Trek Notes - England

South Downs Way

General Information
The South Downs Way, stretching for a hundred miles over a rare large area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in crowded Southern Britain, follows the chalk (soft limestone) ridge just to the North of the popular seaside towns on the Sussex and Hampshire coast. At intervals the hilly down lands are broken by “Wind gap” or river valleys, mixing the ridge walking with some meandering visits to beautiful rivers such at the Cuckmere, Arun, Ouse and Meon with their associated villages. Most of the route is ancient, made up out of the old droving roads that took animals and goods between the market towns of the region. There are many historical features, including a few remaining round towered Saxon churches, ancient “Dew Ponds” providing water on the high Downs for cattle, Cross dykes and tumulus burial sites, Bronze Age Hill forts and rings.

The weather on average is some of the best you could find in the British Isles, and soft boots or even trekking shoes are generally advised, as the surfaces are often – but not universally - dry and firm. The tour is accessible easily from London and the South East by the railways.

This is generally a leisurely paced walk enabling those who want to, to spend a bit of extra time looking at Some old churches, or dawdling by Cuckmere Haven, picnicking or pubbing up on some high down, or looking around lowland villages. There are however a couple of long days towards the end, largely due to the remoteness of the paucity of convenient enroute accommodation. For this reason there is a range in the quality of the overnight stops that we may use.

Duration of tour: 10 days (9 nights)
Season: mid April to mid October
Joining point: Alfriston (for Eastbourne)
End of tour:Winchester in Hampshire.

Getting to the Start

Outward journey from London to starting point: By train from London Victoria to Berwick (Sussex). Hourly service, changing at Lewes, normally taking 1hr 30 mins. At Berwick you can catch a shortbus hop or taxi to Alfriston. Inward journey to London at end of tour: From Winchester there are direct trains to London Waterloo. There are as many as 4 services an hour taking just over an hour. Services are direct.

Accommodation & Meals
Night 1 & 2: In Alfriston: A comfortable Victorian home, which combines the charm and informality of bed and breakfast with the comforts of a small hotel. It is on the outskirts of the village, away from traffic noise with good views down the Cuckmere Valley.
Night 3: In Rodmell: We stay at a traditional brick and flint building set in the centre of this ancient and beautiful village. The House was converted and enlarged in the 1920s from a 17th century barn. It is surrounded by five acres of lawns, rose gardens; orchards and a tennis court.and there are extensive flowery grounds to amble around. It is near to the old home of Virginia Woolf – Monks house.
Night 4: At Clayton we stay at the first of two country pubs on this tour with pleasant rooms and outlook near to the local windmills. Good food and beer are available.
Night 5: Steyning has an excellent hotel in the High Street where we stay, and it is a favourite of the tour. Once a Georgian Merchant’s house, built in 1772, it has been sympathetically converted into a charming ten bedroom Bed & Breakfast Hotel, offering the personal attention and comfort associated with a small, privately owned establishment. In the lounge there is a fully licensed bar with an adjoining Victorian conservatory overlooking the attractive country garden.
Night 6: In Amberley our cottage is in a marvellous rural setting. Rooms have excellent elevated views of the “Wildbrooks.” They are not ensuite but have “luxury” private bathrooms. There is also an extra washroom and drying room if you are really mucky from the walk.
Night 7: In Cocking (or Buriton) we stay at our second pub of the tour, the accommodation is the most a basic of the walk, non-ensuite, but hopefully made up for by the village life ambience. If you are a strong walker and can manage 22 miles in one day, then an alternative stop to the more basic pub stay at Cocking, is to stay at one in the attractive springline village of Buriton for a slight supplement. Here rooms are ensuite. This will give you a shorter walk the following day.
Night 8: At East Meon we are a little off the route, but we have found a nice guesthouse below the Downs. It is set in a three-acre garden, on a quiet country lane about half a mile above the picturesque Doomsday village. The house is surrounded by open farmland and most of the rooms have superb views of the Downs.
Night 9: In Winchester: We stay at a charming Victorian brick-and-flint house ideally situated in a quiet street in an old part of the town near the Cathedral, Winchester College and a few minutes' walk from the centre. All bedrooms are light and comfortable with garden views, and have colour televisions and tea/coffee facilities; these are non-ensuite, however.

Please note that a couple of the accommodations on this tour are not ensuite, and although we try to book them, the availability of ensuite rooms is not guaranteed in some of the other night stops.

