Generally speaking the South Downs Way takes about 6 – 9 days to walk.
Most people who are reasonably fit can do 12 –15 miles (say 20km) per day, but you might want to include a shorter day in the middle if you’re not used to long distance walking. Usually you’ll need to allow for an extra couple of miles (3km) or so each day to get to and from your accommodation as well as the “on Trail” distance.
Ideal weekend walking
If you can’t spare so much time in one go, why not walk the route over a few weekends or a couple of short breaks? Any reasonably fit person can complete the walk.
People with mobility problems can still access parts of the Trail, and disabled people with “Tramper” type off road buggies can compete the entire route. Contact the South Downs Way National Trail Officer by phone or email for more information.
Horse riders will generally be able to do a similar distance each day to fast walkers – say around 6 days for the whole Trail. The isolated nature of some of the Trail, and the need to cross several major roads, mean that riding the Trail on a horse is a much bigger challenge than walking it. You, and your horse, should be experienced and confident.
The time it takes to cycle the South Downs Way is harder to estimate as so much depends on your personal fitness and equipment. As a very rough guide, casual cyclists will take 3 to 4 days, regular off road cyclists about 3, and the very fit cyclist looking for a challenge could do it in two. If you’re capable of cycling 100 miles off road in just one day then you’ll know about it! You will need an off road (mountain) bike, and you will need to be used to cycling all day off road if you are to enjoy cycling the South Downs Way.
The best time to visit
The best times to complete the South Downs Way are May, June, and September when the weather is at its best. In the school summer holidays (mid July and August) the eastern half can be a bit busier than usual, but it is rarely crowded once you get away from a car park. Be prepared for both hot days and the possibility of a thunderstorm in high summer.
The path mostly runs on farm tracks and significant mud is rare. Unless the weather is very good proper boots are always advisable for walkers, however. Break them in well before starting! Cyclists should be careful of loose stones and approaching road junctions – wear a cycling helmet. All users should carry plenty of water as it can be difficult to get refill a water bottle during the day. Horse riders might find a collapsible bucket (so they can water their horses from a tap as well as a trough) helpful.
The pages within this section contain more information about accommodation and public transport. One word of advice; book accommodation well in advance, particularly during spring and summer weekends and July and August.