South Downs Way: Jack & Jill to Ditchling Beacon

The South Downs Way is a 100-mile path for walkers and cyclists and extends from Winchester to Eastbourne.  We have now traversed 7% of that path.  While that may not sound like a lot, it really has taken us some time.  That’s because we do the round-trip (return), not the one-way (single) path.  We might cover more ground if we took advantage of public transport to deliver us to one spot and pick-up at another.

The second phase of our South Downs Way walk also started at the Jack and Jill windmills.  However, this time we headed east towards Ditchling Beacon.  The beacon, a small post in the ground, formed part of a chain of bonfire signals used to warn of the approach of danger.  Back in the Georgian/Regency days, this could mean the possibility of an invasion from the French, or even the coming of the Preventive Officer, depending on who used the site.

After the strenuous walk of the previous week towards Devil’s Dyke, we decided to take it easy.  This part of the South Downs Way encompasses the Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve.  Parts of the reserve can be quite steep, but we only stayed at the top where the path is relatively flat.  But it afforded wonderful views.  From where we were, we could see out to the sea (English Channel).

Cows and sheep were grazing contentedly all around us.  The cows didn’t bother us, but we tried to avoid attracting their attention as we’ve heard the warnings about people being trampled to death.  The sheep and little lambies were, well, “sheepish”.  But our eldest managed to sneak up on a lamb and touch its fur before it ran away.

It was not the best of days in terms of weather.  It was quite windy and there was a slight chill, which did not help.  The kids had not been very willing to go for a walk because of the Devil’s Dyke experience, but after chasing lambs, they were in a better mood.  The younger one started to have a tantrum by the time we approached the beacon because she thought daddy and sissy were leaving her behind.  When told to run ahead and catch up, she started throwing hysterics and crying, “I can’t.  I can’t breathe.”  As we took a few steps forward and an ice-cream truck came in to view, that was the end of her histrionics.

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I had meant to write about all the places we’ve been recently, but several things in the past couple of days changed my mind.  At least for now.

The first happened Monday morning when I went out to the clothes line to get a leo for my elder daughter to go to gymnastics.  That morning I was awaked by some noise outside which sounded like some metal being moved around.  It reminded me of the sound of moving metal dumbbell weights around on the ground.  I thought the farmer was doing some work outside.  When I got to the clothes line, I found two sheep eating outside the window of the bedroom.  One was making herself comfortable by lying on the ground as she ate.  They were around the rose bush and the plants we had in jars and pots around the little porch.  I frightened them and they ran towards the fence, but turned around and looked at me.  I went inside to wake my daughter but when we looked outside, they were gone.  However, I noticed that the sunflower which had taken us months to grow was uprooted.  My husband heard the commotion and came out.  We went to the living room window and saw that one jar was smashed.  It was the noise of the jars that I had heard in the morning.

My husband went out to inspect the damage and found the sheep again.  They had not gone far, probably just around the house and came back again.  They had eaten our chives and got into the carrots.  One of the sheep was on the ground again.  But when they saw him, they ran again.  Our daughter came out and they ran out our front gate.  My husband told her to shut it, but she came in without doing so.  When next they went out, the sheep were in again.  This time, my daughter shut the gate after they left.  As my husband went out with the girls, he was going to try and get the sheep back into the fields by moving them behind their gates; however, the gate at the top of the drive was open and they went that way.  He found them down by the main gates into the estate, but luckily, or unluckily, they veered off and went into the landlord’s yard.  We have seen the landlord shoo them off his yard previously, but he wouldn’t have wanted them out on the streets either.  We don’t know what became of them.  I know our landlord was busy with the electric guy because they came down to see our place and he was too distracted for me to mention the sheep.

Now, I know I mentioned using the sheep as our natural lawnmower, but we had managed to cut the grass with shears and now only the weeds are growing in between, so it was unnecessary for them to donate their services now.  Besides, they left a trail of poo on their way out the gate.  As I said previously, that was one downside to using sheep, so we had nixed the idea.  As the saying goes, “the grass is always greener on the other side”, and the sheep obviously believed it.  But, then again, the chives, sunflower and carrots were probably delicacies for them.

It was a glorious day, yesterday. A bit breezy at times, but sunny and bright. The lambs were lazing in the sun early in the day, and frolicking in the afternoon. They were so adorable as they jumped, bucked and kicked as if they were horses at a rodeo trying to dislodge their riders. The weather being fair, we took a walk in a nature trail on the edge of our landlord’s estate.

This area is public and had two small ponds on either side of the path with daffodils growing wild. At the end of the path were tall trees that have not yet bloomed and I could not identify them. They were very tall and when the wind blew through here, it was as loud as a waterfall. The path ended with two gates, one on either side. To the right was a grassy area sloping down towards the A road, with some newly planted trees surrounding by their supports. To the left was another pasture that stretched towards our house.

We chose the left gate as we spotted a stile leading onto more grasslands. The gate had three different locks or fasteners and we laughed at the security. Crossing at a diagonal to the right, we went over the stile and saw another one ahead. We crossed that stile and were following a path at the bottom of a hill. The kids, however, decided to run towards the crest of the hill. “Come on, Daddy,” they called. “You’re supposed to follow us.” My husband called back, “We need to stay close to the edge.” Nevertheless, we followed them up to the top. From there we surveyed the lovely landscape all around us.

Suddenly, we hear a noise and turned around to see a flock of sheep charging at us from the left. “Uh-oh. Run!” my husband yelled. The kids screamed and we were racing down the hill with the sheep chasing. We could not help laughing as we probably looked ridiculous running down the hill with that flock following. (Where were the video cameras?) It might not have been so funny if it was a herd of cows, though those sheep were big enough to run us all down, including my 6’4″ husband.  We crossed over the stile and looked back to see that the flock had stopped some distance away but were still eyeing us. We made our way across the other stile, only to be confronted with another flock – this one even closer! We ran for the gate and as I struggled to undo all three latches, my husband had to divert the flock away from the gate. We didn’t want to be blamed for letting some sheep loose. We managed to get across safely, panting to catch our breath.

That was fun!