South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a long distance footpath and bridleway running along the South Downs in southern England. It is one of 16 National Trails in England and Wales. The trail runs for 160 km (100 mi) from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex, with about 4,150 m (13,620 ft) of ascent and descent.[2]

South Downs Way
South Downs Way, towards Chanctonbury Ring
South Downs Way, looking towards Chanctonbury Ring
Length161 km (100 mi)
LocationSouth Eastern England, United Kingdom
DesignationUK National Trail
TrailheadsWinchester Hampshire
51°03′47″N 1°18′25″W / 51.063°N 1.307°W
Eastbourne, East Sussex
50°45′04″N 0°16′08″E / 50.751°N 0.269°E
UseHiking, Cycling
Elevation change4,150 m (13,620 ft)
Highest pointButser Hill, 270 m (890 ft)[1]
Hiking details
SeasonAll year
SightsLong Man of Wilmington, Chanctonbury Ring


People have been using the paths and tracks that have been linked to form the South Downs Way for approximately 8000 years. They were a safer and dryer alternative to those in the wetter lowlands throughout the mesolithic era. Early occupation in the area began 2000 years after that in the neolithic era.[3] Early inhabitants built tumuli in places on the hills and hill forts later, once tribal fighting became more common. Old Winchester Hill is an example of one of these hill forts along the path.[4] The trail was probably used by the Romans, despite the fact that they built one of their roads across the path at Stane Street (Chichester), this use possibly evidenced by the existence of Bignor Roman Villa[5] near Bury, nearby the path.

Of medieval historical interest, the village of Lomer, now only visible as a few small bumps in the ground,[6] was most likely abandoned during the plague in the 14th century.[7] The flat plain to the north of the South Downs Way, where it passes Lewes, is the site of the Battle of Lewes fought by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester and Henry III during the Second Barons' War.

Ditchling Beacon probably due to its height, had for centuries been used to warn local inhabitants of pending invasion. Again during the Tudor period the beacon was utilized to warn Queen Elizabeth I of the Spanish Armada which could be seen coming up the channel.[8]

One particular oddity, The Long Man of Wilmington, can be found only a few metres off the path and down the hill as the path nears one end in Eastbourne. Recent study has shown that it was most likely created in the sixteenth or seventeenth century AD possibly posing more questions than it answers regarding its meaning.[9] Yet still it attracts its fair share of Neo-Druidism and other pagan interest with rituals and festival held there commonly.[10]

During the Second World War much of the south coast of England was fortified with pillboxes, tank obstacles and machine gun posts in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, the plan for which was known to the Nazis as Operation Sealion. These objects can be seen closer to the sea and require a diversion. The closest and probably best site is Newhaven Fort, a 5-mile diversion from the path, which is an attraction that houses many World War II artefacts and documents with impressive examples of the huge cannons used in coastal defence.[11]


The undulating path begins in Winchester Hampshire, and passes Cheesefoot Head, the towns of Petersfield and Arundel, the villages of Storrington and Steyning, Devil's Dyke viewpoint near Brighton, followed by Ditchling Beacon and miles of chalk downland across to Beachy Head, and finally ending in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Some through walkers walk the trail west to east, and some choose to walk it east to west. The trail is popular with a wide array of walkers, including day walkers, overnighters, and through hikers.

Several youth hostels are along the route to accommodate walkers. It also passes Birling Gap, a beach area with hotel and restaurant.

Most of the route is on bridleways, permitting access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. Occasional short sections are on roads or byways, and these are the only parts on which motor vehicles are permitted. Some sections are on footpath, and in these places an alternative signed route via road or bridleway is provided for cyclists. The footpath sections are mostly short, but between Alfriston and Eastbourne there is an extended footpath section including the Seven Sisters cliffs, for which the bridleway alternative is several miles inland.


The South Downs Way lies within the South Downs National Park, mostly on high chalk downland of the Hampshire Downs and the South Downs. The easternmost section is on the high chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters, Sussex. Apart from at the end points, the way keeps to relatively isolated rural areas and some villages, although it passes within a few miles of Brighton and Lewes.

Endurance events

Various running and cycling events are held along the route; including the British Heart Foundation's annual randonée. Part or all of the 100 miles is cycled to raise funds for heart disease research, the fastest times are sub 8 hours with most riders taking under 14 hours.

