walking on the South Downs Way, establishing a new hiking routine: As the track was always on top of the hills, we enjoyed the mostly broad and dry paths during the day, from where we had a wonderful view over the adjacent valleys, villages, and the sea. To find a sleeping place, we had to descend into the valley, and shortly before we reached our – often quite fancy – B&B, we would invariably have to cross a muddy and wet part. Thus, another part of our daily routine was changing our dirty boots for flip-flops and rolling up the lower part of our trousers, so we wouldn’t leave a trail of dirt on our host’s carpet.
It was an unusually mild December that year, which totally worked in our favour, but caused unusual sights such as the daffodils in full bloom underneath a tree with Christmas lights.
Our last stop on the South Downs Way was the village of Buriton. With two pubs and one inn we were pretty sure to find a bed for the night. What we didn’t factor in was that it was a Saturday and a baptism celebration was going on. All lodgings in and around the village were already full. Oh well, so we just have a late lunch in the pub and take a bus to the next bigger town, Petersfield, we thought. There was plenty of space in the pub, because the baptism guests had just left. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any food left, either, so we nibbled on a handfull of crisps while drinking a pint of cider. No big deal, we would be sitting in the bus to Petersfield soon, where we could have dinner and spend the night. The only mistake of our brilliant plan was that on Saturdays, there was no bus going from Buriton to Petersfield. The solution? Walk another 5 km on muddy paths and very light-headed until our lodging. We had an excellent dinner and a good sleep that night!
Days 234 and 235 of our hike led us away from the South Downs and closer to the coast. Suddenly we were walking on flat grounds again and soon enough, we were in the Farlington Marshes, a natural reserve east of Portsmouth.
The calm and serenity of the marshes soon was replaced by a much rougher scenery. We had reached the open sea, heavy rain was falling and strong winds made it really hard to walk to Clarence Pier, from where the hovercraft to the Isle of Wight was departing. Soon after recording this video, which gives you a good idea of our last kilometers, we decided to take off the red rain capes. Getting wet was still better than having terrible aerodynamics while marching against the storm.
The sight of a ferry leaving for the Isle of Wight marked the end of our hiking days in the year 2015. Christmas and New Year were close and we wanted to see our families back home, before returning to the same spot and going to the island.
While we were enjoying the holidays with family and friends in the UK, Germany, and Portugal, you can enjoy a few of the many funny signs – intentionally or not – that we encountered along our route in the UK.