SDW and NDW: as different as Chalk and Mud

Last Sunday I recced the first half of the SDW50 route, running north from Worthing railway station to pass Hillbarn Recreation Ground where we will start on the day of the SDW50, and continuing for another six miles to join the South Downs Way, where I turned east and ran towards Falmer, leaving the trail after descending to Housedean Farm, then turning west to Falmar railway station. Total distance station to station was about 29.25 miles.

Today, I took the trains to Farnham and ran to Dorking along the North Downs Way, re-familiarising myself with the route, finding a new place to miss a path turning, and clocking up about 25.5 miles.

As I ran, I was thinking how different the SDW and the NDW are from each other. Before I ran on the SDW I had expected it to be much like the NDW, but I was wrong. Of course there are some similarities – they both involve a fair amount of ascent and descent – but the general terrain and the trails underfoot are remarkably dissimilar. The SDW primarily runs along wide, chalk-based bridlepaths. Sometimes the path narrows,  and quite a bit of the time you are on grass, or you can run on grass at the side of the path, but the overall memory for me is those wide chalk bridleways, sometimes with added flint for that “ouch” feeling underfoot. The NDW paths are more varied underfoot, mostly footpaths rather than bridlepaths, more stretches of road, or paths along the sides of crop fields or pastures, less exposed chalk, more sand and a lot more mud, particularly after several days of rain.

SDW is mostly up on what I hesitate to describe as the ridge, because it’s too flat, but anyway along the summits of the hills, providing lovely views into the valley to the north and the valley to the south, with added sea in the distance looking south, before dropping down from the hill into the valley then up again to the next top, with pretty much the same views. NDW does provide some long-distance views down into and across valleys, but much more of the path is enclosed, between hedges or in woodland, so that the views, when they appear, are more fleeting and precious.

My particular runs last Sunday and today also contrasted in weather. Last Sunday was mostly dry but rather cold, and I was fighting a headwind for much of the way, with a little sprinkling of snow adding to the ambience towards the end. My legs got cold despite the Montane Featherlight windproof trousers over my Skins, and my top half got cold enough that I pulled out my waterproof jacket and wore it on top of my windproof jacket – even then, it took three miles of running with the hood pulled up over my hat to get me warmed up. For today, the weather forecast indicated light showers becoming heavier showers so I’d decided not only to wear my Montane Minimus jacket from the start but also that it would be a good day to try out my waterproof trousers (Montane Atomic Pants, because Montane doesn’t produce their Minimus trousers in women’s sizes and I’m too small to fit the men’s small). During the first half of the run I took the trousers off and put them on again about three times, slightly too warm with them on, but with some of the heavier showers making their waterproof qualities worthwhile. At the top of St Martha’s Hill, the rain seemed to be getting heavier and I pulled them on again. Good decision, as for the next couple of hours it poured. With the waterproofs on, only my feet and hands were getting cold and wet, which was uncomfortable, but not too bad. Thankfully, winds were light or absent. During the last hour or so the rain eased and finally stopped, the sky cleared, and I got some lovely views into the valley west of Dorking, and down onto the vine fields at Denbies.

Not a lot of notable wildlife on either day, but I did enjoy listening to the skylarks last Sunday, and I saw a couple of sparrowhawks today.


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