Part of the South Downs Way is used for Oxfam's Trailwalker, the UK's 'toughest team charity challenge'. It is a non-stop 100 km endurance event along the South Downs Way to raise money for Oxfam and the Gurkha Welfare Trust.[12]

The full 100 miles is run non-stop on foot as part of the 'Centurion South Downs Way 100'; course records are held by (male) Mark Perkins 14 hrs 3 mins, and (female) Jean Beaumont 16 hrs 56 mins.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "South Downs Way - National Trails".
  2. ^ The bridleway route is 8 km (5.0 mi) shorter. National Trails website.
  3. ^ National Trail - History of the Trail.
  4. ^ Ibid.
  5. ^ "Bignor Roman Villa, site of fine Roman mosaics in West Sussex: Home Page".
  6. ^ Picture of the site of the abandoned village at Lomer.
  7. ^ Op Cit, National Trail.
  8. ^ Starmer-Smith, By Charles. "The Lycra Files: Around Britain by bike - Brighton".
  9. ^ Article by Martin Bell, "Not so long ago", British Archaeology, Issue 77, July 2004.
  10. ^ A Neo-Druid group, the Anderida Gorsedd, have been holding rituals at the Long Man regularly since 2000.[1]
  11. ^ Newhaven Fort Website.
  12. ^ "Trailwalker UK". 2010. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  • Millmore, Paul (2010), South Downs Way (National Trail Guides), London: Aurum Press, ISBN 1845135652. Route indicated using OS maps.
  • OS Explorer Maps (1:25,000) 120, 121, 122, 123, 132
  • OS Landranger Maps (1:50,000) 185, 197, 198, 199

External links

Beacon Hill, Warnford, Hampshire

There are two hills in Hampshire called Beacon Hill; the other one is near BurghclereBeacon Hill, Warnford, Hampshire is a chalk hill in the South Downs on the boundary of the parishes of Warnford and Exton. Part of the hill is a national nature reserve and 44.8 hectares (111 acres) biological SSSI, first notified in 1979.

Bignor Hill

Bignor Hill is a hill near Bignor in Sussex. The South Downs Way passes over the hill. Near the summit are the remains of a memorial to Toby Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, the secretary of the Cowdray Hounds; this is called Toby's Stone. There is an old Celtic legend that a dragon had its lair on top of the hill and its remains can be seen in the folds of the ground. The Roman road of Stane Street runs by the hill.


Botolphs, formerly called Annington, is a tiny village in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England. It is in the Adur Valley 1.5 miles (2.4 km) southeast of Steyning on the road between Steyning and Coombes. Botolphs lies on the South Downs Way long distance footpath. At the 2011 Census the population of the village is included in the civil parish of Bramber.

Cheesefoot Head

Cheesefoot Head () is a large natural amphitheatre (also known as Matterley Bowl) and beauty spot just outside Winchester, England. It is situated on the A272 road (South Downs Way), and is rated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are three bowl barrows on the site.During the Second World War boxing events were held here for the entertainment of American troops stationed locally, and prior to D-Day, General Eisenhower addressed those troops.Cheesefoot Head is regularly the site of crop circles, though at least one year there was an outline of a footballer. The now defunct Homelands music festival was held in Matterley Bowl annually. In addition, The Glade music festival was held here in 2009. More recently, the site has hosted the BoomTown Fair.


Chilcomb is a small village and civil parish in the English county of Hampshire 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Winchester and includes the South Downs Way long distance footpath.

Devil's Dyke, Sussex

Devil's Dyke is a 100m deep V-shaped valley on the South Downs Way in southern England, near Brighton and Hove. It is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Beeding Hill to Newtimber Hill. Devil's Dyke was a major local tourist attraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Downs Link

The Downs Link is a 36.7 miles (59.1 km) footpath and bridleway linking the North Downs Way at St. Martha's Hill in Surrey with the South Downs Way near Steyning in West Sussex and on via the Coastal Link to Shoreham-by-Sea.

East Hampshire AONB

East Hampshire Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England was designated in 1962. The designation was revoked in March 2010, together with the neighbouring Sussex Downs AONB, upon the establishment of the South Downs National Park. The southern part of the area is mainly rolling chalk downland used for farming that is a westward extension of the Sussex Downs. The north and east includes steep wooded hills and heathland.

Features include: Petersfield, the Rother valley, Warnford and West Meon. Four National Nature Reserves and many several Sites of Special Scientific Interest fall within the AONB. The Hanger's Way, South Downs Way, Staunton Way and Wayfarer's Walk long distance paths pass through it.

