The South Downs Way – Day 7

June 5, 1980: Cocking Down to Buriton



Exactly two weeks after completing Day 6 I set out on Thursday, June 5, to complete my walk on the South Downs Way. Again Bunny Dexter was my companion; I had never supposed that I would have company on four of the seven days of this walk – when I started out alone from Eastbourne on the last day of February. Nor that, having completed the walk, I would be obliged, eighteen years later, to complete it a second time!

What a contrast in weather on this walk. As late as March 17, Day 2, we were still in winter. Now it was summery warm, even hot as we began a complex journey which I had engineered after consultation with timetables in the Swiss Cottage Library. I was already perspiring in the train, which took us from Waterloo at 8:50 and brought us to Haslemere at 9:42. It seemed appropriate that I should be back in Haslemere on a day of milestones, for this had been the starting point of my first ever walk in England, back in 1973. We had only five minutes to wait before an Alder Valley bus arrived to take us to Midhurst by a most picturesque route. There was time for a pee in the public facilities before we boarded a waiting bus for our journey to Middlefield Lane, just south of Cocking. In the latter stages of this ride we re-covered a portion of the bus route we had taken leaving here two weeks earlier.

A local woman who was also going to do some SDW walking got off with us and walked a portion of the way up Cocking Hill in our company – but she then disappeared in a thicket in order to put on her shorts and we never saw her again. We had eaten breakfast on the train this time (pickled eggs, cheese and apples) and had digested same before attempting the long climb up Linch Down.

Bunny took off her sweatshirt, which I carried in my pack along with everything else. This only partly explains why she was able to stride steadily ahead of me most of the day. I found the going somewhat arduous, though I never experienced the unsettling nausea and palpitations of the previous walk. It was quite warm and sunny, though occasionally a cloud would arrive, and there was a nice breeze.

There was certainly a lot of up and down, with Didling Hill and Treyford Hill next on the agenda. Going up the latter we encountered a beautiful wood, which was very pleasant. Peacocks were screeching in the grounds of Monkton House, hidden behind wire netting and tall scrub. On Philliswood Down we changed direction and descended to the foot of Pen Hill. A steep climb on an old earthwork brought us to the summit, where we shared a Diet Pepsi. Bunny also shared the latest news on her failed romances and abortive career. I had her take my picture here because I was celebrating my 150th long distance footpath mile for the year, and the 300th of my career. My habit of memorializing walking totals every hundred miles began here, for I am sure I was quite unaware of my 100 and 200-mile moments on the Pennine Way.

Then we descended to the foot of Beacon Hill, though – fortunately – we were not required by the SDW to climb this steep hill. We walked along one lane which we found very warm – for the hedges on each side prevented the breezes from reaching us, while providing no shade themselves: the worst of both worlds on a hot day. On the other side of Beacon Hill we began the ascent of Harting Downs and at the highest point, with me signing the theme music from The Pallisers, we had a view of South Harting – where Anthony Trollope once lived.

We crossed a motor road after our lunch of sardines, Rye-Krisp, eggs, cheese, carrots and another one of Bunny’s weird beers, this one a Dutch brand made for export to Israel. We then had a delightful walk through a wood identified on the OS map as “The Bosom” and soon reached the road to Uppark.

Here we took a detour, ascending a steep incline to the house itself. It cost us a pound to do a circuit of the rooms. The ladies at the entrance kiosk (two of a phalanx of geriatric guides) offered to keep my pack for me while I was in the house. Nobody objected to my hiking boots, though there was a sign warning against stiletto heels. The house was quite interesting, particularly downstairs (where I kept expecting Mr. Hudson and Mrs. Bridges to appear). But being plunged into the sudden cool of the wine cellar made me feel almost giddy. Bunny asked a guard for a glass of water for me. H.G. Wells’ mother served as a housekeeper here and the author’s own memories of the place were fictionalized in his account of Bladesover Hall in Tono Bungay – which I had read only a year or so before this visit.

We were only there for half and hour or so, a most unusual addition to a day of walking. We sat in the garden for a while and then walked back down to the continuation of the SDW and 40 Acre Lane. Some of this was rather hard and full of ruts and not the most pleasant walking. There was no sign to mark the West Sussex-Hampshire border, where I expected the route to end, but SDW signs continued to appear as we walked around Sunwood Farm and proceeded on tarmac in a westerly direction.

We passed a Royal Mail van whose driver was having a kip at the wheel. Another beautiful wood beckoned and indeed there was a sign pointing to a cart track to Buriton, our destination – but I was curious to see if the SDW had been extended much beyond the border, where Jennett’s map had come to an end. So we followed the road around another bend and continued westward.

Here we were intercepted by a retired farmer, Mr. Gourlay, who was clipping bushes on a footpath that crossed his property. He was accompanied by an Irish Setter. “Come all the way from Eastbourne?” he asked. When I told him I had, he said, “That deserves a cup of tea,” and before we knew it we were sitting in the kitchen of this 78 year-old in shorts and listening to his life history, that of his relatives, and to a string of scatological jokes and half-witticisms. An example of the latter was, “I always though that Hertz Van Rentals was a Dutch painter.”

After tea he walked with us for some distance, telling us how to find the bus shelter in Buriton. When we reached the main road we saw the last of the SDW signs, a one-armed one pointing only back toward Eastbourne. Here we turned right and descended to the outskirts of Buriton.

Mr. Gourlay had given us a new bus schedule, so we knew we had about 20 minutes to wait. We were the only passengers when the bus stopped to pick us up at 6:08. It put us down at Petersfield train station, just a few minutes later, and we boarded the fast 6:23 for Waterloo. At Guildford we were joined by five secretaries on their way to Leicester Square for a night of fun. Bunny and I parted by the underground entrance and I was home by 8:10. It would have been 8:00 had it not been for one of those infuriating naps the Northern Line liked to take before pulling into Camden Town. I was tired (and tanned) myself.

The following June, to add a postscript, and just after Dorothy and I had moved to London fro good, I coaxed Bunny to re-walk Day 1 of the SDW with me. I had a mad idea that Bunny would like to do the sections she had missed in 1980, but she insisted that it was against her principles to finish anything. Nevertheless we walked from Eastbourne to Exceat on a wonderfully warm sunny day and then took the bus to Seaford to buy some antiques. Against all my warnings, Bunny insisted on putting her packages into a trolley at Victoria, and when the one of these flew out of its wire cage, smashing its glass cargo in the process, I was somehow blamed for the incident. Later that summer my guilt deepened when I refused to man Bunny’s stall in Notting Hill, having already ruined a pair of trousers in the process. I couldn’t see why Bunny didn’t man her own stall (but of course she was feuding then with Tony over the disposition of some church chairs they had purchased jointly). When Bunny complained to Dorothy about just how much my disloyal dereliction of duty was costing her in champagne money my wife gave her such an earful that she disappeared from our lives and I never saw her again. Having Bunny as a friend was a full time job (and by now we had real jobs) and, though I missed her, I had to be content with the happy memories of our walks in 1980 and 1981 and the church chair I’ve been sitting on to write this account of my walks on the South Downs Way. Bunny died two decades later, having spent the last years of her life as a documentary filmmaker.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 8: Buriton to Meonstoke