Yesterday I took the tram and trains south Falmer for my first recce of the SDW50, starting with the second half of the route.
Dull, grey and cold when I set off from Falmer shortly after 10 am, during the afternoon the sun came out and did its wintry best to dispell the chill of the biting wind. With the drier weather we’ve had recently, the conditions underfoot were pretty good, muddy only in a very few spots near gates, and thankfully there has been enough traffic while the ground has been drying that the mud hasn’t set into boot-shaped holes.
Ducking through the subway under the A27 from Falmer railway station towards Falmer village, I found that a cycle path headed alongside the A27 towards Lewes, and I was able to run along that for about a mile and a half until I reached the waymarkings for the South Downs Way. I was pleased to discover that the waymarking is pretty good and really the only tricky bit of navigation was towards the end where the course diverges from the actual South Downs Way.
It was inevitable that I would compare this to the North Downs Way. In general, it was drier and chalkier, the ascents and descents less steep, I thought, but the route was more exposed and I was fighting a cold headwind for most of the way.
The views were fantastic, with panoramas of valleys on both side and the sea often in sight in the distance to my right. As I came round the curve of Windover Hill I recognised a part of the route of the Beachy Head Marathon which I ran back in October, but in the other direction. This hill, by the way, lives up to its name: in October, the wind blew in our faces all the time, even while we changed direction nearly 180 degrees, and it was similar for me yesterday.
There were a fair number of other people out on the Downs – walkers, occasional horse riders, mountain bikers and a few other runners. I held a gate open for a couple of cyclists shortly before crossing the Greenwich Meridian Line (there was a finger post on the trail to mark this), and met up with them again (much to their surprise) briefly at the top of Willingdon Hill before descending into Eastbourne.
Once at Eastbourne Station I enjoyed a hot chocolate as a recovery drink while waiting for the train.
Next week the first half of the route beckons…