Day 1: Alfriston: Travel to Alfriston, explore the Mediaeval town and amble by the Cuckmere River.This is one of the most beautiful villages in the Downs. The large church in the village is often called "the Cathedral of the Downs". The village is also home to the first property of the National trust, the Clergy House. It is said that the site of the Star Inn is where Alfred burnt his cakes. Alfred gave the area to one of his warlords, Aelfric, as a fief in rewards for battle valour.
Day 2: Eastbourne - Alfriston: (12 miles from Eastbourne Station/19.3 km) A Fantastic walk in reasonable weather conditions. Short morning train ride via Berwick, (or taxi ride) to Eastbourne (at own expense), quick look along the Victorian Promenade (ice cream?) and then start the walk up to Beachy head cliffs overlooking the famous Lighthouse. Rollercoaster along the “Seven Sisters” group of chalk down cliffs, until the scenery changes at Cuckmere Haven, a real beauty spot where the Cuckmere River meanders lazily down to the sea. Walk up the valley and across hillside footpaths to Littlington with its attractive pub and teashops before the last section across water meadows back to Alfriston.
Day 3: Alfriston - Rodmell (9.5 miles/ 15.2km) The Way rises up onto the high Downs reaching a high point on this section at Firle Beacon. Walk across farmland, until you reach the River Ouse gap near Rodmell. Fans of the Bloomsbury group of Bohemian artists will be keen to make an off route diversion to Alciston, Berwick and West Firle with various pubs and teashops. Rodmell Village has a pub and the “Monk’s House, where Virginia Woolf used to live.
Day 4: Rodmell - Clayton: (14 miles/ 22.5 km) After the Ouse the trail climbs above the historic town of Lewes.This section takes you up onto the highest parts of the Downs, round the back of the Brighton and Worthing conurbation, following mainly grassy tracks. You go over the highest point on the route at Ditchling Beacon 248 m. You may find an ice cream van up here in summer. Eventually, passing lark filled skies, the white “Jack and Jill“ Clayton windmills greet you on your descent down to Clayton.
Day 5: Clayton - Steyning: (10 miles/ 16 km) the route ascends and descends via the “Devil’s Dyke” – said to be the World’s largest chalk dry valley. There is a pub restaurant here, great views and circular walks that you can do if you want to spend more time on the heights. We then walk on through the parish of Upper Beeding to drop down to the Ardur River Valley. There follows another lovely stretch of The Downs with great views down to the villages below and ancient historical features abound such as Tumuli burial mounds and cross dykes. We descend off the Down to Steyning, a busy little country town with some nice shops.
Day 6: Steyning – Amberley: (11 miles/ 17.7km) Commence with a steep climb up to the fascinating Chanctonbury Ring – a Bronze Age hill fort settlement with one or two ghost stories attached to it. The Way then drops steeply to cross the A24 road and then climbs once again for the leg above the town of Storrington, where beautiful Downland trails or a minor roadfrom Chantry Post, can be used to make a pub diversionto this town. The trail etches its way over the fields and through pockets of forest to reach and descend to the attractive Triptych of villages: Amberley, Houghton and Bury on the lazily meandering River Arun. This is a beautiful rural setting, looking up at Downs rather than down from Ups.
Day 7: Amberley - Cocking(12 miles/ 19.3 km) The Way next follows flinty trails up Bury Hill, from where there is a footpath off The Downs to the Roman Villa remains at Bignor, and continues over Bignor Hill and its viewpoint (225m). There are many interesting historical features today including a couple of minutes on the Roman Road called Stane Street that connected Chichester with London. You could practice your navigation trying to find the Neolithic Camp just off of the route. Chichester Cathedral is also visible seaward. Descending into the Dry valley of the A285, there is then a steep climb up to a point from where it is about 0.25 miles South (off route); to the highest point on the South Downs at Crown Tegleaze at 253m. The route undulates across the scarp slope the Downs, soon entering dark and sometimes muddy woodland before dropping down to the A286 on Cocking Hill, from where it is a mile into Cocking village itself.
Day 8: Cocking – East Meon (18 miles/ 29 km) Quite a long, convoluted section often on woodland trails. Interesting features, including the Devil’s Jumps Tumuli; a group of large ancient burial hillocks. There is also Beacon Hill, an Iron Age Hill fort that you can pass over on the trail, which still has vestiges of the old ramparts and views towards Chichester Harbour. Winding around above the attractive villages of Harting and Buriton, The Way climbs and then descends through the Queen Elizabeth Country park. (There is a café). You then climb steeply up Butser Hill with Bronze Age field patterns etched upon it. The route then undulates over The Downs into some vast arable and wooded countryside, before dropping off route towards our accommodation near East Meon.
Day 9: East Meon to Winchester (16 miles/ 26km) Once back on the route we have a steep climb up to “Old Winchester Hill,” a National Nature Reserve and Iron Age Fortress from where the isle of Wight can be seen on a clear day. Descend beside a beautiful clear chalk stream in which you may see Brown Trout gliding about. At around lunchtime, The necklace of Meon Valley villages: Exton, Corhampton and Meonstoke are all within a mile of each other and are beautiful places to river watch and to quaff beer by as the Meon River is a real gem!
Day 10: Depart from Winchester. A gem of a town, the ancient capital of England and the kingdom of Wessex before that. The cathedral has the longest nave in Britain and there is a beautiful walk (flat at last!) down through the water meadows to St. Cross. Where a “Dole” of bread and Ale can still be obtained from the monastic buildings there. You should have plenty of time to look round before you have to take one of the many trains out of town.

Bed and breakfast accommodation with ensuite facilities where available. Luggage transfers from Inn to Inn during the tour. Full route book with maps and notes on finding your accommodation locations.Transport and transfers to and from train stations at the start and end of the tour are not included, nor are bus/train/taxi fares during the tour.

Extra nights: Extra nights are possible at any point in the tour. Two nights at Alfriston are already included, but Steyning or Winchester are both quite useful places for extra stops.

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