Hike through the heart of the South Downs to the sea — Shipwrights Way

Hiking Collection by Dan
3-6 days
3-6 h / day
47.2 mi
1,675 ft
1,975 ft

The Shipwrights Way is a spellbinding long-distance hike that winds through the historic Hampshire countryside, where wildlife thrives and beauty flourishes, to finish on the English Channel.

The name of the trail reflects Hampshire’s shipbuilding heritage and follows the route that oak trees were taken in Tudor times, from Alice Holt Forest to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, to be turned into pioneering naval vessels.

From Bentley Railway Station, the Way travels 46 miles (74 km) through the heart of the South Downs National Park, cuts across Hayling Island, and then winds along the golden coastline into the city of Portsmouth.

Along the way, you explore picturesque and much-contrasting countryside, get a slice of rural idyll in traditional villages and towns, see stunning wildlife displays in many nature reserves, and hike through some majestic woodlands.

Historical sites are everywhere on the route. Some highlights include: St Hubert’s, a picturesque little church from the 10th century; St Peter’s, a stunning Grade I-listed church in the heart of Petersfield; the Harrow Inn, a 17th-century and Grade II-listed pub; the Red Lion, a pretty thatched pub from the 16th century; the grandiose Portsmouth Cathedral; and HMS Warrior, Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship.

For the most part, the route stays off-road, using rights of way and permissive paths. The walking is generally easy and the trail never strays too far from civilisation, making it a good choice for beginners and seasoned long-distance hikers alike. The route is waymarked throughout, just look-out for a ship's wheel and the trail name.

In this Collection, I have opted for an ambitious three-day itinerary; 18.4 miles (29.6 km), 15.4 miles (24.8 km), and 13.5 miles (21.7 km), respectively. As the terrain is easygoing and the hike is on a general downwards trajectory, anyone with good fitness will smash through these stages, especially on long summer days.

However, as with all my Collections, any routes that are over 15 miles (24.1 km) long have a suggestion on how you can split them. 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. Public transport is generally good along the route.

Every stop is relatively well-served with accommodation. However, places to stay can be limited so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling your rest days accordingly.

The route conveniently starts from a train station and finishes in the well-connected city of Portsmouth, roughly a 15-minute walk from the train station, making getting to and from the Way very easy.

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    18.4 mi
    2.4 mph
    775 ft
    800 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage explores ancient habitats, traditional Hampshire villages, a 17th-century pub and a Gruffalo woodland. You are thrown in at the deep end, though. With 18.4 miles (29.6 km) of distance and 775 feet (236 m) of uphill, this is the toughest stage of the itinerary. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, read on).The trail conveniently starts at Bentley Railway Station and heads through the expanse of Alice Holt Forest, a place that affords much activity and adventure, as well as wildlife and Gruffalo-spotting opportunities.You emerge into farmland, pass the quarry, and continue through pleasant countryside to the River Wey.The trail follows the river through Bordon Inclosure, which is part of the wider nature reserve of Deadwater Valley, a historic woodland with much biodiversity.You wind around the outskirts of Bordon, through Whitehill, and then skirt around Woolmer Forest military firing range. The next village you reach is Liss, which has places for food and drink, plus some accommodation if you want to split the stage.The trail heads through arable fields into woodland before crossing the River Rother and railway line in quick succession. You follow the busy A3 for a short time before crossing underneath.A short-step later, you reach the Harrow Inn, a Grade II-listed pub from the 17th-century that is well-placed on the home straight. The market town of Petersfield, where this stage finishes, has a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.

    15.4 mi
    2.3 mph
    800 ft
    1,025 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    You really step back in time on this stage, which explores a 10th-century church in an idyllic location, one of the oldest pubs in Hampshire, and visits houses built using Stone Age methods.With 15.4 miles (24.8 km) of distance and 800 feet (244 m) of uphill, this is another tough hike. However, with 1,025 feet (312 m) of steady downhill, it might not feel as challenging as expected. (For a suggestion on how to split the hike, see below).Before leaving Petersfield, it is worth visiting St Peter’s, a stunning Grade I-listed church with Norman origins.You leave town along the Causeway and take country lanes to Buriton. After crossing the railway line, you make a sharp ascent through the Chalk Pits Nature Reserve and into the canopied landscape of Queen Elizabeth Country Park. The trail descends gradually through wide crop fields. When you reach Charlton lane, it is worth a brief detour to see Butser Ancient Farm, which builds archaeologically-accurate recreations of buildings from the Stone Age through to the Anglo-Saxon period.You hike back along the road to the Red Lion, a pretty thatched-roof pub from the 16th century and one of the oldest in Hampshire. More-or-less at the midway point, this unique gastro-pub is well-placed for a pit-stop.After heading over Charlton Down and crossing the railway line, you stumble upon St Hubert’s, a picturesque church that was built in the 10th century. The Grade I-listed church nestles among idyllic countryside and boasts 14th-century wall-paintings inside.After rising over Oxley’s Copse, it is a long and gradual descent through farmland to finish in the town of Havant, which has a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, and shops. If you would like to split the stage, your best bet is continuing west for a short time from Butser Ancient Farm into Clanfield village, which has places to stay and a couple of restaurants.

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  • Difficult
    13.5 mi
    2.5 mph
    125 ft
    150 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    History meets modernity, rural meets coastal, and urban landscapes fuse with natural habitats on this wonderfully-contrasting final stage. As each hike is easier than its predecessor in this Collection, the finale is 13.5 miles (21.7 km) long and is almost completely flat, allowing plenty of time to explore.From Havant, it is worth a brief detour to see the Grade I-listed St Thomas a Becket Church, which dates to the 12th-century.You pick-up the Solent Way briefly around the northwestern corner of Sweare Deep and then take the Langstone Road bridge over to Hayling Island.The trail then follows the coastline along Langstone Harbour, a diverse landscape of tidal mudflats, saltmarsh, seagrass meadows, and shingle where you can expect impressive displays of wildlife at any time of year. As you approach Hayling Beach, there is a handy halfway-point-pub, Inn on the Beach, if you fancy a pit-stop.From there, you hike along the road on the northern edge of the golf course to the Hayling Ferry, which you catch to Eastney. The ferry costs £5.50 for adults and £4.50 for children. For more information, visit: haylingferry.net.Once across, the trail passes Fort Cumberland, hailed as the finest example of a bastion trace fort in England, and follows the beach-side path into the heart of Portsmouth, where this stage finishes. There is lots to see in the city. Along the final stretch, you pass the stunning Portsmouth Cathedral, which dates to 1180, Spinnaker Tower, a striking spectacle of modernity, and finish alongside HMS Warrior, Britain’s first iron-hulled, armoured warship.You find a good choice of accommodation in Portsmouth, plenty of places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.


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Collection Stats

  • Tours
  • Distance
    47.2 mi
  • Duration
    19:50 h
  • Elevation
    1,675 ft1,975 ft

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