South Downs Way: England's Latest National Trail

By Rintsje Bosch

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South Downs Way: England's Latest National Trail
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The South Downs Way is a trail that runs through the South Downs National Park. It is England’s newest National park and was only established in 2009. It runs through as many as 5 National Nature Reserves and many more interesting attractions, the most important being the iconic English chalk hills.

In the spring and summer you will be led past yellow rapeseed fields and statuous houses with colourful English gardens. In autumn you’ll enjoy the golden rolling hills, while still catching a bit of sun along the east coast.

Where is the South Downs Way?

The South Downs Way is a linear walk that starts in Winchester, in the South of England, and runs towards the east, where it ends in the seaside resort of Eastbourne. It is completely surrounded by the South Downs National Park and is known as one of England’s easiest long distance hikes.

It is a varied trail that crosses through lovely villages as well as through typical English valleys, where the smell of wildflowers will welcome you. Enjoy your lunch in a cozy English pub, as you are in the middle of nature, but never far away from shops and restaurants.

Where is the South Downs Way?

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The South Downs Way length

The trail is about 160 kilometers long and will take you from the south-west of England to the seaside in the south-east. It is a very accessible route which can easily be walked by hikers of all levels. The South Downs Way runs mostly along a ridge, but you will also walk on white chalk and rocky paths. If you want a moderate difficult hike, the South Downs Way could be finished in approximately nine days, but if you want to do a more intense hike, you can finish it in seven or eight days as well. The trail has good road signage so you can easily find your way.

Since most of the South Downs Way goes along a ridge, it is necessary to descend when you want to visit a village. However, the aggregated ascent is only about 4200 meters, and the hills are almost never more than 200 meters. This makes it a fairly easy hike. There are no steep climbs, so ascending and descending will not be too hard.

The South Downs Way length

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The South Downs Way Attractions

There are many things to look forward to on this hike. Even the starting point of Winchester is already a very popular city to visit. It is known for its cathedral, which we would definitely recommend visiting. About halfway through the South Downs Way, you will find the towns of Amberley and Arundel, where you will see historic thatched houses, as well as castles and the famous Bignor Roman Villa. If you are a bookworm, make sure to visit the town of Lewes. Here, you will find many old English bookshops. Be sure to pick up your favourite English folklore tale!

You’ll pass by the Devil’s Dyke, which is said to have been created by the devil himself, in order to flood the parshians below. However, scientists believe that it was created during the ice age. It is the longest, widest and deepest dry valley in England and is nearly one mile long. Move on and see the famous Seven Sisters chalk hills looming in the distance. Then, make your way down to the seaside resort and the final stop of the South Downs Way; Eastbourne. If the weather permits it, you’ll be able to relax on the beach or dip your toes in the waters of the English Channel.

The South Downs Way Attractions

The South Downs Way: Start and End Point

The South Downs Way start is in Winchester. This city used to be the Capital of England and many tourists still come to see the longest medieval cathedral in the world. If you are a big fan of the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, be sure to visit Winchester Castle Hall. You can see the original Round Table here.

The trail ends in the seaside resort of Eastbourne. This town is often referred to as “ the sunniest town in England”. Due to it being so close to France, it enjoys a slightly more tropical climate than the rest of England. This is great if you want to walk in England, but do not want to be walking in the rain everyday. However, it is not guaranteed that there will be no rain at all. After all, you’re still in Great-Britain so make sure to prepare for all kinds of weather.

It is recommended to walk the route from Winchester to Eastbourne (west to east) because you will have the wind in your back. If you decide to do it the other way around, you will most likely be walking in the wind for the entire route.

The South Downs Way: Start and End Point

How to get to the South Downs Way?

Not only can the South Downs Way be walked very easily, but it is also very accessible. From London Gatwick Airport, it is merely one hour to Winchester by train. If you arrive at Southampton airport, it is only 15 minutes by train to get to Winchester. Winchester is also very accessible by train from other cities in Great-Britain.

There are trains running frequently from Eastbourne or other stops along the route (Southease, Lewes, Amberley, Petersfield) back to London Victoria, London Waterloo, London Gatwick Airport or to Southampton Airport. Therefore, finding your way back home will not be a problem.

Not sure yet or want to discuss your plans for the The South Downs Way with one of our trekking experts? Get in touch today and turn your dreams into memories!

South Downs Way: Weather and Best Season

The hiking season for the South Downs Way walk is from May until September. However, the summer holiday starts mid-july and during this month you may find the trail to be much more crowded. Also, attractions along the way are visited much more in this period. Book your South Downs Way accommodation well in advance, as they might be full during the summer months. Even though this area enjoys a slightly more tropical climate. It is wise to prepare for rain as well.

Because the trail is mostly along a ridge, the water will drain easily and the ground will be dry. Nevertheless, after a rain shower it might get slightly muddy and slippery. Be sure to wear shoes with non-slip soles.

