The Vanguard Way roves from the suburbs of London through the North Downs, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Low Weald and the South Downs National Park to the Sussex Heritage Coast. Wonderfully varied and rich in history, this long-distance hike explores some of the finest countryside in South East England.
From East Croydon railway station, the Way heads south through the geological ripples of the Weald Anticline, where breathtaking views over the Downs, Wealds and Ashdown Forest await. After winding through the rolling patchwork of the South Downs, the trail concludes through Cuckmere Valley and along the Sussex Heritage Coast. The Way ends at Newhaven Harbour train station.
While there are a few hills to contend with en route, there is nothing too steep or sustained. Instead, a gently-undulating landscape prevails. The trail mostly sticks to footpaths through farmland, woodland and heathland, plus occasional brief stints on country lanes and minor roads. On the whole, it is a great route for all abilities.
Highlights along the Way include: Selsdon Wood, a tranquil nature reserve and haven for birdlife; views over Five Hundred Acre Wood, where Winnie-the-Pooh and friends had adventures; Ashdown Forest, a heathland that was once the ancient Forest of Anderida; Arlington Reservoir, a nature reserve and SSSI that is home to abundant wildlife; Alfriston, a historic village with medieval inns and thatched cottages; Cuckmere Valley, where flower-rich chalklands await; and the Sussex Heritage Coast, hailed for unique geology and spectacular beauty.
The Vanguard Way is 66 miles (106 km). However, with some clearly-marked detours to worthy sites, this Collection totals 72 miles (115 km). I have divided the route into five stages – averaging 14 miles (23 km) per day – and opted to tackle the Way north to south. There is nothing stopping you hiking the other direction, of course. However, starting from the urban landscape of Croydon and finishing on the picturesque coastline is generally the favoured approach.
There is accommodation and opportunity for food and drink at the end of each stage. However, it is not always abundant. In more remote areas I have given advice on potential alternatives. As ever, advance booking is essential. The entire route is fairly well-served by accommodation and eateries, making it easy to divide the route into as many days as you feel comfortable with.
As the route follows established trails through unexposed landscapes, it is possible to hike the Vanguard Way at any time of year. Each season has its own unique charm. Sturdy boots are a must and waterproofs are recommended in all seasons. In summer, don’t forget sunscreen. Some low lying areas, especially close to rivers, can become boggy and flooded after rain. Be sure to bring enough food and drink as refreshment opportunities are not always abundant.
As the Way starts and finishes by mainline railway stations – East Croydon and Newhaven Harbour, respectively – it is super easy to reach the trail by public transport.
Stage 1 meanders southwards from the heart of Croydon into parklands and pretty woodlands to finish in the charming village of Limpsfield Chart.
Head south along Altyre Road from East …
This hike explores a picturesque patchwork landscape on a journey from Surrey to East Sussex and into the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
From Limpsfield Chart, descend …
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
Winnie-the-Pooh fans are in for a treat on this stage, which explores the very landscape that inspired the popular children’s books. But if honey-eating yellow bears don’t float your boat, …
Expect peaceful landscapes, historic buildings and wildlife spotting opportunities on this hike through the idyllic Low Weald countryside.
From the Blackboys Inn, cross Turnmill Wood and then follow Hollow Lane …
The final stage sweeps through the eastern tip of the South Downs National Park to the glorious East Sussex coastline. This short-but-sweet hike allows ample time to enjoy honeypot towns …