August 10 : South Downs Way : Alfriston to Exceat (circular)

Many walkers of the South Downs Way complete their journey to Eastbourne with a long day’s walk from Alfriston.

Alfriston – A Smuggling Town in years gone by

Indeed this is how we completed the South Downs Way back in 2011. It is a very long walk (approximately 12 miles consisting of 3 or 4 miles of river valley walking with some ascent, then 8 or so miles on the roller-coaster path up and down over each of the Seven Sisters.
The weather forecast was for high winds, so the thought of walking along the Seven Sisters cliffs was not appealing (not to mention dangerous), so we settled on breaking the extended route at the small village of Exceat and returning in a figure-of-eight manoeuvre via the lower reaches of the River Cuckmere and the village of Litlington.

A Bug Hotel, not a Travel Bug Hotel!

Our first cache of the day was as we crossed the River Cuckmere at Alfriston. A large white bridge spans the river and underneath is a bison hidden near some brickwork. Sadly in the height of summer the route to the bridge base was full of undergrowth, and it was difficult to see where it was safe to start our search from. We didn’t even start searching!

Alfriston’s White Bridge


After crossing the bridge we then followed the River Cuckmere downstream, facing the strong wind, to the village of Litlington. As we walked the reeds and rushes ‘bounced’ in the wind like waves on the sea, dog walkers coming towards us were being blown by as we greeted them, and every gate was an effort to open.

Final view of Alfriston, The Clergy House (foreground), Church behind


Litlington is a small village yet hosts three caches. We decided to find one of them on our outbound journey to Exceat, and leave the remaining two for our return leg. After the failure to even start searching for a cache at the White Bridge we were grateful for a quick find with a magnetic key safe. Inside, the log was well protected by a plastic bag, but the interior of the key safe was dripping with water.We left Litlington via a field where clearly the owners didn’t really want walkers going near their horses. A large sign told us about 10 things we mustn’t do! (‘No loitering’, ‘No feeding horses’, ‘No picnicking’ were just three of the taboos).
We arrived at a farmer’s field with views over the River Cuckmere and part of our return route. In the distance, marked on a hill was a white horse – we would be much closer to it later on.

White Horse, on the opposite banks of the River Cuckmere


At this point the South Downs Way crosses, for about 3/4 a mile, Friston Forest. Three caches lay on this part of our route, but they were part of a much larger series of 21 caches. We decided to make a diversion from the South Downs Way and undertake a circular mini-series of seven.

Our plan, to minimise backtracking was to undertake the Friston Forest caches in the order (Friston Forest 3,2,1,7,6,4 and 5).

Not far to the cache now


Number 3, the first one we reached, was at the top of about 50 woodland steps, a simple hint, and a simple find. We strode purposefully in the direction of cache 2. Sadly we missed the woodland path that would have taken us there, and ended up at cache 1 instead. Here the GPS coordinates seemed a little out, and the hint, although useful, did yield several places to search. We walked on to cache 2 (knowing we would have to unfortunately backtrack later). The GPS wouldn’t settle, but after it did so, it yielded a beautifully crafted ‘log cache’.

We returned via cache 1, to cache 7. Here the GPS was accurate, and the cache was our biggest of the day. It was nearing lunchtime and as had approached the cache we had espied a picnic table just outside the Forest. A great sturdy table, but more backtracking to resume our circuit!

Friston Forest


Cache 6 led us a merry dance. So exact were we at standing at GZ we failed to see the tell-tale pile of sticks! We searched every tree within 15 yards before searching where we stood 10 minutes before!

Just after cache 6 there should have been a path leading to cache 4. We somehow walked by it without realising and ending up at cache 5. So, another backtrack journey to cache 4.

All these caches were straightforward, subject to GPS wobbles, and provided us with a welcome break from the wind!
In the end the sequence we attempted the caches was 3,1,2,7,6,4,5 just a bit different from our planned route of 3,2,1,7,6,5,4 !

West Dean


Leaving the Forest we arrived at the tiny hamlet of West Dean. It boasts two caches. One is near to a church, but not part of the National Church Micro series.

The other was near to the Village Pond (and yet wasn’t part of the Sussex Ponds series). The Pond would have looked really scenic in late spring, but at the height of summer the pond was full of weed and no water was visible! Two relatively easy finds.

