About the Trail
What is the South Downs Way?
The 100 miles (160 Km) long South Downs Way National Trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. The route provides the visitor with the opportunity “to get away from it all” without having to travel too far in this busy part of England. The undulating route provides a wonderful trip for long distance riders as well as walkers. It also provides interesting day trips and short breaks.
How long does it take to complete the Trail?
Most people take 8 or 9 days to walk the whole 100 miles (160km) at 12 – 15 miles (25km) a day.
It’s worth considering if you are walking that the villages where accommodation is are at the foot of the hill so you’ll have to walk down in the evening and up in the morning.
To cycle the South Downs Way takes 2 or 3 days if you are used to off road cycling. It is possible to do it in a day but that’s an extreme challenge! There’s about 12,600ft (3800m) of climb as well as the 100 miles (160km) of distance.
How hard is it?
Anyone who is reasonably fit can walk the South Downs Way – if you can comfortably walk say 12 miles (20km) in a day you shouldn’t have a problem. You’ll enjoy it more if you do a few long day walks beforehand to get fitter.
You should be used to off road cycling before you commit yourself to cycling the South Downs Way – doing it in anything less than 3 days will require quite a high degree of fitness.
The South Downs Way is much more of a challenge for horse riders because of the road crossings and logistics of accommodation for horses.
Exploring the Trail
How do I get to the South Downs Way?
The South Downs Way can easily be reached by public transport with airports, ferry ports, bus and rail stations all within a short distance.
For detailed rail information please see www.nationalrail.co.uk
You can find up-to-date public transport information including a journey planner at www.traveline.info
Where can I stay on the Trail?
We recommend that you book your accommodation in advance – it can get very busy at some times of the year. You can view accommodation close to the Trail here.
Can I camp along the Trail?
There are numerous campsites along the trail which enable you to complete the whole Trail using camp sites, but do remember that some sites are a little way off the Trail. You can view campsites on the interactive map here.
Can I get my bags carried or my accommodation booked?
What is the best time of year to walk on the Trail?
The South Downs Way can be enjoyed at any time of the year. However it does get busier during school holidays and on weekends between May and September you should expect to come across larger organised events.
Which direction should I walk it in?
You can do it in either direction, and of course you don’t have to do the whole Trail in one go anyway. The guidebook is written from east to west, starting at Eastbourne and ending at Winchester. The Trail Officer’s personal recommendation is to do it the other way, start in the west and head east, ending at Eastbourne. There are two reasons for this; one is that the wind will be behind you rather than in your face. More importantly the Hampshire countryside is very attractive but the white chalk cliffs at Beachy Head are spectacular.
What should I take with me?
Keep the weight of your rucsack to a minimum – or alternatively take advantage of one of the baggage carrying services that operate on the Trail.
As a minimum you will need to carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Be properly equipped, take waterproofs and spare warm clothing. Wear robust walking boots. Take an emergency pack including whistle, torch, first aid kit, survival bag and spare rations. Don’t wear denim jeans – they don’t dry if they get wet. Plan your route properly – be aware of escape routes in the event of an accident. Make sure somebody knows your plans.
It is also worth remembering that except for a few exceptions most pubs, cafes and shops are off the Trail, therefore you should take some snacks and drink with you to ensure you don’t get caught out.
You should carry sufficient water with you for each day’s requirements – it is strongly advised that if you take water from streams then you should use purification equipment.
Will I have mobile phone and internet access?
Mobile phone reception is generally good. Most of the Trail follows an open ridgeline and has mobile phone reception. Areas with no reception are short and a few minutes walk will find you back in signal.
Some accommodation providers offer Wi-Fi. If this is important to you please check when booking.
Is there signage on the South Downs Way?
The UK is unique in having a network of paths that the public can use, this is the Public Rights of Way network. You can see these paths on Ordnance Survey maps.
National Trails are signed with an acorn symbol and/or the Trail name which you will see on stiles, gates and signposts. This is the symbol used by all the English and Welsh National Trails.
As you are walking along the Trail you will also see waymarkers pointing to other paths. You can use the public rights of way network to leave the Trail to explore places of interest, reach your accommodation and find places to eat and drink.
You will often find a coloured arrow on signs which indicates the status of that section of path. The most common are yellow arrows which are footpaths and blue which are bridleway.
Can I download a GPX file?
Maps, Guidebooks and Merchandise
Can I get a guidebook and map for the Trail?
The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the National Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.
Can I get a certificate if I complete the Trail?