The South Downs Way – Happy walks in Natural England

We (my wife Lisa and I) have finally completed the South Downs Way on Friday 16th July having originally commenced it on 25th May 2019! My knees may never recover as The Seven Sisters took their toll.

The map and elevation guides above show the route from Winchester in Hampshire, England through to Eastbourne in Sussex. During the walk we gained one dog, several pounds in weight and two years in age including one with a zero for me. We lost the year of planning to complete the route in 2020 due to the global pandemic.

Many will do the walk faster or complete tougher/longer walks. We have done tougher individual climbs Helvellyn in the Lake District a notable previous trip.

I’ve created a full gallery page which you can find here with all the photos and more than are in this blog. The scenery is stunning, the natural world and wildlife is wonderful. It’s not as exotic as Borneo or Costa Ricabut a lot closer to home. For the quintessential England of rolling hills, and patchwork colours, it’s hard to beat.

We used the excellent pocket guide, South Downs Way by Jim Manthorpe & Daniel McCrohan which helpfully splits the route into legs travelling West to East. The reverse is also available for those wanting to travel East to West.

Start
Only 100 to go!

We started off in May 2019 with the aim to complete that summer but as usual life got in the way and we had only completed 70 of the 100 miles from Winchester by the end of November 2019. We drove away from Pyecombe on a bright but cold early winter’s day when the short daylight hours limited further attempts. We stopped for the winter expecting to restart in Spring 2020. Well nothing restarted until July 2021. We managed to book some accommodation for now two dogs and two adults. Not easy at best of times as few hotels, B&Bs or cottages are available that take dogs and cottages. (They wanted a lot of money and a week’s booking too.)

The walk is full of stunning views and panoramas:

Panorama
Clear day

In November 2019, we had managed two days in a row with calm weather even if cold and despite arriving in the dark. Going downhill at dusk can be fun – not. We split two days walking with a stay in the South Downs Way B&B Poynings (Very Good). The B&B lies in the valley off of the walk and therefore not at a start or end point.

B&B Poynings

Previous days we had driven to the day’s end point then taken a taxi (dogs allowed booking) back to the start point. On one day, for Leg 4, we had taken the train from Amberley Station to Chichester, and then a bus to a start point in the lay by ending from Leg 3. These were new experiences for Merlot our then 9 year old lone tricolour border collie, since joined by his great nephew Malbec. Both MastaMariners

Merlot Bus
A bus and a train all in one day – woof!

Leaving the car in a lay bys or car parks to be reclaimed with tired and muddy walkers and one dog at that time, is fine if the journey back home is about an hour. As we ventured further east the trip out and back increased, traffic and weary bones starts limiting the enjoyment so more planning for overnight stays and therefore hopes of good weather.

We were lucky on nearly every occasion. On only one day did we have heavy rain at any point and that was on Leg 2 when despite a reasonable forecast our luck did not hold.

Then again there were days with glorious weather, too warm to walk and the problem of water. The heat of summer did lead to some spectacular sights.

Sunflowers

There were occasional unexpected stops

Fishing River
Fishing river but a cafe too!
Cafe
Welcome break

Finally in July 2021 we were able to re-start and complete the walk. Two nights staying in the centre of Lewes (pronounced Lew-is) at The White Hart (Needs some TLC). This covered Leg 7 – which was a long leg. Some great views but one very long concrete paved track down hill into Southease followed by a train back into Lewes. Even Malbec making his debut was not impressed.

COncrete and Puppy
Down and down to Southease

We ate local meals in the centre with an accompanying local beverage. The beer had to travel across the road!

Beer Lewes
Harvey Beer from Bills

This was followed by two nights in Eastbourne at the York Hotel on the sea front (nice with a pool and a sea view in a large room!). The legs had fabulous scenery and increasing temperatures.

There is a choice for walkers for the last leg, inland or down to the coast. We chose the coastal route. The leg was tough going covering the walk to the coast from Alfriston, past the Litlington White Horse (across the valley) through to Seven Sisters Country Park and then the Seven Sisters themselves and Beachy Head. A lot of up and down in a roller coaster path, for which the ticket entry was painful knees and more blisters.

