Riding along lanes as they wind through valleys and wooded farmland, feeling salty breeze on your cheeks as you cycle towards dizzying white cliffs and along beach promenades – that is what adventures are made of. The Downs and Weald Way transports you from the grind of daily life, taking you on a great journey from London to the English Channel.
This Collection guides you along the 157-mile (253 km) Downs and Weald Way from Central London to Hastings in seven stages. Ranging in length from 11 miles (18 km) to 34 miles (56 km), each stage unveils beautiful landscapes as they take you through the counties of Surrey and Sussex.
Whether you ride as a family with the kids in tow or prefer whizzing along lanes at full-throttle, you will enjoy the Downs and Weald Way. With 6,988 feet (2,130 meters) of elevation gain spread across the stages, the hills are manageable for any level of rider.
You can fully relax into your adventure far away from any cars as over half of the route follows traffic-free paths. Peaceful nature awaits as you ride along the Worth Way, Forest Way, and the Cuckoo Trail. However, this does mean that it’s wise to leave your slick road tyres at home. The paths become muddy after rain, which, let’s face it, means they are nearly always muddy.
The Downs and Weald Way takes you through centuries of history and changing landscapes – from the lofty heights of Beachy Head, across chalk downlands and through the ancient Ashdown Forest where A.A. Milne coined the Winnie the Pooh stories. You ride in the footsteps of Neolithic ancestors, visiting Tudor manor houses, ruined Medieval castles and Victorian seaside resorts along the way.
You can use this Collection to plan your next week-long cycle tour or inspire weekend escapes. Each stage can be conveniently combined or shortened to tailor your adventure to your own pace as they end in a town or village, often with a train station.
Along the way, you visit some of Surrey and Sussex’ finest towns – enjoy the splendid Victorian streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells, marvel at black and white timber-framed manors in Mayfield and Five Ashes, or take the East Hill Cliff Railway up Hasting’s steep cliff face. If you get hungry, you will also find no-end of cafes, pubs, restaurants and shops to stop for a treat.
No matter where you are travelling from, you can easily reach the start of your adventure in London. The city has direct train connections across the UK. If you already live in the capital, even better – there’s an epic adventure to be had right on your doorstep!
For more information about the Downs and Weald Way, visit: sustrans.org.uk/find-a-route-on-the-national-cycle-network/downs-and-weald
From the iconic sites of the London skyline to rolling hills blanketed with colourful meadows – stage one is a truly varied ride from Central London to Warlingham. Today you will ride 25 miles (41 km) through the capital’s suburbs and into the countryside. You will follow the River Thames as it snakes through Central London, passing famous attractions like the London Eye and Tower Bridge. Although roads in the capital can be hectic, the route follows cycle paths most of the way. Where there is no cycle path, you are allowed to use the bus lanes. At Greenwich, veer off from the Thames through Greenwich Observatory and Park, an expanse of green amongst the city chaos. Next, you will pass through the Ladywell Fields in Lewisham as you head southwards through Catford and Beckenham – the edge of London is insight here. Your way will be interspersed with lovely green patches that interrupt the hustle and bustle – Beckenham Place Park, Kelsey Park, the Havington Estate and Shirley Heath are also peaceful places to stop for a picnic. You’ll find no shortage of restaurants, shops, and cafes as you ride out of London. The route descends into Addington, where you will join a cycle path towards New Addington. Next, the route gently climbs along quieter lanes to Warlingham. With a tree-lined village green, various shops and restaurants, and rustic cottages, Warlingham is a lovely village within the London commuter belt. There are various holiday rentals in the village and a Travelodge hotel one mile (1.6 km) from the centre.
From ruined medieval castles to ancient forests blanketed in bluebells – stage two reveals the very best of Surrey’s nature and history. Today you will clock up 35 miles (56.7 km) from Warlingham to East Grinstead. Stage two follows cycle paths and bridleways for over 50% of the way so you can enjoy the scenery to the fullest.From Warlingham, follow lanes as they drop down through the countryside, before climbing and ascending once more towards Mercer Country Park. From the lake, a cycle path will take you towards Redhill and on to Reigate, a pleasant town with a number of refreshment stops.From Reigate, a cycle path leads through Earlswood Common and onto Salford and Horley. This area is great for plane spotting as you skirt around Gatwick Airport via a traffic-free path. Although you would perhaps expect this area to be noisey and over-developed, it is actually very peaceful with lovely nature.Next, you will pass through Crawley, a thriving town that has been inhabited since the Stone Age. The town has a wealth of history to explore with its 85 Grade II listed buildings and three Grade I listed churches. From Crawley, the route joins the Worth Way bridleway through Worth Forest and Crawley Down to East Grinstead. Described as ‘the capital of the historic High Weald’, East Grinstead is an ancient town with a wealth of architectural heritage. There are plenty of friendly pubs, restaurants and cafes, as well as comfortable accommodation.
