I’ve long held an ambition to walk the South Down Way. I mentioned this to our youngest daughter and a plan was hatched and actioned. On 26 September 2020 we started walking from Winchester. One car was left at the start and another car was parked at a calculated day’s walk distance. At first these were 12/13 miles, but after three consecutive days we adjusted to shorter distances at my request.

We initially stayed in Chichester with my daughter. Poor Tilley (my spaniel) was freaked out by urban living, constantly alert, shivering, reacting to every strange noise. After we lit the wood burner she started to relax. Tilley enjoyed our adventure; slightly disappointed by the lack of pheasants but delighted by snack times.

The combined impact of Covid-19 rules, weather and farm workload meant that walking was slotted in when possible. Finally we completed our goal on Sunday 1 August 2021. Tilley stayed at home for the Exceat to Eastbourne stretch because I was concerned by the proximity of the cliff edge. On Monday 2 August the cliffs were in the news when part of the access path to the Belle Tout lighthouse crashed down onto the beach below. It’s scary to think that we had walked by less than 24 hours earlier. Apparently the cliffs are eroding at approximately two feet a year, and the Belle Tout is now estimated to be 65ft away from the edge. These days it’s used as holiday accommodation; not one I’d rush to book up.

I envisaged that the path would be along the coast, but I was wrong. It’s mostly inland, which shows I didn’t pay attention in my geography lessons. On a particularly busy night shift in A&E I remember thinking: “I wish they’d run the Centurion race in the opposite direction, ie start in Eastbourne, finish in Winchester”. Invariably A&E would end up treating entrants for injuries, exhaustion, hypothermia etc. Walking it was challenging enough so I’m now impressed by those who attempt running it in one hit. If I were going to bike it I’d definitely ‘go electric’. It’s a stunning walk, well worth the effort and, being naturally inquisitive, I enjoyed seeing other farmers’ land, crops and livestock. Time spent away from your own farm is always refreshing.

I discovered ice cream vans now sell ice cream tubs especially made for dogs, to get their tails wagging. It’s a great idea, cashing in on increasing numbers of dog owners. Apparently the hospitality industry is also catching on and launching dog menus. ‘Ladies who lunch’ are being upstaged by ‘dogs that lunch’. On the dog menu: slow cooked brisket, mashed potato and veg, a cup of tea made with lavender and rose petals or non-alcoholic wine Infused with nettle and black carrot. (I’ve not told Tilley or Brie about this, so keep it under wraps).

Thankfully on our walk we didn’t observe any ‘out of control’ dogs and leads were in use where livestock were. The increase of livestock worrying by dogs is a major concern for farmers, incurring welfare and income implications. When Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine discussed farmers shooting dogs, someone commented: “Farmers don’t care for their animals because they raise them to be murdered”. Clearly farming as an industry still has much work to do to build up better public relations and education regarding the realities of healthy food and caring for the land.

My garden is looking shamefully neglected right now; some leeks have gone to seed, and actually look quite pretty. We’ve had an amazing crop of rhubarb, raspberries and blackcurrants. I’ve just started unearthing enough potatoes for a meal; you simply cannot beat that freshly harvested taste. Tomatoes are starting to ripen, courgettes are doing well and my onions have grown huge. We’re eating our last jar of 2020 plum jam; 2021 plums will be precious as the crop doesn’t look good.

Some local social functions have been held again this year and that’s been especially appreciated after our Covid-19 enforced isolation. Our grandchildren entered the local flower show. Such fun creating animals out of a vegetable, paintings, flowers, rice crispy cakes etc. There were some amazing ‘gardens in a seed tray’, one with an Olympic theme, so cleverly done.

We went to a local fête, sitting out drinking shandy, listening to the band, watching the fun dog show with a delighted daughter when her terrier got a red rosette for happiest dog. I also ventured out to watch the action at the Southern Shears competition, well hosted by the Gingell family. The commentary was entertaining and I’m full of admiration for the talented shearers. I’m tentatively looking forward to more socialising this autumn.

On the farm, things are a little fraught on the hay-making front. The combines are working when conditions allow; I think grain driers will be busier this year. Beef and sheep prices are good. Our lambs are weaned and now munching on the clover in our new ley. Scald in their feet has been a problem due to long grass and humidity.
The ewes have their fleeces off. Pulling out the culls and choosing replacements from the ewe lambs is next on the agenda. After two years reduction, I’m intending to keep numbers static. Cattle on the marsh are content. Water flowed over the top of my wellies when I was walking over to check them, reminding me of winter lookering not midsummer.

I had to treat a lamb for fly strike yesterday, which is disappointing. We applied Clik Extra 10 weeks ago and it’s supposed to give 19 weeks’ cover. Sheep are frustratingly annoying, particularly when you’re trying to help them. This lamb was proving evasive. Brie was a superstar and managed to catch and hold onto the lamb until I could get there. No mean feat, because they are a fair size to hold. I was so pleased with her I nearly offered to take her out for lunch. But maybe not, she’s a bit of a hooligan, lacking social graces. After all, she is a working collie.
The first week in September is ‘love lamb week’; hoping it’s on your menu.