South Downs Way

The South Downs Way stretches for 100 miles from Winchester in Hampshire to the white cliffs of Eastbourne. Experience dramatic scenery and visit picturesque villages as you traverse the South Downs hills. Only an hour from London, this National Trail offers the perfect holiday escape.

This long distance path has a huge variety of scenery, from spectacular panoramic ridge top views to shady woodland walks, meandering rivers and picture postcard villages, complete with thatched cottages and traditional pubs. History is a constant companion in the South Downs with iron age forts, Roman villas, majestic castles and stately homes.

Most people walk from west to east as the wind is usually behind you and the walk across the cliff tops at Seven Sisters is a lovely way to finish your holiday. However you can start in Eastbourne and walk west to Winchester of course.

Winchester to Exton

The South Downs Way starts in the historic cathedral city of Winchester. You quickly leave the city behind and after 20 minutes pass through the pretty hamlet of Chilcomb before climbing up onto Cheesefoot Head with its fine views to the coast. Stop for refreshments at the Milburys pub in Beauworth before you reach Beacon Hill high above the Meon Valley. Stay overnight in Meonstoke village or transfer to the market town of Bishops Waltham.

Exton to Buriton

From Exton beside the River Meon you climb steadily up onto Old Winchester Hill iron age fort and nature reserve. On a clear day you have views to the Isle of Wight. Stop for a coffee at the interesting Sustainability Centre above East Meon before reaching Butser Hill, the highest point on the South Downs Way. From here the trail passes through the woodland of Queen Elizabeth Country Park to reach the pretty village of Buriton. You will be met and transferred to your inn at nearby Petersfield or South Harting.

Buriton to Cocking

Before leaving Buriton take a moment to explore the chalk pits of Buriton Hanger. From here the trail to Harting Downs follows a wide gravel track with good views between the trees to the north. Above South Harting you can take a short diversion to visit Uppark. After Harting Downs the South Downs Way enters woodland again and there is a remote feel to the trail, out of season you will have this section to yourself most days. Stay overnight in Cocking village or transfer to Midhurst or Chichester.

Cocking to Amberley

The climb out of Cocking after a large breakfast can be hard work. At the top you enter woodland again as you pass through Charlton Forest and Graffham Down. The trees thin out as you approach Bignor Hill. From here the views south to the coast are fabulous making this spot an idea place for a break. The long descent into the Arun Valley is magnifient with far reaching views to the east and south. Enjoy the evening in Amberley or transfer to Arundel to visit the impressive castle and cathedral.

Amberley to Bramber

As you climb out of the Arun Valley you leave behind the woodland of West Sussex. From here to Eastbourne the hills are more open and windswept and the views north and south unrestricted. Enjoy a pub lunch at Washington before climbing to the raised tree circle of Chanctonbury Ring. From here you pass Steyning Bowl before dropping into the Adur Valley. For accommodation there are small hotels in Bramber and Steyning.

Bramber to Lewes

The views throughout this day are terrific. The morning starts with a long gradual climb out of the Adur Valley to the top of Truleigh Hill before decending and climbing agin to the pub at Devils Dyke. This is a popular spot for paragliders. To the south Brighton and Hove seafronts can be seen. Further on you will pass the Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton and Ditchling Beacon before descending to the market town of Lewes with its narrow lanes and alleyways waiting to be explored.

Lewes to Alfriston

After a short transfer from Lewes back to the South Downs Way near Kingston you climb quickly back onto the ridge. The path sweeps gently down to Rodmell and Southease where you cross the River Ouse. Stop for refreshments at the YHA cafe before climbing again to Firle Beacon. This is another beautiful spot to sit and enjoy the views before you descend slowly into the beautiful village of Alfriston with its thatched cottages, shops, tearooms and pubs.

Alfriston to Eastbourne

The walk alongside the meandering Cuckmere River to the coast at Cuckmere Haven and then across the grassy tops of the rolling white chalk cliffs to Eastbourne is considered by many to be the highlight of their South Downs Way trip. There are cafes at Seven Sisters Country Park and Birling Gap and on Beachy Head you will find a pub with wonderful views down the coast. Your walk ends with a gentle descent to Eastbourne Promenade and your sea front hotel for the night.

Walk the South Downs Way in a single trip or divide the trail into several sections. Fit people and those walking for charity can try a 4-6 day challenge. We can provide minibus trail support and guiding for groups.

