The energetic can walk the entire length using the South Downs Way. The eastern end finishes at the sea from east of Brighton Marina to Eastbourne. The section of cliffs from Brighton to Seaford is largely built on, although the cliffs west of Newhaven (River Ouse) are noteworty for being overlaid by Tertiary sand.
Towns and cities
What is a "down"?"Down" is a southern English term for low to medium-sized hills. Downland is one of the characteristic landscapes of southern England, and is usually composed of chalk, but can also be sandy. The landscape is generally softly rolling, with many ridges and some steeper escarpments, though the peaks rarely exceed 200 metres in height. Apart from the South Downs, downland can also be found in the Chilterns (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire), the North Downs (East Sussex, Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and West Sussex) and the North Wessex Downs (Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire).
HistoryThe Downs have undergoing inhabitation since the Stone Age, with Britain's earliest human remains dating from 500,000 years ago found at Boxgrove. The South Downs are home to some of Britain's earliest mines, numerous camps, barrows, hill forts and figures on the hills. There are remains dating from the Bronze Age to the Second World War; the Battle of Lewes was fought on the Downs and in the Elizabethan times their height was used for beacons (this is preserved within names, such as Firle Beacon).
GeographyThe South Downs extend about 70 miles (100 km) through East Sussex, West Sussex, and part of Hampshire. The South Downs Way is a bridleway that follows the South Downs. The Downs are penetrated by several rivers, such as the Cuckmere (its lower reaches form the famous meanders), the Ouse, the Adur, the Arun (passing through Arundel). The Views from the Downs take in some of the most beautiful countryside in the South East of England.
There are main line trains and long distance coaches to Winchester, Eastbourne, and several places in between. Allow around 60 – 90 minutes from London. Ferries to Newhaven and Portsmouth, and the London airports (especially Gatwick) are handy for overseas visitors. Trains from London stop at these places close to the route:
- Winchester: mainline services to and from Southampton (South West Trains)
- Petersfield: train services from London (Waterloo) and Portsmouth (South West Trains)
- Amberley: from London (Victoria) towards Arundel and Littlehampton. (Southern Trains)
- Hassocks: from London (Victoria) towards Brighton and Lewes (Southern Trains and First Capital Connect - From Blackfriars)
- Lewes: from London (Victoria)Towards Lewes and Newhaven (Southern Trains)
- Eastbourne: from London (Victoria) via Lewes or from Ashford. (Southern Trains)
Car parks Car parking is normally good, although in towns and villages be expected to have to search and pay for parking spaces. Car parks are usually free from crime, but normal precortions must be taken. Narrow lanes are common, as are steep hills, trying to take a caravan around the South Downs is not recommended.
If you want to travel by car (advised) the A27 runs parrel to the South Downs, with various roads passing through the area (A23, A284, A24 and more).
A popular way is by foot, bike or horse, there is a route through the park (South Downs Way) which will take you over some of the best scenery in the UK (and you're not really affected by traffic).
See and do
- Plenty of chalk cliffs the most famous are the Seven Sisters (Country Park) and Beachy Head, west of Eastbourne. Could be combined with the Cuckmere River valley below Alfriston and Cuckmere Haven.
- Beautiful vistas from Firle Beacon, Ditchling Beacon, Devil's Dyke and Telscombe village (not to be confused with the nearby coastal Telscombe Cliffs).
- Quick trip to Brighton, Eastbourne or the historic city of Winchester.
- Take a bus or drive up to Devils Dyke, this V-shaped valley was formed during the last glaciation and offers many folklore stories about its formation.
- Visit the windmills on Clayton Hill. Jill Mill is a fully restored post mill which grinds corn at certain times of year. Volunteer guides will take you up inside the mill and explain the workings. There's a tea shop with home made cakes in the base. Normally open on Sunday afternoons 2PM-5PM from May to September. The mill is signposted from the A273 near Pyecombe and there's a car park adjacent to it. Other opening times and info at
- The Chattri is the war memorial to the Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War. About a mile south of the South Downs Way near to Pyecombe golf club. Over a million and a half Indian soldiers fought alongside British troops, and many wounded were treated at hospitals in Brighton.
