I knew the exact place where I had camped the previous year, at mile thirty-three in a field, before a country road winding to the village of Cocking. As I passed the same spot this time I surveyed the scene below me. At 800ft, the way dipped to the road then rose to a similar height before levelling off. I spotted woods three miles distant, a perfect place to pitch my tent for the night and pull in thirty-seven miles for the day, three miles more than my previous effort.
The rise from the road was kinder than expected and I arrived at 7pm, quickly setting up my tent and camp equipment so I could sit, cook, relax and unwind. I had found wild garlic, nettles and dandelion leaves to throw into some meagre, dried noodles. Great culinary start, shame about the finale.
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The forest was dense, but I found a clearing illuminated by the full moon. A light breeze tickled the tops of the pines and they swayed in recognition. Setting my alarm for 5am, I was fast asleep a few minutes later.
An hour is enough for me to get up, put water on the boil for a coffee, eat breakfast, pack up and walk. It was cloudy and chilly; I longed for the sun so I could peel off my jacket. I passed a solitary hiker packing up under an oak tree in a field, but he didn’t see me. Clouds drifted away leaving a low mist that clung stubbornly to the south flanks of the Downs. As the sun’s rays broke through, illuminating my surroundings, the ground became dappled and splashed with colour.
Houghton Bridge at mile forty-seven was my intended rest stop. I expected to arrive around 9.30, too early for the excellent Bridge Inn to be plying its trade but the cafe was sure to be open and serving breakfast. I crossed the busy A29 near Bury Hill, prompting a quick flick of the head from side to side and a mad dash before the Honda or Suzuki brigade came blasting over the crest of the hill. Houghton Bridge was visible as I descended the chalky track and my gaze followed the South Downs Way over the River Arun and up onto Rackham Hill. I was aiming for halfway before midday and the omens looked good.