One of England’s finest long-distance trails, walking the South Downs Way from beginning to end is a wonderful way to spend ten days, staying in small locally-owned guesthouses and traditional Sussex or Hampshire inns, with your luggage transferred for you. Starting in Winchester and ending up in the beautiful coastal town of Eastbourne, walk through the South Downs National Park, alongside the peaceful Cuckmere, Arun, Ouse and Meon rivers, as well as an array of charming market towns.
The South Downs are like a tonic to the otherwise highly populated south of England, separated from the world by a mammoth chalky ridge and grasslands, where cattle graze freely and which take you down to the dramatic cliffs of the Sussex coast. This walking holiday is easily accessible by rail, with stations in both Winchester and Eastbourne.
- Beachy Head and Seven Sisters
- Historic towns of Alfriston and Winchester
- South Downs National Park and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- Seaside town of Eastbourne
- Follow old drover roads, that were used to bring animals & goods to local markets
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Day 1: Arrival in Winchester
Arrive in Winchester, easily accessible by train. You may wish to spend some extra time exploring this gem of a town, the ancient capital of England and the Kingdom of Wessex before that. The cathedral has the longest nave in Britain and there is a beautiful walk down through the water meadows to St.Cross.
- Accommodation: We use a variety of accommodation in this lively town.
Day 2: Winchester to East Meon | 26km
The route climbs out from Winchester onto the Downs at Chilcomb. The scenery is undulating and agricultural, a warm up without being dramatic. You reach the attractive Meon Valley via Beacon Hill with its rare spring and summer plant life. The Hampshire Downs then open up and roll on as you pass field after field. The Meon Valley villages of Exton, Corhampton and Meonstoke are all within a couple of kilometres of each other and are beautiful places to relax by the river, have a picnic or a local beer. The climb from here up towards Old Winchester Hill is long and steep in its latter stages, so take your time. To start with, you ascend beside a beautiful clear chalk stream in which you may see brown trout gliding about.
- Walking for the day: 26km
- Accommodation: Ye Olde George Inn or similar
Day 3: East Meon to Cocking | 29km
From East Meon, you climb back onto the Downs. The route then undulates into some vast arable and wooded countryside passing the village of Mercury Park. The Way climbs over Butser Hill with Bronze Age field patterns etched upon it. The path then descends through Queen Elizabeth Country Park where you’ll be winding above the attractive villages of Buriton and South Harting.
- Walking for the day: 29km
- Accommodation: The Blue Bell Inn or similar
Day 4: Cocking to Amberley | 19.3km
The route undulates across the scarp slope of the Downs, soon entering shady and sometimes muddy woodland before ascending to the highest point on the South Downs near Crown Tegleaze at 253m. Descending into the dry valley, there is then a steep climb over Burton Down followed by Bignor Hill (225m) where there is a footpath off the Downs to the Roman Villa remains at Bignor. Descend very steeply to cross a footbridge over the River Arun and into Amberley along New Barn Road. Here you are in an attractive triptych of villages: Amberley, Houghton and Bury on the meandering River Arun. This is a beautiful rural setting, looking up at the Downs. There are many interesting historical features today including a couple of minutes spent walking on the roman road called Stane Street that connected Chichester with London. You could practise your navigation trying to find the Neolithic Camp just off the route. Chichester Cathedral is also visible seaward at some points.
- Walking for the day: 19.3km
- Accommodation: The Sportsman or similar
Day 5: Amberley to Steyning | 17.7km
Walking steeply up to rejoin the route, the trail etches its way through fields and pockets of forest, continuing above Storrington before dropping 100m to Washington. The trail climbs once again to reach Chanctonbury Ring, a Bronze Age hill fort settlement, with one or two ghost stories attached to it. A bit more undulating and you end with a steep descent into Steyning.
- Walking for the day: 17.7km
- Accommodation: We use a variety of accommodations in Steyning
Day 6: Steyning to Pyecombe | 16km
From Steyning, ascend back to the Downs. Follow the footpaths to the east of the town and along the Adur Valley to the Monarch’s Way through Upper Beeding and back up onto the Downs. Watch out for ancient historical features such as tumuli burial mounds and cross dykes. Passing another great viewpoint at Edburton Hill, the way undulates over 200m, before descending around Devil’s Dyke, said to be the world’s largest chalk dry valley. There is a modern pub here which does bar and restaurant food and circular walks that you can do if you want to spend more time here. Via Saddlescombe there is a steep ascent over Westhill bringing you steeply down to village of Pyecombe.
