Stomach full, I departed the cafe just before the lunchtime crowd arrived. It was Sunday and, as expected, busier with walkers, dogs and cyclists. The first glimpse of the English Channel appeared to the south and patterns of young green crops, yellow rape fields and the hazy blue of the sea splashed colour everywhere. A solitary pillbox guarded the southern side of the Downs shortly after one of many defensive structures built during World War Two and still standing.
Another dash over the busy A24 just south of Washington and after battling the urge for a visit to the Frankland Arms pub I crawled up the other side towards Chanctonbury Ring, a clump of trees at mile fifty-six.
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Once a hill fort dating back to the 5th century BC, it commands great views in all directions and is shrouded in folklore. The devil can be summoned here by running around the ring seven times anticlockwise. You’re sure to be hungry after the exertion so he will reward you with a bowl of soup for your efforts, but be warned, your soul is expected in exchange.
The crowds thinned in late afternoon and again I checked my map for convenient camp spots. Finding nothing suitable and noticing some alarming contours, scuppering the chance for a flat spot, I pulled over after another thirty-seven-miler by the side of a field, sheltered from an increasing wind by a small forest. I had shaved a good six miles off last year’s effort and was confident of a midafternoon finish on the last day.
Come morning, the temperature had plummeted so I decided against my morning coffee in favour of movement to warm up the bones. Upon reaching the A27 road, just two miles down the hill, I went inside the garage. Not the most glamorous of locations but they had a decent coffee machine and warm food to fuel the next stage.
The climb up Castle Hill from the garage is one of my favourite sections of the South Downs Way. A panorama unfolds that appears like another country. To the south the sea edges closer and north, to the left, the Downs slip away to the Weald, an area of lowland extending up to the North Downs. It is glorious to behold and takes my breath away as I stand and gaze. The Downs open out during those last twenty miles with far-reaching views in all directions. Most of the woodland has vanished and walkers roll along the top, dipping to the occasional village with flint stone walls, quaint houses, ancient churches and oak-beamed pubs.