Discover: The South Downs Way

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of South Downs Way

It’s one of Britain’s most iconic walks, taking in awe-inspiring views of coast and countryside.

The South Downs Way is a hilltop route running along the chalk ridge of the South Downs. At 100 miles, it runs from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex, taking in chalky peaks, ancient forest, magical river valleys and brilliant white cliffs.

The route has been trodden by people for millennia, but such was its national importance for walkers that it was approved to become a new National Trail in March 1963.

On 15 July 1972 it was officially opened as the South Downs Way National Trail, making it the UK’s fifth national trail to be established and its first long-distance bridleway.

Since then tens of thousands of people have walked, cycled or ridden the trail from Eastbourne to Winchester (or visa versa!) – each with their own unique story to tell. The route, with its highest point at Butser Hill at 271m, provides people with the opportunity “to get away from it all” without having to travel too far in this busy part of England.

Andy Gattiker, National Trails & Rights of Way Lead, said: “2022 is a really special year for the South Downs Way and it’s amazing to think that the trail opened half a century ago.

“The beauty of the trail is that it offers something for everyone, whether it’s an interesting day-trip, short break or a week-long ramble.

“We couldn’t maintain the route without the help of dedicated volunteers, who get involved in surveying, practical work, helping at public events and administration, so a big thank you to them as we celebrate this birthday. We thought it would be a nice gesture for each of the parishes along the route to get a beautiful waymarker that can be attached to a fingerpost to celebrate this historic moment.

“Here’s to another 50 years of enjoying this iconic journey through some of the most captivating countryside Britain has to offer!”


To celebrate the anniversary, Andy provides 10 interesting facts about the National Trail:

  • The National Trail wasn’t always 100 miles. Initially it ran almost entirely in Sussex, from Buriton, on the Hampshire–Sussex border, to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. In 1987 it was decided to extend the route westwards through Hampshire to Winchester.
  • The recommended time to walk the South Downs Way is 8 days, with an average of 12.5miles/20km a day.
  • If you fancied a crack at the world record for completing the South Downs Way on foot, you could try and beat Mark Perkins time of 14 hours, 3 minutes and 54 seconds, set in 2014 at the Centurion Running SWD 100 event.
  • The fastest South Downs Way single cycle ride is Ian Leitch at 7 hrs 3 mins, while Ian also holds the record for the fastest double cycle ride at 15 hrs 35 mins.
  • The route has stood the test of time. Humans have been using the tracks that have been linked to form the South Downs Way for around 8,000 years as its elevation made it a safer and drier route than the wetter lowlands. The route is dotted with Iron Age forts such as Old Winchester Hill and Cissbury Ring.
  • The fastest non-motorised wheelchair user to complete the route is Swasie Turner in 9 days.
  • In 2021 Neil Laughton and Tom Clowes took on the South Downs Way – riding on a penny farthing and a unicycle.
  • Ditchling Beacon is one of the most famous hills on the trail and was used to warn Queen Elizabeth I of the Spanish Armada that could be seen sailing up the English Channel.
  • Just off the chalk path is a biodiversity oasis. Chalk grassland is known as “Europe’s rainforest in miniature” and can have up to 40 different wildflowers and over 20 different butterfly – and that’s just within one square metre.
  • It’s very accessible by train or bus! Step off the train at Southease, Amberley or Winchester and you can be on the South Downs Way within minutes! Check out our useful guide on accessing the South Downs Way by public transport.

Tom O’Neill, from the Long Man Brewery, which won “Sussex Drink Producer of the Year” in 2021, said: “The South Downs Way is the lifeblood of so many businesses in the Cuckmere Valley and beyond, offering people the chance to escape, explore and discover the natural world around them. Here at Long Man we do everything we can to work at one with the natural systems and landscapes around us, including using our own barley grown alongside the trail to make our beer. We’re delighted to help celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the South Downs Way by brewing an exclusive beer with real South Downs Way provenance.” The special anniversary beer will be unveiled in September.


Ben Bessant, South Downs Way Ranger, offered some tips for people looking to walk the route. He said: “If you’re walking the South Downs Way, my advice is to be prepared for the weather. A sunny day can turn into a misty, damp day quite quickly, although we are lucky that the South Downs is one of the sunniest spots in the UK, so always have sun lotion on hand! “Do make use of the water taps along the route. There’s one every 10 miles or so and they do come in very handy.

“There’s obvious ones such as booking accommodation in advance, but a really big tip is to just be really present and take everything in as you do it. Cycling the South Downs Way is a much more energetic and transient experience, but the beauty of walking the South Downs is you really have the time to fully experience the locations you are going to.

“Also, explore the villages and towns on the way – there’s some incredible pubs and restaurants, serving locally-crafted food and drink.”

There is a dedicated team at the South Downs National Park Authority looking after the South Downs Way day to day. This team is funded and guided by the South Downs Way Trail Partnership made up of the South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, Hampshire County Council, West Sussex County Council and East Sussex County Council.

Have you got a story to share about the South Downs Way, or, if you’ve never been before, why not start your adventure today!? People are being encouraged to share their stories, anecdotes and reflections on social media using #50SDW.

Find out more information about the South Downs Way and to plan your visit

The South Downs Way route
The South Downs Way route


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