Well it’s early, damn early 4.30am to be precise. My alarm sounded and barely awake I stumble from my warm and comfy bed, carry my clothing and get changed downstairs.
I’m having to catch the 7am coach from Birmingham, with a stop over at Southampton before arriving into Winchester around 12pm. Coaches are cheap, at more than half the cost of a train they are comfy but usually take double the time, it’s all a pay off I guess.
The coach rumbles along the motorway, stopping and starting with the morning rush hour, I mind not as I doze in and out of sleep trying to catch up on a precious few hours, I wake sore neck accompanying me as we arrive into Oxford, bikes mingle effortlessly with traffic as we wind our way through the street and architecture of learning.
After a quick transfer Winchester looms into view, the rain was now heavier I don my
waterproofs before departing the holiday makers heading for the airport and warmer climbs, I read beforehand that the start was a little confusing for the Southdowns Way, so set off towards the cathedral and from there hopped onto the path running alongside the river.
My first route did not head onto the official SDW route but opted for the closer Itchin Way heading alongside what appears to be a river but marked as a canal on OS, as I ran I pass the strangest contraption floating along the waterway, from the surface it resembled a tractor that had been driven into the water and now struggled to get out. I passed some walkers and a few runners before turning off the path and heading across St Catherine hill, a large pre roman fort, it now protects numerous flora and fauna as a nature reserve. One ominous note on OS highlighted the presence of plague pits, buried here as locals at the time refused to have the victims buried in the local grave yard.
I passed quickly and over the busy M3,
I climb Tywford Down alongside the old roman road, passing fields of wheat interspersed with the red of wild poppies, rain came and went as I approached the edge of the MOD firing range, the large red flag declared the area off-limits and so a quick diversion was called for, as I passed by the loud clatter of assault rifle fire echoed in the air. Morstead passed I joined the SDW at Cheese FootHead, a large natural amphitheater and during WW2, held entertainment for the stationed GI’s and now a SSSI. It wasnt long before I was coming across my first water point, having checked out the national trail website I was aware that all along the path were stationed fresh water points, this made rehydration easier, not that during the rain it was required today.
I passed rolling farmlands, quiet country tracks and bridleways, a few walkers headed the opposite way to me and hello’s were exchanged. A short trot up to Beacon hill soon followed again a temporary diversion was in place which headed down the road into Exton, the rain was now constant I stopped at the local pub (which was closed) and spoke to a few walkers who were heading back to Winchester after completing a 12 mile stretch, car keys were forgotten so a taxi was needed for them.
My feet had begun to rub on my trainers causing a sore spot along the top of my foot, i loosened my laces and was given temporary relief. I was soon upon Old Winchester Hill, but having been living with pain in my foot for the last few miles I opted for the lower route which still offered fantastic views across the numerous rolling hills.
I had planned to camp the night at Upper Parsonage Farm but having spent the last 7hrs in the rain vamping held no joy for me, pre East Meon I had tried to book accommodation at a local pub but with the wet I was unable to use my phone, the site offered a room and so entering the pub I was met with a distinct look of “you don’t belong here” as the chef looked me up and down a number of times, I was told no rooms were free, there was no pleasant manner about this place and so I left.
I headed for my first option of camping, a few phone calls secured the lovely Shepherds hut for only £15, complete with a wood burner I was happy, wet but happy.
Clothes began drying by the fire and food consumed, I showered and got into bed, nursing my poor feet, planning tomorrow’s 27 miles.