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:
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.