The complete South Downs Way, stretching for a hundred miles over a rare large area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in crowded southern Britain, follows the chalk (soft limestone) ridge just to the North of the popular seaside towns on the Sussex and Hampshire coast. At intervals the hilly downlands are broken by “wind gaps” or river valleys, mixing the ridge walking with some meandering visits to beautiful rivers such at the Cuckmere, Arun, Ouse and Meon with their associated villages. Most of the route is ancient, made up out of the old droving roads that took animals and goods between the market towns of the region. There are many historical features, including a couple of remaining round towered Saxon churches, ancient “Dew Ponds” providing water on the high Downs for cattle, cross dykes and tumulus burial sites, Bronze Age Hill forts and rings. The weather on average is some of the best you could find in the British Isles, and soft boots or even trekking shoes are generally advised, as the surfaces are often –but not universally - dry and firm. The tour is accessible easily from London and the Southeast by the railways. The original ‘Way’ extended the 80 miles or so between Eastbourne and Buriton near Petersfield, but was extended in the late 1980s to Winchester making it exactly 100 miles. Sherpa offers both versions, as either 8 or 10 day holidays. This is generally a leisurely paced walk enabling those who want, to spend a bit of extra time looking at some old churches, or dawdling by Cuckmere Haven, picnicking or pubbing up on some high down, or looking around lowland villages. There are however a couple of long days towards the end, largely due to the remoteness of convenient enroute accommodation. For this reason we have to compromise and there is a range in the quality of the overnight stops that we may use.
We grade the tour as 'Moderate' , straight forward undulating walking, often on farm tracks and chalk down. Day Stages: 9.5 miles / 15.2km to 16miles / 26 km. From 4 to 7 hours walking.
Make your own way to Alfriston one of themost beautiful villages in the Downs. Take the time to explore this medieval town and amble by the Cuckmere River. The large church in the village is often called "the Cathedral of the Downs". The village is also home to the first property of the National trust, Clergy House. It is said that the site of the Star Inn is where Alfred burnt his cakes. Alfred gave the area to one of his warlords, Aelfric, as a reward for battle valour.
Accommodation: Two nights are spent in a modernized 13th century Inn, which combines the charm of ancient tradition with comfortable accommodation. The place was well known to smugglers, who brought their stash up the Cuckmere River. It was also a drinking venue for troops awaiting embarkation to fight in the Napoleonic wars. There is a Sanctuary Post, where people on the run could claim protection if they managed to touch the wood.
After breakfast you will be transported to Eastbourne. You could have a quick look along the Victorian Promenade and then start the walk up to Beachy Head cliffs overlooking the famous lighthouse. Rollercoaster along the “Seven Sisters” group of chalk down cliffs, until the scenery changes at Cuckmere Haven, a real beauty spot where the Cuckmere River meanders lazily down to the sea. Walk up the valley and across hillside footpaths to Littlington with its attractive pub and tea shops before the last section across watermeadows back into Alfriston.
The Way rises up onto the high Downs reaching a high point on this section at Firle Beacon. Walk across farmland, until you reach the River Ouse gap near Rodmell. Fans of the Bloomsbury group of Bohemian artists will be keen to make an off route diversion to Alciston, Berwick and West Firle with various pubs and teashops. Rodmell village has a pub and the “Monk’s House, where Virginia Woolf used to live.
Accommodation: Our small guesthouse will make you more than welcome tonight. There is a limited amount of accommodation in this village.
After the Ouse the trail climbs above the historic town of Lewes. This section takes you up onto the highest parts of the Downs, round the back of the Brighton and Worthing, following mainly grassy tracks. You go over the highest point on the route at Ditchling Beacon 248 m. Passing lark filled skies, the white “Jack and Jill“ Clayton windmills greet you on your descent down to Pyecombe village.
Accommodation: We use a number of guesthouses in this village.
The route ascends and descends via the “Devil’s Dyke” – said to be the World’s largest chalk dry valley. There is a pub restaurant here, great views and circular walks that you can do if you want to spend more time on the heights. Then walk on through the parish of Upper Beeding to drop down to the Ardur River Valley. There follows another lovely stretch of The Downs with great views down to the villages below and ancient historical features abound such as Tumuli burial mounds and cross dykes. Descend off the Down to Steyning, a busy little country town with some nice shops.
