Eastbourne Esplanade on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September.
What a delightful place! One of the early experiments in urban planning, apparently.
We headed off to the Pier, of course, and found ourselves having tea in the Victorian Tea Rooms at the end of the pier - so music hall!
The Big Sleep put us up for the night and Little Italy fed us our opening meal of the week. 7.30 Monday morning we set off west up the Esplanade towards Beachy Head.
Guess what? No sooner had we left the tarmac at our first finger post than it started to rain and continued all day. A light but persistent rain that kept the collar damp and the feet wet.
Let me introduce my walking companions. On the left is Christopher Goodhart who walked the whole of the SD Way with me. Taking the photo is Mike Luxmoore who joined us at various stages along the way.
Anyone who has visited the Niagara Falls will recognise the Maid in the Mist coveralls. So handy for the rain and, most usefully, extremely light weight.
Luckily, we had more sense than the man in the logo!
It is quite something to walk along Beachy Head and then the Seven Sisters. Quite apart from the roller coast ride, the cliffs are pretty impressive. And to think they are made up of the remains of shells of creatures which lived 75 million years ago during a period so long that sediments hundreds of yards thick were deposited.
Eating our marmalade sandwiches at Burling Gap in the rain!
The rain does give it all an air of mystery. It also meant we had it pretty much to ourselves.
Note the lines of flint sticking out of the chalk. Really weird!
A bit far from home! Exmoor ponies doing a good job keeping the scrub and growth at bay.
Looking back to Cuckmere Haven where we turned north heading for Alfriston via Exceat, West Dean, Friston Forest and Litlington.
The Cuckmere Meanders.
Walking into Alfriston along side the Cuckmere river, 14 miles and 6 hours later, with St Andrews Church in the distance. It is known as the Cathedral of the Downs and it is BIG, built in the form of a greek cross in the 14th century. Next door is the Clergy House, its more famous neighbour, a place I had always wanted to visit. Such a charming garden with the Cuckmere river at its feet. The inside was interesting but a bit soulless as is usual for NT properties. I preferred St Andrews!! Alfriston is touristy as I discovered walking down the narrow main street with a huge tourist bus on my heels. But we had a great welcome at the Ye Olde Smugglers Inn with huge bowls of warming soup and bread.
Carved oak leaf high up in a corner of the hall in the Clergy House, supposedly the origin of the National Trust emblem.
A better photo than I could take!! My little Nokia doesn't like the gloomy weather - too much cloud and not enough light!
Oh dear! Day 2 and not a lot to see!!
We set off at 7 am from Alfriston - no breakfast till 8 am so why hang around? It was our long day - 22 miles and 8.5 hours!
So, as there was nothing to see, we cracked on and made good time, getting to Ditchling in time for tea!
A friend, Ruth Nares, very kindly brought us hot coffee and biscuits at 8 and she and Finbar (the blob on the ground) walked with us for a while.
Where are all those glorious views people spoke of? Hidden in the mist, teasing us with the odd glimmer.
We passed over the second of our rivers, the Ouse, and discovered the Saxon church at Southease. Missed the medieval wall paintings as it was closed for repairs.
Southease is one of many villages folded into the Downs or sitting at the scarp foot which tug at the heart strings. Places that have been here for ever, steeped in history, where many a foot has trod and heads laid to rest.
Not only villages but farms too. This one went by the delicious name of Cricketing Bottom!
An important point on the route - passing from the eastern hemisphere to the western at
0 degrees longitude.
'Here' is Ditchling where Brangwyn lived his later years as a recluse in a house called the Jointure.. The last time I had come across Frank Brangwyn was in Bruges, where he was born, in the Arents House Museum to which he left over 400 works. I had been there with my walking partner, Christopher but neither of us remembered as we stood at the plaque and said to each other, 'Have you seen the museum in Bruges?'!
One of the many dew ponds, supplying drinking water to the animals. Not that dew has much to do with them apparently. It is the rainfall which fills them, with a bit of help from sea mists and fogs of summer. Ha Ha!
They are lined in puddled chalk worked by oxen and flattened by shovel which sets as hard as concrete and is watertight. This one sadly is overgrown but some have been restored, we noted.
A steep climb out of Ditchling ahead! At least there's enough blue to make a pair of sailor's trousers!
Another of these charming flint churches, this time in the village of Pyecombe, which is folded into the Downs, caught between the A23 and A273.
Three rare medieval floor tiles from 13th century.
The one on the right is of a running stag being chased by hounds, To the medieval mind the stag represented Christ's suffering as it is chased and killed by the hounds.
One of 3 lead fonts in Sussex dating from 1170.
It was white-washed in the Civil War to prevent it from being used to make lead bullets! Hence the white residue.
We're in ancient sheep country and this is the famous 'Pycombe Hook', usually atop a shepherd's crook but here used on the tapsel gate which swings at its centre point allowing coffin bearers to walk either side and rest the coffin atop the gate!! Opposite the gate is the old forge which made the Pycombe Hook.
What a charming place! And walkers can avail themselves of the kitchen facilities in the church to make cups of tea and coffee. How nice is that!
Let me introduce to you the Wild Flour Cafe at Saddlescombe! What a haven of peace and tranquility with an excellent cup of tea to boot to accompany our marmalade sanies. After two and a half hours walking that is just what we need. This place is a rare commodity on the South Downs Way so when you meet one it is a joy. No need to scramble down off the escarpment to find rest and refreshment. Bliss!
This is the famous Devil's Dyke. Approaching from the east you would never know it was there. So it comes as a bit of a surprise! It is impressive. The ramparts on the left surround the iron age hill fort of which there is now no visible trace.
I love one of the crazy myths off wikipedia about its origin. The devil dug a trench to allow the sea to flood local churches. He fled when morning approached with his trench unfinished. The last shovel of earth, thrown over his shoulder, landed in the sea, forming the Isle of Wight!!
We may not have had the views but we didn't have the wind which can howl its way across the Downs with a vengeance - note the trees on the right!!
I can imagine it can be bitter up here in the wind so we were lucky.
Day 4 YES - finally we saw the Downs and tasted the magic. Saw the glow of the sun on the sea to the south.
Wow! It made every step worth while. What joy! Why would you go anywhere else but UK? We have such beauty right on our doorstep.
This looks way back to where we had walked from. Impressive eh?
Onwards heading west to Winchester - 3 days to go.