We were away this weekend visiting friends in Emsworth (a small town near Portsmouth and Chichester on the south coast), and so I decided to take advantage of our proximity to the South Downs to do a hilly (well, hillier) walk. I was a bit restricted by having walking gear with me but no maps – foiled by the archaic and counter-intuitive Ordnance Survey website (it’s the 21st century, people!) and lack of a reliable internet connection – so decided to follow the Sussex Border path from Emsworth to Chalton and then take the Staunton Way north to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield, where I would meet up with my family and our friends for a picnic lunch.
The Sussex Border path claims to have been set up in 1989, and there is a helpful website with section descriptions and sketch maps here: http://www.sussexborderpath.co.uk/. A word of warning though – although most of the section I did was waymarked, I found that some of the section was oddly described and it was easy to miss the path, resulting in a couple of lengthy detours. I managed the section using the rather rudimentary maps function on my Blackberry when I got lost.
The Emsworth to Chalton section starts next to Emsworth Creek, just outside the town centre:
You follow the creek north before turning off to go past the Nature Reserve. I missed the turning and ended up near Emsworth Station, resulting in a lengthy walk through residential streets to get back on the path near Westbourne Church. The path then heads through woods and nature reserves and was almost completely deserted when I walked it apart from a few dogwalkers and the odd jogger. I passed some beautiful bluebells and only had to walk through one field of rape (I hate the smell!).
I nearly missed the turning near Horse Pasture Farm (it would probably be more accurate to say that the path goes THROUGH a farm rather than towards it, and being a city girl I was reluctant to walk through the farmyard without a clearly marked path) and then completely missed the turning just before Finchdean, so ended up having to walk about 2k further on the road in order to reach the George pub at Finchdean. The George is a lovely looking pub, but it was a bit disconcerting the way the whole room went silent when I opened the door, went to the bar and ordered a pint (Doombar, if you’re wondering) from the rather unsmiling barman. I decided to opt for a packet of crisps rather than lunch and drank my pint outside in the sun with my boots off. Ahh, luxury.
From Finchdean the path heads uphill onto the downs, and this was a really enjoyable part of the walk – great views and the lovely sight of new crops blowing in the breeze. I made good time coming down into Chalton, but was already late for lunch because of the unplanned detours.
From the Red Lion in Chalton (I didn’t have time for another pint) I followed the Staunton Way north to the Queen Elizabeth park. The path is well waymarked and seemed busier, although that may just have been the after-lunch crowd. I eventually made it to the park visitors’ centre (via a section of the South Downs Way) about an hour and a half later than planned, and then spent an enjoyable hour and a bit going round the 2 mile ‘space trail’ (waymarked with rockets and scale pictures of the planets) with the kids.
By the end of the day I estimate I’d walked about 17 miles (including unplanned detours!). I was worried at how tired I was but then justified it by telling myself it was probably a gentle uphill the whole way from the coast, which made me feel slightly better. I decided to ditch my original plan of walking at least part of the way back and luxuriated in the car journey, accompanied by two very tired children.
I’m starting to think seriously about how four people (two adults, one 4-year-old and one 1-year-old) are going to fit into a caravan intended for two with enough clothing and equipment for at least 10 weeks away from home. A lot of the equipment lists I’ve seen for LEJOG are for self-supported walkers; I’m lucky to have the luxury of my partner running ‘support’ with the caravan, but that also means thinking about where all four of us are going to sleep and taking all the clothing changes that are needed for a holiday with two children in unpredictable British weather across the entire country! I would be lying if I said that any of us are tidy people and it’s going to be a major task to be disciplined about taking the bare minimum we need and keeping everything packed away as much as possible. I’ll probably blog a list in the next few weeks and any suggestions about what to take/what to discard are very welcome…
Snapshots: Hearing (but not seeing) a woodpecker in Hollybank Wood; a laminated Bible verse attached with bulldog clips to a fence near the bluebell wood; a wooden memorial cross to an airman who crashed during World War II; bluebells, anemones and dappled sunlight; a large and subdued-looking group of walkers following a beaming leader downhill; skylarks and straight chalk paths over Chalton Down; cheery greetings from Lycra-clad cyclists zooming past my seat outside the pub; admiring the tree wigwam of dead branches built by the kids; baby snores in the car on the way home.