South Downs Way: Weather and Best Season

The South Downs Way Map

Below, you will find a map of the South Downs Way stages, starting in Winchester and ending in Eastbourne. The route runs from west to east. If you are looking for a tool to help you with planning your trekking adventures, the Komoot app could be useful.

The South Downs Way Walk - Itinerary

The following itinerary shows how a regular 9-day trek on the South Downs Way would look like, including the accommodation before and after the trek.

Day
1

Arrival in Winchester

Today you will have to make your way to Winchester. Here, you will spend the night preparing for your South Downs Way adventure.

Bridge Street House (Winchester)

Info
Bridge Street House (Winchester)
Day
2

Winchester to Exton

Duration: 05:34 h
Distance: 20.6 km / 12.8 mi
Ascent: 290 m / 951 ft
Descent: 260 m / 853 ft
The South Downs Way starts with a short hike through the beautiful city of Winchester. After a few kilometers you will exit the city and the rolling hills of the countryside will surely catch your eye. Enjoy the panoramic views of the Meon Valley while you make your way to Exton.

Crossways B&B (Exton)

Info
Crossways B&B (Exton)
Day
3

Exton to Buriton

Duration: 05:50 h
Distance: 21 km / 13 mi
Ascent: 380 m / 1247 ft
Descent: 370 m / 1214 ft
The second day will be a fairly easy day of hiking as the height difference is not very significant. You will pass by several hills such as Salt Hill and Butser Hill. Butser hill is the highest point of the South Downs Way, which is only 270 meters. From this point, your view will reach as far as the Isle of Wight.

The Nest Hotel & Restaurant (Buriton)

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The Nest Hotel & Restaurant (Buriton)
Day
4

Buriton to Cocking

Duration: 05:05 h
Distance: 18.2 km / 11.3 mi
Ascent: 340 m / 1115 ft
Descent: 360 m / 1181 ft
Today you will walk along the ridge through an area with more tree coverage, in Monkton Estate. Once you reach Harting Down, the trees will make way for tiny villages.

Moonlight Cottage Guest House & Cafe (Cocking)

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Moonlight Cottage Guest House & Cafe (Cocking)
Day
5

Cocking to Amberley

Duration: 05:45 h
Distance: 20.4 km / 12.7 mi
Ascent: 390 m / 1280 ft
Descent: 440 m / 1444 ft
Today you will walk the chalk road that leads you through Graffham Downs nature reserve. Follow it up downhill until you reach the old Roman Road which crosses Stane Street. Follow this road until you reach Bignor Hill, where you will see breathtaking views of the Amberley Wild Brooks wetlands and River Arun, below. End your day in the town of Amberley.

Black Horse (Amberley)

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Black Horse (Amberley)
Day
6

Amberley to Steyning/Upper Beeding

Duration: 05:55 h
Distance: 21.4 km / 13.3 mi
Ascent: 360 m / 1181 ft
Descent: 360 m / 1181 ft
Start your fifth stage with an easy walk through the glowing hills, before you reach a steep descent, down to Chanctonbury Tree Circle. This circle of beech trees is said to be a “magical” circle. Move on to Steyning, or walk a little bit further to Upper Beeding and visit the Norman castle at the banks of the River Adur.

The Castle Inn Hotel (Steyning)

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The Castle Inn Hotel (Steyning)
Day
7

Steyning/Bramber to Pyecombe

Duration: 03:43 h
Distance: 12.9 km / 8 mi
Ascent: 350 m / 1148 ft
Descent: 250 m / 820 ft
Walk towards Fulking Hill, where you will have a 360 view of the Devil's Dyke. This dry Valley is a popular tourist attraction because it is the deepest and widest dry valley in England. Walk on until you reach Pyecombe and get a rest in your B&B.

Tallai House B&B (Pyecombe)

Info
Tallai House B&B (Pyecombe)
Day
8

Pyecombe to Lewes

Duration: 06:24 h
Distance: 23.2 km / 14.4 mi
Ascent: 360 m / 1181 ft
Descent: 450 m / 1476 ft
A little outside of Peycombe, you will find the famous windmills Jack and Jill. Keep walking and enjoy the stunning views of the Downs, while making your way to Kingston-near-Lewes. In this adorable village, you will be able to buy some books in the old English book shops. Walk on until you reach Lewes.

The Dorset (Lewes)

Info
The Dorset (Lewes)
Day
9

Lewes to Alfriston

Duration: 05:51 h
Distance: 21.2 km / 13.2 mi
Ascent: 340 m / 1115 ft
Descent: 350 m / 1148 ft
Climb uphill and follow the easy path along the ridge. You will have a stunning view of the area all around you. Cross the river Ouse and end in the old smugglers' towns of Alfriston where you will find the oldest two Inns of England.

