England is crisscrossed by National Trails, which showcase the best walking in the whole country. All have a focus on blending the rich history and culture of the area, with some incredible scenery. Down in the very south of England there sits a National Trail which is rich in history, from the more well-known Cathedrals and stately homes to the more rural, pagan history that runs rampant throughout the countryside. Whether it is Saxon capital cities or ancient fairy rings you are after from your history, there is one trip that has it all, the South Downs Way.
Meandering path into Bury[/caption]
In a Nutshell:
Where: The South Downs Way is located in the very south of England, starting just an hour from London in the ancient capital of Winchester. It then winds its way through beautiful, mystical countryside to reach the stunning South Coast, ending up with a dramatic jaunt along the coast to finish in the charming town of Eastbourne. Distance: This National Trail is 100 miles in total, and we offer it over a couple of different itineraries so that you can push yourself, or relax as you see fit. The most challenging is six walking days, which sees you averaging around 18 miles per day, but we offer a more sedate eight walking days which brings the average down to approximately 13 miles per day. Grade: This one is a Moderate graded trip, but if you go for the six walking days it is bumped up to Moderate to Strenuous. The distances are the thing that pushes it up into this category, but the walking itself is reasonably straightforward. There are a few slightly steep sections, but generally, the path is gently undulating, well made and well maintained. Also, being a National Trail means that the waymarking is impeccable, so getting lost is not an easy thing to do.
Walking through rapeseed fields.
Why Walk Here?
This part of England is a joy to walk through as it presents several different sides. The South Downs are steeped in a mysterious and magical Pagan history, and according to the official South Downs website, the area is home to 80% more faeries (not the pleasant skirt and wand type, but the ancient, evil kind) and a third more ghosts than anywhere in the country. While we can't guarantee any sightings on our trips, there is definitely a deep air of mystery in the region with twisted old yew trees, Iron age forts and fairy circles all on the route. The more tangible history lies in the towns and cities. Winchester, complete with its 900-year-old Cathedral and 12th Century Castle, Winchester was the Saxon Capital of England and is a town steeped in history. With narrow streets and waterside paths, this relaxed and charming town will definitely win a place in your heart. Other notable towns on the route include Alfriston, a cosy little village with thatched roofed houses, Tudor beam cottages, a village green and full of local pubs ready to supply you with something local after a day on the trail. Eastbourne also makes for a great finish to the route. Unfortunately long known as 'deaths waiting room' Eastbourne was a haven for the elderly, looking for some warm weather in their later years, but now Eastbourne is a lot more vibrant, with a great explosion of restaurants and bars and coastal charm which will end your trip perfectly.
Winchester Cathedral dominates the skyline
As with most of the National Trails, the South Downs Way is a showcase of natural wonder. Set in the South Downs National Park you would expect the scenery to be pretty nice, but the route really outdoes itself with beauty. There are Beacon Hill Nature Reserve, Queen Elisabeth Country Park, Heyshott and Graffham Downs nature reserves to pass through, all with varying landscapes and highlights, all carpeted in wildflowers and replete with butterflies. Then there is the Devil's Dyke, a strangely manmade looking valley with a white chalk path that cuts through the centre. This is apparently where Satan made his last stand against Christianity, but again, no sightings are guaranteed! The piece-de-resistance of the whole trip is on the final day when you reach the coast and are confronted with the spectacular cliffs of the South Coast. The remarkable Seven Sisters, massive white cliffs that drive down into clear blue sea are a joy to behold. Just past the seven sisters, you will find the majestic Beachy Head, Britains highest sea cliff, dropping a massive 162 metres into the sea, the sheer, bright white cliff topped by rich green grass is a fantastic site and a great one to finish up with.
The Seven Sisters
Planning and Preparation
Walking the South Downs Way could not be easier. Well connected from London, Winchester is only an hour from London Waterloo and Eastbourne only an hour and a half on the way back. The trail is open between March and October. Summer can get pretty warm, and we would recommend Spring as the best season to walk when the wildflowers are bursting into life. If you have any questions about the route, don't hesitate to contact one of our Destination Specialists, who will be more than happy to help. For more information about the South Downs Way, have a look here.