The South Downs is a magical place where rolling patchwork hills meet white coastal cliffs and rare wildlife flourishes amid historical sites. It is a timeless landscape of sweeping rivers, tranquil woodland, golden beaches, idyllic villages and ancient vineyards.
The newest national park in England, the South Downs was awarded the status in 2011 due to it having internationally-important wildlife habitats, many well-preserved historical sites, as well as a diverse, tranquil and unspoiled landscape.
Covering an area of 628 square miles (1,627 square kilometers), it is England’s third largest national park; stretching 87 miles (140 kilometers) west from Eastbourne to Winchester. Close to London, and only a stone’s-throw from Brighton, it is an easily-accessible national park.
This Collection introduces you to the diverse and beautiful landscape of the South Downs. From all-day challenges to leisurely saunters; hill climbs to beach hikes; ancient history to modern chic—there is something for all interests and abilities here.
In these routes you take an exhilarating hike along the chalk cliff-edges of the Seven Sisters; admire extensive views from some of England’s best-preserved Iron Age hillforts; visit internationally-significant nature reserves, home to some of the country’s rarest wildlife; hike along Roman Roads; explore decadent country estates; walk through fairytale woodlands; plus lots more.
A good option to stay when visiting the South Downs is the historic market town of Arundel. Located at the heart of the national park, the picturesque town is steeped in 1,000 years of history and boats myriad independent shops, art galleries, restaurants, cafes, a thriving events calendar, and has lots of accommodation options.
Arundel Railway Station is well-served by trains from around the country and offers direct services to London. There are good bus links around the national park from Arundel, too.
For information about the South Downs National Park, visit: southdowns.gov.uk.
For information about Arundel, visit: arundel.org.uk.
For train tickets and timetables, visit: thetrainline.com.
Along the 100 miles of the South Downs Way, you explore some of England's most-treasured countryside between Winchester, the country's first capital, and the white cliffs of Eastbourne.
This challenging hike takes you along the final stretch of the national trail via some of the most iconic features. So, lace up your boots and prepare to be blown away.
Rather than starting from the village of Alfriston, as per the official trail, this route begins from Seaford as the public transport links back from Eastbourne are easier and more frequent.
From Seaford, walk to the coast and head left along the Vanguard Way, which you follow until an incredible viewpoint over the meandering River Cuckmere. At this point, you pick up the South Downs Way, which you follow for the rest of the way.
This next section is regarded as one of the most stunning sections of the South Downs Way: the hiking path along Seven Sisters cliffs.
Taking you through Seven Sisters Country Park and along the magnificent white cliffs themselves, you are afforded breathtaking views along a beautiful and exhilarating cliff-edge path. Take care, though, the crumbling chalk cliffs have no barriers and the wind can be strong.
The route passes Belle Tout lighthouse with was moved back from the cliff edge on rollers as coastal erosion threatened its existence. You are then afforded sublime views over the red and white striped Beachy Head Lighthouse before ascending Beachy Head.
As Britain’s highest chalk cliff, you are afforded breathtaking views from Beachy Head, allowing those who have trekked the entire trail to contemplate the glorious landscape one last time. From there, it is downhill all the way to Eastbourne.
From Eastbourne, you can catch the 12 bus back to Seaford. Whilst services are not very frequent during the day, they run every 20 minutes from 4.30/5pm (depending on the day) until 11.30pm. For timetables and more information, visit: bustimes.org/services/12-coaster-brighton-peacehaven-newhaven-seaford-ea.
Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring are two of the best-preserved Iron Age hillforts in the country. This route takes you to both, via some glorious countryside.
From the car park, it is a short but steep ascent up to Cissbury Ring. Your climbing efforts are richly rewarded with breathtaking views that stretch over Brighton, the chalk cliffs of the coast—and even to the Isle of Wight on a clear day.
