Sussex Exclusive

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The South Downs Way

Seven Sisters

Our Sussex Exclusive Overview 

The South Downs Way goes from Winchester to Eastbourne and is 160 km long (100 miles). There are also just over 4,000 metres of ascents and descents along the route.

Rough outline of route. Click on image for Google maps

The whole trail lies within the South Downs National Park and it is a National Trail, mostly on the chalk downland of the  South Downs. It starts at Winchester City Mills (What3Words: weaved.infringe.stole) and it finishes in Foyle Way, Meads just to the west of Eastbourne (What3Words: digits.wishes.plug).

Winchester City Mills

In places, there are slightly different routes for cyclists, riders, and walkers. There are also two different options to choose between Eastbourne and Alfriston. Whichever way you travel, the route is signed with a yellow acorn (the symbol of a National Trail and a special long-distance walk).

South Downs Way

It’s a route that has been used by travellers for thousands of years. Along the way, are dozens of Bronze and Iron Age Forts and burial grounds, and you pass within a shortish distance of Roman palaces, Medieval castles, churches, and pretty historic villages. But above all else, the South Downs Way is famous and loved for its incredible views north, south, east and west and its simple and unspoilt way of life!

South Downs Way finish

Personal view

Having walked the South Downs Way over eight days, it is one of the most amazing things I have ever done, although it’s hard to explain why. Depending on your level of fitness, it is, of course, challenging to walk long distances day after day on terrain that is hilly and uneven. And that makes it rewarding.

Walking the South Downs Way

But there is something about the methodical plod and incredible views head and behind that is immensely restorative, uplifting and yet simple. It has its own rhythm like a river that ebbs and flows and a sense of community. There is always someone travelling the South Downs Way and you feel a connection with fellow travellers. It also feels like a step outside conventional society.

South Downs Way and Cuckmere Haven

Gone are laptops and emails, replaced with the simple sense of the next five km, the valley below, the windmill in the distance or the cows ahead. The further you travel (from Winchester to Eastbourne at least) the views seem to get bigger and bigger and it’s hard to describe the impact at Ditcling when you first spot the Seven Sisters far in the far distance and know that you’ll be there soon, or when you look back and see what huge distances you’ve covered, just by plodding along. It’s also a great way to see Sussex and put it into context … like looking down on a huge map.

South Downs at Clayton

Rarely in life do we take half an hour just to sit and look but this is built into every day when up on the Downs. And that heightens the strange sense (as you start to descend into one of the many valleys) that you are re-entering society. Up on the Downs, it feels wild, remote and untamed. It’s sensual, ever-changing and tactile. And you feel part of it.

East West Sussex Border

Choose your level of comfort and speed

There are a number of different itineraries you can follow, some of which take four days and some which take 14 days. The most recommended itinerary is to allow eight days and cover roughly 20 km a day. This means stopping near Exton, Buriton, Cocking (Midhurst), Amberely, Steyning /Upper Beeding, Lewes / Kingston, and Alfriston. Of course, you can walk the other way if you prefer, from Eastbourne to Winchester. I travelled over eight days because this allowed plenty of time each day to stop and soak up the surroundings. Of course, you don’t have to walk it all at once and can walk short or long sections as and when you have the time.

South Downs Way

You can also travel in varying levels of comfort. At the most basic level, you can travel with all you need on your back and camp or wild camp all the way. There are a number of campsites (with varying levels of amenities) on route. But in order to wild camp, you need permission from the landowner and should leave no trace of your stay. And you need to think carefully about when and how to eat.

Cocking Manor Farm campsite

The next level up provides a medium level of comfort and is the way we travelled, staying in a mixture of campsites, AirBnBs, a bunkhouse (pictured below) and a youth hostel. This reduces what you need to carry … although you’ll still need a tent. But after a night under canvas in the rain, a warm bed, a hot meal and a chance to dry out can make your walk a lot more pleasant.

The Bunkhouse Houghton

If you want just a little less pain and a touch more luxury, then book hotels, B&Bs and luggage transfer. Some hosts will collect you from the South Downs Way and redeliver you in the morning leaving you with only a light pack to carry. And if you want to spend just a little more again, there are plenty of really lovely places to stay along the way – like Amberley Castle!

Amberley Castle

South Downs Way highlights  

There are so many highlights on the South Downs Way which include crossing the Hampshire / West Sussex border, crossing from West to East Sussex and crossing from one hemisphere to another. And of course, there are the relentlessly stunning views almost all the way. It’s a very personal experience but particular highlights include:

Buster Hill, South Downs Way

Beachy Head lighthouse

A little further away from the South Downs Way (but worth a detour) are Arundel, Amberely, Bramber and Lewes castles, Bignor Roman Villa, Uppark, Monk’s House, Charleston and Rathfinny Vineyard

For more information about walking the South Downs Way, visit:

Discover the South Downs 

Planning Your South Downs Way Walk 

Your South Downs Way 8-day itinerary. Day 1 

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