Chalk Horse
Litlington White Horse
River mouth
River Cuckmere
Seven Sisters
Belle Tout Lighthouse in the distance
Lighthouse
It finally was closer
Eastbourne
One more hill
The end
The end

Finally a suitable toast with my beautiful wife to complete the walk

Toast

Legs

Leg 1 – Winchester (elevation 20 feet at Riverside) to Exton – 25th May 2019 – 12 Miles / 19.5 km – two main climbs Cheesefoot Hill 577ft and Beacon Hill 659ft

Leg 2 – Exton to Buriton (Queen Elizabeth Country Park) – 15th June 2019 -12.5 miles / 20 km – Butser Hill 886 ft

Leg 3 – Buriton to Cocking – 16th July 2019 10.5 miles / 17 km – Beacon Hill 794 ft

Leg 4 – Cocking to Amberley – 3rd August 2019 – 11.5 miles / 18.5 km – Bignor Hill 738 ft

Leg 5 – Amberley to Steyning – 28th November 2019 – 10 miles / 16 km – Chanctonbury Ring 771 ft

Leg 6 – Steyning to Pyecombe – 29th November 2019 – 10 miles / 16 km – Devils Dyke 673 ft

A long break….

Leg 7 – Pyecombe to Southease – 14th July 2021 – 14.5 miles / 23.5 km – Ditchling Beacon 814 ft

Leg 8 – Southease to Alfriston – 15th July 2021 – 7.75 miles/ 12.5 km – Firle Beacon 712 ft

Leg 9 – Alfriston to Eastbourne (Meads) Coastal route – 16th July 2021 – 10.5 miles / 17 km – Beachy Head 538 ft

Sailing Clear Is Free on Kindle

To celebrate the release of the sequel Sail Chains, my book, Sailing Clear will be free on Kindle from Saturday 19th June Midnight Pacific time through to Monday 21st June – get it while you can.

Sailing Cover

Sailing Clear
Missing girls, missing money, missing man, luxury motor yachts and the people chasing them.

An old MI6 undercover mission to prevent terrorists entering the UK via sex trafficking routes went wrong. The undercover agent is assigned to a new role.

A man lost in the shadows manages the hidden finances of the security services but dreams of a better life sailing the Mediterranean. When he runs off he is hunted, but he may have been killed by an organised crime leader. The police are assigned to find him.

Two sisters run away to Greece from the sexual abuse of their father.

The characters intersect as the hunt commences. Then the security services need to find options to deal with the fallout.

The undercover agent now in her new planning role is assigned to trace the missing financier, but a corrupt cop may give them all away

Sail Chains is Published

Sail Chains is published today

Available as a Paperback and on Kindle as an e-book. It is part of the Sailing Clear series and a sequel of sorts to Sailing Clear but can be read as a stand-alone. As it provides a tale heavily connected to intelligence systems run by the NSA and GCHQ, there is a forward in the book which can also be found in this blog post

Sail Chains Cover

Captain Tom Larring barely escaped alive from a mission in Afghanistan. He now has another task. Effi Miani has been undercover in the Middle east but is needed for the same operation. Together they must find Bravo-One-One who is the highest priority target for MI6. He is believed to be building a chemical weapon in Northwest Pakistan. A previous MI6 operation has already failed. A leak or a traitor inside MI6 may have destroyed that mission, so extra precautions must be taken otherwise, this team will also fail.

Tom and Effi need a faultless back story before embarking on their mission. The operation needs financing and a cover story. The help of a former disgraced MI6 officer, Michelle Houston, and her lover, Hugh Turnbill, is sought. They successfully control the laundering of black funds for the security services whilst sailing clear of the security services. Some of the MI6 leadership wants to gain direct control of the money and the couple, despite previous agreements. They want that control regardless of the risks to the operations in Pakistan. They think they may get leverage using two former teenage runaways connected to the couple.

The hunt for whoever leaked the information continues. Suspicions are raised. The internal security team needs to prevent the traitor putting the financiers and the operation at risk. An MI5 team is on the trail of a suspicious Saudi diplomat. He may be connected to Bravo-One-One.

Closed missions should not be re-opened. The NSA and GCHQ are monitoring and tracing communications using secret programmes and techniques, but some secrets should not be shared with allies.

Government Snooping Chains

The NSA and GCHQ Programs provide insight into government snooping chains. This blog also provides a forward to my book Sail Chains. The current focus on surveillance and privacy is based on the actions of Facebook, Amazon and google. The allied western intelligence agencies do much more. Previous blogs

Secure communications, tracking, and other jargon is used within this tale. The descriptions are based on real techniques used in Information Technology and Intelligence Surveillance. Some are described below to avoid lengthy passages of explanation in the narrative of the book and here in this blog for public edification.

