Exploring the Trail
How long does it take to complete the Trail?
Most people take 8 or 9 days to walk the whole 100 miles (160km) at 12 – 15 miles (25km) a day.
It’s worth considering if you are walking that the villages where accommodation is are at the foot of the hill so you’ll have to walk down in the evening and up in the morning.
To cycle the South Downs Way takes 2 or 3 days if you are used to off road cycling. It is possible to do it in a day but that’s an extreme challenge! There’s about 12,600ft (3800m) of climb as well as the 100 miles (160km) of distance.
How hard is it?
Anyone who is reasonably fit can walk the South Downs Way – if you can comfortably walk say 12 miles (20km) in a day you shouldn’t have a problem. You’ll enjoy it more if you do a few long day walks beforehand to get fitter.
You should be used to off road cycling before you commit yourself to cycling the South Downs Way – doing it in anything less than 3 days will require quite a high degree of fitness.
The South Downs Way is much more of a challenge for horse riders because of the road crossings and logistics of accommodation for horses.
Are there any major diversions on the trail?
There are no major long-term diversions to the South Downs Way at present. For details of any short term diversions, look for the exclamation mark logo on the interactive map below.
Top Tips For Enjoying The Trail
How do I get to the South Downs Way?
The South Downs Way can easily be reached by public transport with airports, ferry ports, bus and rail stations all within a short distance.
Overseas visitors can arrive by ferry to Newhaven or Portsmouth.
Gatwick Airport is within easy reach of the Trail with a direct train taking only one hour between Gatwick Airport Station and Eastbourne. A direct train links Winchester and Southampton Airport Station taking only 24 minutes.
The Trail is well served by the rail network. Long distance walkers can get back to the start by train between Eastbourne and Winchester and there are intermediate stations at Petersfield, Amberley, Hassocks and Lewes that are helpful if you’re doing the walk in stages.
For detailed rail information please see www.nationalrail.co.uk
The Discovery bus ticket is a an all-inclusive cost-effective way to enjoy unlimited bus travel across the National Park and south of England. To find out more visit the South Downs National Park Authority website.
You can find up-to-date public transport information including a journey planner at www.traveline.info
We encourage you to come and visit the South Downs by public transport, however, if you do decide to drive then road connections are good. Car Parks are often small in the South Downs, with farm machinery sometimes passing through especially during harvest, so please park considerately. Long term parking is harder to come by so if you are planning to leave your vehicle in Eastbourne or Winchester we recommend contacting the relevant local authority for advice on the best and safest options.
Where can I stay on the Trail?
There is a good choice of accommodation close to the Trail and it can be viewed on the Interactive Map below or on the Create Your Own Trip page here.
Download and print a list of accommodation for each section of the Trail.
We recommend that you book your accommodation in advance – it can get very busy at some times of the year.
Can I camp along the Trail?
There are plenty of campsites along the Trail and they can be viewed on the Interactive Map. If you plan to camp please note it is not legal to wild camp in England or Wales – you will need to stay on official campsites.
Can I get my bags carried or my accommodation booked?
There are several companies that will arrange to move your bags for you, help you plan your trip, or arrange a full package.
View a list of these companies here.
What is the best time of year to walk on the Trail?
The South Downs Way can be enjoyed at any time of the year. However it does get busier during school holidays and on weekends between May and September you should expect to come across larger organised events.
Which direction should I walk it in?
You can do it in either direction, and of course you don’t have to do the whole Trail in one go anyway. The guidebook is written from east to west, starting at Eastbourne and ending at Winchester. The Trail Officer’s personal recommendation is to do it the other way, start in the west and head east, ending at Eastbourne. There are two reasons for this; one is that the wind will be behind you rather than in your face. More importantly the Hampshire countryside is very attractive but the white chalk cliffs at Beachy Head are spectacular.
What should I take with me?
Keep the weight of your rucsack to a minimum – or alternatively take advantage of one of the baggage carrying services that operate on the Trail.
As a minimum you will need to carry a map and compass and know how to use them. Be properly equipped, take waterproofs and spare warm clothing. Wear robust walking boots. Take an emergency pack including whistle, torch, first aid kit, survival bag and spare rations. Don’t wear denim jeans – they don’t dry if they get wet. Plan your route properly – be aware of escape routes in the event of an accident. Make sure somebody knows your plans.
It is also worth remembering that except for a few exceptions most pubs, cafes and shops are off the Trail, therefore you should take some snacks and drink with you to ensure you don’t get caught out.
You should carry sufficient water with you for each day’s requirements – it is strongly advised that if you take water from streams then you should use purification equipment.
Will I have mobile phone and internet access?
Mobile phone reception is generally good. Most of the Trail follows an open ridgeline and has mobile phone reception. Areas with no reception are short and a few minutes walk will find you back in signal.
Some accommodation providers offer Wi-Fi. If this is important to you please check when booking.
Is there signage on the South Downs Way?
The UK is unique in having a network of paths that the public can use, this is the Public Rights of Way network. You can see these paths on Ordnance Survey maps.
National Trails are signed with an acorn symbol and/or the Trail name which you will see on stiles, gates and signposts. This is the symbol used by all the English and Welsh National Trails.
As you are walking along the Trail you will also see waymarkers pointing to other paths. You can use the public rights of way network to leave the Trail to explore places of interest, reach your accommodation and find places to eat and drink.
You will often find a coloured arrow on signs which indicates the status of that section of path. The most common are yellow arrows which are footpaths and blue which are bridleway.
Can I download a GPX file?
GPX files for the walking route, cycling route and equestrian route can be downloaded from the Create Your Own Trip page (the buttons are below the map).
Visit our Walking Holidays Page for holiday inspiration for the South Downs Way.
Leaflets, Maps, Guidebooks and Merchandise
Can I get a guidebook and map for the Trail?
The official guidebook and map for the Trail are available from the The Trails Shop along with a wide range of gifts and other merchandise.
Which Ordnance Survey maps cover the Trail?
You can find a list of Ordnance Survey maps for the Trail here.
Are there any useful trail leaflets?
Wondering where to park your horsebox or refill your hydration bladder whilst exploring the trail? These questions and many more can be answered by downloading some of our useful the leaflets page.
Can I get a certificate if I complete the Trail?
Certificates are available from the The Trails Shop.
Circular and Linear Walks
Walked the whole trail and want to explore more of the South Downs landscape? Want to get out on the downs but don’t have the time for the whole hundred miles? There are some great walks to enjoy along parts of the South Downs Way that will see you following chalk grassland ridges and lush river valleys before you know it. Find the perfect walk for you on the Circular and Linear Walks page.
The South Downs National Park Authority has created a number of Miles Without Stiles. These are routes that are suitable for people with limited mobility. Wheelchair users, families with pushchairs, dog walkers and less agile walkers can choose from a list of routes from across the South Downs on the National Park Authority’s website.