The South Downs Way winds through some of England’s finest countryside between Winchester and the white cliffs at Eastbourne.
Exploring a landscape that is rich in rare plantlife, unique wildlife, and well-preserved archaeological sites, this 100-mile (161 kilometer) hike shows just how beautiful the south east of England can be.
Hailed as the perfect introduction to long distance walking, the easily-accessible path along the rolling chalk downs of Sussex and Hampshire has just the right amount of challenge and serenity, without too much adverse terrain and never straying too far away from civilization.
People have been using the paths and tracks that have been linked to form the South Downs Way for approximately 8,000 years and the evidence of ancient cultures—dating from before the Bronze Age, through Roman times, and to the present day—is everywhere you look. The Way was officially opened as a national trail in 1972.
There is no set itinerary to complete the trail. However, in this Collection we will complete it in eight days, starting from Winchester, the country’s first capital, and finishing in Eastbourne. As always, of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you feel comfortable with.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport to undertake the routes in the Collection, you can catch a train to Winchester Railway Station, which is served by direct trains from London, Birmingham, and Manchester.
To get home, you can catch a train from Eastbourne Railway Station, which has direct trains to London and offers connecting services around the country.
If you are planning to arrive by car, there are long-stay car parks in Winchester, or you could try and negotiate with a B&B or hotel to stay for a night either side of your trip and leave your car for the duration.
To get back, you can catch a train from Eastbourne Railway Station (with a change at Clapham Junction) to Winchester. The journey should take approximately two-and-a-half hours.
For more information about the South Downs Way, visit: nationaltrail.co.uk/south-downs-way.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
The South Downs Way starts from the historic city of Winchester, a place that is full of interest and worth exploring before you set off.
Highlights in Winchester include The Great Hall, where you can see King Arthur’s legendary Round Table, the impressive ruins of Wolvesey Castle, one of the most important buildings in medieval Britain, and the awe-inspiring Winchester Cathedral.
Once you leave the city, the landscape soon becomes more rural as the trail winds through fields and pastures and along hedgerows
The large natural amphitheatre of Cheesefoot Head marks the first great view you experience along the South Downs Way, with views stretching to the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
From here, the trail climbs gently for the rest of the hike all the way to Beacon Hill National Nature Reserve.
The nearby villages of Warford and West Meon have a few accommodation options and places to eat and drink. It is advisable to plan this night in advance, though.
This challenging, yet rewarding stage traverses a landscape that is rich in flora and fauna.
After you cross the crystal-clear water of the River Meon, you hop from one national nature reserve to another and experience lots of history and beauty, too.
From Beacon Hill National Nature Reserve, you can enjoy breathtaking views across the valley.
The trail then descends steeply through lush pastures to the village of Exton, before climbing steadily to Old Winchester Hill National Nature Reserve, which affords views back over Beacon Hill and boasts one of the finest examples of an Iron Age hill fort.
From there, the trail descends to Whitewool Farm and then undulates all the way to Butser Hill, the highest point along the South Downs Way. Here, you get delightful views over the rolling green landscape.
This stage finishes in the village of Buriton, which has some accommodation options and places to eat and drink. Petersfield, which is two-and-a-half miles (four kilometers) away has much more choice.
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The Way follows the ridge-line almost continuously from this point all the way to its conclusion, which means enchanting views over the English Channel and Weald of Sussex are never far away.
After a short climb out of Buriton, the trail stays fairly level as you cross a rich and beautiful tapestry of fields, pastures and woodlands.
Around four miles (six-and-a-half kilometers) in you reach Harting Down, one of the largest areas of ancient chalk downland in Britain. Within this timeless grassland you can find wild herbs, pyramidal orchids, and some of the finest juniper that exists.
The approach to Beacon Hill can be confusing as the Way detours around the southern side. If you have the legs, though, it is worth climbing to the top for a stunning panoramic view.
A short time later, you pass a series of Bronze Age burial mounds called Devil’s Steps. Whilst these well-preserved barrows are impressive in themselves, the landscape they are situated within is of great interest ecologically for the presence of both classic chalk grassland and acidic clay-cap supporting Chalk Heath.