Notable hills include Butser Hill near Petersfield, Beacon Hill and Old Winchester Hill near Corhampton and St Catherine's Hill and Cheesefoot Head near Winchester.

There was controversy in 1994 when a new stretch of the M3 motorway was cut through Twyford Down, separating St Catherine's Hill from the main AONB.

East Meon

East Meon is a village and civil parish in the East Hampshire district of Hampshire, England. It is 4.4 miles (7.1 km) west of Petersfield.

The village is located in the Meon Valley approximately 31 km (19 mi) north of Portsmouth and 98 km (61 mi) southwest of London, on the headwaters of the River Meon. The parish has an area of 11,370 acres (46.0 km2). The boundaries of the present parish of East Meon date back to 1894.

About a mile to the west rises the prominent hill of Henwood Down (201 m). The South Downs Way passes over the southern spur of the hill. Petersfield railway station is the nearest station, 4 miles (6.4 km) east of the village.

Exton, Hampshire

Exton is a small village and civil parish in the Winchester district of Hampshire, England. The village lies in the South Downs National Park, on the west bank of the River Meon, immediately to the north of Corhampton. It is located two miles north of Droxford and five miles north-east of Bishop's Waltham. Its name first appears in 940 as East Seaxnatune, meaning "farmstead of the East Saxons".The parish straddles the Meon Valley, including higher ground of the South Downs to either side, with Old Winchester Hill to the east and the southern part of Beacon Hill (shared with Warnford parish) to the west. It is crossed from east to west by the South Downs Way long distance footpath. The A32 and the Meon Valley Railway footpath cross from north to south.

The parish contains numerous archaeological sites including a Mesolithic flint working site, Bronze Age bowl barrows and the Iron Age fort at Old Winchester Hill. There are also Roman and Dark Age sites and the site of the mediaeval village of Lomer. The 13th-century church of St Peter and St Paul was heavily restored in the 19th century.Exton has remained a small community for more than two centuries. In 1801 Exton's total population was 224, by 1901 it had grown slightly to 299 yet by 2001 the population had shrunk to 230 and again to 203 at the 2011 Census. Photographs from the 1950s show a village shop and post office in Exton but this closed in the 1960s. The only community buildings in the village are the church and the Shoe Inn public house.

In 1870-72, John Goring's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales described Exton like this:

"EXTON, a village and a parish in Droxford district, Hants. The village stands 2 miles N by E of Droxford, and 5 NE of Bishops-Waltham r. station; and has a post office under Southampton. The parish comprises 2,464 acres (10 km²). Real property, £2,640. Pop., 257. Houses, 41. Exton Lodge is a principal residence. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Winchester. Value, 331.* Patron, the Bishop of Winchester. The church was rebuilt in 1847, and is in the early English style. "

In a South Downs Way

In a South Downs Way is the first studio album in the recording series Walk Upon England, a project which celebrates the countryside as a source of creativity in music and poetry. The album was composed by Damian Montagu and co-produced and co-arranged with Stewart Prosser. It comprises tracks evocative of the South Downs, written for strings, piano and brass, with Hugh Bonneville narrating his own original writing.

Itchen Valley

Itchen Valley is a civil parish in the English county of Hampshire.

Forming part of the City of Winchester district, it comprises the villages of Avington, Easton, Itchen Abbas and Martyr Worthy, with a population of 1,267 at the time of the 2001 Census. increasing at the 2011 Census to a population of 1,459.It is to the northeast of Winchester and takes its name from the River Itchen. The parish is crossed by the M3 motorway, and contains Winchester services. The main West/East route through the parish is the B3047. East bound from Winchester the B3047 enters the parish at Worthy Park and exits it at a point approx. 300m East of Rectory Lane, Itchen Abbas .Largely rural in character, the parish is crossed by designated walking paths and riding routes including the Itchen Way, King's Way, Pilgrims' Way, St. Swithun's Way, South Downs Way, Three Castles Path and Oxdrove Way.


Saddlescombe is a hamlet in the Newtimber Parish of Mid Sussex district of West Sussex, England. It lies on the road from Poynings to Brighton, 5.4 miles (8.7 km) northwest of Brighton.

Saddlescombe Farm is a busy little hamlet sitting at the base of the Downs which is owned by the National Trust along with the surrounding countryside. Listed as a working farm since the Domesday Book and having belonged to the Knights Templar for around 100 years - there are plenty of historic buildings to explore.