Winchester to Eastbourne

Walk from the ancient capital of Wessex on the western edge of the South Downs National Park to the white cliffs of Beachy Head high above Eastbourne staying in country hotels and inns along the trail.

7 Days

  • 1. Winchester to Exton, 12 miles
  • 2. Exton to Buriton, 12 miles
  • 3. Buriton to Graffham, 14 miles
  • 4. Graffham to Steyning, 20 miles
  • 5. Steyning to Lewes, 18 miles
  • 6. Lewes to Alfriston, 14 miles
  • 7. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles
  •  
  •  

8 Days

  • 1. Winchester to Exton, 12 miles
  • 2. Exton to Buriton, 12 miles
  • 3. Buriton to Cocking, 11 miles
  • 4. Cocking to Amberley, 13 miles
  • 5. Amberley to Bramber, 13 miles
  • 6. Bramber to Lewes, 16.5 miles
  • 7. Lewes to Alfriston, 14 miles
  • 8. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles
  •  

9 Days

  • 1. Winchester to Exton, 12 miles
  • 2. Exton to Buriton, 12 miles
  • 3. Buriton to Cocking, 11 miles
  • 4. Cocking to Amberley, 13 miles
  • 5. Amberley to Bramber, 13 miles
  • 6. Bramber to Ditchling, 12 miles
  • 7. Ditchling to Kingston, 11 miles
  • 8. Kingston to Alfriston, 12 miles
  • 9. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles

Walking Challenges

Many groups walk for charity or simply like to test themselves by walking the 100 miles as quickly as they can. The 4 day challenge is really tough and requires conditioned legs and feet. With up to 16 hours of daylight in the summer there is plenty of time each day to walk long distances.

4 Days

  • 1. Winchester to Buriton, 24 miles
  • 2. Buriton to Storrington, 25 miles
  • 3. Storrington to Rodmell, 25 miles
  • 4. Rodmell to Eastbourne, 25 miles
  •  
  •  

5 Days

  • 1. Winchester to Butser Hill, 20 miles
  • 2. Butser Hill to Bignor Hill, 20 miles
  • 3. Bignor Hill to Adur Valley, 20 miles
  • 4. Adur Valley to Southease, 20 miles
  • 5. Southease to Eastbourne, 20 miles
  •  

6 Days

  • 1. Winchester to East Meon, 18 miles
  • 2. East Meon to Cocking, 19 miles
  • 3. Cocking to Storrington, 17 miles
  • 4. Storrington to Ditchling, 20 miles
  • 5. Ditchling to Alfriston, 20 miles
  • 6. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles

The Trail in Sections

As the South Downs Way divides evenly into 4 sections of roughly 25 miles you can walk the whole trail over several trips, see FAQs for travel options to the start and end of each section. Before the trail was extended to Winchester the western terminus was at Buriton. Many people like to walk the original 76 mile route from Buriton close to the Hampshire/Sussex border to Eastbourne.

Winchester to Amberley

  • 1. Winchester to Exton, 12 miles
  • 2. Exton to Buriton, 12 miles
  • 3. Buriton to Cocking, 11 miles
  • 4. Cocking to Amberley, 13 miles
  •  
  •  

Amberley to Eastbourne

  • 1. Amberley to Bramber, 13 miles
  • 2. Bramber to Ditchling, 12 miles
  • 3. Ditchling to Kingston, 11 miles
  • 4. Kingston to Alfriston, 12 miles
  • 5. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles
  •  

Buriton to Eastbourne

  • 1. Buriton to Cocking, 11 miles
  • 2. Cocking to Amberley, 13 miles
  • 3. Amberley to Bramber, 13 miles
  • 4. Bramber to Lewes, 16.5 miles
  • 5. Lewes to Alfriston, 14 miles
  • 6. Alfriston to Eastbourne, 12 miles

We are often asked the following questions and hope that you will find the answers useful. Please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice or specific questions about the walk.

Most people walk from west to east as the prevailing wind is usually - but not always - from behind and the walk across the cliff tops at Seven Sisters is a lovely way to finish your holiday. However you can of course start in Eastbourne and finish in Winchester.

The south east of England has warmer temperatures throughout the year compared to all other areas of the UK. Perhaps the best time to visit is in spring and autumn. In April and May the meadows are awash with colour and in October and November the trees are very beautiful. There will be less competition for accommodation at these times too.

