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

Spinnakertog (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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

Hiking Collection by Dan Hobson

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

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    07:45
    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 …

  • Difficult
    06:36
    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 …

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  • Difficult
    05:29
    13.5 mi
    2.5 mph
    125 ft
    150 ft
    Ferry
    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 …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    3
  • Distance
    47.2 mi
  • Duration
    19:50 h
  • Elevation
    1,675 ft1,975 ft

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