A colourful, expressive pastel painting of Chanctonbury Ring - a line of distinctive trees on top of a rounded hill

Sketchbook From The South Downs Way

Stephanie Boon holding a small square sketchbook with a label 'South Downs Way May 2021'
My favourite square journal

My Sketchbook And Journal From The South Downs Way

It’s a strange notion, really, to want to fill a sketchbook with the story of just one hike. I usually fill them ad-hoc letting notes, ideas and observations flow as they flow, picking up whichever sketchbook has the right ‘feel’, shape, paper… Half-filled sketchbooks sit on my shelves, each waiting their turn for the next ‘right moment’.

I decided I want my national trail sketchbooks to be different: I want them to have a start and finish like the hike itself.

I got all excited at the thought of a neat row of 15 trail sketchbooks and journals sat on my bookshelf in the future. This is basically another way of saying I’m going to splurge on something I’ve coveted for ages!

Most of us convince ourselves we need new gear, but no, what I needed was a new journal for making art on The South Downs Way! Of course I did. Small, square, full of beautiful paper and lots of possibilities (for the hefty sum of 17 quid). Get in my rucksack.

Sketching Come Rain Or Shine

A rainbow and single tree on the South Downs Way in May
Rain and sunshine = rainbows (West Sussex)

Unfortunately, that’s where it stayed for most of the 100-mile hike. Rain, rain, and more bloody rain put paid to my lofty ideals of a neat bookshelf. That is until I decided to continue working in it once I got home. So what you see below is a mixture of sketches and notes made both on the South Downs Way and back home.

When I look through the pages now I feel excited about what comes next – some larger paintings or drawings of the South Downs perhaps. But definitely another (matching) sketchbook for the next national trail! (The Cotswold Way hiked in summer 2021.)

Under the big beech trees of Chanctonbury Ring, with cyclists passing on a chalk track
Under the beech trees of Chanctonbury Ring

Drawing Some Amazing Views

Chanctonbury Ring

Chanctobury Ring is an incredible sight as it comes into view on the cusp of a rounded hill, and I was captivated by it. The distinctive beach trees were like a shadow play as leaden skies threw them into silhouette one minute and lit them up with golden sunlight the next. I couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic scene really, played out to an audience of one.

A drawing of Chactonbury Ring from my South Downs Way Journal
South Downs Way sketchbook drawing of Chanctonbury Ring
South Downs Way: moody sketchbook drawing of Chactonbury Ring
South Downs Way sketchbook - a mixed media drawing of Chactonbury Ring

Dew Ponds

A flat oval shaped pond with water muddy coloured water filled to the brim. There's a windswept hawthorn tree on the left and another one directly across the pond. The sky is grey and it looks like it'll rain any minute. It's a cold-looking, exposed atmosphere.
Water on top of the Downs

Old layers. Chalk, straw, clay, flint. Perfect mirrors that look like they’ve fallen off a dressing table. The surface unrippled (if it wasn’t dried up) reflecting big clouds and lonely trees. They provide the only water on top of the South Downs, keeping the livestock slaked, and me mesmerised.

Vivid green sketch of a Dew Pond on the South Downs Way
South Downs Way journal page, showing a coloured drawing of a dew pond

Chalk Tracks And Hills

A wooden field gate and metal bar fence lead through a muddy path onto a chalk track that winds gently up hill. There's a moody grey sky and a hill on the horizon.
Chalk paths lead the way

Chalk and flint. Hard and rough underfoot, slippery when wet. Broad enough for rumbling cartwheels (and mountain bikes in pairs) or narrow enough for droves of single-file sheep. Imagine the sound…

Journal from the SDW - Chalk Path Heading Down Hill - mixed media sketch
Small chalk sketch of Truleigh Hill camp field
Truleigh Hill black and white chalk sketch
Chalk sketch of Truleigh Hill
Mixed media sketch of a view towards Amberley in Sussex
Black and white chalk sketch of a sunken track on the South Downs Way

Thoughts And Scribbles

A Peek At Some Of My Original Notes and Art From The South Downs Way – enjoy!

Notes made about Truleigh Hill YHA, South Downs
Truleigh Hill
Notes about a pit stop for a cream tea at Southease
A pit stop Southease YHA
Journal notes about being ill on the South Downs Way
Notes about being ill
A list of hiking clothes for the South Downs Way
A practical list
Chalk drawing of Butser Hill, South Downs Way
View from a wild camp
A chalk sketch of Seven Sisters, East Sussex
Seven Sisters Cliffs

Closing The Journal

Making art on the South Downs Way may have come to an end in my journal, but it won’t be closed for a while. I’ll use all these sketches, notes and memories to make some larger paintings and drawings. I can picture in my mind how they’ll take shape, inspired by the huge skies and rushing clouds, Kipling’s whale-backed hills, and what it felt like to be immersed in this unique landscape. I’ll post more about them as they come together, until then, thanks for reading and

Happy hiking!

Stephie x

Plan Your Hike On The South Downs Way

Check out my complete guides

Image link: Packing List For The South Downs Way
5 Great Campsites on the South Downs Way
Image Link: Hiking The South Downs Way: Everything You Need To Know!


  • Ruchard
    5 September, 2023

    Are prints available of you paintings? I really like “under the beech” a view of Chanctonbury ring.
    Regards Richard


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