Spring, the months of March through to May, is generally a calm, cool and dry season. However, as the sun rises higher in the sky and the days grow longer, temperatures can rise relatively high but then tend to drop off again at night.

Summer, from June to August, is the warmest season and when there is least rainfall. Autumn lasts from September through to November. The season is notorious for being unsettled.

During the winter months of December, January and February the weather is generally cool, wet and windy. On a crisp clear winter morning the views can be terrific. However the days are much shorter.

The South Downs Way is very well signposted and the landscape is full of features so you are unlikely to use your compass.

The Harvey Map of the South Downs Way covers the whole trail on one convenient sheet. It's at a scale of 1:40000. It shows the trail very clearly but it does not cover a large area either side of the path. This means that you can miss many of the villages, places of interest and pubs that are just off the trail. It is also not much use should you become lost.

Ordnance Survey maps are very good but unfortunately you have to purchase lots of them to cover the whole South Downs Way. Landranger Maps are to a scale of 1:50000:

      Landranger 185 - Winchester and Basingstoke
      Landranger 197 - Chichester & the South Downs
      Landranger 198 - Brighton & Lewes
      Landranger 199 - Eastbourne & Hastings

We like the South Downs Way Adventure Series book of maps which shows the route on Ordnance Survey Explorer map tiles (1:25000).

For a guidebook we recommend the South Downs Way Trailblazer book.

There are several taps along the South Downs Way to refill water bottles. These are shown on the Harvey Map.

It's worth taking purification tablets with you as the taps are usually on farms.

In the summer months the days can be hot so take plenty of water. However, as this is England rain can be expected throughout the year so always carry a waterproof jacket.

The chalk ridge doesn't hold the water so heavy boots are not necessary except following prolonged wet weather. During winter exposed parts of the trail can be cold and windswept so dress appropriately.

  • Boots - above ankle walking boots with a ribbed sole
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Windproof trousers and jumper
  • Short trousers are useful in the summer
  • Hat: a sun hat in summer, a warm one at other times
  • Gloves - although not really needed for walkers in the summer
  • Water bottle or bladder, worth carrying 2 litres of water
  • Day pack for your guidebook and map, sandwiches, drinks, camera, etc
  • Large pack if you are not using our bag transfer service. If you decide to lighten the load during your trip give us a call.
  • Walking poles: feel no shame, they're great!
  • Foam mat to sit on although a plastic bag is just as good and much cheaper
  • Simple first aid kit and insect repellant
  • Water purification tablets
  • Comfortable shoes in case your boots begin to rub
  • Evening clothes for the restaurant, wash kit, night dress, slippers, etc

The level of fitness required depends on the distance you intend to travel each day and the weight of the rucksack you carry. Most active people can walk the South Downs Way in 8 or 9 days.

Although the path follows the South Downs chalk ridge you will still climb over 13,000 feet (4000 metres) between Winchester and Eastbourne. Add the extra ascents each morning to return to the ridge from your hotel or inn and you can see that a reasonable standard of fitness is required.

Avoid congestion by starting mid week, as most people begin at weekends and this creates accommodation bottlenecks along the trail.

Many people assume they will cover the same distance each day. You may find that the first and last days are when you feel the strongest and the middle of your trip is when you could benefit from resting a little.

Consider the off-trail distances. This is the distance you must travel away from the path each day to reach your hotel or inn. Remember you will need to cover the same distance the next morning to return to the path.

Our holidays include detailed itineraries that show both the on-trail and off-trail distances for each day. We also provide transfers to your accommodation where they are required.

We organise South Downs Way holidays for groups of 4 or more people. Please contact us to discuss your trip. We will provide any local information and advice you need. We will then email you an itinerary and quote for you to consider. When you are ready to book, we ask for a deposit payment of £20 per person if the services you are booking do not include accommodation and £100 per person if we are booking your rooms.

A schedule and statement describing your trip and the services we will provide will then be emailed to you as a PDF document for you to review.

If we are booking your rooms, four weeks before your trip starts we ask for the balance to be paid. We then pay the accommodation providers in advance of your visit. If we are not arranging your accommodation the balance is paid 7 days in advance.

During your trip please contact us on our 24 hour support number if you need help or advice. We are based locally so are close by should you need assistance.

For groups of 4 or more we organise South Downs Way walking holidays during the autumn and winter months, from October through to March. Luggage transfers, transport and trail support are expensive to provide at this time so we do ask for a minimum group size of 4 people.

