South Downs Way

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South Downs Way
South Downs Way, towards Chanctonbury Ring.jpg
South Downs Way, looking towards Chanctonbury Ring
Length 161 km (100 mi)
Location South Eastern England, United Kingdom
Designation UK National Trail
Trailheads Winchester Hampshire
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Eastbourne, East Sussex
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Use Hiking, Cycling
Elevation change 4,150 m (13,620 ft)
Highest point Butser Hill, 270 m (890 ft)[1]
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Easy
Season All year
Sights Long Man of Wilmington, Chanctonbury Ring

The South Downs Way is a long distance footpath and bridleway running along the South Downs in southern England. It is one of 15 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]


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 famous Battle of Lewes fought by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester and Henry III during the Second Barons' War.

During the Tudor era the downs were also in use and in particular Ditchling Beacon, which had been used as a beacon to warn of invasion in preceding centuries, was used again to warn Queen Elizabeth I of the Spanish Armada lumbering east along the English Channel.[citation needed]

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.[8] Yet still it attracts its fair share of Neo-Druidism and other pagan interest with rituals and festival held there commonly.[9]

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.[10]


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.

Several youth hostels are along the route to accommodate walkers. It also passes Birling Gap, a beach area with hotel and restaurant. The opportunity to swim here is irresistible to a perspiring rambler,[citation needed] despite the pebble beach.

At Rodmell on the trail, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse in 1941.


The South Downs Way is mostly on high chalk downland of the Hampshire Downs and the South Downs and the views are always interesting. Perhaps the most dramatic vistas are on the high chalk cliffs on the Seven Sisters, Sussex towards Beachy Head and before the descent to Eastbourne. However, there are also superb views in clear weather from the ridgeway sections on the tops of the downs, especially on Ditchling Beacon.

The Way lies within the South Downs National Park. There is plenty of historic interest along the way, such as the Long Man of Wilmington near Eastbourne, as mentioned above. Diversions are needed to visit Brighton or Lewes, the latter town being of great beauty with an historic centre. Without exception it is a very well maintained and signposted route. While it crosses various villages for provisions, much of it is surprisingly isolated and quiet considering the density of the population in south-east England.

It can be walked at a leisurely pace in about a week while a good walker, horse rider or cyclist would take two or three days. It is closed to motorised traffic along the route and this rule is generally observed.

Endurance events

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

Part of the South Downs Way is also run by the Gurkhas (normally the Queen's Gurkha Signals), for Oxfam's Trailwalker 2011, 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.[11]


See also

Notes and references

  1. National Trail
  2. The bridleway route is 8 km (5.0 mi) shorter. National Trails website.
  3. National Trail - History of the Trail.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Website for Bignor Roman Villa.
  6. Picture of the site of the abandoned village at Lomer.
  7. Op Cit, National Trail.
  8. Article by Martin Bell, "Not so long ago", British Archaeology, Issue 77, July 2004.
  9. A Neo-Druid group, the Anderida Gorsedd, have been holding rituals at the Long Man regularly since 2000.[1]
  10. Newhaven Fort Website.
  11. "Trailwalker UK". 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Millmore, Paul (2010), South Downs Way (National Trail Guides), London: Aurum Press, ISBN 1845135652<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>. 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