South Downs Way - The End!
Posted on 2019/02/17 10:24:04 (February 2019).
[Saturday 16th February 2019]
I probably should have waited for better weather for the triumphal final section of my seven month odyssey along the South Downs Way, but I had the day to myself today, and was impatient to get back out into the countryside, so forged ahead regardless. I had checked the weather forecast, which had originally suggested cloud in the morning but clearing later, whereas in reality it ended up being unrelenting fog all day.
As ever, the logistics required some thought today, given the limited buses between Petersfield and Winchester, but after some deliberation I eventually decided to start at Winchester, and get a taxi from there to East Meon. I'm always surprised by how expensive taxis seem to be out in the sticks, but I was time constrained, and doing it this way got me to East Meon by 9am to start my walk.
Last time I had seen East Meon on a very grey day, and thought it must be a beautiful spot in the right weather conditions. Today I suppose the thick mist made it quite atmospheric, but I would still like to see the village again with blue skies above it - it really is very pretty.
Anyway, I did not linger in East Meon, and after being dropped off at the church by the taxi (chosen for no other reason than it was where I got on the bus on my last walk), I headed purposefully out of the village, into the misty expanse that lay beyond. It's a good job the South Downs Way is so well signposted because I could barely see more than 50 metres in front of me most of the time.
The first landmark on my walk after leaving East Meon was Old Winchester Hill, where I had hoped naively that it might be sufficiently high so as to poke out above the mist so I could appreciate the view. Of course, this wasn't the case. So other than the reasonably steep climb on the way up I had no real sense of being on a hilltop. I walked around the perimeter of the ancient hill fort, greeting a few grey sheep along the way, but no views to be had whatsoever today.
The next section of the walk, between Old Winchester Hill, contained the muddiest stretch I encountered today, and my boots became notably heavier as a result. After crossing the old Meon Valley Railway, the path followed a pretty little stream with very clear water. to where it joined the Meon just outside of Exton.
Exton is another rather pretty village, similar to East Meon, but rather dominated in the centre by a grand country house surrounded by high walls - the eponymous Exton House. I took a slight detour from the South Downs Way here to have a look round the village, and then managed to lose my way slightly, the path leading out of the village being east to walk past.
After Exton, the walk started to get a bit tedious, if I'm being honest. The novelty of the mist was wearing off, and I really wanted to actually have some views. Particularly when it came to the steeper sections of the walk - typically the pay-off for the slog to get up a hill is that there will be a view from the top, and today that was not the case. There was a Beacon Hill about half an hour out of Exton which was a good case in point.
Given the lack of visual stimulation thanks to the unrelenting mist, from this point on my thoughts were very firmly on the lunchtime pub stop, and so I was quite pleased when around 12:30 I arrived at the Milburys.
It's a really interesting pub, in the middle of nowhere - not obviously part of any village as far as I could tell - and very old fashioned. This was evident immediately on arrival from the wonderfully dilapidated state of the sign outside - which was barely legible - and it couldn't be further from the awfulness of the blight of gastropub makeovers.
Inside there was much to like - an impressive open fire near the bar, then round the corner into the next room a 300ft deep well and a 250 year old treadmill. It's hard to imagine in the cold hard economics by which modern gastropubs are ran that such oddities would be allowed to consume such a significant amount of dining area. I chose the table squeezed in underneath the treadmill, and the slight fear of being crushed to death by an ancient piece of machinery should it become dislodged added a certain frisson to my lunch.
I hadn't fully planned what to do after lunch, and imagined the scenery nearing Winchester might be a bit underwhelming (more so given the stubborn refusal of today's fog to lift), so had thought about just cutting it short when an opportunity to do so presented itself. However that never really happened - there weren't any bus stops (without a several hour wait) along the rest of the walk, no were there any convenient places to try and call a taxi. So I just kept trudging on, for the remaining 3 hours it took me to get from the Milburys all the way to Winchester station.
There weren't exactly many highlights along the way either, the ridiculously named Cheesefoot Head was presumably the sort of place which might have nice views on a day without all this mist, but today I just walked straight past without pausing. It did at least have a characterful little wooded section leading up to it, with some nice trees. So there was that.
Beyond Cheesefoot Head I passed through the tiny village (hamlet?) of Chilcomb, the last settlement before Winchester.
I suppose I did feel some sense of achievement when I arrived at the last section of proper countryside footpath before Winchester, which crossed a large field, before then crossing over the M3. Beyond the M3 it was then of course an urban landscape, but it was nice to see that the South Downs Way signposts continued at least some way into the city.
I paused briefly at the last signpost I saw. Eastbourne 99 miles. It was nice to think I had indeed walked all that way. Admittedly, in dribs and drabs, one daytrip at a time, and now and again I'd deviated slightly from the route or cut the odd corner, but I had walked all the way from Eastbourne to here. Quite gratifying.
Arriving in the centre of Winchester was slightly overwhelming after the solitude of the walk today - so many people!
I would have liked to linger a bit longer, perhaps even have a celebratory pint in a pub in Winchester, but I felt compelled to get back home in time for dinner with Chie and Erika, so I jumped on the first available train at Winchester station and went back to London.
That's it for the South Downs Way then! There have been highs and lows, some sections glorious and stunning, others frankly a bit of a trudge. In fairness to the route, the difference between those two extremes was often more to do with the weather rather than the actual terrain. That said, it has been nice to see it in all the seasons.
So, the obvious question now is where next?
Posted by John's Mum at 2019/02/17 17:10:32.
Posted by John's Mum at 2019/02/17 17:10:36.
Also I wonder why it is comments keep getting double posted...
Posted by John at 2019/02/17 20:58:51.
Hmmm definitely something a bit awry with comments...
Posted by John at 2019/02/17 20:59:42.
Is this better?
Posted by John at 2019/02/17 21:09:31.
Posted by John at 2019/02/17 21:11:23.
Try this as another test.
Posted by John's Mum at 2019/02/18 08:33:26.
Yes ... well done John ... a real achievement ... and a great story!
Where next ....... South West Coast path? Not quite the same thing with only limited rail access ... but if you gave yourself 2 to 3 years and did it in either 2 or 3 day sections with a couple of overnight stays ... the old man of(in) Devon might join you for the easier bits .... although there are not many of them.......
Posted by Old man of Devon at 2019/02/18 10:47:31.
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