- Cissbury Ring near Worthing is one of Britain's largest and most magnificent Iron Age hill forts. It's over a mile to walk around its ramparts. Extensive views over the Downs and sea as far as the Isle of Wight. Car parks off the A24 at Findon Valley, or walk from the Broadwater area of Worthing.
Butser Ancient FarmAn ongoing archaeological experiment to recreate an iron age farming settlement and an adjacent Roman villa.
Wiston HouseA large house built by Sir Robert Shirley in the 1570s to replace an earlier medieval manor house. The house was much reduced in size by Sir Charles Goring in the 1740s and was remodelled again in the 1840s. The house is not open to the public and it is mainly used for Wilton Park Conferences and other meetings. It is also very popular for wedding receptions
Chanctonbury RingClimb to the top. The ring used to refer to the circular prehistoric earthwork dating from 800 - 600 BC, but now has come to mean the crown of beech trees planted in 1760 by Charles Goring. These trees were decimated by the 1987 storm but have since been replanted. On a clear day you can see the North Downs, the sea and, if it is very clear, the Isle of Wight.
Devils DykeThe Devil's Dyke is the largest chalkland dry combe (a big waterless valley) in Britain and home to many associated plants and butterflies. From the summit there are dramatic views north towards the Weald and south over the sea. the area became a popular visiting spot during the 19th century, due to its proximity to Brighton.
- Car parks at Devil’s Dyke and Summer Down Road
- Buses to Devil's Dyke:
- Number 77 service: winter – Sundays and Bank Holidays (except Christmas Day); spring/autumn - weekends and Bank Holidays; summer – everyday
- Number 17 Stagecoach service to Poynings (20 min walk to Devil's Dyke)
- A classic open-top bus runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays. A bus leaflet called 'Breeze up to the Dyke' is available
- Seasonal information officer with mobile trailer from Easter to October (mainly weekends)
- Discover Devil’s Dyke with self-guided family activities (similar to Tracker Packs) £2. Available during summer
- Further information and educational or group bookings from the Head Warden or Education Warden on +44 1273 857712
- the land is owned by the National Trust
ItinerariesSouth Downs Way a long distance bridleway
From Eastbourne to Heathfield (in the heart of the Weald) there is the Cuckoo Trail a cycle and walking path along a disused railway line.
Eat and drink
The nearest pubs to the hills are in villages which means you have to walk down, and then back up. Some of the closest places to the Downs to eat are:
- The Shepherd & Dog, Fulking (near Devil's Dyke)
- The Royal Oak, Poynings
- The Plough, Pyecombe (more a restaurant than a pub)
- The Jack & Jill, Clayton
- The White Horse, Ditchling
- The Half Moon, Plumpton
If you want to try some of the lamb produced on the Downs visit a local butcher or see if it is a special at a pub. You won't be disappointed!
Ditchling Beacon Car Park normally has a couple of ice cream vans floating about.
Accommodation is plentiful; camping sites, barns, hotels, pubs, cottages, YHA Bed and Breakfasts are all available. Consult the city and town articles for specific listings. Often smaller villages will have perhaps a restaurant and a small hotel, but not anything else for a traveller.
Wild camping is legal; however landowner's permission is needed and for now it is difficult to cover the whole route by backpacking. The Sussex section has more opportunities to wild camp than the Hampshire section.
If you are planning some serious activity, especially alone remember the area as a whole is not suitable for people who are frail and due to its nature is not specially surfaced for wheelchairs and so can be rough and/or steep in places.
If you want to take young children on the downs, since it can be very hilly it is probably best to bring a pushchair.
If you are older you’ll need a suitable electric cross-country buggy such as a Tramper.
Contact the Trail Officer for detailed information about the path surfaces, slopes, and useful contacts.
A basic kit should be as follows:
- First aid kit; for any scrapes or falls
- Mobile phone; just for peace of mind, most of the route has reception
- Water; it can get pretty windy up there and especially in summer you can get quite thirsty.
- In the winter warm clothing is recommended.
Luggage movement For those who may not want to carry all the things they need for 3 days on their backs; has information on luggage movement services.
Take warm clothing, e.g. a jumper or fleece, as even if it's sunny the wind speed can be high up on the downs.