The Sussex Border Path is a long-distance hiking route that winds through a medieval landscape of rolling wooded hills, wildflower grasslands, pastoral farmland, and historic towns and villages.
The 156-mile (251 km) route loosely follows the inland Sussex border between Hampshire, Surrey and Kent, respectively, if you hike west to east. The route, which deviates from the exact border somewhat to include the most scenic trails, cuts through the heart of the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Starting from Emsworth, the trail begins with a loop of Thorney Island. It then takes you northeast across the South Downs to South Harting and Liphook before heading to Gospel Green, Rudgwick, Gatwick and East Grinstead. The final part winds southeast through the High Weald back to the coast at Rye.
You can expect varied walking and wonderful views for much of the route. Wildlife-spotting opportunities are good, too, and you see countless Grade I-listed buildings.
Highlights along the way include: St Hubert’s, a picturesque 10th-century church with Saxo-Norman origins; Harting Down, one of the largest areas of ancient chalk downland in Britain; Black Down, the highest point in West Sussex; Lowfield Heath Windmill, a pretty 18th-century mill; East Grinstead, an historic market town with one of the longest stretches of 14th-century timber-framed buildings in England; Bodiam Castle, a mighty 14th-century fortress; and Rye, another wonderfully-historic town with one of the oldest pubs in England.
In this Collection, I divide the route into 14 stages between 8.3 miles (13.4 km) and 13.9 miles (22.4 km) long. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you are comfortable with or walk any single stage. You are relatively well-served by accommodation and public transport en route. The choice of which direction to walk the trail is entirely yours, as both work well.
The Sussex Border Path mainly follows farm tracks over rolling open country. There are a few steep climbs here and there but nothing too severe or lengthy. As such, it is a good choice for seasoned long-distance walkers and intermediate hikers alike.
Getting to and from both ends of the trail by public transport is very easy as Emsworth and Rye have train stations and bus connections.
The first stage takes you on a full loop of Thorney Island, a beautiful peninsula that extends into Chichester Harbour.
Thorney Island was used as an RAF Station until 1976 and has remained free from development ever since. Whilst the military do still own a portion of the island, you can walk right around its perimeter.
Affording level walking throughout, this 9.2-mile (14.8 km) hike makes for an easy introduction to the trail. With lovely beaches, plenty of wildlife to observe, historic buildings and the picturesque fishing village of Emsworth to explore, this is one to take your time over and savour. It’s up to you which direction to walk around the island.
Highlights include St Nicholas Church, a Grade I-listed church from the 12th century, and Longmere Point, where you find a stunning beach with marvellous views.
Emsworth has a range of accommodation, lots of places for food and drink, shops and other attractions.
You visit some wonderfully historic sites on this hike, including a picturesque 10th-century church and a 16th-century thatched pub.
Upping the ante from the previous stage, this hike is 11.2 miles (18 km) long with 850 feet (259 m) of uphill and 525 feet (160 m) of downhill.
To begin, you leave Emsworth to the north, cross Emsworth Common and skirt around Stansted Forest. After crossing the railway line, you hike through farmland and wind around Finchdean village.
At Oxley’s Copse, it is worth following the short detour shown here to see St Hubert’s Church. This picturesque 10th-century church is nestled among idyllic countryside and boasts some much-celebrated 14th-century wall paintings.
Upon returning to the trail, you continue north through open fields to Chalton village. Here, you find the Red Lion, a pretty thatched-roof pub on the village green. Dating to the 16th century, the pub is one of the oldest in Hampshire.
There is no accommodation in Chalton so you will have to head towards nearby Clanfield, which has a few options. En route, it is well worth exploring Butser Ancient Farm.
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This hike takes you through the heart of the South Downs National Park, where spectacular views over stunning countryside await.
The most challenging hike in the itinerary, Stage 3 is 13.9 miles (22.4 km) long with 1,200 feet (366 m) of ascent and 1,150 feet (351 m) of descent. (For a suggestion on how to shorten the Tour, read on).
From Chalton, you hike through woodland over West Harting Down. Midway along the down, it is worth taking the detour shown here to some fabulous sites: Uppark House, Vandalian Tower, and Harting Down. If you want to push it a little further, why not summit Beacon Hill? (If that sounds too challenging, you can skip the detour entirely, which reduces the total distance to a manageable 10.6 miles / 17.1 km).
You rejoin the trail on Hemner Hill and descend through gently-undulating farmland on lanes and footpaths to Durleighmarsh Farm, where there is a cafe. Here, you climb into the vast expanse of Durnford Wood before dropping into Rake village.
Facilities are not abundant in Rake. However, the Flying Bull pub serves food and drink and has rooms available. There are other options nearby, too.
Expect glorious views over the Sussex Weald on this hike, which follows sandy tracks over Marley Common and Black Down.
Another challenging stage, this hike is 12.8 miles (20.6 km) long with 1,000 feet (305 m) of uphill and 575 feet (175 m) of downhill.
