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  • Writer's pictureHiker Heather

South Downs Way: Summer Edition & Finding Freedom

Updated: Feb 17, 2022

Blog detailing my thru-hike of the South Downs Way including my itinerary, campsites and trail information.

Wooohooo! It was early Summer of 2021 and I was finally the proud owner of my very own tent! After completing the West Highland Way in the previous September and then the Cumbria Way in the May, I was absolutely desperate for a tent of my own and after hours and hours of research, I finally purchased my very first tent! Slowly I began to purchase the other essentials - cook equipment, sleep system and so forth, soon I was then ready to hit the trail using my own tent as my shelter and carrying everything I needed on my back for a week - safe to say that I could not wait!


I chose the South Downs Way for this hike as my research had shown that I could camp in campsites for the entire Way which is exactly what I wanted as I had not started to wild camp at this point. The South Downs Way is also considered a fairly easy hike, which was also a bonus since I was not used to yet carrying my own tent.


I cant explain how excited I was now that I had my own tent, to me this was ultimate freedom! Anyway, let's get into the details...

About the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a 100 mile trail running from Winchester to Eastbourne, you can of course do the trial in either direction, I chose to start in Winchester. The trail is one of the National Trails, so again, I knew that I would be treated to the acorn waymarks, which I find to be a delight.


The route follows the northern escarpment for much of the Way and it is considered generally easy underfoot. Highlights of the trail include Beachy Head, Seven Sisters, Ditchling Beacon and Winchester.

Access to and from the Trail

Access to both Winchester at the beginning of the trail and Eastbourne at the end of the trail is straightforward as both cities are serviced by major rail and bus networks.

Itinerary

Day 1 - Winchester to East Meon (20 miles)

Leaving the small historic town of Winchester behind me, I quickly found myself in the stunning Downs with farm tracks and rolling landscapes surrounding me which I gradually passed through before arriving at Beacon Hill and Old Winchester Hill, both of which offer amazing views and scenery, I then made my way to my first campsite which would be the Sustainability Centre. This was an amazing campsite and the pitches were fairly private and secluded, I would highly recommend stopping here!


Day 2 - East Meon to South Harting (10 miles)

The next day I head on to the Way towards Butser Hill and then Queen Elizabeth Country Park which takes you through some woodland for some time which then slowly transitions to agricultural landscape. I took a small detour off the trail here to South Harting to stay in some accommodation on this evening as I had booked a room at The White Hart. Please do note that the detour to get to the pub is steep and of course you have to walk back up it to get to the trail!


Day 3 - South Harting to Amberley (20 miles)

I continue on the trail from South Harting having resupplied at the small shop in South Harting itself, the trail gives beautiful panoramic views across the Downs as I continue into Amberley, this was a very long and warm day and by the time I got to the campsite in Amberley I was exhausted! I stayed at Foxleigh Barn campsite whilst in Amberley. You can order a curry from the local curry house to deliver to the campsite so I joined a couple of lads who were backpacking and shared a curry with them which was lovely! It was nice to have some company, even if it was for a short time!


Day 4 - Amberley to Truleigh Hill (15 miles)

Once you leave Amberley behind, there is little in terms of habitation on this stage as I climbed back onto the Downs, I then made the descent beside the beautiful Devil's Dyke and then continued on to this evening's campsite which would be at the YHA Truleigh Hill where I camped in their campsite. The Hostel was very busy but I managed to find a nice little camp spot on the outer edges of the campsite where I wouldn't be disturbed. I got a pizza from the YHA and also breakfast the following morning. I also charged my power banks in the YHA.


Day 5 - Truleigh Hill to Housedean Farm (14 miles)

The views continue to please on this section with panoramic views afforded in all directions, I soon passed the highest point on trail which was Ditchling Beacon at 813 feet which is also the highest point in Sussex. Making my way on the trail, I eventually arrive at this evening's campsite which would be Housedean Farm. Again, this was a very busy campsite but it was raining for the duration so I had a freeze-dried meal in my tent and relaxed for the evening, listening to the pitter patter of the rain on my tent - bliss!


Day 6 - Housedean Farm to Alfriston (14 miles)

You cross a busy A-road after leaving Housedean Farm, however, once this is passed, there is again little in terms of habitation on this stage of the Way. You follow the escarpment and agricultural land before crossing the River Ouse, after crossing the River Ouse, the Way climbs once again back onto the Downs before heading down into the village of Alfriston. I stayed at Alfriston Camping, this campsite was VERY busy and VERY loud, with large groups and families with HUGE tents (some even having separate catering tents), music was playing from all angles. If I were to do the Way again, I would probably try to find an alternative campsite here...


Day 7 - Alfriston to Eastbourne (11 miles)

The final leg! I woke up early on this morning because as usual, I had booked a train in advance and again, as usual, I had booked this for for far too early, for around lunchtime so I had the 11 miles, plus a couple more to get to the train station from the end of the trail, to crunch before lunchtime! In my haste, as I hurried along the trail out of Alfriston, I took the bike route out of Alfriston before quickly realising my mistake and having to backtrack - I would have missed the Seven Sisters and Birling Gap had I have taken this route so I was glad to have realised in time for me to backtrack! This section is spectacular as I passed Cuckmere Haven before reaching the rollercoaster clifftop section that is the Seven Sisters and over Beachy Head before a final steep descent down into the seaside town of Eastbourne! I had made it! What an amazing first adventure with my very own little tent, this would be the beginning of a love affair, so say the least!

Facilities/ Accommodation

The South Downs Way is facilitated well but as always, I advise to make a proper itinerary for yourself before undertaking any thru-hike to ensure that you have sufficient food water, clothing etc. You can chose to do the Way like myself, using campsites for the entire/ majority of the Way or you can chose to stay in accommodation throughout. People do of course choose to wild camp and I met a few people who were wild camping whilst I was there.


When there are sections that are lacking in amenities, there are water taps along the Way also, again, I would suggest you making a note of the location of the water taps prior to your departure. I used the FarOut App which detailed the location of the water taps at the time that I did the trail. You can also click here which will take you to a website that show the location of the water taps on the South Downs Way.

Navigation

Since the South Downs Way is a National Trail, it is extremely well waymarked by the traditional acorn. Generally, if you go more than 500 metres without seeing a waymark then you know that you are on the wrong track!


In addition to this, I used the Cicerone guidebook and map (which you can purchase here).


In terms of GPS, I used the FarOut App (previously called GutHook). The FarOut App is good in that it allows users to add comments from their time on the trail, this can be helpful as it will let you know if for example a shop or cafe is shut, it will let you know about shops, pubs etc in the area and so much more. I always use the FarOut App if they have the particular trail that I am undertaking on there.


If you wish to download GPX files to your own App or GPS device then you can use the following link to download - GPX for South Downs Way

If you have any questions about the South Downs Way or anything else then please do use the contact form to drop me a line, I will get back to you as soon as possible.


You can follow my adventures live over on my Instagram @hiker_heather

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