Five-Eyes

Five-Eyes is an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These countries are parties to a multilateral agreement which is a treaty for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. It is a wide ranging agreement and includes facilities in each country including the Government Communication Headquarters, GCHQ, in Cheltenham, UK, and the National Security Agency, NSA, with its HQ at Fort Meade in the USA. Both organisations also carry out their own operations and programmes. Many of these programmes were known in small parts to the media and hence general public; however the extent of these programmes was not well known until the revelations leaked or stolen by Edward Snowden.

GCHQ

GCHQ
NSA Signpost
NSA Sign post

Legal restrictions in all Five Eyes countries are supposed to restrict or prevent gathering of information on citizens. Secret courts, FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) in USA and CMPs (Closed Material Procedures) in UK provide legal cover. Parliamentary or Congressional scrutiny is very limited. In many cases the elected representatives or their advisors do not have sufficient levels of security clearance to see the material about the programmes let alone the technical understanding of the implications.

The NSA is not supposed to spy on US citizens without a warrant but they can collect data about US citizens whilst spying on foreigners. In one example 90% of the data collected in one sweep was about US citizens (>9,500 citizens out of 11,000 contacts). In this way GCHQ can spy on US Citizens and vice versa and each can pass data to the other through the Five Eyes and not be subject to any scrutiny. It is clear from multiple sources that this spying is not just on threats but also on journalists, whistleblowers and multiple other targets that the security services have decided are legitimate targets.

Snowden

The main details were leaked by Edward Snowden to two reporters Barton Gellman who published via the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian. A film maker, Laura Poitras conducted interviews and also acted as a go-between, especially between Snowden and Gellman during the initial contacts when source VERAX was making contact. Many of the electronic copies of papers and programme details remain unreleased by the journalists. The NSA and GCHQ continue to deny many of the details, see here


STELLARWIND

was the code name of a warrant less surveillance program begun under the George W. Bush administration’s President’s Surveillance Program. The National Security Agency (NSA) program was approved by President Bush shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks and was revealed by Thomas Tamm to The New York Times in 2004. STELLARWIND’s output is fed into the MAINWAY database

PRISM

PRISM is a code name for a program under which the NSA collects internet communications from various US internet companies. The NSA had placed collection systems directly in the data centres of the large tech companies including Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and others. Due to the nature of Internet routing many non-US connections route or partially route via the data centres. Thus privacy campaigners use Virtual Private Networks, VPNs, and other techniques to mask their messages. These techniques are also used by enemies including terrorists.

MAINWAY

MAINWAY is a database maintained by the NSA (and Five Eyes partners) containing metadata for hundreds of billions of telephone calls made through the four largest telephone carriers in the United States: AT&T, SBC, BellSouth (all three now called AT&T) and Verizon. The existence of this database and the NSA program that compiled it was unknown to the general public until USA Today broke the story on May 10, 2006. It is estimated that the database contains over 1.9 trillion call-detail records. The records include detailed call information (caller, receiver, date/time of call, length of call, etc.) for use in traffic analysis and social network analysis, but do not include audio information or transcripts of the content of the phone calls.

Contact Chaining

Contact Chaining is a method of querying data held in MAINWAY to produce contact maps and then using associated algorithms of contacts of a target several levels away e.g. secondary, tertiary and beyond contact of contacts of contacts. Because MAINWAY holds historical data, officially 5 years worth for US citizens but with many caveats, previous contacts can be traced. Exceptions to deletion are any link to on-going or security investigations. This gives rise to an exponential increase in potential contacts. If the first contact has ten contacts and each has ten more and these in turn have ten more at 3rd degree of separation there are now 10x10x10 = 1,000. Most humans have far more than 10 contacts thus chains become very large very quickly. The game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the US Actor, demonstrates this is more humorous ways.

Algorithms are used to reduce the numbers or combine them into groups. This data is then combined with other communications data, for example, social medial posts and email, to build up a contact map. The seed in this case is the initial target or intercept which by correlating with another seed B. Contact C is thus linked in the chain.

Or a real one shown by the US news programme 60 Minutes

NBC Real Chain

Any one of these contacts or nodes could be the enemy that is sought or allow movements, locations and activity patterns to be tracked thus enabling potential targeting for surveillance or more direct action. Sometimes the enemy is unknown. The node shown is a phone, email address, social media handle, website, which the technique attempts to link to an individual or organisation. A phone number of a head office could be used by hundreds of contacts. How the data is processed into MAINWAY with other named systems mentioned is shown below:

Mainway Dataflow showing Government Snooping Chains

Enemies attempt to hide this activity by changing contact methods, encryption of the content of messages and other evasion techniques. For the NSA and GCHQ they are also tasked with creating method of protecting data from such intercepts by foreign powers or bad actors. Other techniques such as operating cell techniques can founder with just a single contact under the chain. Thus operational security measures are overcome. For example two terrorist cells with a leadership planning a coordinated attack can be linked.

