The South Downs Way is a long distance hiking path in the United Kingdom that runs from the historic town of Winchester to the seaside resort of Eastbourne. Along the way it passes through some beautiful English landscapes in Hampshire and Sussex, with interesting stopovers and big views.
This hike is a good introduction of long distance hiking, as none of it is particularly difficult and you don’t need any special equipment. The total distance of 100 miles (160 kilometres) can also be tackled in sections (even by a series of beautiful English day walks) and it is a popular mountain bike route (I also saw plenty of runners and a few on horseback).
The South Downs Way was created in 1972 by the Countryside Commission and it holds the status of being the very first long distance bridleway in Britain. Signage and waymarking is excellent throughout.
But this is an ancient pathway and many hilltops show the signs of long ago tribespeople, living and travelling along this high way. It would have been easier to travel here than down in the forested or boggy Weald lowland.
The striking figure of the 235-foot-high Long Man of Wilmington, long an enigmatic guardian of the South Downs, can be seen on Windover Hill.
There are many charming villages to pass through, as well as forests filled with dappled light and high grassland dotted with sheep. The section of the South Downs Way nearest the coast is some of the most iconic in all of England, passing along the top of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs to Cuckmere Haven.
At most times of the year there will be wildflowers to look at such as bluebells and hawthorn, and birdlife to listen to .
There are, conveniently, seven youth hostels on or near the route to break your journey, either overnight or some offer a cafe lunch. The hostels are at Eastbourne, Alfriston, Telscome, Patcham (near Brighton), Truleigh Hill, Arundel and Winchester. Wild camping is generally discouraged but I did meet a few people camping out.
What to take for the South Downs Way hike
Good hiking boots are the foundation of any successful hiking trip, providing support for feet and ankles. Comfortable, quick dry hiking trousers and a hiking top made from a wicking fabric are also important. A warm layer of fleece or wool should be carried, as well as a good waterproof jacket as you never know what the weather will throw at you in the hills.
You do need to carry food and water during your days hiking and there are not often opportunities to buy food or water without a detour. Where the path passes through a village like Alfriston, however, it is hard to resist a pub lunch!
The Cicerone guide to The South Downs Way by Kev Reynolds is essential reading, covering all the stages from west to east, and also from east to west. You should also carry a good OS map.
Enjoy your hike on the South Downs Way!
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you hiked the South Downs Way? If you liked this post why not pin it?!