An even tougher set of steps


Then the one part of the walk we were dreading. An ascent of about 120 steep-ish woodland steps. When we walked the route in 2011, it was a hot day and we were burdened by super-heavy rucksacks as we were overnighting in Eastbourne. Today we had 2 light day sacks, the weather was cooler and the ascent seemed not quite as strenuous. We also knew the reward…a grandstand view of Cuckmere Haven.

Cuckmere Haven


This view has been immortalised over the years. The comedian Hugh Dennis was inspired to learn geology on seeing this view. The painter Eric Ravilious captured the scene in 1939 and his painting was the inspiration for our next attempted cache. All we had to do was work out where Eric stood to paint his scene in 1939 and we would find a cache! We’ve had success with these type of puzzles before, but all have used 21st century photos rather than an artist’s portrayal 80 years ago. We thought we had lined up Eric’s image with a couple of locations, but sadly didn’t find the cache. (We’ve subsequently been told our positioning was off…so we will have another attempt on next South Downs Way caching trip).

It is only a short walk down hill to Exceat, and a waiting ice-cream van. (We don’t often partake of an ice cream when out and about, but it seemed just reward for thirty minutes fruitless searching high above Cuckmere Haven.)

Somewhere on this bridge is a cache!


Exceat is quite busy. It is next to the Seven Sisters Country Park. It has two large car parks, and buses from both Brighton and Eastbourne were disgorging visitors on a regular basis. For us, it was the furthest point on today’s journey and we set off to return to Alfriston via the River Cuckmere. A short road walk to start, a cache to find on the windy Cuckmere Road Bridge, and then a grassy footpath following the Cuckmere as it meandered northwards.

We had hoped that the wind would be behind us heading back to Alfriston, but the River Cuckmere meanders wildly so several times we were walking into a cross-wind rather than with the wind at our backs.

The path was surprisingly busy and we passed several groups of walkers, but fortunately none at the next cache site. Again, based on a bridge. Our GPS pointed one side of the bridge, and we had a good look there. We descended bankside to look up and found nothing. We scoured the logs for information and realised the cache was ‘hanging’. We needed to look for a hanging device! After much searching, we were about to give up, when we decided on one more ‘tour of the bridge’. This time something caught Mr Hg137’s eye… and the cache was soon in hand. It was then we realised that this cache hadn’t been found for 16 months and was on an official list of caches needing ‘resuscitation’. We had performed this activity!

The Resus Cache


Time had somehow slipped by. We had spent a fair bit of time backtracking in Friston Forest, too much time trying to align the Eric Ravilious painting, and far too much time resuscitating a cache. We chose to abandon our figure of eight manoeuvre at Litlington and elected to find one more cache near a third bridge over the River Cuckmere.

Another bridge..and nearby…. another cache!


It was our 13th find of the day, a creditable haul considering how windy it had been, and with the wind finally at our backs, we finished the walk with an exhausted spring in our step.

Here are some of the caches we found :

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August 2 : South Downs Way : Southease to Alfriston

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Five weeks had passed since we last walked the South Downs Way, and much had happened in that time. Early summer had turned to harvest-time: the freshly-shorn sheep had regrown their fleeces; we had replaced our trusty old GPS, which fell to pieces in our hands as we finished that last walk; we visited London for some caching along the Thames and a visit to the Globe Theatre; we spent a weekend in Cardiff with lots and lots of caching; and we had fitted in a few caches elsewhere too.

Back to the South Downs Way: we parked the geocar in the road next to the Youth Hostel https://www.yha.org.uk/hostel/yha-south-downs , and set off to the footbridge which crosses the busy A26 . There’s a cache here, Itford Bridge, easy enough to find once you had walked to the closest point suggested by the GPS , in the middle of the bridge deck, and that sort of suggested that the cache was below, which it was.

After that, there’s 150 metres of ascent, zigzagging up the hill, with views back along the crest of the downs towards Chanctonbury Ring, and out to sea past Newhaven towards Brighton. Very near the top of the hill we arrived at our next cache, ERB. We could see paragliders ahead, and, closer by, a young lady wandering about on the grass taking selfies with various expansive backgrounds, but quite close to where we wanted to search. Luckily, she was concentrating so hard on her photos that she didn’t notice us … Mrs Hg137 delved into the hint item, removed some camouflage, and came out, slightly scratched, with the cache. Once signed, it was replaced by Mr Hg137 – and we still hadn’t been spotted! And why the name for the cache, “ERB”?

