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South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a very popular National Trail through South East England's historical South Downs.

Indeed, the route runs through the heart of the proposed South Downs National Park.

It follows paths and roads used for thousands of years, dating back into the stone age.

Seven Sisters Cliffs, East Sussex, England
Seven Sisters © Shutterstock / Michael C. Gray

Running from East Hampshire through to East Sussex, there's lots to do and see on this popular National Trail.

English countryside in spring, near Winchester, Hampshire,UK.
Near Winchester, Hampshire © Shutterstock / Jane Rix

Walking West to East, you can take a trip through advancement of man in the area, seeing remnants of civilisation and fortification from the bronze age through iron age and Roman times right up to the second world war and the legendary Battle of Britain.

Eastbourne in East Sussex, England, United Kingdom.
Eastbourne © Shutterstock / Janis Smits

Running as it does through undulating arable farmland, rolling woodland and chalk scarp, the South Downs Way is one of the less physically challenging of the 18 British National Trails. This combination of relatively easy walking and wealths of scenery and history is one which many people find ideal.

Jill Windmill on the South Downs above Clayton in West Sussex
Jill Windmill near Clayton © Shutterstock / Chester Tugwell

Starting at Winchester in East Hampshire, the trail stretches roughly 100 miles to Eastbourne. Most of the trail is shared by walkers, horse riders and cyclists.

As the trail approaches Eastbourne, though, it splits into two alternative routes, the coastal path by the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head being for walkers only.

View from the South Downs Way footpath, Sussex, England
© Shutterstock / David Hughes

Despite the easier going than on many National Trails, the South Downs way should still be approached with due respect and walkers are advised to be properly equipped, to have supplies of food and water, and to let people know their plans.

Edge of The Seven Sisters Cliffs near Eastbourne, East Sussex
Seven Sisters near Eastbourne © Shutterstock / Janis Smits

In some places the pathway is quite exposed, giving the potential to be very hot in summer and very cold in winter. There are water stops on the route, but these should not be relied on as your only source of sustenance.

View over Slindon Down in the South Downs National Park, Sussex
Slindon Down © Shutterstock / Dave Porter

There are many historical features, villages, towns and places of interest along the way, and access to these has been well provided for with many spurs leading to them from the National Trail.

View from the South Downs Way footpath
© Shutterstock / David Hughes

On a historical note, there are points of interest from all ages in each section, however some of the South Downs Way routes fall neatly into distinct predominant historical eras, for example Iron Age between Winchester and Queen Elizabeth Country Park or Bronze Age between Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Upwaltham.

This is in addition to geological artifacts from the Ice Age through to cultural influence from William the Conqueror through the Georgian and Victorian eras right up to World War II and the modern day.

View from the South Downs Way footpath
© Shutterstock / jamesdavidphoto

For lovers of nature and landscape, there is much to be seen, ranging from the striking chalk based features such as Devil's Dyke and the Seven Sisters through beautiful scenic views to various nature reserves.

If you want to walk the entire trail in one go, it's estimated that it would take approximately 8 days. This would drop to 3 or 4 days if you were cycling.

South Downs Way
South Downs Way © Hardo Muller via Flickr

There are in fact 5 smaller sections which make up the South Downs Way - these tend to be around 20 miles each and offer good day trip and weekend activities in themselves.

Winchester Cathedral
Winchester Cathedral © Shutterstock / great_photos




This is the start point of the South Downs Way.

Things to do near Winchester

Winchester - Queen Elizabeth Country Park

Length: 23 miles
Total since start: 23 miles

Some crossing of roads and negotiation of suburban areas is required in getting from Winchester out onto the South Downs.

Characterised by rolling farmland and wooded areas, there is much to see and do with interesting villages, Nature Reserves and historical sites to take in.

Things to do near Queen Elizabeth Country Park


View from the South Downs Way footpath
© Shutterstock / David Hughes

Queen Elizabeth Country Park - Upwaltham

Length: 18 miles
Total Since Start: 41 miles

There are lots of views on this section, over the Weald, out to the Isle of White and so on. There are also many villages to detour into, plus Bronze and Iron Age features to see at such places as Heyshott Down and Beacon Hill.

Things to do near Upwaltham

Upwaltham - Upper Beeding

Length: 22 miles
Total since start: 63 miles

This is a very scenic section, especially as it passes the Arun Valley. There are yet more charming villages to detour into and be sure to take in Amberley Wild Brooks with their abundance of wild birds and flowers.

Things to do near Upper Beeding

Upper Beeding - Rodmell

Length: 21 miles
Total Since Start: 84 miles

In addition to striking chalk features such as Devil's Dyke, The trail serves up more great views on this section as well as a mixed bag of historical sites of interest, ranging from Neolithic and the Iron Age, through Roman right up to World War II. The route also passes by the Jack and Jill Windmills and Ditchling Beacon.

Things to do near Rodmell

Stile on the South Downs Way at Ditchling Beacon near Brighton
Ditchling Beacon © Shutterstock / Nick Hawkes

Rodmell - Eastbourne

Length: 11.5 miles
Total since start: 64.5 miles

Held by many to be the most picturesque section of the South Downs Way and certainly one of the most striking if opting for the walkers-only coastal route past the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

There is also a northen route for horseriders and cyclists, though walkers are also welcome on the route. Culture-vultures will be keen to detour up to Charleston Farmhouse and the home of the literary Bloomsbury Set.

Things to do near Eastbourne

You can continue reading about other National Trails and Long Distance Walks using the links at the bottom of the page.

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