You may already be familiar with the South Downs Way, but this is something a little different. Pulled together by local rider and bikepacker Jim Barrow, this 190 mile (306 km) route is also named ‘Southern Discomfort 300’ as a nod to its many hills. The South Downs offers a long stretch of wild and hilly terrain perfect for bikepackers, quite unlike much of the rest of the South East of England.
Blending the well-known and established South Downs Way with local knowledge, hidden singletrack and little-known bridleway detours, this challenge is a great way to get to know the South Downs National Park more intimately. Brilliant access options from a network of railways as well as frequent towns and villages make this a great option for beginner bikepackers. However, don’t be fooled by the seemingly short daily distances as we’ve proposed in the six stages here, they certainly pack a punch!
Take a few stages at a time or tackle the whole lot, the choice is yours. If you’re really keen, you can ride the route as an Individual Time Trial (ITT) and see if you can beat the 27 hour and 33 minute record - yikes!
There are some steep climbs on the Downs, so the kind of low gearing that you get on a mountain bike would be ideal. You can certainly try it on a gravel bike, but you might find yourself pushing a bit more!
In terms of overnight stays, most of the stages begin and end in little towns or villages where you’ll find quaint guesthouses or hotels, as well as local camping grounds. There are plenty of places along the route to refuel, from cafes to shops and pubs.
You’ll probably enjoy the South Downs 300 more in the drier summer months, as the chalky surface of the off-road trails on the Downs can be pretty slippery when wet. Do be aware that this is a very popular area with walkers too and remember to be courteous and aware of other trail users, including dogs!
The route starts and finishes at Broadwater Green, on the edge of Worthing. This is perfect for train travel, as it’s only 1 mile (1.6 km) from Worthing Train Station along South Farm Road. When you book your train tickets, make sure you check the bike restrictions; you may need to avoid peak times or book your bike on too.
Check out more about Jim’s route here: bikepackinguk.com/sd300
Our official South Downs Way collection can be found here: komoot.com/collection/888595/a-southern-off-road-utopia-the-south-downs-way
Make your way to Broadwater Green to start your six-stage ride on the South Downs 300 with a 32.1 mile (51.7 km) leg heading east to Newhaven.It’s a lumpy first day, starting as you mean to go on, with no less than 3,083 feet (940 metres) of climbing. Head inland to start, climbing up toward the ancient Cissbury Ring on singletrack, before joining the gravel doubletrack way just after the top. Descend to the east, down to the River Adur on singletrack before crossing over to join the official South Downs Way. It’s quite a climb up from the river and you’ll soon turn off onto an alternative singletrack way around Beeding Hill before rejoining the Way near the Truleigh Hill YHA. Rumble along the tops on the easy singletrack way now to Fulking Hill, over Devil’s Dyke Road and looking down into the beautiful grassy valley of the same name. Enjoy this scene best in the spring and early summer with many flowering meadow species.Descend sharply down to Saddlescombe Road, before riding straight back up onto the hilltops with a very steep climb on New Timber Road. Crest West Hill and you’ll be enjoying the thrilling descent once again, over the main road near Pyecombe and following the South Downs Way on to the east. You’ll have a much steadier climb now up to Ditchling Beacon, a climb more traditionally favoured by road cyclists as one of the popular challenges in this coastal area. After all that uphill, you’re now treated to a fast, grassy descent as you turn to head south toward the sea for the remainder of the stage. Take the Ridge Road to skirt around the University of Sussex campus and Falmer Pond, then follow a series of bridleways running parallel to the South Downs Route to further lose elevation, meeting the River Ouse at Piddinghoe. The final section is on the Lewes Road into the heart of Newhaven, where you can enjoy the harbour views, a good meal, and comfortable accommodation at the end of this first stage.
The second stage, totalling just 28.7 miles (46.2 km), is the shortest of all, heading to the eastern extremity to see the The Long Man of Wilmington, before circling back west to finish in the town of Lewes, the county town of East Sussex.Despite the relatively short distance, there are still four big climbs on the menu today, starting with a stepped ascent from Newhaven to the Downs before a sharp descent to Alfriston and the River Cuckmere. The loop that follows represents the second hill, climbing up to Lullington Heath National Nature Reserve, enjoying views of the Long Man of Wilmington hill figure, before circling back to the north with a steep singletrack descent on the South Downs Way back into Alfriston. For the next hill and the rest of the stage, you’ll be heading west, mostly following the official South Downs Way route. Start with a long and steady climb from the village up grassy singletrack along this well-signed way. Summit at Firle Beacon at 712 feet (217 metres). According to folklore, a giant who lived here killed the giant of nearby Wilmington Hill, whose body is marked by the Long Man of Wilmington.After some time on the top enjoying the expansive views, descend to cross the River Ouse, passing through Southease village and onto the last climb of the stage. The Ilford Hill climb is a tough one on grassy bridleway and chalky doubletrack, but it will reward you with spectacular views over chalk grassland meadows, rural farmland landscapes and to the quaint towns and villages down in the valleys below.You can look down on your destination of Lewes now, before enjoying the rapid descent off the Downs to the north, leaving the official South Downs Way route to pass through Kingston Near Lewes and take a combination of singletrack and roads into the town centre.
