The SDW is one of 15 National Trails, stretching roughly 160km from Winchester to Eastbourne, or vice versa. National Trails only apply to England and Wales. In Scotland they are referred to as “long distance routes” and there are 4 of them. Each National Trail has a Manager whose job is to co-ordinate maintenance (much of which is undertaken by local authorities and land owners) and promotion. The trails are funded by government at a rate of about £2m per year.
The itinerary and overnight bookings were chosen in February but, even at that early stage, we had to organise some quite large planned deviations from the Way to find suitable accommodation. We travelled to and from the Way by train. Not being walking purists, we did not follow the Way route precisely but must have covered at least 95% of it. And, given our diversions we must have walked further than the “official distance” of 160km (100 miles). I think our tally was about 188km in all, in the nine days of walking. We were accompanied by old walking friends E, M and P for much of the route, but only Mrs D and I did it all.
In Winchester we met up with M and B (her taxi driver!) at the coffee shop by the Cathedral. Afterwards, we took a stroll around the City, past the college, along the river, past the Mill and site of the old YHA, and up the High Street to our B&B. There are masses of attractive old buildings to gawp at in Winchester and on this sunny afternoon it was a pleasure to just amble by. We were welcomed at our B&B by hot drinks, chocolate biscuits and a deep discussion about Charles Dickens’s works, amongst other things. It was clear that the owners had some links with the NHS at some stage, judging by the bedding they used.
That evening we ate at O’Neills pub; quite reasonable. I had fish and chips with mushy peas.
Next day, Thursday 9th May, the first of the trip, was about 24km. The weather was showery but with some sun and quite a strong, cold wind, that was with us most days. Breakfast was at 8 but we did not start walking until about 9.30, after we had bought some picnic food for the day. The official start of the trail is at the National Trust City Mill by the bridge over the river, although there are also signs from the front of the Cathedral. There is a shortish climb out of Winchester before a bridge over the M3 and a steady walk onto The Downs and away from motorway noise. The village of Chilcomb has an imposing Manor House and oozes gentility and money. Using both a map and a guide book we soon confused ourselves but opted, correctly, to follow the clear SDW sign. Soon after, we were passed by a smiling group of oriental bikers. We then passed them, when they stopped. Then they passed us again. Later they turned round and passed us again. Each time there were loads of smiles, waves and greetings. By which time we had reached Cheesefoot Head.
Eisenhower is believed to addresses US troops here before D-Day and in April 1944 this was the site of a boxing tournament watched by thousands of British and American troops. On the bill was Joe Louis, the then world heavyweight champion.
With more luck than planning we arrived at The Milbury’s pub just before closing. This pub is over 400 years old and was built to include a 600 year old well, still visible in the back bar. There is a man-sized treadmill next to the well. The runner has to run the equivalent of 2 miles to raise the bucket from the bottom of the well 300 feet down. In the old days this feat was rewarded with a pint of beer.
Leaving the pub, we walked on to Beacons Hill and left the SDW there to reach our B&B, where we were made very welcome with a hot drink and toasted tea cakes. The landlady offered to drive us a mile or so down a fast road to the pub in Exton, and to pick us up, “Just ask the barman to phone me when you are ready,” she said as we got out of the car. The pub had real ale and liver and bacon, one of my favourites, but not the most popular meal with M, a vegetarian. Just as we finished eating we had a power cut and the pub staff came out with candles. Of course, that meant land-line phones did not work. We had a mobile but only the B&B’s land-line and they had a power cut also. Luckily, our landlady realised what must have happened and called by at the pub to collect us. We returned to many more candles at the B&B but after a short while the power was back on. The cut was caused by wind damage.