"ERB"

“ERB”


Here’s an extract from the cache description:
“ERB”
Ernest Ronald Beale was born 2nd December 1939 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. He passed away on 27th October 2014. … He loved the Downs, especially Firle Beacon, and this is one of his final resting places, what a view!

We skirted round a flock of sheep ...

We skirted round a flock of sheep …


Reaching the ridge, we passed the telecommunications masts on Beddingham Hill, and skirted the sheep who like the smallest amounts of shade cast by the towers and fences. There is very little shade and shelter up here, so those sheep must have been so, so hot during the recent heatwave! This section of the South Downs Way is one of the most open (bleak? bare?) of the whole 100-mile route, with no trees at all along the ridge between Southease and Alfriston, only a few hawthorn bushes.

We arrived at the ridge-top car park near Firle Beacon, where paragliders were taking off and landing, radio-controlled gliders were being flown, and real gliders soared overhead. There’s another cache near here, also the final locations of another two puzzle caches. We were successful with two of those, but the third was overwhelmed by nettles and brambles while the farmer was harvesting grain in a field not very far away. We felt exposed and a bit uncomfortable (having read logs about the farmer turning others away) so we gave up after a while and went on our way.
A Marvellous Place To Sit - for lunch!

A Marvellous Place To Sit – for lunch!


We circumnavigated a herd of cows crowded together on the path, giving them plenty of room (much more room than the sheep!), and gradually climbed up the ridge to the trig point at 217m at the summit of Firle Beacon. (Editor’s note: Firle Beacon is a Marilyn – “a hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres (nearly 500 ft) or more on all sides”, so it is relatively high compared to its surroundings)
... and we skirted round a herd of cows ...

… and we skirted round a herd of cows …


Like the car park, the trig point is a popular place, with folk queueing up to stand on the trig point, touch the trig point, admire the view from the trig point … we, too, touched the trig point (you have to, don’t you?) We sat down on the grass, had a cup of coffee, and waited for all those people to go away, because there was a cache concealed *in* the trig point and we needed to be unobserved while we found it. And find it we did; it was a cache from the SDGT (South Downs Geo Tour) series, placed by the National Park rangers. We’ve done a few of these caches in our walk and all of them have been inventively and unusually hidden and well worth finding. See more about the Tour here https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/geocaching/
... and finally we skirted round some ponies

… and finally we skirted round some ponies


From here it was an airy walk along the treeless, open ridge, gradually turning south, with views towards the Seven Sisters, the final leg of the South Downs Way. We skirted a herd of ponies, grazing on the path – there seemed to be herds of all sorts of farm creatures in our way today! After a couple of miles, we reached the edge of the village of Alfriston. We took a diversion from the South Downs Way to find a cache, Alfriston Wander, which is down a chalky track into the village. But for us, there was a problem: there were two parallel chalky tracks: which one to choose? Reader, we inevitably chose the wrong one, and had an undignified scramble between chalky tracks, when Mr Hg137 pulled me up by my rucksack and I fell flat on my face, followed by a rootle around various fence posts before we found the correct place for the hidden cache.
Clergy House. Alfriston

Clergy House. Alfriston


We went back up the (other) chalky track, then followed the South Downs Way down a surfaced track into the village. We were quickly away from the bare downs and amongst houses, and then in the old centre of the village, filled with people. We crossed the main street, walked down an alley, and arrived at a green edged by the Clergy House, the first property ever bought by the National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/alfriston-clergy-house/features/history-of-alfriston-clergy-house
St Andrew's church, Alfriston

St Andrew’s church, Alfriston


The church is here, too, and we had come here to find the Church Micro based there. We examined a noticeboard, a gravestone in the churchyard, and had our coordinates. We stepped round the shingles being used to retile (re-shingle?) the spire – FYI, they work up from the bottom. It was not far to the final cache location, still in sight of the church; once there, there were several possibilities. Mr Hg137 went for feeling inside each location, while Mrs Hg137 opted for peering into each place, which worked because the cache was tucked back just over a finger-length from the opening. From there, it was a short walk back to the car park to retrieve the other geocar and make our way home.

Here are some of the caches we found:

June 28 : South Downs Way : A27 to Southease

In which we cross into the Eastern Hemisphere and say goodbye to a dear friend…

Where East Meets West

Today’s section of the South Downs Way would take us from the A27, heading predominantly south-eastwards to the small village/hamlet at Southease. As the crow flies, a journey of just over 4 miles, but unusually for the South Downs Way, today’s route wasn’t straight. Instead it meandered sinuously, so that our journey length would be closer to 7 miles.