CO-TRAVELER

A system called CO-TRAVELER is designed to track who meets with whom and covers everyone who carries a mobile/cell phone, all around the world. CO-TRAVELER collects billions of records daily of phone user location information. It maps the relationships of mobile/cell phone users across global mobile network cables, gathering data about who you are physically with, and how often your movements intersect with other phone users. The program even tracks when your phone is turned on or off.

TOR – Protects from government snooping or does it?

Tor is free and open-source software for enabling anonymous communication by directing Internet traffic through a worldwide overlay network. It consists of more than seven thousand relays designed to conceal a user’s location and usage from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. Using Tor makes it more difficult to trace the Internet activity to the user: this includes “visits to Web sites, online posts, instant messages, and other communication forms”. Tor’s intended use is to protect the personal privacy of its users, as well as their freedom and ability to conduct confidential communication by keeping their Internet activities unmonitored. It was created by the Office of Naval Research and DARPA as a security protection project and the papers from Snowden demonstrated that the NSA had managed to set up infiltration into the network.

VPNs – Encrypt channels of communication thus protecting chains but not that a connection exists

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are encrypted channels between one or more network points. They normally use some form of shared encryption key between the end points thus preventing interception of the communication content; however, the metadata (data about data) can still be traced including locations, of end points, times of transmission, etc. Therefore, STELLARWIND can collect this data and deposit into MAINWAY for use in Contact Chaining. If a phone is used as the data connection CO-TRAVELER can match locations and obtain more metadata in addition to location and other data sources nearby.

GCHQ

GCHQ has a different set of names achieving the same ends see here. This shows the applications CARPART, PRIMETIME, SNAPDRAGON, MoaG, SORTING FRIENDS sending data into a system called CHART BREAKER, and onwards into CONTACT LENS which is the Contact Chaining output from MAINWAY and CHART BREAKER

Updated Paperbacks and Kindles

Updated paperbacks and kindles for all my published works are now available on Amazon following resetting of all paperback versions. In addition, translated versions of some books are available.

Below is a list in publication order

CoverTitlePublishedAmazonAudioTranslations
Demise An Agent’s DemiseJan 2013LinkYesPortuguese
Survivors To The SurvivorsJun 2013Link NoSpanish
Portuguese
French
Persuasive Cover The Persuasive ManMar 2014LinkIn Production None
Rise An Agent’s RiseJul 2014Link No None
Fives Cover World Of FivesJul 2014Link NoSpanish
Portuguese
Landscape LandscapeMar 2015Link NoPortuguese
Spanish
Intervention InterventionJan 2016Link NoPortuguese
Prize Cover An Agent’s PrizeApr 2016Link NoSpanish
Trilogy The Demise TrilogyApr 2016Link No None
Sailing Cover Sailing ClearFeb 2017Link NoPortuguese
Too Much Not Too MuchDec 2017Link NoPortuguese
Counter CounterOct 2019Link NoPortuguese
Sail Chains Cover Sail ChainsJun 2021LinkNoNone

We Won’t Be Asked To Vote On…

Some things that we won’t be promised or asked to vote on, by the main parties in the election

  1. Reduction in MPs from 650 to 500 with attendant boundary changes
  2. MPs deselected that do not take up seats e.g. NI parties that don’t
  3. Proportional representation introduction outside NI – mentioned in Lib Dems last time but not by main parties
  4. Lords reform – to voted for chamber (power away from House of Commons)
  5. Fixed term limits for Prime Minister or MPs e.g. See Costa Rica 4 years for President 8 years for MP equivalent
  6. Tax take must equal or be more than government spend and borrowing cost – no deficit increase
  7. Any hope that any manifesto might get implemented with thought for unintended consequences – see 6 for spending commitments
  8. Understanding by any MP of unintended consequences see 6 and 7
  9. Understanding by any political party that it takes years to train doctors, nurses, teachers therefore you cannot magic more in a couple of years unless imported from abroad thus denying other countries’ their health/teaching
  10. That Donald Trump has no vote in UK Election, nor does any other foreign politician (including EU). Their opinions are irrelevant, and should be ignored especially tweets
  11. If you don’t vote for who you want to represent you do not complain when someone else is elected – introduce compulsory voting
  12. Challenge those who are asking for your vote how they will vote on the issues. Sue them for breach of contract if they don’t!