As part of a resolution to see more of the UK, I decided to walk the South Downs Way.
The South Downs Way
The South Downs Way is a 100-mile walk from Winchester to the White Cliffs at Eastbourne. It arguably contains some of the best views in England walking across rolling green hills and through quaint villages full of pubs and farm shops.
We decided to start at Winchester so that we would be walking towards the sea, finishing with the white cliffs. We parked up in Winchester near a pub called The Black Boy, which, popping our heads around the door was an eccentric local pub filled with doors made from bookcases, stuffed animals including a giraffe and trinkets galore hanging from the ceiling. It is definitely worth a quick drink before starting.
Post our unplanned drink, we were in a hurry to get started. Jonny took control and announced that I could only correct him on directions three times during the entire 100-mile walk. I used up two in the first minute and was promptly banned from directing.
Confused by the number of South Down Way signs, Jonny led us where lots of people were walking and we set off. Half an hour later, we were stood on top of St Catherine’s Hill admiring the views over Winchester and looking at the ancient maze cut into the chalk. Local legend has it that the maze was carved by a schoolboy who was banished to the hill during summer holidays for bad behaviour and who then drowned in the river on the final day. Depressed by this local legend, we continued into the lush green valley, heading towards the old viaduct.
An hour into our walk with still no signs for the South Downs Way and after using up my third and final directing complaint, Jonny consulted googlemaps. Googlemaps showed us we should be somewhere else, so we asked another passerby if we were in the right place. Sadly not. We had driven all the way to Winchester to walk the South Downs Way and walked an hour in the wrong direction. After trying to cross a motorway and walk down a busy A road to join the path, we gave up for the day and set off to explore Winchester instead.
Jonny now rather sheepish, treated me to a coffee and piece of chocolate ginger biscuit cake that was to die for at Chocco.
Winchester Cathedral Illumination Festival
Post-treat, we both felt perkier and went to visit Winchester Cathedral which had their Illumination Flower Festival on. Illumination was an incredible flower arrangements inspired by the Winchester Bible set in the stunning Cathedral whilst evening song rang out in the background. The quality of displays was up there with what we saw at Chelsea Flower Show and it was one of the best and most beautiful live art installations I have ever been to. An unexpected highlight of our trip – I would definitely recommend timing a visit to when this is on next year.
We also learnt that Jane Austen was buried in Winchester Cathedral aged 41, having travelled to Winchester to see a doctor. At that point, she was unknown as an author. I realised to my embarrassment that whilst I have obviously watched the six-hour BBC Pride and Prejudice and seen the films, I have not read a single one of her books (any suggestions on which to start with gratefully received).
As we drove, wearily legged back to London having not completed any of the South Downs Way, we reflected on how much longer the weekend seemed getting out of the city for the day, even if not to do as planned.
Next time, I will be head of directions…