A smattering of caches awaited us, a long walk to the first, then a few together, another one or two caches with long gaps before another cluster at Southease.

Our walk started by heading West (!), adjacent to the busy A27, over a noisy footbridge before walking East alongside the A27 by the opposite carriageway. After 20 minutes we were level with the geocar, separated by only a fast dual carriageway. We continued on, and then under the Lewes-Brighton railway line where we then turned South-Westwards, crossing an imaginary (North-South) line emanating from our car for a second time.

Watch out for Trains!

Here the going got harder as we were slowly climbing through a tree-covered track, which shielded us from the mid-morning heat. We enjoyed the comfort of the shade, as we knew for the rest of the day we would be on the bare, shadeless tops of the South Downs.

Having left our wooded track, we emerged onto the grassy chalk slope we had come to expect, and climbed, steeper now, towards the first cache. The views across the valley were wonderful with green/brown farming crops being interspersed with colourful mid-summer wildflowers.


Our first cache, about halfway up the hill was secreted in the lower bole of a hawthorn bush. It wasn’t that well hidden but,because of the nature of the bush, it was only visible from a certain angle. As we retrieved the 12-year old cache, the contents spilled to the ground – the clip-lock container only had one working clip! Good job no-one walked by as we retrieved the cache contents from the ground.

The second cache was in a small patch of woodland, called Newmarket Plantation. Approaching uphill (as we were), the plantation was fully fenced off, so we assumed the cache would be on the plantation perimeter, and easily accessible. No! No! No! We searched the fence line, tree-by-tree, for likely places, all to no avail. The GPS signal consistently stating that we were 20 feet away.

Only after a few more minutes of fruitless searching did we notice a gate much further on, and entered the woodland. An easy find, once we were in the wood, just ages to get in!

Who lives here ?

Two other objects were spotted in the wood, a huge bird box (presumably intended for some bird of prey), and a memorial to a loved one. It had been recently visited judging from the state of the flowers left behind. It is not an easy walk to visit this woodland, so this plantation must have meant something special.

We had passed no-one on the walk to date, but before we reached the next cache, the path was busy with two groups of walkers, and a cyclist. We looked back at the plantation, to see if a cacher were amongst them, but no-one re-entered the plantation after us.

Distant View of the Amex Stadium

As the path made yet another large meander we went by a ‘wind pump’. The noisy wind turbine, placed by Southern Gas, is used to power some of their nearby pipework. Close by, well-protected by a thistle guard of honour was our third cache. As we left GZ, we were still only a mile South of the car, but we had been walking for 90 minutes, meandering to and fro ever upwards.

Wind Turbine


Our next attempted find, was a multi – based on one of three dewponds we were to pass. The multi required us to count wooden posts (surrounding the pond) and uprights at a gate entrance. Being a multi, we did not know where the final was, and we didn’t want to walk too far off route (or back on ourselves) to locate the final. We had seen pictures that the cache was in hawthorn bushes. Rather than walk to the multi, and count posts and uprights, we looked, quite intensely, at every hawthorn bush and thicket we went by. Sadly no cache was visible.

When we did arrive at the dewpond with the posts to count, we failed miserably in our counting! The dewpond was surrounded by well over 50 posts, many so overgrown with vegetation that we had to speculate on whether there was a post present. The gate uprights were damaged, and it was impossible to tell what was a gate, and what was an upright. We guessed at a few numbers, which luckily enough took us close to another large hawthorn thicket. We gave it a quick search, but as much of the calculation had been undertaken with guesswork, we decided not to linger too long.

Ahead a large party of walkers gathered. Where had they come from ? We checked the map, and realised a number of paths crossed the South Downs Way, all within an easy walk from Lewes. We speculated on their route as the party disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared minutes before.

Kingston near Lewes (foreground), Lewes (background)


Then a group of charity walkers went by – they had walked from Eastbourne (about 20+ miles away, and still had 10 to get to Brighton). The heat of the day combined with their 6:30 am start meant they were very tired indeed!

The path was stony, and flinty underfoot, which impeded Mrs Hg137’s still slightly injured leg. So, the next cache, just off the South Downs Way, Mr Hg137 undertook alone. Apparently the cache was near another dewpond, but the dense vegetation, including 3 foot high stinging nettles at Ground Zero, meant the pond was invisible.

