Exton to Buriton: Day 2 of Walking the South Downs Way
The early morning mist was clearing over the River Meon as I set off from Exton for Day 2 of walking the South Downs Way. The 13th Century Church of St Peter and St Paul, its entrance guarded by neatly clipped hedging, stood proud against the promising sky. I was rather disappointed that I had not tackled all of day one’s walk and decided not to look too closely at the weather forecast for this day.
Quite quickly I found myself away from the charming village following a stream bordering cattle fields.
After passing under an old railway line Old Winchester Hill appeared in the distance. The climb up it was slow and wearing and I felt myself burning off the calories from my delicious breakfast, but I paced myself and soon was rewarded by superb views.
I could see across to the Isle of Wight and further round to my left Chichester Harbour. Old earthworks around the summit clearly marked the outline of this Iron Age Hill fort.
I spied a man walking in the distance and several minutes later our paths crossed. Dave, now in his late 70s told me that he had suffered a heart attack in his 50s and completely changed his life style – he had spent the last 25 years only eating red meat once a month, giving up his job to do voluntary work (for which he had awards) and walked up and around Winchester Old Hill every day. His attitude and fitness were inspirational.
The SDW continued skirting Old Winchester Nature Reserve before descending down to Whitewool Farm and Meon Springs.
Here I found a super small help yourself café which was part of the fishing club and made myself a cup of tea and took a well-needed break. This section of the SDW was proving to be quite strenuous . (I started to have my suspicions it all may be!) The early views were far-ranging but I was finding the climbing up a little challenging. I had been told that the more picturesque (and hence no doubt hilly!) part of the walk was to come in the later part of the National Trail so was hoping that my fitness would improve!
I am glad I took the break because a very long ascent followed over extremely stony ground to the top of Salt Hill. The climb seemed to go on for ever and it really was a case of just putting one foot in front of the other over and over again up the steep path. I can’t say that I enjoyed it; I didn’t stop half way to take a break because the footpath was enclosed by hedgerows and there was no view to take in and I was scared that if I stopped I wouldn’t get started again! At the top of the hill was a radio mast. As I progressed along the SDW I found that many of the high spots were now marked by such features.
There was a farmhouse at the top of the hill and I met a couple of feathered friends. Apart from Dave and the fishermen I don’t think I had passed anyone else out and about at this stage. The optimistic promise of sunshine in the early morning had begun to fade and it appeared most people were staying indoors.
Not far from Salt Hill I came across Mercury Park and the Sustainability Centre – time for another rest and more refreshment. This was an interesting enterprise with a great cafe. Everything is environmentally friendly and they use renewable energy. Here I met plenty of people and queued for ages for another cup of tea and slice of cake (I felt I deserved it after Salt Hill!) – this is where everyone was hiding!
Several fine looking large houses followed before I found myself walking along the boundary of Hyden Wood. The Way gently rises here and further height is gained without really noticing. I passed a young lady on a horse who was riding the SDW (her mother was apparently some way behind walking).
Butser Hill is the highest point on the SDW and was reached surprisingly easily. It offered fine views again, over the Meon Valley and down towards the coast.
Unfortunately there is also a view of the A3 dual carriageway and the traffic noise starts to become intrusive.
A steep drop down from Butser Hill took me under the dual carriageway and into Queen Elizabeth Country Park.
This natural mixed woodland covers several miles and once I had again climbed and climbed upwards through the trees the traffic noise eventually faded.
Maybe it was because the rain had now started or maybe I was just tiring but the last two to three miles of the walk were hard going. The woodland is beautiful and there were views through the trees at times but unfortunately they were spoilt by the weather.
Eventually I entered the outskirts of Burriton by passing through Burriton Chalk Pit Nature Reserve – a really pretty area, full of some industrial heritage, woodlands and banks of ferns.
It maybe a cliché but by now it was certainly the weather for ducks and they were probably the only comfortable creatures still outside in what looked like the very pretty village of Burriton.
Sanctuary and shelter was found in the Church – I was so glad it was open!
Another day on the S Downs Way completed – hilly with some early fine views (until spoilt by the weather). Nothing, however, exceptional really stands out. This was probably a day that just had to be completed. I did not get lost. There were several stop off points for refreshments. Twelve and a half miles of very well signposted trudging. The lovely T picked me up from the Church and we drove to our extremely disappointing accommodation for the night (for some reason the description “Wuthering Heights” comes to mind). Maybe that has distorted my view of this day. However, as my golfing husband always says……………… “pick the ball up and go on to the next hole!”