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. 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, 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 18 miles / 29 km. From 4 to 7 hours walking.
Make your own way to Winchester. You may wish to spend some extra time to explore this 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.
Accommodation: We use a variety of accommodation in this busy town.
The route ascends out from Winchester, old England’s Saxon capital, onto the downs at Chilcomb - an old manorial parish. Until the Meon Valley the scenery is undulating and agricultural, a warm up without being dramatic. You reach the attractive Meon valley via Beacon Hill with its rare spring and summer plant life. The Hampshire Downs then open up and roll on as you pass field after field.
At around lunchtime, the necklace of Meon Valley villages: Exton, Corhampton and Meonstoke are all within a mile of each other and are beautiful places to river watch and to quaff beer by as the Meon River is a real gem! The River Meon is a very healthy, clean chalk stream. The climb from here up towards Old Winchester Hill is long and steep in its latter stages, so take your time. To start with, ascend beside a beautiful clear chalk stream in which you may see Brown Trout gliding about. The site is a National Nature Reserve and Iron Age fortress from where the Isle of Wight can be seen on a clear day.
Accommodation: Ye Olde George Inn is a delightful 15th century coaching inn, The River Meon runs by the side of the inn.
From East Meon, climb back onto the downs. The route then undulates into some vast arable and wooded countryside passing the strange village of Mercury Park. The Way climbs over Butser Hill with Bronze Age field patterns etched upon it. The path then descends through the Queen Elizabeth Country Park. You'll be winding around above the attractive villages of Buriton and South Harting.
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.
The route undulates across the scarp slope of the Downs, soon entering dark and sometimes muddy woodland before ascending to the highest point on the South Downs near CrownTegleaze at 253m. Descending into the dry valley, there is then a steep climb over Burton Down and then Bignor Hill (225m); where there is a footpath off The Downs to the Roman Villa remains at Bignor. Descend very steeply to cross a footbridge over the River Arun and into Amberley along New Barn Road. Here you are in an 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. 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 the route. Chichester Cathedral is also visible seaward at some points.
Accommodation: Our accommodation offers home form home hospitality in a traditional inn with log fires.
Walking steeply up to rejoin the route. The trail etches its way with views over the River Arun, fields and through pockets of forest continuing above Storrington before dropping 100m to Washington. The trail climbs once again to reach the fascinating Chanctonbury Ring – a Bronze Age hill fort settlement with one or two ghost stories attached to it. A bit more undulating and you end with a steep descent into Steyning,
Accommodation: Once a Georgian Merchant's house, built in 1772, it has been sympathetically converted into a charming ten bedroom B&B hotel. In the lounge there is a fuly licensed bar with an adjoining Victorian conservatory overlooking the attractive country garden.
From Steyning, ascend back to the downs. Follow the footpaths to the east of the town such as the ‘Downs Link Path’ from Bramber along the Valley of the Adur to the hills or the ‘Monarch’s Way’ through Upper Beeding and back up onto the downs. Watch out for ancient historical features such as Tumuli burial mounds and cross dykes. Passing another great viewpoint at Edburton Hill, the way undulates to over 200 metres, before descending around the ‘Devil’s Dyke’ – said to be the World’s largest chalk dry valley. There is a modern pub restaurant here which does bar and restaurant food, great views and circular walks that you can do if you want to spend more time on the heights. Via Saddlescombe there is a steep ascent over Westhill bringing you then steeply down to village of Pyecombe.
Accommodation: We use a number of guesthouses in the village.
Ascend out of Pyecombe near Clayton, passing lark filled skies and the white “Jack and Jill“ Clayton windmills greet you. Today, following mainly grassy tracks, you go over the highest point directly on the route at Ditchling Beacon 248 m. You may find an ice cream van up here in summer. There are no real difficulties today, although the climb up from the road is pretty steep. The South Downs Way undulates between large fields and long slopes, until you reach the River Ouse gap near Rodmell. Before the trail descends to Southease and into Rodmell. Fans of the Bloomsbury group of Bohemian artists, will be delighted to know that Rodmell Village has a pub and the “Monk’s House” is where Virginia Woolf used to live.
Accommodation: There is limited accommodation in the village, and our small guesthouse will make you more than welcome.
Today's walk is quite brief, so there is plenty of time to enjoy a late breakfast and spend extra time in Rodmell. Today you cross the valley of the River Ouse and steeply ascend steeply back up the South Downs to the Firle Beacon 217 m and another great viewpoint. As you do have plenty of time, you may consider coming off the hills to visit the villages of west Firle, Alciston and Berwick. These tiny villages all have associations with the Bloomsbury Group and Berwick Church has some interesting paintings.
Accommodation: 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!
From Alfriston follow the meandering aquamarine elegance of the Cuckmere River firstly along the river bank and then by the village of Litlington, the path then takes you up onto the downs above the river, passing points where you can appreciate its meanders. At Cliff End you turn to the East and follow the roller-coaster trail over The Seven Sisters, a series of iconic chalk cliffs to Beachy Head with its famous lighthouse. From here the trail continues on beside the sea before descending steeply off the hills via Holywell. Finally enter the outskirts of Eastbourne and walk along the Victorian Promenade to the Victorian Pier which makes an appropriate place to end the South Downs Way. You may wish to book another night to relax and maybe take a dip in the sea.
Accommodation: A friendly Edwardian guesthouse offering bed and breakfast. Situated in a quiet residential area of Eastbourne fantastic position near to the sea, only a couple of minutes walk from the promenade and a 15 minute walk Eastbourne town centre and railway station. Especially over the weekend we will use several different guesthouses in this busy seaside town.
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