South Downs Way Rollercoaster


After last weeks 21 flat miles today was a complete contrast as we tackled a section of the the South Downs Way (SDW) that has Exton at the bottom of the valley then Beacon hill and Old Winchester hill (OWH) either side, “twice”. Parking a mile or so away from were the Meon Valley Trail crosses the SDW fellow Fareham Crusader and regular Thomasson Tours runner Paul Coates and I set off at 8am so as to avoid the heat. With temperatures of 21 degrees forecast for later in the day this meant the first 2016 appearance of suntan lotion !! There would be about 2,000 feet of elevation in the four hills so you could say we’d be on a countryside rollercoaster. I always remember someone telling me that if you wanted to master the Geordie (Newcastle) accent, Kawasaki and rollercoaster are two really good words to practise, …. try it  🙂


The 100 miles (160 Km) long South Downs Way National Trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs from Winchester to Eastbourne. The undulating route gives you wonderful views while running.

After the first flat mile we left the old railway line and started the twisting and turning trail that weaves its way up towards OWH. The trail’s mud has been subject to horses and mountain bikes so with the recent dryer weather the going underfoot was quite rutted but not as slippy as usual. The hedge initially hides your view of the hill but there’s no mistaking that you are climbing. Paul is a stronger runner than me but it was only a week ago he ran the 3 Forts Challenge so we chatted about his experience there.

As the track levelled out around the base of OWH you could see down to where we’d started and the countryside that surrounded us. The steepest climb was approaching us with a sharp 90 degree turn straight up the side of the hill. Onwards and upwards !!


The views from the trig point (650 ft above sea level) meant you could see to Southampton. We descended down the hill and on route to hill number two we passed through the sleepy village of Exton. The ever helpful SDW signposts directed us across a field of cows as well as two electrified fence styles !! The cows were largely uninterested in us, it was more the fact that there must have been over a hundred of them. It was funny trying to avoid both the “cow traffic jam” and their “mess” (watch the video). We left the flatter fields and pressed on up the gradient to the millennium beacon and reached our second trig point of the day after a short chat with a group of mountain bikers.

A steady descent was needed, what with the hills camber and then it was a case of dodging the cow pats as we retraced our steps back to Exton. I was pleased to keep my Saucony’s “cow pat free” as we headed back through the “still” sleepy Exton (not that it gets busy you understand) and that was rollercoaster number 1 done.

Ready for the next hill said Paul ?, I replied “why aye man” (Geordie for saying yes, enthusiastically). As we ran along the narrow track that takes you back to OWH we passed 4 runners coming towards us, one commenting that Eastbourne was very busy (84 miles away) I replied, give our regards to Winchester (16 miles away), all good banter. We approached OWH from a different track for variety and had to take it steady with the number of tree roots, one of which Paul almost came a cropper on !!


We were met with sheep at the trig point this time and added it to the video. The sun was noticeably hotter now and I stopped by a stream for some refreshing cold water over my head. With the temperature around 20 degrees I was glad of another walk past the cows and to be honest struggled to half way up our last hill. Paul carried on and I settled for 3 & 1/2 hills. I covered just under 1,800 feet of elevation in 16.5 miles and Paul about 2,000 in 17 but the overriding memory from today was just how much enjoyment we’d had running through the countryside in full bloom, as the month of May started summer in Hampshire.

On returning to the Meon Hall I drank two 500ml bottles of cold water in 5 minutes !! No sun burn and plenty of laughs with Paul #goodtimes. Thanks to Paul for the videos too.