The path was downhill for the rest of the day, much of it down a long, gently sloping concrete farmer’s track. The going was easy, but the Sun’s heat reflected back from the concrete make it unpleasant to walk along. Our spirits were lifted by the sight of the Seven Sisters in the distance, the end of the South Downs Way.

A long way down…but in the far distance our final destination, the Seven Sisters!


We were aiming for a key point on the walk.

Crossing the East-West Meridian!

When we walked the South Downs Way back in 2011, we didn’t have a GPS and ‘mutually agreed’ when we travelled from Western Hemisphere to the Eastern. Today, armed with a GPS we realised we were about half a mile out all those years ago. There is a cache placed exactly on the meridian line, which is more than can be said for a large cairn and plaque 60 feet away from the line!

Meridian Cache

The Eastern Hemisphere was not kind to our caching trip. Firstly a final zigzag of the day, circumnavigating a farmer’s field, and a herd of cows just close enough to a gate to cause us concern …

Poppies on the way to Southease

… and then the GPS wobbled and died.

Southease had three caches, and our technology failed us at the key moment.

For some, inexplicable reason, the GPS turned itself off when we attempted the Southease Church Micro multi. We did have the questions written down, so we could derive the final co-ordinates and the GPS behaved enough to guide us to a plausible GZ. But whenever we looked at the hint, or cache logs, the GPS turned itself off. Sadly we couldn’t find the cache without these aids. We each searched twice, while the other sat on a nearby seat, swallowing water from a handy water tap. As we searched a car drew up, and two ladies entered the church. We followed after some minutes and discovered that they were visiting every ‘old’ (pre-Victorian) church in East Sussex. Southease Church must be one of the oldest as it can be dated back to the 12th Century.

Southease Church


Wall Paintings inside the Church

We walked away from the Church, annoyed at our DNF, and then, in trying to set the GPS for our final caches, the back button broke! The plastic button came away from the GPS! We had the compass pointing at the next GZ, but we couldn’t do anything else.

Southease Swing Bridge


We arrived at GZ, and had a good look around. The cache was set by the South Downs Authority, near to a swing bridge over the River Ouse, and we were expecting a large container (as the other SDA caches have been). Sadly, the container had been lost, and replaced by something, much, much smaller, which we only found out when we re-checked the cache description at home!

We finished the walk, by ignoring the cache placed the station (we had no idea where it was !) and walking exhaustedly and dejectedly to our destination car.

Our GPS, bought back in 2012 to celebrate a key birthday of Mr Hg137, had died.
The GPS we had used to attempt over 3500 caches and waypoints had broken.
At least it failed at the end of the walk, rather than at the beginning so we got a good day’s caching on its final outing.
We had lost a great friend, one which had guided us through many travels (and all of this blog) from Edinburgh, to Blackpool, Chester, the Isle of Wight, the River Thames, Three Different Sandhursts and much, much more.

Thanks for the fun Etrex 10, you’ve been a great friend.

Here are some of the last caches you helped us find on your final day with us :

June 15: Trackable ‘The GlobeTrotter’ (Phillip Island)

During our walk from Jack and Jill to the A27 we walked through Ashcombe Bottom, just off the South Downs Way.

The GlobeTrotter


One of the caches we found contained the geocoin ‘The GlobeTrotter’.

The picture is of Phillip Island, where the trackable owner, Singapore Girl, spends Christmas every year. (Editor : the trackable description cites an 11 year old girl, but the trackable first started its journey early 2014 so the girl is now likely to be 16 or 17!)

Phillip Island is a small island (measuring 16 x 5.5 miles) and separates the Bass Strait from Westernport Bay 80 or so miles South of Melbourne. It is actually no longer an island as 2,100 foot concrete bridge connects Phillip Island to mainland, Australia. The Island is a tourist resort and the population typically swells from about 9,000 to 40,000 when the holidays are on!

The trackable has travelled far and wide during the last 5 years.
During the first 4 years it stayed in Australia, generally in the Brisbane area until cacher nature0nut picked up and wrote “Buckle up! At the end of next month you’ll be tagging along on my adventure to Hong Kong, England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, France and Switzerland”.

Well somehow Hong Kong got missed, and by early 2019 the GlobeTrotter was in England and in another cacher’s hands. After a quick sortie to Malta it has remained in Southern England since (including a visit to the British Library).

