Stepping out at Southease onto the South Downs Way the backdrop is deep steely grey. Flowers flourish refreshed by rains and contrast with green green grass as the train slides on to the sea. No turning back now as watchful men track down Itford Hill clutching their Bank Holiday play planes against the gathering threat. Committed to wending up the chalky trail buttercups and birdsfoot trefoil stand bright against gathering gloom, while Newhaven harbour fades from view. A gentle drizzle drapes across the soft southern scarp, shrouding sheep who, heads down, continue the serious business of shaving grass.
No shelter for sheep or striders who shrug off the shower with barely a shudder as drizzle turns to deluge. Approaching the ridge however, an outsize fluorescent hump glows in the gloom, hugging the brow of the hill, providing a hide for a huddle of hikers who have turned their backs on waxing wind and whipping rain. The wild and westerly air is acrid with the tang of scorching plastic but no sign of smouldering smoke. Where does the sharp pong come from that masks the scent of grass and sea? Is the incinerator below sneaking smells above the Ouse while shrouded in foul weather?
At the apex of Itford Hill, a wail hails beads of ice beating down on more Bank Holiday bimblers – stinging any unprotected parts. Bundled in makeshift bivvys another clump of soggy explorers cower. All activity (but mine) is terminated by terminal weather. A soggy half a mile stomp further on, at the junction of the ways, one bold and bearded sightseer braves the breezes – failing to inspire his expedition to emerge from underneath their Gortex covered group. By now its clear that waterproofs are futile in the face of rain thrown with this force.
At last the post points downward and a respite path appears – rutted with almost rivers as water runs into the valley. Cloud begins to clear as inland shards of lightning strike the sky. A lone jogger, strangely, dry, trots on, while damp warmth radiates from the sky and the rain tacks north – leaving lightning to sparkle on tiny waterfalls tumbling over gravel towards Glynde.