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Ashley Heeley's South Downs Way Diary
Day 1

The Adventure Begins – Day 1 Winchester to East Meon 19 miles

So we have just completed day 1 of the South Downs Way. The complacency is now hitting home. I have a blister on my left foot and have serious chaffing in a delicate area.

Yesterday went well. I got to Dales and we took our bags to where we are now (The Old George at East Meon). We had a slight panic when they said they didn't have room to store the bags overnight but a combination of our effortless charm and winning smiles persuaded the barmaid that they could afterall, keep our bags overnight for us. Also had a panic when they said they didn't do food on a Sunday but the lady behind the bar said the pub up the road did so, phew.

While we were there on the Saturday, there was a wedding on at the church and this guy came in the pub a bit flustered and asked if the landlord could lend him a jacket as he had left his at home. The barmaid however said they currently didn't have a landlord but a manager who wasn't the jacket wearing type so sorry she couldn't help. I helpfully advised that he should stand at the back in the photos and nobody would notice. He left jacketless. A surreal couple of minutes. We all agreed (Dale, me and the barmaid anyway) that we'd never seen or heard a request like that before. Perhaps we need to get out more.

Kate (Dale’s wife) very kindly gave us a lift to Winchester and packed us off with a huge cake to sustain us over the week. The cake well served its purpose being brought out at the end of each day and was perfect with a cup of tea. Thanks Kate.

Today we met Matt, Karen, Mike and Mark outside Winchester Cathedral and Team Beer was re-united at last. After hellos, group hugs and photos, we set off in the rain at about 10.45. After about 20 yards (during which time we were mocked and abused by the local hoodies. Mind you we did look a bit peculiar I suppose) we stopped at Millets to get more wet weather stuff as we had all planned on a nice summer July. Wrong. Just like last year it rained a lot for the first 2-3 hours and we just got heads down and walked. I can’t remember much of the first couple of hours apart from walking through wet fields which soon got the trousers and boots even wetter. We stopped at a pub called the Milbury’s for lunch ( no beer - honest ) and thankfully it started to brighten up.

South Downs Way 2008 1
Mike, me, Dale and Mark outside Winchester Cathedral, in the rain, ready to start.

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The M3 just outside Winchester. Note the weather.

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Out in the country - Weather Improved

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One of the many SDW signs. The path is very well signed throughout.

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Old Road sign 7 miles outside Winchester (obviously)

The second half was what we really expected. On Beacon Hill we could see to the coast and Fawley refinery and what could be Portsmouth Harbour. Great views and it was only here that we realised how high we were.

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View from Beacon Hill from the Trig Point, of the Meon Valley

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View of Meon Valley again from the Trig Point

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Mark on the path through a field of barley (cue song)

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The field of barley sans Mark. An improvement I think!

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Views of the Meon Valley

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Views of the Meon Valley

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Views of the Meon Valley

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Taking a well earned breather (Mark, Dale, Karen, Mike and Matt)

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Taking a well earned breather

We came down to the lovely pretty village of Exton. There were some lovely cottages, a quaint church and rows of hollyhocks. It looked like there must be a best hollyhocks competition in the village as each house seemed to have rows of them outside the front walls.

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Lovely thatched cottage in Exton

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An entry into the best Hollyhocks competition? Very pretty

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Exton Church

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Just to prove it

We climbed Old Winchester Hill to the old fort, again with great views from the top.

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Climbing up Old Winchester Hill

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Views from Old Winchester Hill

It was after here that we had nettlegate. For some reason (I think the sign post pointed us that way) we decided to take a path at the side of the road which was blocked by nettles. Instead of turning back to go on the road we decided to continue on the path. After much thrashing we got through but some got quite badly stung. The path just took us back to the road so we needn’t have bothered. Typical us. We wasted about 20 mins there.

The heavens opened again just as we came into the village of East Meon so the walk ended how it started. Just when we had dried out.

Wildlife we saw was skylarks, buzzards, a red kite, yellow hammer and trout in the stream.

The food at the pub was ok, the lady taking the order was the highlight. It was hard to see whether she was trying to be funny or it just came natural. Customer service was not her strong suit. We did manage to watch the end of the tennis and exciting it was too.

Another long day tomorrow, 20 miles or so. Hope the weather is kinder. Off to sleep now. Dale has his earplugs so hope fully he'll get some sleep. It is my wedding anniversary tomorrow so must remember.


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