Monday, 2 February 2009

South Downs Way Day Three Queen Elizabeth Country Park - Cocking

The Way Ahead
I had been away from the South Downs for the summer but now it was autumn and they were once again calling to me. Before I continued on from my last stop of Amberley I needed to rewind so that I could walk the section I had missed earlier in the year when I had been out on Good Friday and faced a lack of public transport. This promised to be the most difficult section for public transport and so it proved during the day. I first just missed the bus from Havant to Queen Elizabeth Country Park and so did a more convoluted journey via Petersfield using a combination of bus and train. Despite my early start I didn’t get walking until almost 9.45am. It would leave me only four hours to complete the section which was a tall order.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park
From the Country Park bus stop I briefly looked at the visitor centre before climbing up through the trees to short cut the dog leg that exists through the park. I’m not sure it saved much effort though as it was a fairly steep climb and I ended up descending almost the same amount the other side. The trees were by now in the process of changing colours and the beech woods looked like they would offer a great show in a few weeks. For now they were still predominantly green and still fully clothed.

After walking up through the woods I eventually came out on to open downland above Buriton, the former start of the route. It was here that the Downs had their more characteristic shape and the path would follow the crest of the ridge from here until Eastbourne. The car park at the top of the lane above Buriton brough back a number of memories for me as this was the start of the Downsman Hike, a walking competition that I took part in each year during the 1980s. Even the time of year was very similar as training for the hike took place throughout September. The path from here to Harting used to be a quick sprint taking only about 45 minutes. Today though I would be happy with a lot longer than this, as for the first time I realised that I could walk the route at a much slower pace and enjoy the scenery rather than curse at the hills!

Harting View
The section to Harting was quite straightforward, with some of it being tarmac road and other sections flint track. I also came across my first walkers of the day on this part, with a couple of very fit looking chaps going in the opposite direction. By now the weather was starting to warm and after the cold and slightly misty start, the day really got going. It was one of those warm September days that is so perfect for hiking.

Beacon Hill
Eventually I reached Harting Down from where the view was simply staggering. Behind me was Butser Hill and in the far distance the hills that form the connection between the North and South Downs near to the start of the walk in Winchester. Away to the North was South Harting village and Petersfield beyond. Further beyond that the ridge of the Hogs Back up by Farnham (and the beginning of the North Downs proper) could also be seen.

Airman's Grave
I lingered for awhile before heading off to the next hill and one that I used to dread, Beacon Hill, one of the highest on the whole route. Today I decided not to take the route we always used to (straight over the top), but the ‘official’ route, which went around the back of the hill and thus reducing the climb but add to the mileage. As I rounded the hill I had to wait for a couple of Conservation Board people to pass in their Land Rover. It was a welcome break from the slog of the hill. I descended the valley and passed Littleton Farm. The track here looked like it should have been more substantial and taken advantage of a natural gap in the Downs but unusually there was only a flint track. At the other side was another short climb up to the Devil’s Jumps, a series of Bronze Age burial mounds.

Devil's Jumps
On the way to the Jumps I passed a gravestone, which marked the spot that the first airman killed in the Battle of Britain fell. Apparently he was flying a Junkers bomber that was intercepted by a Hurricane fighter originating from Tangmere, just down the road. The grave was still marked by flowers, a poignant reminder of the futility of war some 70 years after the event.

Army Helicopter
As I reached the Devil’s Jumps I was joined by another reminder of war, an army (?) helicopter that was making a fearful racket as it practised low flying manoeuvres over this part of the Downs. Although fascinating to watch it did rather ruin the solitude and peace and quiet of the countryside. I was also mindful that I was up against time and still had about half an hour to reach the bus at the bottom of the hill. My feet were feeling a bit sore by now (perhaps because of the hard surfaces of today’s tracks etc) so it was a bit of a struggle to move too quickly. Imagine my annoyance then when I saw the bus go by when I had about five minutes walking left! I just flopped down on the verge and rested while waiting for the bus back to Chichester and train onward to Havant.

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