- Walking for the day: 16km
- Accommodation: Tallai House or similar
Day 7: Pyecombe to Rodmell | 22.5km
Ascend out of Pyecombe near Clayton, where the white Jack and Jill windmills greet you. Today, following mainly grassy tracks, you go over the highest point on the route at Ditchling Beacon, 248 m. You may find an ice cream van up here in summer. There are no real difficulties today, although the climb up from the road is pretty steep. The South Downs Way undulates between large fields and long slopes, until you reach the River Ouse gap near Rodmell, before the trail descends to Southease and into Rodmell. Rodmell Village is home to the “Monk’s House” where Virginia Woolf lived.
- Walking for the day: 22.5km
- Accommodation: Accommodation is limited, but our small guesthouse will make you feel more than welcome
Day 8: Rodmell to Alfriston | 15.2km
Today’s walk is quite brief, so there is plenty of time to enjoy a late breakfast and spend extra time in Rodmell. Today you cross the valley of the River Ouse and steeply ascend back up the South Downs to Firle Beacon, 217m and another great viewpoint. As you have plenty of time, you may consider coming off the hills to visit the villages of West Firle, Alciston and Berwick. These tiny villages all have associations with Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set and Berwick Church also has some interesting paintings.
- Walking for the day: 15.2km
- Accommodation: Riverdale House or similar
Day 9: Alfriston to Eastbourne | 17km
From Alfriston follow the Cuckmere River firstly along the river bank and then by the village of Litlington. The path then takes you up onto the Downs above the river, passing points where you can appreciate its meanders. At Cliff End you turn to the east and follow the roller-coaster trail over The Seven Sisters, a series of iconic chalk cliffs to Beachy Head with its famous lighthouse. From here the trail continues on beside the sea before descending steeply off the hills via Holywell. Finally enter the outskirts of Eastbourne and walk along the Victorian promenade to Eastbourne’s elegant pier which makes an appropriate place to end the South Downs Way. You may wish to book another night here to relax and maybe take a dip in the sea.
- Walking for the day: 17km
- Accommodation: We use a variety of accommodations in this vibrant seaside town.
Day 10: Departure
Trip concludes after breakfast.
What to expect
Accommodation on this tour includes a mix of small, locally-owned hotels, B&Bs and traditional guesthouses. They have been carefully selected based on a variety of criteria including their proximity to the South Downs Way, warm hospitality, fine local food or commitment to responsible tourism. All rooms have en-suite or private bathrooms.
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*Hotels are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates, we will replace it with a hotel of equal or higher value and quality level. We will provide exact accommodation details to you upon booking confirmation.
The overnight accommodations are on a B&B basis, you will have a selection of cold and hot options each morning to choose from. Packed lunches can often be booked and paid for on arrival at your accommodation. They offer a good selection of sandwiches, snacks and drinks for you to then take with you for that day’s walk. On most days you will also pass a café and/or shop. For evening meals you will have a variety of lovely pubs and restaurants to choose from or your accommodation will provide a tasty meal.
Difficulty and terrain
Straightforward undulating walking, often on farm tracks and chalk down. You will cover a variety of terrain but there are no steep ascents and descents (read more about difficulty grades). The walks are mostly unsurfaced tracks and footpaths. The weather on average is some of the best you could find in the British Isles, and soft boots or even trekking shoes are generally advised, as the surfaces are often (but not universally) dry and firm. We provide a route book as part of your walking package. If you would like additional walking guides or maps, these can also be provided at an additional cost. You can also call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.
When to go
This trip is available from the start of April until mid-September.
The flexibility of self-guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date during the season.
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Our recommended airport for this tour is London (LHR).
By train or bus
- From London Heathrow travel time to Winchester is about one hour. From London Waterloo there are direct trains to Winchester taking approx 55mins. From Eastbourne to London Victoria requires changing at Brighton. Travel time from from Southampton airport is just under 30mins. Please check the Traveline website or use the Omio planner above.
- 9 nights in twin/double rooms with an en-suite or private bathroom (small hotels, B&Bs and guesthouses)
- 9 breakfasts
- Detailed route map and journey documentation
- Luggage transfers from hotel to hotel – up to 20kg per bag
- 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative in Cheltenham
- Airfare and connecting land transfers
- Lunches, dinners, drinks and snacks
- Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
- Personal expenses
- Local tourist taxes and entry fees (payable on-site)
- Any items not explicitly listed as included
Options, extras and supplements
- If you’re travelling in a group, a supplement applies to group members who would like to have a single room
- This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (we never mix and match – solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms)
- Extra nights along the trail are bookable upon request