The hamlet consists of several threshing barns, large storage barns, a variety of houses, forge, cattle yard and dairy, duck pond, donkey wheel, pig sties, chicken coops and old stables. There is also a very popular organic cafe in one of the courtyards just off the South Downs Way from where you can view the farm and the free range chickens.

The farm is open several times a year for open days with group tours and events being organised by the National Trust throughout the year. There is no public parking available within the hamlet, but a free gravel car park can be found on the other side of the road which also leads up to the Devil's Dyke viewpoint - and from where you can catch the 77 bus to and from Brighton Station.

Most of the countryside around Saddlescombe is Open Access meaning you can wander freely over the chalkland.

South Downs

The South Downs are a range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles (670 km2) across the south-eastern coastal counties of England from the Itchen Valley of Hampshire in the west to Beachy Head, in the Eastbourne Downland Estate, East Sussex, in the east. The Downs are bounded on the northern side by a steep escarpment, from whose crest there are extensive views northwards across the Weald. The South Downs National Park forms a much larger area than the chalk range of the South Downs and includes large parts of the Weald.

The South Downs are characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped turf and dry valleys, and are recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England. The range is one of the four main areas of chalk downland in southern England.The South Downs are relatively less populated compared to South East England as a whole, although there has been large-scale urban encroachment onto the chalk downland by major seaside resorts, including most notably Brighton and Hove. The South Downs have been inhabited since ancient times and at periods the area has supported a large population, particularly during Romano-British times. There is a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries. Within the South Downs Environmentally Sensitive Area there are thirty-seven Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including large areas of chalk grassland.The grazing of sheep on the thin, well-drained chalk soils of the Downs over many centuries and browsing by rabbits resulted in the fine, short, springy turf, known as old chalk grassland, that has come to epitomise the South Downs today. Until the middle of the 20th century, an agricultural system operated by downland farmers known as 'sheep-and-corn farming' underpinned this: the sheep (most famously the Southdown breed) of villagers would be systematically confined to certain corn fields to improve their fertility with their droppings and then they would be let out onto the downland to graze. However, starting in 1940 with government measures during World War II to increase domestic food production and continuing into the 1950s, much grassland was ploughed up for arable farming, fundamentally changing the landscape and ecology, with the loss of much biodiversity. As a result, while old chalk grassland accounted for 40-50% of the eastern Downs before the war, only 3-4% survives. This and development pressures from the surrounding population centres ultimately led to the decision to create the South Downs National Park, which came into full operation on 1 April 2011, to protect and restore the Downs.

The South Downs have also been designated as a National Character Area (NCA 125) by Natural England. It is bordered by the Hampshire Downs, the Wealden Greensand, the Low Weald and the Pevensey Levels to the north and the South Hampshire Lowlands and South Coast Plain to the south.The downland is a highly popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horseriders and mountain bikers. A long distance footpath and bridleway, the South Downs Way, follows the entire length of the chalk ridge from Winchester to Eastbourne, complemented by many interconnecting public footpaths and bridleways.


Southease is a small village and civil parish in East Sussex, in South East England between the A26 road and the road from Lewes to Newhaven. The village is to the west of the River Ouse, Sussex and has a church dedicated to Saint Peter. Southease railway station lies roughly a kilometre east over the river and may be reached via a swing bridge. It is in the civil parish of Rodmell.

The church has one of only three round towers in Sussex, all of which are located in the Ouse Valley and all three built in the first half of the 12th century.

It is downstream of Lewes, the county town of East Sussex and upstream of Piddinghoe and Newhaven. Paths along both the banks of the river allow hiking in either direction along the river. The remains of a slipway on the west bank of the Ouse just north of the bridge faces Mount Caburn. The nearest village is Rodmell, about a kilometre to the northwest.

The South Downs Way winds its way through the village towards the nearby River Ouse and the railway station. A new bridge has been built over the A26.Most cottages in the village date from the 17th century.The population of the village is about forty.

Southease railway station

Southease railway station is located 0.5 miles (800 m) east of the village of Southease in East Sussex, England. It is on the Seaford branch of the East Coastway Line, 53 miles 40 chains (86.1 km) measured from London Bridge via Redhill. The station is surrounded by agricultural land. The South Downs Way crosses the Seaford Branch here.