Deans Place Hotel (Alfriston)

Info
Deans Place Hotel (Alfriston)
Day
10

Alfriston to Eastbourne

Duration: 06:06 h
Distance: 22.2 km / 13.8 mi
Ascent: 360 m / 1181 ft
Descent: 360 m / 1181 ft
This last day of the South Downs Way walk might be the most beautiful of all. Start with a riverside walk towards the Friston Forest. Soon enough, you’ll reach the Cuckmere river. Finally, you will reach the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. Walk on to the lighthouse of Beachy Head, where you will have a magnificent view of these eight white cliffs. Walk on to the seaside resort of Eastbourne, and you have reached the final destination of the South Downs Way.

The View Hotel (Eastbourne)

Info
The View Hotel (Eastbourne)
Day
11

Departure day

After breakfast, our services and your South Downs Way adventure will be over. Have a safe trip back home!
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At Bookatrekking.com, we not only book your accommodation and luggage transport, we also send you on your way with a comprehensive hiking guide with the most important information for your The South Downs Way, including interactive Komoot maps. Browse all our options here and turn your dreams into reality.

The South Downs Way Accommodation

Along the South Downs Way route are lots of options for accommodation. You can stay in a typical English B&B or in a hotel. You’ll be spoiled with an English breakfast that will keep you full for a long time. On a budget? Try one of many guesthouses in the area.

The South Downs Way Accommodation

Baggage Transfer during The South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a popular trek that gathers hundreds of tourists every year. There is always the possibility to have your luggage transported from one accommodation to another. Your suitcase or duffel bag will be picked up from your hotel each morning and it will be ready for you at your next hotel at the end of the day.

Packing List for the The South Downs Way

No matter where you go hiking or for how long, bringing the right equipment is of utmost importance. For your hike, the first thing you need is a good backpack. The size of it will depend on the number of days you will be trekking, the season and the clothes you take with you. If you have luggage transport, the comfort level of your daypack is most important. We have compiled a packing list with a few essential items of clothing you should bring and some extras you might find useful:
  • Essentials

  • Extras

Safety tips for the The South Downs Way

Although this is far from being a trek in the Himalayas, unexpected things can always happen and you might also find obstacles on the hiking trails along the way. The The South Downs Way is safe, the trails are quite straight forward and there is not an extreme difference in altitude. However, for your safety, every hike deserves a level of respect; respect for the terrain, the trails, wildlife and vegetation, local rules and regulations, and above all, your physical capabilities and safety. Therefore, for an unforgettable and safe hiking memory, please keep the following safety recommendations in mind:

  • Know your limits

    Always prepare each stage carefully to use your energy wisely, respect your physical and mental limitations, and avoid taking unnecessary risks. When ascending or descending, if applicable, always use the aids provided, such as handrails and ropes. Is this trek suitable for you? Well, familiarize yourself with the grading system and figure out if this trek matches your capabilities. If you still need professional advice you can always contact Bookatrekking.com experts.

  • Stay on marked trails

    The most important thing is to never leave the marked paths. For easy navigation we work with our trusted partner Komoot, whose interactive maps, also available offline, provide you with the necessary digital means to get from A to B in the The South Downs Way. As a backup, make sure to bring a hiking guide or a paper map with you.

  • Fully equipped

    Make sure you have the necessary gear for the conditions you'll be facing, including appropriate clothing, footwear, and any necessary equipment for the terrain you'll be hiking on. Always wear clothing adapted to the weather of The South Downs Way and protect yourself from cold and wetness or heat and sun. Besides, make sure you carry enough food and water for the duration of your trek. On the way, you might (or might not) be able to buy snacks.

  • Stay reachable

    If you are hiking solo or in small groups it is advisable to inform people back home about your plans, what route you are taking and when you plan to return. Even small incidents can lead to unpleasant emergencies so make sure you are available at all times. Bring a charged phone containing at least the phone numbers of immediate family members, your accommodations en route and the emergency phone numbers operating in the The South Downs Way.

  • Respect for nature

    Do not litter, prevent noise, stay on the marked trails, do not disturb wildlife or grazing animals, and respect protected areas.

Where Can I Book the The South Downs Way?

At Bookatrekking.com you can book the self-guided The South Downs Way and many other treks. We take care of all the details for you, including arranging accommodations, organizing luggage transportation and providing you with relevant information well in advance of your trek. Find our offers here. Our easy-to-use platform allows you to browse and compare different trekking options and find the perfect fit for your interests, abilities, and budget.

If you have any questions about a specific trek or need help choosing the right one for you, our team of trekking experts is here to assist you. Simply reach out to us and we will be happy to provide you with personalized recommendations and advice to help you plan the trekking adventure of a lifetime.

Is the The South Downs Way not your cup of tea and are you looking for other epic adventures? Check out one of our following blog posts:

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