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Stage three of your adventure covers 18 miles (30 km) from East Grinstead to Hartfield, taking you further into rural Surrey where you will discover interesting historical sites along the way.Your day begins with a small detour from the official Downs and Weald Way to visit the historical estate of Standon House and Weir Wood Reservoir. You cycle along a path beside the pretty lake before rejoining the official route in Forest Row. Next, the Forest Way cycle path follows the River Medway as it winds through ancient woodland. This secluded section of the route is truly lovely. You are more likely to hear birds singing in the tree line than the hum of cars. The picnic tables along the route are a great place to stop for lunch. Your final stop is Hartfield, a pretty village lying on the edge of Ashdown Forest and Hammerwood. Here, either continue to ride on to Hammerwood to visit the impressive country house that once belonged to Led Zeppelin, or simply relax in Hartfield. The village hosted the creator of Whinnie the Pooh A.A. Milne multiple times as he set his stories in Ashdown Forest. Whilst the village has limited accommodation, you will find plenty of hotels and rental properties in the surrounding area.
From million-year-old rock formations to the birthplace of Whinnie the Pooh, stage four is a lovely journey from Hartfield to Royal Tunbridge Wells. Today is a gentle 12.5 mile (20 km) ride with 492 feet (150 meters) in elevation gain.Before leaving Hartfield, stop off at Pooh Corner, once frequented by A.A. Milne, author of the beloved bear books, and play "Pooh sticks" at the bridge here. From Hartfield, ride along the traffic-free Forest Way for 3.7 miles (6 km) as it follows the River Medway to Groombridge. Here, you will find a farm shop, pub, and cafe as well as the beautiful country estate, Groombridge Palace.Next, head southwards along lanes as they wind through the surrounding countryside and into woodland. It is well worth stopping at Eridge Rocks hidden amongst the forest, especially if you enjoy climbing. The final section of stage four takes you past High Rocks train station and along the River Grom as it flows towards the town of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Royal Tunbridge Wells has been a popular tourist town for centuries, especially during the Victorian era when city-dwellers came en masse to enjoy the town’s natural spa. As a result, you will find a huge range of accommodation and restaurants in this pleasant town.
Stage five takes you along winding rivers, through historic villages and over gentle hills as you ride 22 miles (35 km) from Royal Tunbridge Wells to Heathfield. Leaving the pretty Victorian streets of Royal Tunbridge Wells, you will follow the River Grom as it flows through the countryside, past High Rocks Station and towards Groombridge, the pleasant village which you visited on stage four. From Groombridge, you will follow country lanes as they climb gradually into the countryside towards Rotherfield village in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Shortly after the village, enjoy a lovely stretch descending Cottage Hill for 1.8 miles (3 km) before arriving in Wellbrook and Mayfield, historic villages with half-timbered buildings dating back to Tudor times. The final 5 miles (8 km) take you downhill through farmland until you reach the River Rother and then ascends into Heathfield. With its thriving high street and terracotta cottages, Heathfield is an excellent place to conclude stage five. Lying on the Cuckoo Trail, you might spot lots of cyclists in town. You will also find various places to stay including hotels, B&Bs and inns.
On stage six of the Downs and Weald Way, you will ride through patchwork farmland and along secluded wooded trails to the English Channel. Today you can enjoy an easy 23 miles from Heathfield to Eastbourne, with 426 feet (130 meters) in elevation gain and 853 feet (260 meters) of elevation lost.In Heathfield, you will join the Cuckoo Trail, a lovely traffic-free cycle path that runs through the heart of the Sussex countryside. This stretch takes you through peaceful landscapes and you can freewheel all the way – it’s downhill! Stage six lets you fully relax in nature as 15 miles (25 km) are traffic-free. The Cuckoo Trail takes you through Maynard’s Green and Horam villages before joining the River Cuckmere as it flows towards Halisham. An ancient settlement dating back to at least 43 AD, Halisham has a diverse history ranging from Roman invasion to the Industrial Revolution and beyond. You will also find plenty of cozy cafes, shops and restaurants. Next, head through Bedgebury Forest to Arlington Reservoir before joining the Golden Jubilee Way on the outskirts of Polegate. This traffic-free way will take you through Shinewater Park before arriving in Eastbourne. Congratulations, you’ve made it to the sea! With a Victorian seafront and pier protruding into the English Channel, Eastbourne is a popular seaside resort. The town lies to the east of Beachy Head, the highest stretch of chalk sea cliff in Britain. You will find a huge range of accommodation in Eastbourne from regal Victorial hotels to budget hostels.
Sandy beaches, historic military towers and an abundance of ice cream characterise your final day cycling The Downs and Weald Way. Today is a delightful 22 mile (35 km) ride with sea views the whole way.From Eastbourne, you will join a cycle path around Sovereign Harbor and on to Pevensey Bay. After enjoying the sea breeze on the beach, the route takes a small detour to Pevensey Castle, built by the Romans in 290 AD to protect the coast. Next, take quiet lanes through Pevensey Levels Special Area of Scientific Interest. The route rejoins a cycle path along the sea just outside of Bexhill-on-Sea. Known as the birthplace of British Motor Racing, Bexhill-on-Sea has plenty of attractions to break up your ride.Navigation for the final section of your adventure is very simple – just follow the sea. A cycle path runs adjacent to the beach and leads into Hastings, marking the end of your epic journey. In Hastings, take time to enjoy dramatic cliffs, lapping waves and rolling hills, as well as a delicious hearty portion of fish and chips on the beach. Central London will seem world’s away from the finish line of the Downs and Weald Way.As a popular coastal town, Hastings has everything you could wish for a comfortable stay. With direct trains to London Charing Cross, Ashford and Brighton, you can conveniently return home from your adventure by rail.For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com/stations/hastings