We were back on the South Downs Way today after a wonderful party interlude in Lewes where we just missed the annual pea-throwing competition at the Lewes Arms.

It felt good to return to the chalk, flint and grassy ways but,with our biggest walking group yet (13), it was a bit like herding cats at times to ensure everyone was in sync. Our whisky way stop was enhanced by the range of partakers and their reactions though …plus the Dundee cake from the party.

After an unscheduled stop at the YHA near Southease we thought we had unraveled beyond repair but the rhythm of walking created a fluidity that kept changing the group formation and allowed many great conversations to take place with different dynamics. We discussed poetry, ethics, the power of chance meetings and obviously the beauty of our surrounds.

We were led much of the way by our 14-year old niece Cora who sprung up the steep chalky way out of Kingston effortlessly and was still going strong as the clouds rolled in.

The earlier sunshine and clear skies gave us the best views yet of the almost ever-present coastline from Peachaven to Newhaven and eventually the start of the Seven sisters beyond. The poppies were so densely packed on distant hills that they looked painted on.

Skylarks continued to form the musical background to our walk and two kestrels gave a spectacular aerial display as we dipped down into a valley en route. They made the wind look easy but David’s baseball cap was a tougher challenge to retrieve as it flew into a herd of cattle – the walk became a scramble under barbed wire at this stage.

A giant cairn of flint stones marked the Meridian line as it crosses the South Downs Way near Breaky Bottom.

Crossing our fifth river – the Ouse – over a swing-bridge the clouds darkened further but it brought our group back together before another climb.

The long descent into Alfriston at the end of our 13miles+ trek was rewarded with a choice of three pubs. We picked The Star Inn for the menu and warmth of staff. The ancient surrounds drew out some enlightening conversations from fellow travellers – not least Dr Jones’s guest lecture in medieval heresy and the trials and socialism of the Cathars followed by Sophie’s views on health and safety in the art world.

We went wide and deep but felt drawn together by the spirit of the Downs.  So near to our final destination but it feels like just the start of many journeys to come.

River Ouse

Poppies ‘painted on’

Meridian line

Moment to reflect

Dr Jones on medieval heresy and torture