Covering an area of 65 acres, Cissbury Ring is the largest hillfort in Sussex and is more than 5,000 years-old. During spring and autumn you can see a wide variety of migratory birds on the summit, as it is one of the first and last coastal landing points.
Follow the byway east from Cissbury Ring for around a mile (half a kilometer), then head north along Stump Bottom until Monarch’s Way, which you follow east until you reach Steyning Round Hill.
Whilst modern farming has destroyed much of the ancient burial sites atop Steyning Round Hill, artifacts and human remains from the Bronze Age, through to Roman and Anglo Saxon times have been found here. You are afforded sublime views from the summit, too.
From Steyning Round Hill, join the South Downs Way national trail and follow it all the way to the next ring: Chanctonbury, a late Bronze or early Iron Age hillfort that boasts sublime views over the South Downs countryside.
From there, you loop back through the picturesque rolling landscape of the South Downs. If you fancy a little extension, try a detour into the sleepy village of Findon, where you will find tearooms, pubs and shops.
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
The abundant wildlife, exceptional beauty and ancient history you experience on this route make it a real South Downs classic.
From the car park, cross the road and join the South Downs Way. Follow the national trail over Salt Hill and take the footpath to the right, just before the cluster of trees and step onto Small Down.
From the ridge summit of Small Down you are afforded superb views over the sleepy village of East Meon, the upper Meon Valley and across Butser Hill in the east.
When you reach the road, head right and take the footpath on the left, across from Duncoombe Farm. Follow the footpath for a short while and rejoin the South Downs Way, which you follow all the way into Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve.
This chalk grassland that forms this nature reserve is home to many different species of wildlife. In the summertime, the reserve is exceptionally beautiful; bursting into color and fragrance as wild thyme, squinancywort, clustered bellflower, salad burnet, horseshoe vetch and restharrow thrive. It is a great place to spot birds, too, including red kite, buzzard, kestrel and lots more.
From the nature reserve, it is a short step to the summit. Set amid one of the most beautiful landscapes of the South Downs, Old Winchester Hill Iron Age hillfort is a wonderful place to explore and affords incredible views over the surrounding countryside.
From Old Winchester Hill, you follow Monarch’s Way until the road. Head right along the road and follow it back to the starting point.
This hike takes you high above the rolling patchwork pastures of the South Downs and explores the ancient history that is hidden within the landscape.
Due to the challenging terrain and distance on this route, there are two options to cut the route short—including an option to half the distance—without missing any of the star attractions. More on that later, though.
From the historic town of Lewes, you head southeast on the public footpath and begin the steep, but undulating, ascent of Mount Caburn.
At 480 feet (146 meters) high, Mount Caburn stands tall above the valley below and affords magnificent views over the River Ouse and Firle Beacon. Designated as a National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation, the remains of an Iron Age hillfort are visible on the summit.
Continue east from Mount Caburn until you join the country lane. Head right along the lane, over the Glynde Reach river and through the village of Glynde. Keep right at the fork, cross the A27 and take the public footpath on your left. This section takes you through the Firle Estate.
The idyllic village and country estate are steeped in history dating back to the time of Henry VIII. The crowning jewel of the estate is Firle Place, a splendid manor house and gardens with an internationally-important collection of art and porcelain.
Follow the lane out of Firle, take the byway on the right and continue until you reach the bridleway. Make a sharp right onto the bridleway and begin the steep ascent of Firle Beacon.
When you reach the 712 feet (217 meter) high summit, your efforts are richly rewarded with extensive views. There are many ancient burial sites that are visible, too.
If you want to drastically cut the hike short, you can almost half the distance shown here by retracing your footsteps into Firle and catching the 125 bus service back to Lewes. This essentially halves the distance, culminating in a three-and-a-half hour hike.
From Firle Beacon, head west along the South Downs Way national trail. After four miles, you reach Southease railway station. If you want to shave off the final two hours on this route, there are regular trains to Lewes.
