The last day
I couldn’t believe it was the last day of the South Downs already, at least it would be if I could smash the last 19 miles in one day before it got too late. I knew I could do 30 miles in one day, but what about my legs? Luckily, a good night’s rest albeit with terrible hayfever symptoms did my legs a lot of good and I was fresh and ready to go. After packing up camp I crossed the railway in Southease and headed up onto what would be the last of the downs. One of the steepest ascents yet, but by far the most stunning. The rising sun burnt its light onto Southease below and a faint mist coated the air as trains thundered through the station below.
I wished I’d stopped at Alfriston
I arrived in Alfriston before the pubs and cafés were even open, I was making good miles, but I recently hiked this section again with a friend and stopped in Alfriston on our way for lunch and a pint. It was a bad move, that beer made us so sluggish for the ascents leading to the Cuckmere River estuary.
Entering the Seven Sisters Country Park
After a steep ascent to the coast, the trail opens up into the estuary where you get your first views of the sea up close. You know then that you’re incredibly close to the finish line with just 10 miles do go.
The Seven Sisters
These huge chalk cliffs make up the entire home stretch of the South Downs Way, making it the toughest section with the most elevation gain. On such a hot day I was lucky to have enough water from Southease still. It was a tough climb up the sides of each of those cliffs, but the views are amazing. There’s also a welcome stop at the Berling Gap Cafe to recharge for the home stretch to Eastbourne.
I made it!
I got quite emotional walking over the last 2 miles of the South Downs Way. I couldn’t believe I’d walked all that way with 98% of the trail behind me. It was my first thru-hike and while it’s not the longest trail in the world, for me it was a huge achievement. If you’d have told me that someday I’d be able to walk 100 miles I’d have laughed. I’d suddenly become a thru-hiker and the SDW was the first of many.
When I arrived at the dumb post stating “Winchester: 100 miles” I couldn’t believe it. The strange thing was that there was nobody there to meet me, the sense of achievement was amazing and I wanted to celebrate, the people at the café near the trail had no idea what I’d just done until I shouted “100 miles! I’ve done it!” and proceeded to take selfies. A couple then asked if I had completed the South Downs Way and they were amazed and said they’d like to give it a try. All that followed was the long yet paved walk to the train station to go home and start planning my next adventure.
By far the toughest day on the South Downs should you decide to start from Winchester. Plenty of elevation gain marks the home stretch of the trail over the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.