I became addicted to long distance walking when I lived in the UK in 2007. The simple paths carved through farmers’ fields and ancient forests have been used by locals for millennia, and they provided a tranquil escape from my worries. Out there, amidst the sheep and kissing gates, I could feel both safe and adventurous (no bears there, you see). And perhaps it sounds silly, but whenever I set out on a long walk through the English countryside, I perceived that I transformed into my true self.
So, naturally, ever since I learned about the South Downs Way, a 100-mile (160 km) trail that stretches from Winchester to Eastbourne across miles and miles of rolling hills, it’s been a bucket list item.
Life’s been throwing me some curve balls lately (as it does), and to refresh my state of mind I decided I needed to do something epic last summer. At first, I toyed with the idea of walking the Camino in Spain, but quickly assessed that the Camino would take about a month. So after a reality check, I chose to complete the South Downs Way with my good friend Sarah instead.
It was wonderful, painful, invigorating and impossible all at once. I nursed the worst blisters of my life. At times, I felt I couldn’t take another step and then continued to walk for another four hours. I was reduced to an animal with only basic needs: water, food, shelter and getting from A to B.
Here are a few of the key points:
- We carried everything on our backs and stayed overnight at B&B’s. Stops included Winchester, Exton, Burriton, Cocking, Amberley, Steyning, Lewes and Alfriston.
- We ate packed lunches and dined in pubs – my food budget was £30 a day.
- There was little to no time for shopping, so demanding were the miles.
- The longest day was 17 miles and it was harder than I ever imagined.
- I wore proper hiking boots and murdered my feet; Sarah wore runners and was fine!
- We visited a Vintage Fair in Firle and we were the least vintage-y people in attendance but it was great.
- Amberley might be the prettiest village in the whole world.
- We had eight full days of walking, but we wedged in two rest days (thank GAWD), bringing the total amount of time on the South Downs Way to 10 days.
Was I glad to hobble across the finish line? Hell yes. But just as soon as the walk was over, I missed the walk.
In fact, I still miss the walk. What’s next? Now that I’ve got my boots broken in I’m ready to go!