Whether you are a local club arranging an annual event, a group of friends looking for a short break or holiday adventure or a family meeting up we can help with the organisation of your event.

We offer large discounts for group bookings, please contact us for prices.

Combining walking and cycling is becoming very popular. You can for example, cycle from Winchester to Lewes and then walk from Lewes to Eastbourne. Bicycles will be delivered to you in Winchester and collected in Lewes.

At Alfriston the South Downs Way splits: walkers head to the coast while cyclists enter Eastbourne via Jevington to the north. For this reason many prefer to walk the final section so that they don't miss the white cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park.

Heathrow airport to the west of London and Gatwick airport to the south of the city are the main points of entry for visitors from overseas. There are regular train services from the centre of London to Winchester, Petersfield (Buriton), Amberley, Lewes and Eastbourne. Bus travel throughout the South Downs National Park is quite limited so many find the minibus transport we provide helpful.

Winchester

Winchester is at the southern end of the A34 and beside the M3 motorway which joins London to the South Coast. There are long term car parks in the city centre. For groups we offer a collection service from your home.

There are regular train services from Winchester into London Waterloo via Woking and south to Southampton. National Express operate bus services between London Victoria and Winchester. The bus station is just 100 metres from the start of the South Downs Way.

Southampton is the closest airport to Winchester. There are hourly bus services from Heathrow to Winchester. Many customers, particularly those arriving at Gatwick, find our airport collection service very convenient.

Buriton

Buriton is a small village nestled at the foot of the South Downs ridge. The A3 dual carriageway that runs from South West London to Portsmouth passes nearby. A couple of miles to the north is the A272 is that joins Winchester with Midhurst and Petworth.

A short transfer or 3 mile walk from Buriton is the market town of Petersfield with its mainline train station. There are regular train services north to Haslemere, Guildford, Woking and London Waterloo and south to Havant and Portsmouth.

Gatwick and Heathrow airports are just over an hour from Buriton by road. There are train services from Gatwick airport to Petersfield via Guildford. For Heathrow airport take a train to Woking and then the connecting bus service.

Amberley

To the east of Amberley is the A24 that runs from South London to Worthing. To the south at Arundel you can join the A27, which joins Portsmouth with Brighton and Eastbourne.

Amberley train station is half a mile from the village and is actually at Houghton Bridge. From here there are train services to Arundel where you can connect with rail services along the south coast and north to London Victoria.

Gatwick is the closest airport to Amberley. There are train services from the airport to Amberley and Arundel. If you are arriving at Heathrow the easiest way to reach Amberley is using our minibus transfer service.

Lewes

There are good road connections into Lewes. From London take the A23 to Brighton and then the A27 east. The A27 continues to Eastbourne but it becomes a single carriageway at Lewes.

Lewes train station is in the centre of town. There are regular train services to Brighton. From there you can connect with trains to London Bridge and along the coast to Chichester and Portsmouth. There are also services to Eastbourne.

Gatwick airport has good train and road connections to Lewes. For Heathrow airport you will need to take a train into central London. Local taxi companies provide transfers or groups can book a minibus transfer with us.

Eastbourne

Eastbourne is connected to London via the A22 that passes through East Grinstead and Uckfield on its way to the coast. Hastings can be reached via the A259 coast road and Lewes using the busy A27.

There are regular train services to London via Lewes and Brighton. There are also train connections east to Hastings, Rye and Ashford in Kent. At Ashford you can take Eurostar train services to the continent.

Perhaps the easiest way to reach Gatwick airport is using the train. Local taxi services can provide efficient transfers to Heathrow and Gatwick airports. We can also provide a transfer service for groups.

Booking accommodation is by far the biggest challenge when organising a South Downs Way walking holiday. We have listed some of the better hotels and inns with links to TripAdvisor where you can read customer reviews and check prices and availability.

If you like an early start, when booking accommodation check the time breakfast is served in the morning. All should be able to provide packed lunches. For those finishing late, check when evening meals end. If you plan to arrive mid afternoon check country inns are open as many close between 3 and 6 pm.

There is plenty of choice in Winchester for all budgets although prices tend to fluctuate throughout the year and rooms can be in short supply during public holidays. Some hotels allow you to leave your car in their car park during your trip.

In the Meon Valley accommodation options are limited. The best is perhaps the Bucks Head in Meonstoke, a short walk from Exton. The George and Falcon in Warnford is a large inn that accepts dogs. It does require a diversion from the South Downs Way so purists who want to walk every metre of the trail will want to look elsewhere. A 15 minute taxi ride from Exton is the market town of Bishops Waltham, which has the Crown Inn and several pubs and restaurants to choose from.

