It was another grey dawn and another hasty pack to beat the rain. As I left the campsite the clouds were gathering, and by the time I reached the crest of the ridge I had to stop and dig out waterproofs.
From Amberley I trudged east over rain-lashed hills, chased by the wind. What views there might have been were blanked out by a thick mist covering the fields. With nothing to look at I was alone with my thoughts. These mostly concerned being wet and cold; but at one point I remebered an idealised description I had once read, of walking in the rain. Water falling softly onto the sun-parched earth. The smell of green and growing things. That morning the water was dripping down the back of my neck and the only smell was the faint odour of rotting cabbages. Ideal it was not.
After some miles the Way drops to a main road before climbing through woods onto a long, whale-back ridge. Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron Age hillfort, lies at the western end of the ridge. As I came out into the open I could see the wind-tossed trees on the summit. It brought back memories of my previous visit, when having spent the night there I awoke to just such a morning. One day I might get to see it in fine weather!
From Chanctonbury the ridge sloped south-east for several miles. It was easy going, though the wet grass was slippery underfoot. To my left I could see Steyning sheltering in the lee of the hill. Soon I came to the road that runs round Steyning Bowl and followed it down to the town.
Steyning is not very big, but it does have banks and shops. It's also the only place on this section of the South Downs Way where you will get anything to eat. The next watering hole is the inn at Devils Dyke, five miles east. Having dried myself as best I could (clean shoes were at the bottom of the rucksack, which meant that I had to pull out the entire contents in front of a bemused lady in the bus shelter) I dined at the Chequer Inn. After lunch I rested, keeping as close to the radiator as possible. Finally it was time to go. I put on my wet gear and ventured out into the elements.
I followed a lane back to the trail, crossing the slow-moving Adur near Botolph. Downstream through the mist rose the gaunt shape of a disused works. From the river a footpath climbs through fields to the narrow lane running up to Tottington Youth Hostel. The lane was not where I expected - it's hard to measure your progress when you can't see anything - but I found it eventually and followed it up over Truleigh Hill.
On a fine day the walk from Truleigh to the Devil's Dyke is superb, with great views over the Weald. That afternoon it was anything but. I could make out the village of Fulking at the foot of the downs, but that was about it. As I passed the Dyke, a dry chalk valley, the sky darkened and the rain intensified.
The miles from Devil's Dyke to Pycombe were miserable. The trail drops down to a road, then slogs all the way back up West Hill. At the top I came to a halt. I was cold, wet, muddy and depressed. I was also concerned about where I would sleep.
At Steyning some fellow walkers had given me the address of a bed and breakfast in Pyecombe, but I couldn't count on a room being available. Passing through the village I eyed up the church porch. A night on a stone bench didn't appeal, but it would be better than lying under a hedge. When I eventually reached the White House they were fully booked, but the lady in charge told me they'd find me a sofa or something so I wouldn't have to camp out. However she had a friend who also did B and B: would I like her to ring up? She did so, and fortunately there had been a cancellation. She came to the gate and showed me the way.
For the second time that afternoon I was met with great kindness. They are clearly used to walkers at Hobbs Cottage. Shoes out to air, wet clothes in the drier. A long, hot and much-needed bath. Once I had sorted myself out Wendy (who runs the place) gave me lift to the pub, telling me to phone when I was ready to return.
I was too tired to eat much, but I had a few drinks. Then it was back to a warm and comfortable bed, and oblivion.