No luggage transfers available on the South Downs Way
The South Downs Way, stretching 100 miles over a rare large area of Outstanding natural Beauty in crowded Southern Britain, generally follows the chalk (soft limestone) ridge just to the north of the popular seaside towns on the Sussex and Hampshire coast. At intervals the chalk down is broken by "Wind gaps" - river valleys, breaking the ridge walking with some meandering visits to beautiful rivers such at the Cuckmere, Arun. Ouse and Meon with all 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 few 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.
As it is so near the major population centres of Southern Britain, the route has good transport links to the start and from the end. It can be done over a long weekend for strong walkers or a 10 day walk for those who want to take their time.
There is not a lot of accommodation actually on the trail, and so you should bear in mind that as well as the distance of each day stage, you may have to walk an extra mile or two to your accommodation and hence back again to the route on the following morning. Some accommodations maybe prepared (perhaps at extra cost) to pick you up and return you in the morning, for instance if you were staying at Lewes, you may come off the Way onto the busy A27 for 2.5 miles, and a pick up would be most welcome. Way marking is generally excellent with the white acorn mark on posts and stiles at intervals. Please bear in mind that the trail can be very warm in summer, and there are long sections where it will be difficult finding water, so carry capacity two litres. Also except for in wet and muddy conditions, and especially in Summer, the trail is generally free draining and firm, so spare a thought for your feet and bring lightweight, well-cushioned boots, if you are used to walking in them. Rain and strong cold winds however can be expected at any time of year, so make sure you bring a rain shell and fleece.
Stage 1: Eastbourne to Alfriston 11 miles
With the Beautiful white Cliffs of Beachy Head, The Seven Sisters, the meandering aquamarine elegance of the Cuckmere River, on the pedestrian route and some interesting villages beside, today probably has more scenic variety than any other. Starting at the popular seaside resort of Eastbourne, the trail splits into two nearby; there is a footpath along the cliffs Beachy Head and a bridleway past Jevington and the ancient chalk carving of the Long Man of Wilmington. Both are mostly along open downland paths. (Our profile refers to the Walking coastal route NOT the bridleway). The footpath trail passes through the Cuckmere Valley and Alfriston village, both very scenic although they can get busy at the height of the summer season. The bridleway has more superb views, especially to the far east where the view extends along the crescent of Pevensey Bay to Hastings and Dungeness. We would recommend walkers however to take the coastal footpath route, which although is about 5 km longer, has great scenery!
Stage 2: Alfriston
to the A27 (for Lewes) 14 miles
From the beauty of the Cuckmere River at Alfriston, The Way rises up onto the High Downs reaching a high point on this section at Firle Beacon. There are not really any services on the route until you reach the River Ouse gap near Rodmell. This is unless you elect to drop off the Downs and visit places such as Alciston, Berwick and West Firle with various pubs and teashops. Fans of the Bloomsbury group of Bohemian artists will be keen to make this diversion. After the Ouse the trail climbs around Kingston and then drops again to the A27, from where it is 2.5 miles to the historic town of Lewes.
A27 ( Lewes) to Devilís Dyke / Fulking 12 miles
This section takes you up onto the highest parts of the Downs, round the back of the Brighton Worthing conurbation, following mainly grassy tracks. You go over the highest point on the route at Ditchling Beacon regular (weekend buses from here down to Brighton during the summer). There are not many places to eat or drink at enroute, but there is a very welcome pub at the Devilís Dyke, serving food throughout the year and you may find an ice cream van here as well as at the Beacon. The white "Jack and Jill" Clayton windmills are also an attractive feature of the walk.
Stage 4: Devilís Dyke / Fulking to Storrington 14 miles
The route descends via Upper Beeding and the Youth Hostal at Tottington Barn To the Ardur River Valley from where Shoreham by Sea can be reached to the South. There follows a lovely stretch of The Downs with great views down to the villages below and ancient historical features abound such as Tumuli burial mounds, cross dykes and the fascinating Chanctonbury Ring Ė a Bronze Age hill fort settlement with one or two ghost stories attached to it. The Way drops steeply to cross the A24 and then climbs once again for the leg above the town of Storrington, where beautiful downland trails or a minor road can be used to descend to the services of this town.
Storrington to Cocking 12
From above Storrington the trail etches 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. There are great opportunities for a bar crawl between the villages, excellent ale and accommodation. 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 justfont-family:Arial;font-style: 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.
Stage 6: Cocking to Buriton 11 miles
Quite a convoluted and tiring section especially in bad weather when some of the woodland trails maybe very muddy and slippery. No real chance of enroute refreshment unless you drop off the way, but there is pubs at Elsted and Harting a bit to the North. There are some interesting features, including the Devilís 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.
Stage 7: Buriton
to Exton 12.5miles
Until 1989, Buriton was the end of the route, but now it has been extended another 25 miles. From above Buriton, The Way climbs and then descends through the Queen Elizabeth Country park. There is a cafť and public Toilets. You then pass under the A3, and climb steeply up Butser Hill with Bronze Age field patterns etched upon it. The route then undulates over The Downs into some vast arable countryside. Then it is a steep 100-meter climb up to "Olí Winchester Hill," a National Nature Reserve from where the isle of Wight can be seen on a clear day. Descend to Exton (if walking) beside a beautiful clear chalk stream in which you may see Brown Trout gliding about. At the end of the section, The necklace of Meon Valley villages: Exton, Corhampton and Meonstoke are all within a mile of each other and are beautiful places to stay around and to quaff beer by as the Meon River is a real gem!
Stage 8: Exton to
Winchester 12 miles
This last section, perhaps the least interesting scenically and historically, stretches from the Meon valley up 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. Hopefully you will have some variety by reaching the "Milburys" pub when it is open around lunchtime. Via the old Manorial parish of Chilcomb and crossing over the busy A272, you arrive at ye old Saxon capital of fayre England: Winchester. Home of Alfred The Great, the Roundtable (a mediaeval creation), and the Cathedral with the longest Knave, but one of the shortest towers in Britain.
Arriving by Train: The start of the South Downs Way is on the outskirts of Eastbourne in East Sussex, reached by trains from London Victoria (approx 2 per hour, less Sundays) Journey time 1.25 hours. Up to the minute information regarding departure times, journey times and details of prices, is available from British Rail information on 08457 484950 (24 hour service, local rate call within UK), or visit www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Departing by train at the end of the tour: The South Downs Way ends at Winchester in Hampshire. From here there are trains to London Waterloo. There are as many as 4 services an hour taking just over an hour. Services are direct.
Most convenient international airport: Gatwick. From the airport there are hourly direct trains to Eastbourne taking 51 mins. From Winchester to Gatwick at the end there are several possible trains leaving each hour, changing variously at Woking, Basingstoke, Cosham and Clapham Junction. Journey times around 2 hours.
Arriving by car:
To reach Eastbourne by car from London take A22 off the M25 motorway at junction 6 (direction East Grinstead). The A22 goes all the way to Eastbourne, where there is plenty of public parking at this busy holiday town.
Return journey to Eastbourne at the end of the tour:
If you need to go back to Eastbourne, you are advised to return by train from Winchester, there is normally an hourly service, sometimes twice an hour (less on Sundays) changing at Clapham Junction and sometimes also at Basingstoke. Journey times: 2.15 Ė 3 hours.