The pretty market town of Petersfield is 2.9 miles off the trail, follow the Hangers Way from Buriton or phone for a taxi from the Five Bells pub. South Harting is at the bottom of Harting Down, 27 miles from Winchester.

Cocking has a pub and a tiny shop but little else. A bus or taxi ride along the Causeway (A286) takes you to the pleasant market town of Midhurst, which is worth considering if accommodation options in Cocking are limited. If you continue past Cocking there are two country pubs with accommodation at Charlton and Graffham.

Amberley in the Arun Valley at 46 miles from Winchester is a pretty village with a shop and two pubs. A little further along the South Downs Way you can descend to Storrington. This is a busy village with several restaurants, pubs and shops. At 51 miles from Winchester it is half way to Eastbourne. Just before you cross the busy A24 you can follow a bridleway south for 2.5 miles to Findon Village.

Steyning is a pretty village at the foot of the hills. There are shops, pubs and restaurants but the accommodation options are limited. In the neighbouring village of Bramber, 60 miles from Winchester, there is the Old Tollgate Best Western Hotel and the Castle Inn.

At Ditchling Beacon you can walk down to the village where there are two pubs, both with rooms, or phone for a taxi and enjoy a night out beside the coast at Brighton.

The historic town of Lewes is off the trail but worth the diversion. There are few other accommodation options in the neighbouring villages so most walkers find themselves in the town for a night. The best hotels are Pelham House and The Shelleys but prices tend to be high. The Dorset pub beside the Harveys Brewery is a popular choice.

In Alfriston village there are several hotels and inns to choose from. The village is compact so all are close to the trail. Prices fluctuate throughout the year and can be high during the summer months.

Eastbourne has a huge choice of hotels for all budgets so unless there is a large convention in town you should have no problems finding a room. The View Hotel and the Cavendish Hotel are on the sea-front close to the pier and town centre.

For groups of 4 or more people we can help organise your holiday or event and provide support services during your walk. These include group transport, luggage and group transfers each day, first aid support and an accommodation booking service.

Luggage Transfers

Your bags are collected each morning and moved between hotels and inns leaving you to enjoy each day without having to carry a heavy pack.

Group Transport

With our minibuses and trailers we can transport your group and luggage from your home or airport to the start and back to your parked cars, home or airport at the end.

Hotel Reservations

Due to the shortage of accommodation along the South Downs Way finding rooms for a group can be difficult. Our accommodation booking service can help.

Trail Support

For groups we can provide trail support. A driver and minibus will provide assistance when needed. Your luggage, hot and cold drinks and food will be available in the vehicle.

Guiding

Navigation along the South Downs Way is easy but some groups enjoy having a local guide walk with them to provide help, encouragement and local information.

Local Transfers

We can provide minibus transport between the trail and your accommodation. You will be met at the start and end of each day and transported between the trail and your hotel or inn.

The journey time between Eastbourne and Winchester for a minibus is approximately 2.5 hours although this varies depending on the time of day. At weekends and on public holidays the journey time can be longer.

If you are parking your car in Winchester, the closest long stay car park to the start of the South Downs Way is Chesil Street. We can meet you at the street level part of the car park to collect your luggage at the start of your trip and drop you back there from Eastbourne at the end.

Tell us about the trip you are planning and the services that you would like us to provide. We will then confirm availability of accommodation and vehicles and provide prices. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call to discuss your trip or group event.

The Trail

  • Distance: 99 miles / 160 kms
  • Ascent: 13200 feet / 4000 metres
  • Duration: 6-9 days
  • Start point: Winchester
  • End point: Eastbourne

Share

Highlights

St. Cross Hospital, Winchester, England

The medieval city of Winchester with its magnificent buildings

Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire South Downs, England

The green rolling hills and nature reserves of the Hampshire Downs

Arundel Castle and the River Arun, Sussex, England

Arundel's imposing castle, cathedral and pretty town centre

Devil's Dyke, Sussex, England

Devil's Dyke offers stunning panoramas across the Weald and south to the sea.

Alfriston, East Sussex, England

The pretty village of Alfriston in the Cuckmere Valley.

Seven Sisters Country Park, Sussex, England

The white chalk cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park before you enter Eastbourne