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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 !
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).
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.
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!