You leave Rake on country lanes before skirting around Folly Pond, a picturesque stretch of water at the heart of the Forest Mere Site of Special Scientific Interest. You then follow lanes and footpaths over Stanley Common and the Ridge to Marley Common.
A short descent through trees brings you to the road, which you cross and then climb through woodland and dotted with occasional homes. The ascent continues through Chase Wood and Ridden Corner woodlands.
Once the trees open up, you step onto Black Down, a stunning landscape that is home to many rare species of plant and animal. As the highest point in the South Downs, you are afforded magnificent views over the national park and beyond.
The stage finishes in the town of Haslemere, where you find accommodation, places to eat and drink, shops and more.
This stage follows a ridge along the boundary between Sussex and Surrey, affording fine views into both counties.
Marking the last of the most challenging hikes in this Collection, Stage 5 is 13.9 miles (22.4 km) long with 450 feet (137 m) of uphill and 1,125 feet (343 m) of downhill.
After a steep descent from Black Down, you hike along lanes to Gospel Green before dropping gradually through a patchwork of farmland and woodland. You skirt around Fisherman’s Wood and then cut through Durfold Wood and Hog’s Wood.
Upon emerging from the trees, you wind through farmland to Alfold, a charming Surrey village with a shop and a pub. You find St Nicholas Church at the heart of the village, which dates to the 12th century and is Grade I-listed.
To finish, you hike through farmland and woodland to the outskirts of Rudgwick. You then follow the Downs Link footpath into the heart of the village. Whilst facilities are not abundant, you do find some accommodations and places to eat and drink dotted around.
Stage 6 winds through a pretty patchwork of farmland and woodland to the picturesque village of Rusper.
With relatively gentle walking throughout, this hike should feel leisurely compared to the last three stages at 11 miles (17.7 km) long with 650 feet (198 m) of ascent and 400 feet (122 m) of descent.
To begin, you hike along Church Street and soon pass Holy Trinity Church. This striking Grade I-listed building survives from the 13th century and retains many original features, including its tower.
You continue northwest on lanes and footpaths through peaceful farmland and pockets of woodland, crossing North River a couple of times.
The final section takes you through Horsegills Wood to Rusper. This picturesque West Sussex village boasts a beautiful Grade I-listed church with a medieval tower, places for food and drink, a village shop, and accommodation.
This leisurely stage visits a mysterious windmill and explores villages and towns with historic buildings and excellent pubs.
The easiest hike in the Collection, Stage 7 is 8.3 miles (13.4 km) long with 150 feet (46 m) of uphill and 375 feet (114 m) of downhill.
You leave Rusper to the east before veering north through Furzefield Wood. The trail then winds along scenic footpaths through pastoral farmland and clusters of trees.
After passing Russ Hill Farm, it is worth taking the brief detour shown here to Lowfield Heath Windmill, a pretty mill nestled in idyllic countryside. You wind through Charlwood village, which boasts a 12th-century church and a couple of places for food and drink.
You hike east out of the village through farmland and then follow the River Mole around the northern edge of Gatwick Airport. It is worth heading into the town of Horley to see the Grade I-listed St Bartholomew’s Church and to have a drink in Ye Olde Six Bells.
The stage finishes by Riverside Garden Park. Due to the proximity of Horley and Gatwick, accommodation, places for food and drink and shops are abundant.
Pretty countryside combines with some exquisite historic architecture on this hike.
After a leisurely previous stage, Stage 8 is more challenging at 11.5 miles (18.5 km) long with 475 feet (145 m) of uphill and 300 feet (91 m) of downhill.
The stage starts with a little section alongside the motorway. However, things rapidly improve thereafter. Once over the M23, you soon pass St Bartholomew’s, a picturesque 12th-century church on the outskirts of Burstow village.
You then head southeast through farmland, skirt around Copthorne village and continue through fields and woodlands to Horsepasture Wood. Here, you join a former railway line (which is now a shared use trail) to Crawley Down village.
Here, you take a lane and footpaths through a pastoral landscape before rejoining the old railway line into East Grinstead, where this stage finishes. With a rich assortment of restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs, places to stay, as well as beautiful and historic buildings, the charming market town is a splendid place to finish.
This stage takes you into the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of the finest medieval landscapes in Northern Europe.
With 8.4 miles (13.5 km) of distance, 600 feet (183 m) of ascent and 750 feet (229 m) of descent, you should find this a fairly leisurely hike.
You start by exploring East Grinstead’s historic High Street and visiting some of its most celebrated buildings, including the Church of Saint Swithun and Sackville College, a Grade I-listed Jacobean property that has operated as an almshouse since 1619.
After hiking through Ashplats Wood, you step into the High Weald, a place of rolling wooded hills studded with sandstone outcrops. The trail winds northeast over the gently-undulating landscape to Dry Hill, where you can observe the remains of an Iron Age fort and enjoy fine views of the weald.
You make a short descent, cut through Clay’s Wood and then hike across pretty farmland to Cowden. There is a pub in the village but not much else. Fortunately, there is a train station on the outskirts of Cowden, which runs regular trains to Edenbridge (less than 10 minutes away), where you find more choice.