We will move you on soon… so everyone worldwide can enjoy the delights of Phillip Island.

June 15 : South Downs Way : Jack and Jill windmills to the A27

On our previous section of the South Downs Way we had many caches to find, today very few.
The day was cool, and heavy rain forecast for later, so the lack of caches would enable us to (hopefully) finish our walk in the dry.

We’ve walked all that way!


Jack and Jill Windmills, are partway up the hill, so much of the morning’s climb had been undertaken in the car. The car park was quite full as we parked. A group of ladies were preparing to leave on a half-day ramble.

“Excuse us ladies, can we come by ?”


As it turned out, our first half mile was spent overtaking a few of the ladies, they overtook us as we stopped to take pictures, we overtook them, they overtook us.. Eventually one of the slower ladies asked US, if THEY were coming back the same way. She thought we (including Mr Hg137, a man, was part of their ladies walking group!).

Coffee Spot..at a Dew Pond


We played the overtaking game several more times before we stopped for one of two caches in the morning. It was near a dew pond, and the shallow indentation was just enough for us to be out of the wind for a few minutes and drink some coffee. The cache was, we thought behind a long gorse bush and we couldn’t see a way in. Behind the gorse bush was a barbed wire fence, and that was the cache host. We used our coffee break to read more about the cache, and discovered there was only one way to get behind the gorse bush…using a gate half a mile away ! We would have a mile’s walk to get to within yards of where we sat! We remembered the weather forecast, and disappointingly left cacheless.

We walked on, and as we approached a gate, a cyclist approached from the other side. We walked quicker so we could open the gate for him, which would prevent him stopping. He did though slow down, and as he did so, a large black crow flew from his body.

Cyclist and Crow (left of picture)

The crow was hitching a lift on the cyclist! It turned out the crow was semi-tame, and had been rescued by a chimney-sweep. Although free to go, the crow enjoyed being chauffeured, and flew to the ground to eat some small undetectable insects. We chatted with the cyclist for a few minutes, and then watched as he cycled off with his feathered friend firmly perched on his shoulder once more.

Ditchling Beacon

Our highest point of the day was Ditchling Beacon, at 248 metres the equal highest point on the South Downs Way. Unlike the great pyramidal Butser Hill (the other 248er), Ditchling Beacon is more of a ‘bobble’ on the long undulating West-East ridge line, and there is little sense of height distinction between the top and surrounding area. It is possible to drive to the top of the Beacon as a road comes from both the North and South. The gradients on these roads average about 1:7 so it is very steep. Yet, at the top we saw a group of cyclists, tired but elated…they had just cycled to the top. Phew!

Ditchling Beacon Car Park – cyclists and ice cream van!

The London to Brighton Cycle Ride was due to take place a day later and it too goes up and over Ditchling Beacon. The cyclists we met were not taking part in that event, but it meant they had the roads to themselves, as the following day hundreds of cyclists collapse at the Beacon before the descent into Brighton.

Dew Pond near Ditchling Beacon

Planted near to the road, and very close to an oddly draining dew pond was a cache! Our first after 2 miles of walking! The cache was part of the ‘Ponds, Dew Ponds and Lakes in Sussex’ series – in fact it was the first one to be placed back in December 2006.

Distant Views of the Amex Community Stadium (Brighton and Hove FC)


It was getting close to lunchtime, and we were looking for a sheltered spot. We paused at various places, but eventually settled on a small patch of grass with trees either side, and a tarmac road leading to the village below. As we ate, we saw several orchids including (we think!) common spotted and bee orchids.

Bee Orchid

A couple approached just as finished taking photos of the flowers, the lady dressed in a ‘fifties-style dress’ and trainers. The man was more casually clothed. They checked the tarmac road, unsure of whether to descend or not. We chatted and discovered they were part of a wedding reception party. The group had been to the wedding, bussed (we assume) to Ditchling Beacon, and the guests then had to walk about half a mile across the South Downs and then descend to the reception !

Which way to the Wedding?


We walked on, but looked back every so often. Our couple had walked too far and were heading back towards Ditchling Beacon to re-join the rest of their group. So we never got to see what all the other guests were wearing!