Accommodation: Once a Georgian Merchant’s house, built in 1772, it has been sympathetically converted into a charming ten bedroom bed & breakfast hotel, offering the personal attention and comfort associated with a small, privately owned establishment. In the lounge there is a fully licensed bar with an adjoining Victorian conservatory overlooking the attractive country garden.
Commence with a steep climb up to the fascinating Chanctonbury Ring – a Bronze Age hill fort settlement with one or two ghost stories attached to it. The Way then drops steeply to cross the A24 road and then climbs once again for the leg above the town of Storrington, where beautiful Downland trails or a minor road from Chantry Post, can be used to make a pub diversion to this town. The trail etches its way over the fields and through pockets of forest to reach and descend to the attractive Triptych of villages: Amberley, Houghton and Bury on the lazily meandering River Arun. This is a beautiful rural setting, looking up at Downs rather than down from Ups.
Accommodation: Our accommodation offers home from home hospitality in a traditional inn with log fires.
The Way next follows flinty trails up Bury Hill, from where there is a footpath off The Downs to the Roman Villa remains at Bignor, and continues over Bignor Hill and its viewpoint (225m). There are many interesting historical features today including a couple of minutes on the Roman Road called Stane Street that connected Chichester with London. You could practice your navigation trying to find the Neolithic Camp just off of the route. Chichester Cathedral is also visible seaward. Descending into the Dry Valley of the A285, there is then a steep climb up to a point from where it is about 0.25 miles South (off route); to the highest point on the South Downs at Crown Tegleaze at 253 m. The route undulates across the scarp slope the Downs, soon entering dark and sometimes muddy woodland before dropping down to the A286 on Cocking Hill, from where it is a mile into Cocking village itself.
Accommodation: Stay at a splendid listed building dating back to 1815. Each room is decorated to the highest standard, retaining the original charm of the place, which also forms the popular village tearooms.
A convoluted section often on woodland trails. Interesting features, including the Devil’s Jumps tumuli, a group of large ancient burial hillocks. There is also Beacon Hill, an Iron Age Hill fort that you can pass over on the trail, which still has vestiges of the old ramparts and views towards Chichester Harbour. Next you will be winding around above the attractive villages of Harting with its impressive looking coppered church spire and then Buriton. You can decide whether to walk down to village. This is an attractive spring-line village with a series of ponds. The walk continues above Buriton, climbing and then descending through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. You then climb steeply up Butser Hill with Bronze Age field patterns etched upon it. The route then undulates over The Downs into some vast arable and wooded countryside, before dropping off route towards our accommodation near East Meon.
Accommodation: We are a little off the route, but we have found a nice guesthouse below the Downs. It is set in a three-acre garden, on a quiet country lane about half a mile above the picturesque Doomesday village. The house is surrounded by open farmland and most of the rooms have superb views of the Downs.
Once back on the route you have a steep climb up to “Old Winchester Hill,” a National Nature Reserve and Iron Age Fortress from where the Isle of Wight can be seen on a clear day. Descend beside a beautiful clear chalk stream in which you may see Brown Trout gliding about. At around lunchtime, the necklace of Meon Valley villages: Exton, Corhampton and Meonstoke (all within a mile of each other) are beautiful places to river watch as the Meon River flows idly by. The final half day is spent rolling over fields until Winchester comes into view.
Accommodation: Situated 200 metres from the Cathedral our guesthouse is close to the high street, shops, restaurants and pubs.
After breakfast you may wish to explore Winchester, a gem of a town - the ancient capital of England and the Kingdom of Wessex before that. The cathedral has the longest nave in Britain and there is a beautiful walk down through the water meadows to St. Cross. Where a “Dole” of bread and Ale can still be obtained from the monastic buildings. You should have plenty of time to look round before you leave or you may wish to book an extra night.
A wonderful range of terrain & experiences. Lovely scenery. Gorgeous villages full of history. We loved it! Terrific walking - challenging & interesitng. Sherpa are consistantly good, Trina is a treasure. Thank you for a great holiday. We'll be back.
M. O'Rourke, Auckland, NZ, 13 Jul 2016
Per Person, Twin Share