The South Downs Way: Day 2 – East Meon to South Harting

(19th April 2016 – 12 miles)

After my disappointment at last night’s food, I charged downstairs for some serious, no-nonsense feeding … and this time I wasn’t disappointed.  The full English was generous; actually quite superb. and my liking for the ‘Ye Olde George Inn’ notched up two points.

East Meon

East Meon church

With a full stomach, at last, I stepped outside, buckled up my gaiters, pulled on my rucksack, loosened my belt a notch, rubbed some dried muck off my trousers and set off, whistling, to rejoin the South Downs Way.

East Meon (2)

East Meon

Today was my shortest leg.  Whilst accommodation on the trail is plentiful, it isn’t always perfectly spaced.  During the planning stage, my brain had throbbed over arranging six fairly equidistant stop-overs.  In the end I gave up – hence a long first day, this short one, followed by a long twenty-miler.

South Downs Way Day 2 (1)

By 9am I was back on the path with an immediate warm climb through woods;

to birdsong and wild-flowers.

South Downs Way Day 2 (2)

At the top, the trees thinned to reveal brilliant 360° views over Hampshire.  With a lot of sky.

South Downs Way Day 2 (3)

I was in high, bubbly spirits, slowly spinning to look about me when a fast shadow passed overhead.

Red kite South Downs

Looking up, a large bird of prey whooshed past again – a red kite.  In my excitement (I’d never seen a kite on the Downs before) I barely had time to focus my camera before the unhelpful one sailed away.  A party of three women ‘Wayers stopped to see what all my fuss was about but were visibly unimpressed when I told them.  (They lived in  Oxfordshire, where kites are two-a-penny).

Ram

I was in no hurry on this short day and walked slowly, meeting  the Most Impressive Ram Of The Day;

Fat Goose

and the funniest, loudest, most inquisitive, quarrelsome goose.  I rather fell for him … or her.

South Downs Way Day 2 (6)

The path carried me on through woodland and puddles and avoidable mud

South Downs Way Day 2 (5)

until I stopped at an unremarkable copse, just off the path.  It was here, eight years ago, that I slept after a long, long walk from Amberley and an increasingly desperate search for somewhere unobtrusive to pitch my tent.  My dog, Hobbes, grunted when I produced her blanket from the bottom of my rucksack and laid it at the foot of my sleeping bag.  (As usual though, by the morning she’d shimmied up and her nose touched mine).

South Downs Way Day 2 (7)

I used Trailblazer’s ‘The South Downs Way’ guidebook on this trip and liked it very much

DSM_4237

with its simply drawn maps

HMSO South Downs Way (3)

but I prefer the Ordnance Survey map sections,

HMSO South Downs Way (1)

and beautiful illustrations

HMSO South Downs Way (2)

in my treasured, much-used, 1979 HMSO edition.

South Downs Way Day 2 (8)

At Butser Hill, the highest point on the SDW, I stopped for my regular boot-selfie and a day-old sandwich from Winchester M&S.  It was OK with a slightly, not altogether unpleasant, fermented after-taste.  I’d tell you the filling but I can see your eyes glazing.

South Downs Way Day 2 (9)

As I ate, I watched a National Trust worker tending his flock and felt voyeuristic watching him though my zoom lens, if a little jealous too.

Buzzards South Downs

I walked down the hill to pass under the busy A3 and spotted two buzzards a couple of hundred yards away.  Slowly, I stalked closer but they flew off as soon as they saw the cut of my jib and before I could get too close.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park

A little later, I stopped at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park visitor centre for OK tea and OK cake and remembered how Hobbes and I had struggled to find enough drinking water during our adventure.  (Hobbes was happy to lap from puddles – me, less so).  We were only able to camp in 2008 when a kindly cyclist saw me banging my head against the centre’s dry tap.  He gave me his bottle of water and I was so grateful (at not needing to divert, by bus, off the path to fill my own bottles) I almost kissed him.  Only the look of alarm on his hitherto friendly face, stopped me in time.  Now, in 2016, there are several more path-side water taps along the SDW … and they all worked.

South Downs Way Day 2 (10)

The 600 hectare QE park is a mix of downland and one of the largest continuous areas of woodland in the south-east.  It also has  20 miles of paths; but the SDW is clearly signed and route finding straightforward.

South Downs Way Day 2 (11)

The ‘Way used to follow an unmetalled road used by cars (and still does according to my guidebook) but it now diverts to higher, quieter ground and for once, I was totally, gratefully alone.

South Downs Way Day 2 (12)

The Shipwrights Way?  The Staunton Way?  The Hangers Way?  England has such a rich choice of paths – many of which, like these three, I’ve never even heard of.

South Downs Way Day 2 (14)

The afternoon wound on as I left the Park behind and followed a broad track eastwards.

South Downs Way Day 2 (15)

With plenty of time, I stopped often to sit on the verge or a tree stump, to drink water, study my guidebook or eat an apple.  There are worse days to spend a sunny day in April.  The Hampshire Downs are more wooded than those of Sussex and whilst I enjoy sylvan walking, far-off views are often obscured and the true sense of rolling Downland is muted.

South Downs Way Day 2 (17)

At 3pm, I took a sharp left off the main Way and descended the scarp edge,

Wild garlic

past swathes of wild garlic

South Harting

to the village of South Harting with its beautiful verdigris church steeple

South Harting (2)

and handsome buildings.

The Ship Inn, South Harting

The Ship Inn, South Harting

The state of ‘The Ship‘ pub was alarming and I panicked at the prospect of a beer-less evening.  Thankfully, though ‘The Ship‘ has closed for good, ‘The White Hart‘ a little up the road is still open.  Tugging off my rucksack, I sat outside in afternoon sunshine with a pint of lager shandy and, of course, a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

South Gardens Cottage B&B, South Harting

A few minutes walk away is ‘South Gardens Cottage’, which might be the prettiest B&B I’ve ever stayed in.

South Gardens Cottage B&B

I loved my Enid Blyton room, and immediately felt at home in this fascinating C15th, gloriously old-fashioned home.  After a bath, (no new-fangled showers here) I returned to the pub for decent grub (no moans about portion size or overpricing, note) and to write up my journal.  I anxiously checked the BBC weather app for the days ahead but needn’t have worried.  The sun would be shining for a while yet and tomorrow I’d have a clear – if hot – 20 mile march to Amberley and the half way point of the South Downs Way.ave

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6 thoughts on “The South Downs Way: Day 2 – East Meon to South Harting

  1. I always forget that buzzards mean a different bird in the UK than here—it’s the folk name for turkey vultures, which are useful but not nearly as attractive.

    Hobbes must have been so much fun to walk with. I’m not sure how Luther would have handled distances. He’d have loved the walking parts, but the guilt trip when I did not produce a sofa every evening would have been profound and ongoing. And he would not have behaved well around sheep. (Or geese, or cows, etc.)

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    • Poor turkey vultures – they weren’t at the front of the good-looks queue were they? Hobbes did several long distance paths with me we only abandoned one, when she cut her paw. I used a retractable dog-lead often, which was brilliant, but she was pretty docile around farm animals and pretty good on recall. If she saw deer though she’d be up and off after them without any hope of stopping her. And hares. Thankfully, she never caught either. D

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  2. Loved this post, especially the photo of the church spire. Outstanding contrast and depth of field. 5.6? What lens? Just amazing whatever, thank you.

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