There are a great many trails scattered across the UK that are worthy of attention on a bike, and up there with the very best is the South Downs Way. No, it’s not the most technical route - in fact, great swathes of it (if not all of it) could perfectly feasibly ridden on a gravel bike (or even a particularly stout tourer), but what it gives up in technicality more than makes up for it in many other ways.
Climbs that, putting it mildly, redefine the word ‘stout’; views that go on for literally miles; boundless history from the prehistoric, through the Roman and all the way on to Victoriana. There are also, of course, occasionally sketchy sections which should be straightforward if they weren’t made from chalk and it wasn’t raining.
The route is relatively long, and for ease and a relatively relaxed time we’ve split it into three sections of roughly thirty miles each. This is not a rigid rubric though, and plenty of (admittedly rather fit) people have done the whole thing in one go, and a select few riders have even done it there and back in one big hit!
Although it’s perfectly feasible to ride the Way in either direction, our guide runs the gamut from west to east. There are a few sections which split walkers and cyclists onto different paths for safety, erosion or SSSI (site of special scientific interest) reasons, so take care to follow them. Particularly on the last stretch to Eastbourne, the route splits into two, heading directly cross-country is the bike and walking path, whereas a footpath-only variant heads down to the coast and runs along the clifftops. This is not the one for bikes; should you veer from the path of cycling righteousness you may well find yourself the recipient of more than a few stern rebukes.
Weather-wise, the South Downs enjoy a temperate climate, and there’s a good chance of fine weather in the late spring through to early autumn, although it certainly pays to be prepared for rain, especially as the chalk terrain, as mentioned, can make things rather slippery.
In terms of accommodation, there are a few campsites available, but honestly your best bet may well end up being B&B accommodation. Wild camping without permission from the landowner isn’t legal in England, so if you do find yourself hankering for it, get permission first.
Reaching either end is easiest by train, as both Eastbourne and Winchester feature train stations with regular services. Do check before you travel though, as you may need to book a space for your bike.
As an initial foray into multi-day rides, the South Downs Way is hard to beat. Challenging in all the right ways, and forgiving too. You’ll be rewarded with some truly excellent riding, some fantastic views, and an awesome adventure.
The first leg of the South Downs way starts as it means to carry on: glorious, rolling countryside, excellent views, and for the most part pretty good going. Don't be put off by the 'difficult' rating of this ride, as it's mostly wide tracks, so it's pretty technically straightforward, but at 29 miles (46km) and 2,300ft (700m) vertical it still …
I hope you like hills first thing in the morning, as depending on where you overnighted, this second leg of the South Downs Way starts off with a rather stiff one.
Granted, if you’ve spent the night south of South Harting then it’s not nearly as bad - the escarpment is to your north - but you’ve still got to …
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Here, then is the final final leg of the South Downs Way. It's an easier day than the previous one; slightly shorter, although there are still plenty of ups and downs along the way, as you meander (or manically hurtle, if you like - but the view's not as nice through all that red mist) into Eastbourne.
First of all: …
Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore