Step back in time on ancient and beautiful hike — Downs Link

Hiking Collection by Dan
3-5 days
3-5 h / day
40.0 mi
1,300 ft
1,675 ft

The Downs Link follows two historic railway lines through the beautiful and ancient wooded countryside of Surrey to the golden coastline of West Sussex.

The 37-mile (59-kilometer) route begins on St Martha’s Hill, near Guildford, and travels south to finish in the historic seaside town of Shoreham-by-Sea. The route was opened in 1984 to link the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way.

You explore a wonderful mix of landscapes and habitats along the way. Expect ancient woodlands with stunning wildflower displays, gentle rivers, wildlife-rich heathlands, patchwork farmland, tranquil ponds and lakes, plus lots more.

History is everywhere along the route, most notably the old stations and platforms you pass. However, buildings from the 12th-14th centuries are common and there are some ancient gems, including St Nicolas' Church (10th century) and Bramber Castle (11th century).

There are some quirky bridges, too, including the Double Bridge—the Downs Link logo—and the Shoreham Toll Bridge, which is the last of its kind.

For the most part, the route follows two disused railway lines—the Cranleigh Line and the Steyning Line—across the Surrey Hills, the Low Weald, the South Downs, and along the coastal plain to Shoreham.

As such, the entire route is very flat, meaning the hiking is typically very leisurely. Paths are waymarked and well-maintained, making the Downs Link a good choice for anybody new to long-distance walking.

The former railway lines that comprise the Downs Link are collectively referred to as the Hundred Years Railway. Opened in the 1860s, the lines enabled people to escape the hustle-and-bustle of the town’s and cities to enjoy seaside holidays, a relatively new concept at the time.

However, both lines were closed in the 1960s by Lord Beeching in his infamous Beeching report, which resulted in 4,000 miles of railway line being closed across Britain.

In this Collection, we split the route into three stages. Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation.

Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.

If you are planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Guildford, which is served by direct trains from London and Reading, among others, and has connecting services around Britain.

Awkwardly, the Downs Link begins on top of St Martha’s Hill, which is a remote spot with no public transport links. From Guildford station, it is just under a three-mile (five-kilometer) walk to the start (or a short taxi ride). Alternatively, you can catch a train from Guildford to Chilworth station, which is just under two miles (three kilometers) away.

If you are planning to arrive by car, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Guildford and leave your car there for the duration. See the paragraph above for details on how to get from Guildford to the start. To get back to Guildford, you can catch a train from Shoreham-by-Sea, typically with a change in Havant.

For more information about the Downs Link, visit: westsussex.gov.uk/leisure-recreation-and-community/walking-horse-riding-and-cycling/downs-link.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    06:11
    14.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    750 ft
    975 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage begins on a hilltop near a lonely church and passes through a picturesque-patchwork of countryside.It may seem odd that the Downs Link starts on top of St Martha’s Hill. However, the route was designed to link the North Downs Way with the South Downs Way, and this is where it meets its northern brother.From St Martha’s, the trail descends past Chilworth and rises gradually over Blackheath, an internationally-important habitat for wildlife, before heading over Wonersh Common.At Lower Chinthurst Farm, it is worth climbing up Chinthurst Hill, where you are rewarded with extensive views from the pretty folly.The hike continues along disused railway lines through pretty farmland and small woodlands, passing Bramley and Cranleigh.This stage finishes in the village of Rudgwick, which has a few options for accommodation and food and drink, as well as shops.

  • Difficult
    06:02
    14.5 mi
    2.4 mph
    350 ft
    475 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Echoes of the past are everywhere on this stage, which crosses the quirky bridge used for the Downs Link’s logo.Before you leave Rudgwick, it is worth a trip to the top of the village to see Holy Trinity Church, a beautiful building that dates to the 13th century.After a loop of the village, the trail descends to the River Arun, where you find the unusual Double Bridge. This former railway bridge from the mid-19th century had to effectively be built twice—one on top of the other—after bosses decided the first bridge was too steep for trains. The bridge is the logo of the Downs Link and appears on the signs directing you.The trail continues along former railway lines past old platforms and stations; skirting around Slinfold, through Southwater Country Park, and finishing in the village of Partridge Green.Partridge Green has a few options for accommodation and food and drink, as well as a shop.

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  • Intermediate
    04:34
    11.1 mi
    2.4 mph
    200 ft
    225 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage explores stunning countryside, visits a Saxon church, crosses a one-of-a-kind bridge, and finishes by the seaside.A few miles shorter than the previous stages—and with no climbing to contend with—you have plenty of time to take-in your surroundings on this leisurely hike; explore Shoreham and, if the weather is good, dip your feet in the sea at the finish.From Partridge Green, you continue along the former railway line past Henfield, cross the Adur and follow the course of the river past Steyning to Bramber. On the outskirts of the village, you find the remains of Bramber Castle, which was built soon after the Norman Conquest.You continue along the ever-widening Adur as it flows through the expansive and flat farmland.A short while after you pass under the Shoreham Bypass, you are treated to two impressive sights in quick succession. First, you see Shoreham Toll Bridge, the last example of its kind. A stone’s-throw away is St Nicolas’ Church. Built in the 10th century, this wonderfully-ancient church still retains some original features.This stage finishes in the seaside town of Shoreham-by-Sea, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    3
  • Distance
    40.0 mi
  • Duration
    16:46 h
  • Elevation
    1,300 ft1,675 ft

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