The South Downs Way and why I’m going to walk it alone

This is something I have started writing about my decision to walk the South Downs Way. I have an idea of a book in the making but I don’t know if it will get this far. Anyway, this is the first bit. I’d be happy to have feedback.

Thursday 2nd May 2019

I decided to walk the South Downs Way on a whim. I was working as a freelance administrator for a company and my client told me that they would be taking all of August off, which firstly set me in a tail spin about how on earth I was going to pay my bills. But then I started to see it as an opportunity – to do something wonderful. I’m since no longer working for that client (as of yesterday at the time of writing this) and so now I have to worry about paying my bills generally – not just in August.

However, my plan is still to somehow walk the South Downs Way – 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne – on very little money. I will be camping as this is the cheapest option. I am having to borrow most of the equipment I will need. My ex husband has a lot of camping equipment, including a tent which I can borrow. Other people have offered rucksacks, sleeping bags, rechargeable battery packs, torches and I’m asking for a few bits and pieces for my birthday.

Why do I feel the need to do this? Well, I first got into hiking last Spring after reading a book called “Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found” by a woman called Cheryl Strayed. This inspired me to get out in the UK wilderness – OK its not as wild as out there on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) which is what this writer did, but it is our little island’s version. As close as I could get without taking an expensive plane journey. My first hike was 5 miles through Elstead Common and I loved it so much I completely got the bug. A couple of hikes later and I decided that I needed something to work towards and so I signed up for a 26 mile hike from Brighton to Eastbourne for a charity called McMillan Cancer Support. I managed to raise enough money to participate, thanks to some very generous friends and family and I (mostly) completed the hike. I finished 22 miles of the hike, which I was pretty pleased with as a total beginner. By the time we got to the last break stop (we being myself and a woman I met along the way and started hiking with) we were just broken. Our legs hurt, our feet hurt, everything hurt. So we gave up. But we gave it a bloody good go.

After walking 22 miles in the blistering heat (one of the hottest days that summer) my feet were in such a state that I couldn’t wear my boots or in fact any shoes, for about a month and by that point I lost the hiking bug. So I have done no hiking at all up until a couple of weeks ago. My first hike this year was 4.5 miles and my second was 5.5. This weekend I plan to hike a 6 mile hike (tomorrow) and a 7 mile hike on Bank Holiday Monday.

So now I plan to walk the 100 miles along the South Downs Way. I plan to do this on my own. I see it as a sort of emotional journey, where I can test myself, connect with nature and, as cliche as it sounds, find myself. My parents suggested that I join a hiking/walking group, but I don’t want to do that because I actually find hiking alone very cathartic. You are free of all the burden’s of life. The only burden is the back pack on your back.

Ever since I made my decision, I have been reading and researching the route: reading books about hiking, watching movies about hiking, reading blogs by people who have hiked the South Downs Way. Currently I’m reading a book by Holly Worton about her solo journey on the South Downs Way called “Alone on the South Downs Way”. I have planned my route. The recommended amount of days to do it in is generally 7-8 days, but as I’m nearly a beginner hiker, I found a route which is a little more relaxed and is over 9 days. This is my planned route and distance per day:

Day 1 – Winchester to Exton – 12 miles

Day 2 – Exton to Buriton – 13 miles

Day 3 – Buriton to Cocking – 11 miles

Day 4 – Cocking to Amberley – 12 miles

Day 5 – Amberley to Upper Beeding – 13 miles

Day 6 – Upper Beeding to Pyecombe – 10 miles

Day 7 – Pyecombe to Rodmell – 15 miles

Day 8 – Rodmell to Alfriston – 10 miles

Day 9 – Alfriston to Eastbourne – 12 miles

I haven’t planned my campsites yet (or thought about the possibillity of wild camping) as I need to look at the route on a map and compare that with the list of campsites I found online and also compare it to Google Maps.

Camping has its challenges over staying in B&Bs, which I can’t afford to do. I will have to carry most of my food with me, plus a cooker to cook it on, adding extra weight to my pack – not to mention the tent, sleeping bag, pillow etc. In addition to this, I won’t have as many opportunities to charge my phone. I have 2 portable chargers but they are only good for a maximum of 2 phone charges per device. I’m considering buying a super-duper charger that will charge my phone 7 times and then plan to recharge in pubs when I am able to stop for a decent meal. However, with my current money issues, this may not be possible so I will have to either switch my phone off or put it on Airplane Mode when I’m not using it to try to conserve the battery.

So returning to why I feel the need to do something like this? The book I mentioned before “Wild – A journey from lost to found” really inspired me. The author of the book (it’s a true story) lost her mother and went off the rails, cheating on her husband and even taking heroine and finding herself completely lost emotionally, she decided on a whim, much as I did, to hike the PCT which is 1,100 miles. I know my journey is nowhere near as long as hers, but I do have children so I can’t take months off to go on a journey like that. 2 weeks is as close as I can get really as my children will be on holiday with their dad. My situation is also different as I have not had a family member die. But I did have a marriage breakup 4 years ago which floored me completely. I had to get to grips with being a single parent, with moving house, with my ex-husband immediately replacing me with someone else. It was just about the hardest thing I have ever been through. And, while I am not unhappy with how things have turned out – it was a very unhappy marriage – I often feel like life is pushing me down. Being a mum is hard enough but doing it all on your own is tough. Being single is also very lonely at times, when you see evidence of other people’s happy relationships online, rubbed in your face effectively. And so I see this walk as a way to cleanse myself. To get back to the real me. The person I am deep down, the person I was before all the shit that life threw at me. To just BE. To just walk. I actually can’t wait.

I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I always envisioned that I would write a story about my marriage breakup. And I have tried to write about it before but always felt like the act of writing about it dragged me back into that time, threw me back into the feelings of betrayal, hurt, loss. The few times that I have tried to write about that period of my life, I often ended up in tears and not enjoying the writing process. But to write about this journey, the planning of it, and maybe to reflect on things as I go, feels better. It feels like moving forwards, not backwards.

Me and Biscuit out hiking

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