The South Downs Way up to this point had been following the Northern Edge of the South Downs. We had had views of the flat Weald to our left (the North) and hills (other parts of the South Downs) to the South. As the South Downs Way approached Lewes, our path would take a 90 degree south turn. We would be leaving views of the Weald and heading for the coast (albeit some miles away).

Heading South to the Coast

The official route down was relatively cacheless, but we espied a parallel path through a valley called Ashcombe Bottom which had a few caches on. We took the deviation and walked through wonderful woodland. We thought we would have the path to ourselves, but two groups of people passed us. The first, a Duke of Edinburgh instructor (who had temporarily lost his party !), said this valley was ‘a little magic kingdom’ – and we agreed with him. The second group were seemingly going up and over the South Downs on foot to visit a garden centre.

‘A Little Magic Kingdom’

More from the ‘Little Magic Kingdom’

The caches made a pleasant diversion. One was hidden in the hollow created by fallen tree roots, another couple in the roots and boles of tree. A fourth wedged in a nettle/bramble bush, which Mrs Hg137 acquired relatively painlessly.

Our path would though lead us back to the South Downs Way, but sadly for us our caching diversion meant we were no longer ahead of the forecast rain clouds. We were in them! We suddenly got drenched as we found another cache high in a tree, and another near another Dew Pond. The steep downhill chalk path was quite slippery, so we took our time as we got wetter and wetter. A small copse partway down proved some shelter (and another cache!) but after 30 minutes rain were sodden.

Fortunately our destination car was nearby and we hastened, as best we could, to it to dry out.

So a curious day, with a long cacheless section punctuated by ladies who thought Mr Hg137 was a woman, a cyclist carrying a crow and an odd wedding reception. Many of the caches we found were off the South Downs Way and probably our caching greed was the main reason we finished very, very wet!

June 1 : South Downs Way : Devil’s Dyke to Jack and Jill windmills

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

This post is a tale of straining and strained muscles: straining, because it was the day of the South Downs running relay: and strained, because I tore a muscle in my leg early on and limped the rest of the way.


Parking at the Devil’s Dyke car park ( £3 all day!), we saw paragliders preparing for take-off, admired the superb view in the sunshine, then turned away and went into the trees, to look for the first cache of the day. Mr Hg137, holding the GPS, surged ahead, while I followed. And here was where it all went wrong for me; I tripped on a tree root and tore a calf muscle. Meanwhile, Mr Hg137 ignored the pained cries and strode on to find the cache, hidden in a rather wet cleft in a tree.

We moved on to a cache from the SDGT (South Downs Geo Tour) series, placed at the remains of the top end of the funicular railway which carried Victorian folk up to the Dyke. Although we have both been here before – especially Mr Hg137, whose family comes from Brighton – neither of us have ever been to this spot with its brilliant view. Next, we found a multicache based on the trig point at Devil’s Dyke, with the final cache located at one of the less-visited areas around the Devil’s Dyke. After this, we stopped for a coffee (and painkillers for me!) before a look down the dry valley of the Dyke.

We had one cache to do before we left the Dyke, one which had been on our ‘to do’ list for some time. It’s Church Micro 666 … but where’s the church? … and the name of the place isn’t on the side of the angels, either. To overcome those deficiencies, the cache owner has set and described the cache as follows:
”The number 666 has many sinister connections and so was not really suitable for a normal church, it needed to be hidden somewhere a bit more devilish.
The Devils Dyke seemed such a place but as anyone with local knowledge will realise, there is one small but important flaw here, that is the lack of a church, although maybe there used to be as local folklore explains the valley as the work of the devil. The legend holds that the devil was digging a trench to allow the sea to flood the many churches in the Weald of Sussex. The digging disturbed an old woman who lit a candle, or angere causing a rooster to crow, making the devil believe the morning was fast approaching. The devil then fled, leaving his trench uncompleted.
To overcome this minor hiccup I have gone to the trouble of building a church myself, have fun.”

We found the cache, and, yes, it’s well worth it!

South Downs relay race

South Downs relay race


South Downs relay race, changeover point at Saddlescombe

South Downs relay race, changeover point at Saddlescombe


We now had a downhill section to a road crossing at Saddlescombe. There were no caches along here, but we had the South Downs Relay to watch as we walked http://www.southdownsrelay.com/rules/ This is a running event, usually held on the first Saturday in June; there are 18 legs covering almost the entire length of the South Downs Way, from Beachy Head, near Eastbourne to Chilcomb, near Winchester, and each of the team of 6 runners tackle 3 stages. It takes them 12-14 hours to run the whole 97 miles, including 13,500 feet of ascent and descent. Phew!