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You’ll benefit from a flatter section in the middle of this stage totalling 35.2 miles (56.6 km), bookended by climbing up the Downs at either end. It runs largely parallel to the coastline, heading back to the west to finish in the village of Storrington. A long and steady climb will ease you into the stage and get the blood pumping again, up past the old racecourse and Blackcap National Trust land to rejoin the official South Downs Way near your climb’s summit. Peak at Ditchling Beacon, the same point you passed on the first stage. Retrace your previous tyre-marks in reverse, enjoying the descents you laboured up a few days ago perhaps, and challenging yourself with the same hills that you whizzed down before! Take a different route near Pyecombe, over the busy main road and onto singletrack for the sharp ascent by Newtimber Hill. You’ll then rejoin the South Downs Way again, past Devil’s Dyke and Fulking Hill once more. After the YHA at Truleigh Hill, take a right turn off the way with a sharp descent to Upper Beeding. This is where the uncharacteristically flat section starts, following lanes along the River Ouse before taking the Downs Link into Henfield. Then a series of lanes will take you east and south again back to the foot of the Downs. Climb back up onto the tops again, with a long and at times pretty steep ascent up through the woods to rejoin the South Downs Way heading west. Ride past the Chanctonbury Ring, then descend to cross the Horsham Road and start to tackle Barnsfarm Hill. This is classic South Downs Way riding; white, chalky doubletrack, a testing climb and expansive views that help you forget about the burning in your legs! This climb is steepest at 19%, but only for a short stretch before easing off at the top.The last leg of the day is a fun and steep singletrack descent into Storrington, where you’ll find many places ready to cook you up a much-needed meal and provide either a bed or camping ground for the night!
The shortest stage of 22.7 miles (36.6 km) is rather mellow, with considerably less climbing than previous stages, mainly toward the end of the day. You’ll continue to ride west, this time to the tiny village of Singleton.Starting with some gentle and almost flat riding the north of the South Downs ridge, make your way out of Storrington to the north-west on lanes to Parham Wood, where a network of unpaved forest trails awaits. Back on lanes after crossing the woodland, you’ll pass through Coldwaltham and then over Sutton Common, a criss-cross of singletrack bridleways yielding the perfect playground for knobbly tyres!From here the lanes lead you directly to the base of the Downs, ready to tackle a sizable climb up to Barlavington Down, immediately before enjoying the chalky, rocky trail as you head down the hillside again through the deciduous woodland.After passing through East Lavington you’ll face the second climb, which reaches a higher elevation, up to Graffham Down, an area hosting a series of nature reserves dedicated to maintaining the grassland and wooded habitats and the creatures that depend on them.Here you rejoin the South Downs Way along the top of the ridge for a while on grassy bridleways, before descending on gravel roads to the south this time to the village of Charlton. There’s a great pub here for some refreshments or even a room for the night. The stage officially finishes a short ride away in the next village.
The penultimate stage of the South Downs 300 is the longest by distance at 42.8 miles (68.9 km), and you’ll rarely be on the flat on this one. From Singleton to the castle-topped town or Arundel, it’s a big day covering the most westerly leg of the SD300. To start, head west as you wave Singleton goodbye and climb immediately up Levin Down. Next, a network of singletrack and doubletrack roads lead through forestry land as you head up to join the South Down Way. Back on the main stretch along the ridge, go and check out Devil’s Jumps, a series of well-preserved Bronze Age barrows that also enjoy some brilliant views off the hillside. Continue west over Pen Hill, then leave the official track to ride south on singletrack over Marden Down toward Compton village. This is where you’ll start to head back east, making your way back to the same place that you started your adventure.Contour around Lambdown Hill and then descend through Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, known for its preserved grass downland and shrub habitats, as you head south. You’ll reach the village of Lavant and cross the river of the same name, before starting the climb alongside the river on double and singletrack bridleways toward the Trundle, next to Goodwood Racecourse.Enjoy a short, smooth and flat road section before the next ascent of Oxen Down, heading north-east to rejoin the South Downs Way. The hard work will be well worth it, as the chalky doubletrack road leads you off the Downs on a very long descent past Houghton Forest. It’s a real treat! One last blip of a climb stands between you and the end of the stage, as you cross Fairmile Bottom Road up Rewell Hill. From here it’s plain sailing down into the historic medieval town of Arundel, for perhaps your final overnighter?
This is it, the sixth and final stage of the South Downs 300! There’s 28.3 miles (45.6 km) standing between you and an ice-cold refreshment in Worthing, so what are you waiting for?! From Arundel back to Worthing, you’ll be heading south-east, but it’s not all that simple, as today’s ride is more horseshoe shaped to get more hills of the South Downs in there! Therefore, you’ll actually start by heading in the opposite direction, out through Rewell Wood that you passed through at the end of the previous stage. Take the tracks through the Slindon Estate next heading North, a dead straight doubletrack road, before revisiting Broughton Forest and bearing east. We’ve included a little diversion to Whiteways Cafe here, where you can pick up a coffee and something to eat, as well as more information about the great off road trails built in this woodland. The Monarch’s Way is next on the menu, heading east again on a bridleway that leads you into Houghton village and over the River Arun. Cross the trainline after Amberley Station, taking a mix of doubletrack roads, singletrack bridleways and narrow lanes to rejoin the South Downs Way near Barnsfarm Hill. You’ll ride up to Chanctonbury Ring once more, a late Bronze or early Iron Age hillfort. This is your last highpoint, as you now race down toward the sea, with a little singletrack detour around the base of Steyning Woods and then face one last little climb up toward Cissbury Ring. Roll down into Worthing on the bridleway and you’re done. Why not celebrate with fish and chips on the beach?!