South Downs

South Downs

The South Downs is a national park in South East England. The park comprises of an area of chalk upland whch stretches from Winchester in Hampshire, through West Sussex to Eastbourne in East Sussex.

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.


The South Downs passes through the counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire. The downs are more open, bare and rounded east of the River Adur at Shoreham, and more wooded west of the Adur. Into Hampshire, the downs lose the steep north-facing escarpment characteristic of the downs in Sussex. Each part has its own beauty.

Towns and Cities

A typical path with a typical view

East to West:


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, Oxfordshire), the North Downs (Hampshire, Kent, Surrey, Sussex) and the North Wessex Downs (Berkshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire).


An iconic image, The Seven Sisters

The South Downs are the remnants of the former Wealden Anticline, which stretched across Sussex, The chalk was laid down between 100 and 65 million years ago, on top of the weaker Greensand and Sandstone which makes up much of the Weald, the beds were then folded from 30 to 1 million years ago, the top of the chalk was then eroded, leaving two nearly parallel ridges, which is why 'The Downs' form a long ridge. They are mirrored in the north by the North Downs.


The 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).


The 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. Towns include Eastbourne with its 164 m high headland Beachy Head, Lewes, Ditchling, Clayton and the nearby Clayton Windmills, Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint and the nearby Wolstonbury Hill, Brighton, Hove, Portslade, Shoreham-by-Sea, Washington, Arundel, and Midhurst.

The Downs are penetrated by several rivers, such as the (from East to West) 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.

Get in

There are main line trains and long distance coaches to both Winchester and Eastbourne as well as 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. Train's from London stop at these places close to the route:

Long Man of Wilmington, on the route of the South Downs Way

Cyclists Please note that at some periods of the day and on some operators bikes are not allowed on the trains. also most of the more modern trains only have space for 3-4 bikes, thus large groups may have to book ahead or travel in smaller groups. Southern for example requests that 'limited number' of cycles are carried free on all services except on trains due to arrive into London or Brighton between 07.00 and 10.00, or due to depart from London stations or Brighton between 1600 and 1900 on Mondays to Fridays. Reservations for cycles are not required.

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.

Get around

No Bus routes run the complete length of the path, although there are coastal and inland routes, the park is serviced by routes passing through it, and has a fairly decent train service. Check out Traveline South East for full transport routes.

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

The Work of the Devil? Devils Dyke, Sussex

Devils Dyke

The 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,

Get in

Eat and Drink

The nearest pubs 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:

Ditchling Beacon Car Park normally has a couple of ice cream vans floating about.

Further Information

Go next


South 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

Every Village has its own pub, each with its own character, expect good quality food and great beers (normally the local beer, Harveys, brewed in Lewes).

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!


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.

As far as 'wild' camping is concerned it is legal; however landowners 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.

Stay safe

Although the Downs are far from remote people have died on them, therefore ensure you have good quality footwear and a map. The South Downs Way is as safe as anywhere and much safer than any city – you need have no security concerns about going alone by day, however it is probably best to ensure you are not alone at night, the area is commonly used as a social gathering area for teenagers. The route often has sections with steep sides.

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:

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.

Go next

The Isle of Wight is a short journey south west of the National Park, and on the way you could visit the cities of Portsmouth or Southampton. You could also always head north to the capital city of London, and maybe carry on going north up the east coast to York, Newcastle or even Edinburgh. Or you could head south to Newhaven and catch a ferry to Dieppe in France and explore the continent from there.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, March 27, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.