This stage explores a beautiful country estate and makes a whistle-stop at a 16th-century pub that was once a smugglers’ stronghold.
Upping the ante a little from the previous hike, Stage 10 is 10.6 miles (17.1 km) long with 550 feet (168 m) of uphill and 600 feet (183 m) of downhill.
As you leave Cowden, it is worth popping to see St Mary Magdalene’s Church, which dates to the 13th century and boasts a distinctive wooden shingled spire. You then hike south briefly and cross the Kent Water river.
For the next few miles you follow the course of Kent Water, crossing over it a few times, to Ashurst village. You then hike through farmland to the point where the trail intersects with the Wealdway hiking route.
Here, it is well worth taking the detour shown here to Groombridge village. On the outskirts, you pass the Crown Inn, a 16th-century pub with smuggling connections, and Groombridge Place, a moated 17th-century manor house set in 200 acres of stunning parkland.
You cross the River Groom, cut through Groombridge and rejoin the official trail. The final section winds through fields and woodlands to Eridge.
Unfortunately, there is no accommodation here. However, you can catch the 29 bus service, which runs every hour into Royal Tunbridge Wells and takes 20 minutes. Within the historic town you find a great choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, shops and other attractions.
This stage winds east through the stunning High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to the picturesque market town of Wadhurst.
With 10.8 miles (17.4 km) of distance, 1,125 feet (343 m) of uphill and 850 feet (259 m) of downhill, this is an intermediate hike across a gently-undulating landscape.
You leave Eridge to the south and, once across the road, begin hiking east through farmland. In Saxonbury Wood, it is worth a little detour to see Saxonbury Tower, a pretty folly nestled in the trees that dates to 1828.
The trail continues through fields and pockets of woodland on footpaths for the most part, as well as along some quiet country lanes.
A little east of Wadhurst, you depart from the route and head into the centre of the market town. Here, you find many historic and beautiful buildings, including a 12th-century church, as well as accommodation and places for food and drink.
A glorious waterside hike awaits on this stage, which winds around the northern shore of Bewl Water for the most part.
Following well-maintained paths and with no hills of note, this 10.5-mile (16.9 km) hike should feel relatively leisurely. This stage has 500 feet (152 m) of ascent and 550 feet (168 m) of descent overall.
From Wadhurst, you head east through farmland to Bewl Water Woods. Once you emerge from the trees, you are greeted by the northern shoreline of Bewl Water, a picturesque reservoir straddling the boundary between Kent and East Sussex.
For the next few miles, you simply follow the waterside trail along the northern shore of the lake through fields and small woodlands. There are plenty of places to stop and relax along the way.
This stage would typically be a short 7.6 miles (12.2 km) that takes you straight to Filmwell from Bewl Water. As such, I have included a detour to see nearby Bedgebury Forest, a much-celebrated mixed woodland covering more than 4 square miles (10.5 km2). Within the forest you find the National Pinetum, home to a world-leading collection of conifers.
There is not much in Flimwell but you do find some accommodation and places for food and drink.
You visit a mighty 14th-century castle and admire vintage steam trains roaring through the countryside on this enchanting hike.
Upping the ante from the last couple of stages, this hike is 12.7 miles (20.4 km) long with 775 feet (236 m) of uphill and 1,025 feet (312 m) of downhill.
You leave Flimwell to the south and then wind west along footpaths through pastoral countryside. The trail cuts through the outskirts of Hawkhurst and then heads southeast to Bodiam village.
Around Bodiam there is plenty to explore, most notably Bodiam Castle, a magnificent moated fortress that was built in 1385. However, it is also worth taking a look at the Church of St Giles, which dates to the 12th-14th century, and watching the steam trains thunder past at the vintage station.
The final section takes you east through farmland to Northiam. Whilst facilities are not abundant, you do find places to stay and options for food and drink in and around the village.
The Sussex Border Path finishes with a wonderful hike along the River Rother into the medieval town of Rye.
A firmly intermediate conclusion to the itinerary, Stage 14 is 11.6 miles (18.7 km) long with 225 feet (69 m) of ascent and 375 feet (114 m) of descent.
To begin, you hike east from Northiam through farmland and pockets of woodland to Beckley village. You then head northeast along footpaths to Blackwall Bridge and the River Rother.
Navigation could not be easier from this point; simply follow the River Rother southeast as it winds through pretty countryside all the way to Rye. With leisurely walking, wildlife-spotting opportunities, and plenty of nice places to stop and relax, this really is a lovely conclusion.
When you do finally cross the Rother into Rye, it is well worth spending some time to explore the picturesque medieval town, which has a bounty of wonderfully-historic buildings, including the Mermaid Inn, one of the oldest pubs in Britain.
Within Rye, you find a good choice of accommodation, places for food and drink, shops and plenty of attractions to keep you entertained. There is also a railway station (which is Grade II-listed).