In their wisdom, Winchester Ramblers Group once asked me to lead one of their Sunday walks. Being a stranger to the area, I decided to take them on a walk in the Meon Valley (see Walk 17 in this guide), close to where we were living at the time. One of my instructions was to find a lunch stop half way along the walk. This I managed with almost uncanny accuracy; a riverside pub buzzing with friendly drinkers appeared bang on at midday – perfect. Perhaps I should have been warned by the fact that the pub was busy so early in the day, but that didn’t sink in – at least before I proudly guided my thirsty and hungry walkers right up to the pub at exactly 12:30. But the door was locked, the windows shuttered and barred, complete silence everywhere. The place was closed and its license revoked. The jolly crowd on the previous Sunday (the last day in the month incidentally), were drinking the place dry. Another five miles of tired walking lay between us and the next pub. For some reason I was never invited to lead another walk on Winchester Ramblers programme.
During our short stay in Hampshire we bought a house on the northern edge of the South Downs National Park boundary only separated by the A272 Winchester/Petersfield road from the South Downs Way, a perfect base for exploring that long green ridge of chalk downland that flowed like some rolling wave of a fossilised sea.
We got to know the eastern end of this ridge almost as well as the west. One of my favourite walking areas of the South Downs is around Devil’s Dyke (see Walk 2 in this guide) on the northern edge of the downs. This was where Dell Boy aka the actor David Jason came to grief in one of the episodes of Fools and Horses when he tried to impress his lady friend with his imagined skills in para-gliding. It was while I was walking along this escarpment following part of the South Downs Way long distance footpath one gloriously sunny day that I found my first bee orchid. If ever there was a more aptly named plant, then you would have to search far and wide. At first I thought I was looking at a cluster of bumble bees, all clinging to a fleshy stalk growing out of the chalky soil. Finding it was an experience which has never left my memory of that sunny day’s walk along the South Downs Way.
Despite moving back to our northern roots, we have been fortunate in having one of our sons living not all that far away from the South Downs National Park. This has given us the hardly needed excuse to renew our love of the area and, especially get to know the eastern end of the downs much better. One of our favourite walks is along the Seven Sisters around Beachy Head, that photogenic line of undulating chalk cliffs between Eastbourne and Newhaven (see Walk 1 in this guide). After following the Seven Sisters, our version took us inland across fields dotted with plump woolly sheep. It was here we saw the first shepherd’s cottage on wheels (really a semi-static caravan); these have since become fashionable, especially since David Cameron out ex-Prime Minister bought one when he started to write his much delayed memoirs.
Article written by Brian Spencer
As a past appointed member of the Peak District National Park Authority, I have a lasting agreement with the whole principle of the National Parks in Britain. I see them as places where people can live and work, while at the same time, retaining their special interest and beauty for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.
Walking guide to the South Downs National Park, with 20 best routes chosen by the park rangers here