Alex Langfield

Snake across Sussex’s vibrant Greensand Hills — hiking the Serpent Trail

Jonathan Tweed (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Snake across Sussex’s vibrant Greensand Hills — hiking the Serpent Trail

Hiking Collection by Alex Langfield

5-9

days

3-5 h

/ day

66.8 mi

4,525 ft

4,775 ft

A winding journey through wide-open heathland, golden river valleys, beautiful woodland and colourful commons awaits you on the Serpent Trail, a 64-mile (103 km) long-distance hike through Sussex’s Greensand Hills in the heart of the South Downs National Park.

The trek is so named because of the serpentine shape of the overall route and the opportunity it gives you to spot all three species of snake found in Britain: the adder, the smooth snake and the grass snake.

It begins at the market town of Haslemere — the snake’s head. It then ascends to Black Down, the serpent’s tongue, for magnificent views from the highest point in the South Downs at 918 feet (280 m). The body then follows the Greensand Ridge, taking you to some charming towns and villages, such as Petworth, Tillington, Fittleworth, Midhurst and finally finishing at Petersfield, the serpent’s tail. En route you discover many beautiful commons, bursting with wildlife and heart-warming beauty.

As well as the three different snakes that you might find along the Serpent Trail, there are many other rare species that thrive in the precious heathland. Bird watchers will delight at the sight and sound of Dartford warblers, nightjars and stonechats, amongst others. Spring sees an eruption of colour, as wildflowers jostle for attention in the woodlands, whilst vivid purple heather coats the land in autumn. It’s a nature lover’s paradise.

In this Collection, I’ve split the Serpent’s snaking escapade into seven sublime stages, with some worthwhile detours taking the total distance to 66 miles (106 km). Some stages are shorter, at around 6 miles (9.7 km) in length, whilst others venture on for longer, for up to 15.5 miles (25 km), in order to arrive at accommodation options. This makes the itinerary suitable for all reasonably fit walkers, whilst the shorter days leave plenty of time for interesting detours or for a mooch around the charming villages.

The warmer months are probably best for taking on the trail, as this is when the flowers — not to mention the reptiles — will be on show. The best chance you have of spotting the snakes is by heading out on sunny, spring mornings, when they bask on the open heathland.

Regardless, each season brings its own character to the route, with crisp, blue-sky winter days particularly awe-inspiring. At any time of year the commons can be boggy and the weather can be unpredictable. Sturdy, waterproof boots are recommended, as well as warm, waterproof layers, just in case.

You are never too far from civilisation on this hike, so there are ample opportunities to restock along the route and enjoy the odd lunch stop in a café or a pub. Haslemere, Midhurst and Petersfield are the only sizeable towns, so accommodation should be planned and booked well in advance, as some of the villages do not have a wealth of options.

Handily, both the start and end points are on the main railway line between London and Portsmouth, making the Serpent Trail easily accessible. London is about an hour away by train, whilst Portsmouth is a mere half an hour away. Liphook and Liss are also on the same line and are close to the route if you were looking to complete day-walks. For motorists, the A3 gives great access to various points on the route.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    05:14
    11.8 mi
    2.3 mph
    950 ft
    1,075 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The first stage of the Serpent Trail explores the highest ground in the South Downs National Park: Black Down at 918 feet (280 m). After taking in the views, you …

  • Intermediate
    02:24
    5.63 mi
    2.3 mph
    325 ft
    250 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Chapel Common’s orchids and its wide-open vistas, as well as the sloped woodland at Rake Hanger are the two standout beauty spots on this shorter second stage of the Serpent …

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  • Difficult
    06:57
    15.5 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,475 ft
    1,725 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Your snaking journey now takes a turn, as you ramble east across wooded escarpments and through idyllic valleys from Hill Brow to Tillington. This stagel immerses you in nature, as …

  • Intermediate
    02:49
    6.39 mi
    2.3 mph
    475 ft
    600 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This is a beautiful and varied walk from the grand surroundings of the Petworth Deer Park to the mystique of Fittleworth Wood, the muse of many artists down the years. …

  • Intermediate
    04:06
    9.57 mi
    2.3 mph
    550 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Here is a marvellous 9.6-mile (15.4 km) ramble across a succession of spectacular commons and heaths between Fittleworth and Graffham. The wealth of wildlife and varied habitats is wonderful, and …

  • Intermediate
    02:59
    7.03 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    275 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This short stage is characterised by a trio of glorious commons, as the route snakes towards the market town of Midhurst. Graffham Common, Ambersham Common and Heyshott Common all reward …

  • Intermediate
    04:33
    10.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    375 ft
    400 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The final stage of the Serpent Trail continues where the last left off, on pleasantly flat ground across beautiful commons. After Iping Common, you head west across the more pastoral …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    66.8 mi
  • Duration
    29:02 h
  • Elevation
    4,525 ft4,775 ft
Alex Langfield

Snake across Sussex’s vibrant Greensand Hills — hiking the Serpent Trail