England: Hiking the South Downs Way

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.

The South Downs Way hiking in England

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.

Sunflowers and a white horse on the South Downs Way hiking in England

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 Long Man of Wilmington, Sussex South Downs Way

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.

South Downs Way hiking UK

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.

Seven Sisters Lighthouse Eastbourne England

At most times of the year there will be wildflowers to look at such as bluebells and hawthorn, and birdlife to listen to .

Hiking the South Downs Way England

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.

Sussex countryside from The South Downs Way hiking in England

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.

Alfriston pub, Sussex, England The South Downs Way hiking

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

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Hiking the South Downs Way England

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13 Replies to “England: Hiking the South Downs Way”

  1. Alex

    I remember this neck of the woods from my childhood and being fascinated by the ancient chalk figures on the hillsides. I’ve got to say, the village/town of Alfriston looks very lovely – I shall look out for there where I am in the area next!

    Reply
  2. Sherry

    It’s always great to read about places in your own country, I’m always thinking of visiting places abroad and there’s so many places I haven’t even been to in the UK! So its great to know about this place to add to list to explore X

    Reply
  3. Mille Mirah Seiersen

    The English landscape is so beautiful and I’m sure it’s a very beautiful hike! Such great photos too! I especially love the fifth picture! It looks like a location from Game of Thrones or something like it!

    Reply
  4. Kris

    This looks like a gorgeous hike. I’d love to see those chalk cliffs. How far is the trail in total? I agree that it looks like a good introduction to long distance hiking.

    Reply
  5. Candiss

    Wow this looks like such a lovely way to see the area more intimately and those cliffs! Such a beautiful sight to see!

    Reply
  6. Orangewayfarer

    beautiful landscape. No wonder the poetry of British writers are much acclaimed. Was it an outcast day?

    Reply
  7. Kristin

    I love long distance hiking! I hiked the Appalachian Trail in the US for about 3 weeks and it was amazing. This looks like a great trail for beginners with some beautiful landscapes and flora. The only thing with long-distance hiking is trying to find time to do it. Can I get paid to hike so I can quit my job?! 😉
    -Kristin

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      I’m with you there Kristin, I’ve just been in the Dolomite Mountains hiking for 6 days and I’d so like to tackle one of those huge trans-Europe hikes that take a month…

      Reply

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