Several runners came by during our descent, and we stopped for a short while at the road crossing to watch the changeover point between legs 6 and 7. Having crossed the road, we started the climb back up the other side, keeping well out of the way of the runners charging down the hill. It was getting hot now, and it was good to be climbing the hill in the shade of trees; I didn’t envy those runners, pounding up the bare hillsides in the burning sun!

Along the next part of our route, we were looking for some of the caches from the TC (Treble Clef) series. These are a set of 35 puzzle caches, based just north of Brighton, and with a selection of music-themed puzzles, which we had solved before setting out – the final caches are in a variety of places, some of which were on, or close to, our route. We tackled nine of the caches from the series, finding five of them. (Editor’s note: Mr Hg137 tried all nine caches, while I wimped out of some of them, as my pulled leg muscle just wasn’t up to scrambling up banks and I was trying to minimise ‘extra’ walking, where possible.)

Apart from the runners and their support teams, there was also a steady stream of walkers and cyclists. It was, after all, a warm, sunny, summer weekend. We met two people doing a butterfly survey, and also came across a father and ten year old son resting in the shade of a tree. They had walked from Winchester in five days, and they planned to reach Eastbourne in two more days, which is pretty good going whatever your age.

Down to Pyecombe

Down to Pyecombe


After a few miles, we left the caches from the TC series behind us and started a long descent into Pyecombe. The police helicopter flew over, low and slow, which generally doesn’t bode well. We reached the A23, a very busy dual carriageway, and crossed it on a bridge. Quite a few people were there, watching the rather average-looking traffic. There must be more interesting things to do on a beautiful summer’s afternoon, so we asked why. Earlier that day, hundreds of Hell’s Angels had held a mass “ride out” down the A23 to Brighton to celebrate their 50th anniversary in the UK, under police escort and watched by the helicopter. All became clear … https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-48482042
Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecomber

Church of the Transfiguration, Pyecombe


Once over the A23, we were in Pyecombe, which is now a quiet little village sandwiched between the A23 and A283. The Church of the Transfiguration is in the centre of the village; it’s Grade-1 listed, dates back to 1170 and has a tapsel gate. But, for two hot, thirsty geocachers, it also has a kitchen inside, with water, fruit squash, and tea or coffee, all available for a donation; and it has a Church Micro geocache.
Tapsel gate, Pyecombe Church

Tapsel gate, Pyecombe Church


( Editor’s note: tapsel gates hinge in the middle, not the side, to make it easier to carry coffins through. They are only found in Sussex, and there are only six altogether. There’s another on the South Downs Way at Botolphs. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapsel_gate )
Jack and Jill windmills

Jack and Jill windmills


Not far to go now, but it was all up. We crossed the A283, went through the car park of Pyecombe Golf Club, then yomped (or limped) straight up the hill, to retrieve the geocar, parked in the (free) car park next to the Jack and Jill windmills. (Editor’s note: Jill is the white windmill with the sails, Jack is the sail-less black windmill. ) It had been a beautiful summer’s day, with grand views, but my leg was hurting now and I was quite glad to finish. It was only later, as I went pink from sunburn, that I found out how patchy I had been at applying suncream …

Here are some of the caches we found:



May 20: Souris

Hello, Mrs Hg137 here.

Souris

Souris


Almost all the geocaches on our walk along the South Downs Way between between Botolphs and Devil’s Dyke were small letterbox caches, just big enough to hold the cache log and a stamp for the letterbox. But one was larger – a clip lock box hidden under a water trough, and inside was a trackable, neatly tucked inside a small plastic bag. We had found Souris.

At the time we found Souris, we were unsure what species we had found: a hamster or a mouse? A girl, or a boy? (Editor’s note: we now know that Souris is a mouse but we are still unsure of the sex.)

Back home, we have had chance to research more about the trackable. Souris started off from Namur, in Belgium, in the first few days of 2019, and has travelled 1100 miles since then. From Belgium, there was a brief foray into France, and another visit to Germany, all in the company of Airhic1, the owner. Finally, in mid-April, Souris was placed where we found him/her, with the touching farewell log:

Please take care of my TB.
Farewell little mouse.

And we were the next people to collect Souris, and intend to honour that request, and also the mission of the trackable, which is …”to walk and rest”…