This stage finishes in the village of Cocking, which has a few accommodation options nearby, as well as places to eat and drink.
This stage passes through one of the most wooded sections of the Way and should give your fitness and good challenge.
Taking you through a patchwork of fields, pastures, woodlands, and wildflower glades, this route is also rich in Bronze Age barrows and has many archeological sites.
From Cocking it is a long climb towards Heyshott Down, which has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its extraordinary flora and fauna. You then pass through a series of connected nature reserves.
The trail passes some Bronze Age barrows burial chambers and then descends to cross the road at Littletown Farm.
From here, you climb up Bignor Hill which affords breathtaking views that stretch for miles. According to Celtic legend, a dragon had its lair on top of the hill and its remains can still be seen in the folds of the ground.
This stage finishes in the village of Amberley, which has a fair range of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
Ancient history and abundant beauty is with you every step of the way along this stage.
Starting with a steep climb from Amberley, the trail soon levels off and you will notice the landscape opening up around you.
It is worth taking a brief detour south of Kithurst Hill (as shown on this route) to see the fascinating remains of a WWII tank that is covered in bullet holes.
You then descend to the road near Washington before making a sharp ascent up to the extraordinary Chanctonbury Ring.
Dating from the late Bronze or early Iron Age, this hillfort boasts sublime views over the South Downs countryside. The curious ring of Beech trees is also associated with dark arts. According to legend, if you run backwards around the ring six times on a midsummer's night you can summon the devil.
It is then a gentle descent past Steyning Round Hill, where you are treated to sublime views, and onto the small rural town of Steyning, where this stage finishes.
Steyning has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
With some challenging ascents and descents, as well as a long distance to contend with, this stage should be a good test of your fitness and stamina.
Taking you over the chalk cliffs above the city of Brighton, this stage is one of the busiest sections along the Way. It is nevertheless a wonderful hike with lots of interest and constant breathtaking views.
After a small detour to see the ruins of Bramber Castle, the trail is initially level out of Steyning before a long climb around Beeding Hill, Southwick Hill, and Fulking Hill. From there, though, you more-or-less maintain height for the rest of the hike, albeit with a few more sharp ascents and descents.
After crossing the A23, the trail climbs again past the picturesque Clayton Windmills, known locally as Jack and Jill, and onto Ditchling Beacon, the highest point along the Sussex Downs, where you are afforded a wonderful panoramic view.
It is a gradual descent from Ditchling Beacon all the way to the town Lewes, where this stage finishes. There is a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink in Lewes, as well as shops and other attractions.
The trail winds its way through pretty patchwork countryside along this open section of the Way.
After exploring Lewes, you continue southeast and cross the Greenwich Meridian Line before descending towards the River Ouse.
As you pass village of Southease, it is worth calling at the Church of St Peter. This picturesque little church is one of only three in Sussex with a round tower. Here, you can gaze in wonderment at 13th century wall paintings, Norman windows and, of course, the 12th century tower.
Before crossing the River Ouse, it is worth having a look to see if there are any visiting seals in the water. Whilst not an entirely common sight, they are routinely spotted and are a fantastic sight to behold.
From here, it is a long but gradual ascent to Firle Beacon, where you can experience far-reaching views and explore many ancient burial sites on and around the summit.
It is a long and gradual descent to the village of Alfriston, which is worth exploring and has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
Passing some truly iconic sights, this challenging yet rewarding stage brings your South Downs Way adventure to an epic conclusion.
From Alriston, you follow the River Cuckmere south over a gently undulating landscape, culminating in a fine view of the meandering river.
At this point, you begin a fabulous section of trail that takes you through Seven Sisters Country Park and along the awe-inspiring white cliffs of the Seven Sisters themselves. Along this entire section you are rewarded with breathtaking views out to sea, over the impressive chalk cliffs and onto the beaches below.
As the hike continues, the views come thick-and-fast as you pass the impressive Belle Tout Lighthouse and Beachy Head Lighthouse.
Once you have climbed over Beachy Head, it is a gradual descent all the way to Eastbourne, where this stage, and the South Downs Way, finishes.
The resort town of Eastbourne has a good range of accommodation and places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.