The South Downs Way runs through the heart of the South Downs National Park, stretching some 100 miles from historic Winchester to the coastal resort of Eastbourne. This is some of the finest, most unspoilt countryside that England has to offer, yet it’s less than an hour from London. Our South Downs Way visitor information pages give information on walking routes, cycle routes and places to visit.
When the first settlers arrived in this area around 6,000 years ago, they and their descendants understandably preferred the drier, safer hills to the swampy Weald below. This accounts for the long, clearly marked tracks over the South Downs, which were used by generations of settlers, including Bronze Age traders and Romans.
Nowadays, the comparatively flat landscape of the Hampshire & Sussex Weald is somewhat more welcoming than it was and the well maintained and clearly signposted South Downs Way is ideal for walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike. There is good access to all parts of the route and there’s plenty of accommodation and places to stop for lunch. Although there are some steep climbs, it’s realistically achievable for anyone with a decent level of fitness.
On days of clear visibility the walk across the chalk downlands of Sussex and Hampshire brings spectacular rewards – you can gaze across the English Channel and inland across the endless patchwork of fields, forests and villages of the Weald. You should also allow time for detours as there is a great deal to see close to the route, including numerous sites of historical interest, not to mention some outstanding pubs.
The South Downs Way takes you through a wonderfully varied landscape of woodland, chalk downs, arable farmland, meandering rivers, ancient forts and castles and picture postcard, traditional english villages. You can choose to walk, cycle or ride a small part of the way or if you are up for a challenge you can take on the whole route.
The South Downs Way is Britain’s oldest long distance bridleway and you can’t help but feel the sense of history around you. You’ll either start or end in the historic city of Winchester, once the Capital of England. Take some time to wonder through the ancient splendour of this beautiful city, particularly the awe inspiring cathedral. The path will also take you past the historic towns of Arundel and Lewes with their imposing castles visible from the way.
You can walk or cycle the South Downs Way in either direction and both have their plus points. On balance, we’d recommend walking east from Winchester to Eastbourne. The prevailing wind is more likely to be at your back and the finale of the spectactular Seven Sisters and Beachy Head is hard to beat!
South Downs Way Route Guide
South Downs Way Highlights
- The cathedral city of Winchester.
- Old Winchester hill – great views and there is a fine Iron Age hill-fort site at the top.
- Butser Hill – highest point on the South Downs Way at 270 metres.
- Queen Elizabeth Country Park – large area of beautiful mixed woodland.
- Harting Down – fantastic views across the Weald, it’s possible to see the North Downs on a clear day.
- Bignor Roman Villa – dating back to 3rd Century AD, with amazingly preserved mosaic floors. It’s 1.5 miles from the South Downs Way and just off the old Roman road Stane Street.
- Amberley village – one of the prettiest villages in the South Downs, just off the way.
- Arundel with its magnificent castle and cathedral
- Chanctonbury Ring – said to be haunted, it’s the site of an Iron Age hill-fort dating back to the 6th Century BC. Fantastic views out to sea and along the downs.
- River Adur – views south towards the stunning hillside Abbey at Lancing College.
- Fulking Hill – spectacular 360° views.
- Devils’s Dyke – legend has it that the Devil dug the valley to drown the parishioners of the Weald.
- Jack & Jill Windmills – famous local landmarks that can be seen from miles around.
- Ditchling Beacon – heading east from here, there are fantastic views inland across the weald and towards ashdown forest.
- Iford Hill – great views inland towards Mount Caburn to the north and the sea to the south.
- Monk’s House, Rodmell – this was the home of Virginia Woolf, now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.
- The picture postcard village of Alfriston, right on the way.
- Windover Hill – great spot for expansive views.
- Cuckmere Valley – where the river Cuckmere meanders it’s way to the sea.
- Seven Sisters – iconic, glorious coastal scenery, arguably the highlight of the whole South Downs Way.
- Beachy Head – spectacular chalk cliff jutting into the English channel with fine views west across the Seven Sisters and east over Eastbourne and beyond.