If you still have some energy in the legs, though, cross over the railway line and follow the public footpath north along the glorious River Ouse back to Lewes.
For the 125 bus times, visit: bustimes.org/services/125-lewes-alfriston-polegate-eastbourne
For train times, visit: thetrainline.com
The history of Arundel Castle stretches back nearly 1,000 years. Built by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, in 1068, the castle is alive with tales of the past.
This leisurely loop explores the wonderfully-preserved town of Arundel, its castle and the idyllic nature that surrounds the town. Whilst this route could be hiked in under one-and-a-half hours, you could easily dedicate an entire day to experience everything shown here.
From the car park, turn right onto Mill Road and follow it north for half-a-mile until you reach Wildfowl and Wetland Trust Arundel. The lakes, reed beds, channels and waterfalls on this nature reserve are home to many species of wildlife and it is a fantastic place to spot interesting plants and animals.
After completing a circuit of the nature reserve, you immediately find yourself beside Swanbourne Lake. Set amidst picturesque surroundings, you can take a leisurely saunter around the lakes and woodland, relax on the banks and even hire a rowing boat.
Up next is the magnificent Arundel Castle. Set in beautiful gardens, high on a hill, the castle has a wealth of history to explore and boasts breathtaking views over the South Downs and the River Arun.
Whilst you are in Arundel, it is worth taking some time to explore the town, too. Combining 1,000 years of history with modern chic, contemporary art galleries, independent shops, restaurants, cafes, pubs and with a thriving events calendar, there is something for all tastes.
This challenging circuit really gets to the heart of the South Downs National Park.
Taking you through rolling countryside, along the edge of the glorious Seven Sisters cliffs, beside the sweeping River Cuckmere and through sleepy villages; this hike is the perfect way to get acquainted—or reacquainted—with the national park.
From the village of Alfriston, you join the South Downs Way national trail, which you follow to one of the most recognizable sights in the region: Long Man of Wilmington. At 235 feet (72 meters) tall, the mysterious chalk figure is said to be the largest representation of a human form in Europe.
You continue along the South Downs Way and, shortly after passing through the village of Jevington, take the footpath right over Willingdon Hill. Follow the path through East Dean and continue onto the summit of Went Hill, where you are afforded glorious views.
Upon reaching the coast, you rejoin the South Downs Way and follow it along the Seven Sisters Cliffs. Along this exhilarating and beautiful section, you are afforded breathtaking views out to sea, over the impressive chalk cliffs and onto the beaches below.
When you reach the estuary, head back inland and follow the Cuckmere Valley for the final four miles (six-and-a-half kilometers). Along this section, you saunter alongside the Cuckmere as it sweeps through the landscape, right back to Alfriston.
The Slindon Estate is a wildlife and history-rich tapestry where serene woodland, sleepy villages, patchwork pastures and gently-rolling downland combine.
This routes explores estate, which is owned by the National Trust, and follows the ancient footsteps of Roman soldiers.
From the car park, you follow the Monarch’s Way for half-a-mile to the summit of Bignor Hill, which affords far-reaching views over Slindon Estate. According to legend, a dragon had its lair on top of the hill.
Retrace your steps and join the bridleway at Guber Corner. Follow the bridleway south for around three miles (five kilometers) until you reach the village of Slindon. Charming and unspoiled, the flint village is surrounded by beech woods, farms and open downland.
From the village, you head south into Slindon Wood. A tranquil place all year round, the woodland erupts into color during spring with magnificent displays of wildflowers.
Follow the path through Dark Dale and at Courthill Farm take the footpath on your left. Follow for a short time and take the first footpath on your right. From this point, continue north over Nore Hill and through North Wood until you reach Stane Street, a 56-mile (90-kilometer) Roman road that linked London to to Chichester.
Whilst historians cannot be certain of the exact date the road was constructed, it was certainly in use by 70 AD and might be considerably older. Along this small section of the road, you follow ancient footsteps all the way to the starting point.