Upper Beeding

Upper Beeding is a village and civil parish in the Horsham District of West Sussex, England. It is located at the northern end of the River Adur gap in the South Downs four miles (6.4 km) north of Shoreham-by-Sea and has a land area of 1877 hectares (4637 acres). The site is a bridging point over the river: on the opposite bank are Bramber and Steyning, making the whole area somewhat built-up. The civil parish also includes the smaller village of Small Dole to the north (nearer to Henfield), and the village of Edburton to the northeast.

Upper Beeding is on the northern edge of the South Downs National Park which was created in 2010. The South Downs Way and Monarch's Way long-distance footpaths run through the parish; the area is popular with walkers, cyclists and equestrians. The village boasts two pubs: The Rising Sun and The Kings Head. A third pub, The Bridge Inn, closed down in 2009.

The community was originally (and for the majority of its history) called Beeding, with the civil parish changing to Upper Beeding in modern times (date unknown). As is common in such cases, the ecclesiastical parish retains the original name (hence it is the parish of Beeding, and the parish church is Beeding Church). In the early 13th Century the monks of Sele Priory (St Peter's Church, Beeding) began a mission to the area of St Leonard's Forest near Horsham, and established a small mission base, naming it Lower Beeding. Despite being some 10 miles (16 km) away, Lower Beeding remained a part of (Upper) Beeding parish until Victorian times. The existence of Lower Beeding led to differentiation in the name of the original Beeding in some medieval sources, but always as River Beeding. For this reason the prefix Upper is still ignored by many local people today, who refer to their community by the original (and current ecclesiastical) title of Beeding.

In Saxon times Beeding had a near neighbour, the hamlet of Sele. Today's village of Upper Beeding incorporates both communities, with the village centre located between the sites of the two original Saxon settlements. Saxon Beeding was closer to the Dacre Gardens area of modern Beeding, whilst Saxon Sele was nearer to the parish church (Sele Priory Church of St Peter) in modern Beeding.

In 1927 and 1929, land along the High Street was acquired for the building of a village hall to serve the community. Subsequently, funds were donated or raised for the building of the hall, which was completed in 1930. The hall contains meeting rooms where various organizations hold meetings and a number of different kinds of events. The Upper Beeding Parish Council meets monthly in the hall)


Vanguard Way

The Vanguard Way is a long distance walk of 66.2 mi (106.5 km) from East Croydon station in outer London (OS grid reference TQ328658), travelling from the north, to Newhaven, on the south coast of England. It passes through the counties of Surrey, Kent and East Sussex, between Croydon and Newhaven, East Sussex. It connects the London suburbs to the south coast, via the North Downs, Ashdown Forest, South Downs National Park and the Cuckmere valley.The walk was developed in celebration of the 15th anniversary in 1980 of the Vanguards Rambling Club, who named themselves after an occasion when they returned from a walk travelling in the guard's van of a crowded train. The route's formal establishment occurred on 3 May 1981, and the Vanguards Rambling Club have remained as the route's management.The Vanguard Way connects with central London with the Wandle Trail along the River Wandle from Croydon and is sometimes used as a walking route between London and Paris, connecting with the ferry ports on the south coast. The walk also connects with the London Outer Orbital Path, North Downs Way, Greensand Way, London Countryway, Eden Valley Walk, Forest Way, Wealdway, Sussex Border Path and the South Downs Way.


Warnford is a village and civil parish in the City of Winchester district of Hampshire, England.

The village lies on the A32 in the valley of the River Meon between West Meon and Exton. It has a church and a pub, The George and Falcon, which is grade II listed and dates to the 16th century. There is an infrequent bus service from Bishop's Waltham to Petersfield. The village was by-passed by the former Meon Valley Railway (now a footpath and cycleway), which ran down the east of the valley.

The Church of Our Lady, to the south of the village, was rebuilt in the 12th centuryand contains relics of an earlier Saxon church. The ruins of the 13th century St. John's or King John's House are nearby. There are watercress beds at two places in the valley.

The Beacon Hill National Nature Reserve and SSSI is at the western end of the parish, a chalk hill some 201 metres (659 ft) high flanked by numerous steep-sided dry valleys. The Monarch's Way long distance footpath crosses the valley in Warnford. The route of the South Downs Way, which shares short sections of the Monarch's Way route either side of the parish, has been contentious and was the subject of public inquiries in 2004 and 2006. Currently Ordnance Survey maps show both a route through Warnford, and a southerly route past Beacon Hill via Exton.

Warnford is currently in the Winchester parliamentary constituency but will be in the new Meon Valley in future elections.

National Trails
(England and Wales)
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