Hiking for a Hero along the South Downs Way

I started this adventure to celebrate the life of a lady who truly inspired me, Pam Smith.

I first met Pam in June 2014, having moved to Arundel with work. She came bounding over to great me with a box of biscuits and an enormous smile, welcoming me with open arms to the neighbourhood. 

Choosing the South Downs Way for my hike was the natural choice due to Pam’s love of the outdoors. She hiked a lot when she was younger and when I mentioned to her that I planned to explore the South Downs whilst I was living in the area, she quickly gathered together all the maps, magazine articles and web publishings she could find of walks I could go and discover. It seemed fitting that I remembered her in an area in which we shared mutual affection.

Sleep was scarce the day and night before the walk. At 12am, I set out to meet my old man at the start of the South Downs Way in Winchester. What an absolute privilege it was to share the first 12 miles with another of my life’s biggest heroes, especially considering the man is held together with nuts and bolts through pushing his body to the absolute limits in an adventure-filled life himself!

As instructed to do by my mother, I had two head torches and a backup hand torch, just in case! After four hours of great conversation I said goodbye to my dad and ventured off on the next 14 miles towards Buriton. The sunrise I received that morning whilst walking alone will stay with me forever. 

Sometime between 7 and 8am, the early morning runners, riders and dog walkers woke up and came to join me. The next 25 miles passed relatively calmly, predominantly due to the sugar content in my homemade flapjacks and the moments when I allowed myself time to pause, stretch and take in the stunning views.

I was greeted at Cocking by my mum, sister and a family friend. By this point I had walked 37 miles and the legs were starting to stiffen up and energy levels were depleting.
Company on the final 10 miles of the day was pivotal in making sure I got to Amberley on time and in a half descent state.

5.30pm and the end of day one came with a tired grin, a quick photograph and a huge craving for a hot bath and bed. I was granted these requests, yet they were unfortunately combined with sunstroke, a blocked nose and a serious headache. My body seemed to want to shut down between the hours of 6.30 and 7.30pm, and it crossed my mind for a minute whether I’d physically be able to get up again in 4 hours’ time to start day two and the last 52 miles. Luckily my sister and mum made sure I got back out of bed at midnight and was dropped back off at the end point of day 1.

The next 11 hours and 28 miles is without a doubt the toughest thing I’ve done in my 29 years so far.

The skies weren’t so clear during the night so the head torch was proving a useful addition. Just as dawn broke, I walked past a field that had lots of metal cladded pens dotted around. As they became closer, I began to hear scuffles and squeaking coming from them which brought me quickly back to the present. I was then greeted by an enormous bang and squeal, followed by 15-20 gigantic pigs hurtling out of a pen. Luckily they weren’t interested in me and I continued my way to Lewes where I was to be joined by two friends who would help me to the finish line.

Performing minor surgery to the blisters on my little toes around the mile 20 mark was eventful. However, comparing this to the pain that Pam would have felt quickly snapped me out of feeling sorry for myself, also knowing that eventually these struggles would soon be over.

At around 11.30am I stumbled in to the arms of two friends, Jack and Charlotte. 76 miles had taken its toll on my body and mind and I will be forever thankful to them for keeping me company for the final quarter of the hike. Three became four at Alfriston, with my sister again joining for the final 10 miles.

It’s hard to put into words the feeling I had when seeing the coast for the first time just as the sun was setting. All the planning and timing had been conducted specifically to reach this point by sunset, and I was overcome with contrasting emotions when we reached the view looking out over the cliffs. Within the space of 10-20 seconds I would go from wanting to burst in to tears to hysterical laughter, yet I’m glad I was able to find a balance between the two and soak up the landscape surrounding me. I quickly forgot about the last 42 hours and 94 miles and looked out on the glowing orange and red skyline with a proud smile.

A couple of hours later and we reached the finish line and made our way to the pub to share a few celebratory beers with friends and family before the body completely gave in and went in to hibernation mode around 11pm.

It was an absolute honour to have completed the hike in memory of my old friend Pam and to raise money for St Wilfrid's Hospice, who provided the incredible care she received during the last few months of her life. They allowed her final chapter to be one filled with dignity, peace and love. The selfless work the people involved at the charity perform should be congratulated and it is people like these, the everyday heroes of our lives, which inspired me to create this event in the first place.

Everyone has a ‘Pam’ in their life, and we should take the time to remember them, thank them and show them how much they mean to us. Without the everyday heroes, life wouldn’t be the same. They add joy, love and laughter in to our journey, and are able to brighten up those dull days, just when we need it most.