length

12 Days

difficulty

Moderate

trip cost

From $2995 pp

Icons / stylised / time Created with Sketch.

length

12 Days

Icons / stylised / difficulty Created with Sketch.

difficulty

Moderate

Icons / stylised /cost Created with Sketch.

trip cost

From $2995 pp

Nature Immersion

Cultural Interest

Self-Guided Trip

our walk experts

  • Overview
  • Highlights
  • Biodiversity
  • Itinerary
  • Route Map
  • Inclusions
  • navigation app
  • Similar walks

Overview

South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a glorious walking trail that weaves together fascinating layers of England’s history, culture, and natural beauty. It is an easy, uncomplicated pathway that beckons you to stride out, breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the moment! The path may be straightforward, but its complex historical layers stretch back to the Neolithic era, with walkers encountering remnants of Iron Age hill forts, including Chanctonbury Ring, medieval churches, and the iconic chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters. This age-old chalky landscape maintains a rich biodiversity, from wildflower-adorned grasslands and butterflies to woodlands teeming with wildlife. 

Intriguingly, the trail is also connected to ancient trading and droving routes that were once walked by thousands of pilgrims from the 12th century. The pilgrims journeyed along the Pilgrims Way and Old Way pilgrimage trails to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of Thomas Becket, which was one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Europe.

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Highlights

Get Ready For

  • Ancient Winchester, the 2,000 year old first capital city of England
  • One of the UK’s most biodiverse regions including over 30 butterfly species
  • The exhilarating Seven Sisters cliff walk with views over the English channel
  • Magnificent medieval Arundel castle and gardens 
  • Chanctonbury Ring, Iron Age Hillfort and Roman religious site
  • Amberley village with its beautifully preserved 17th-century thatched cottages
South Downs Way

Biodiversity

A unique landscape

The South Downs is a unique landscape with a remarkable variety of plants and animals found nowhere else in the UK. During May and June, the trail comes alive with vibrant colours from flowers like poppies, daisies, and wild thyme as well as rare orchids and bluebells and harebells. These beautiful floral displays not only add to the beauty of the landscape but also attract a diverse range of insects, butterflies, and birds, enhancing the area’s biodiversity. The downs also provide critical habitats for wildlife such as stoats, aka weasels, smooth snakes and other small mammals. Combining its natural wonders with a rich human and geological history, the South Downs is a fascinating destination that offers a glimpse into England’s natural heritage.

Itinerary

Daily Details

Day 1: Arrive Winchester

Welcome to medieval Winchester, the historic first capital city of England, where your walking adventure begins. Amidst the city’s age-old charm, you’ll also find a buzzing modern food scene led by celebrity chefs like Rick Stein and upmarket tearooms by Olly Biggs. Get ready to explore its rich history and delicious culinary delights before embarking on your glorious discovery of the South Downs Way.

Day 2: Free day in Winchester

Enjoy the city’s layered treasure trove of history, food and culture including its literary links to novelist Jane Austen and poet John Keats. An absolute must-visit is the awe-inspiring Winchester Cathedral to marvel at its Gothic splendour. Then wander through the quaint cobbled streets and explore the historic Great Hall of Winchester Castle where you can see the legendary Round Table of King Arthur. If you have time, take a quiet stroll along the River Itchen before enjoying the city’s foodie delights from fine dining to gourmet pizza. Oh, did we mention the Bombay Sapphire Gin distillery is just a 30-minute drive away? Amazing!

Meals: B

Day 3: Walk Winchester to Exton (19km)

As you set off on your adventure, savour the patchwork of lush farmland and wide open rolling fields. Morning tea awaits at quaint Chilcomb, where you can divert to visit St. Andrew’s Church, which predates Winchester Cathedral. Soon you’ll ascend Beacon Hill (there are two Beacon Hills on the trail, this is the smaller of the two) to enjoy panoramic views of the South Downs’ undulating hills. During medieval times, bonfires visible for miles around were lit on the hill to warn of invaders. The hill also holds religious significance, with ancient earthworks and burial mounds nearby. There’s a steep descent off the ridgeway as you make your way across the River Meon into the picture-perfect village of Exton.

Meals: B

Day 4: Walk Exton to Buriton (23km)

From Exton, you’ll climb Old Winchester Hill, a gorgeous grassy hill that is a haven for wildflowers including bellflower, wild thyme, and orchids. The site is of ‘Special Scientific Interest’ and managed by Natural England. The remains of an impressive Iron Age hill fort includes a variety of Bronze Age barrows which are still visible. This section of the walk provides some excellent views of the South Downs and beyond, including to the Isle of Wight. Continuing on, you’ll reach Butser Hill, the highest point of the South Downs at 270m. The climb offers a nice workout to get to the top but is well worth it for the gorgeous views. From here, the trail leads into the woodlands of Queen Elizabeth Country Park where you’ll find a visitor centre and café. Follow the winding route through pretty woods to eventually arrive at the village of Buriton where John Goodyer, one of Britain’s greatest botanists, lies in the churchyard in an unmarked grave. 

Meals: B

DAY 5: Walk Buriton to Cocking (19km)

Your views are limited today as you follow the trail along the top of the escarpment through shady woodland. You may wish to consider a small detour to South Harting for refreshments or a visit to St. Mary and St. Gabriel’s Church which is famous for its stained glass windows and statue of the Archangel Gabriel. You reach the second Beacon Hill today where the woods are sparse and the views open up to gorgeous patchwork of lovely fields rolling into the distance. The South Downs Way passes close to the strange and surreal Monkton Estate which has ties to artist Salvador Dali – you can’t see the house but make sure you listen for the live-in peacocks. Another unique piece of artwork by renowned environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy called the Chalk Stone Boulder lies just before Cocking. The unique piece of art consists of a large chalk boulder split into two halves with the Way winding between the two of them. What an amazing day full of surprises!

Meals: B

DAY 6: Walk Cocking to Arundel (22km)

We take a small diversion off the South Downs Way to the vibrant historic market town of Arundel. Arundel sits on the River Arun and is famed for its beautiful listed buildings including the Arundel Cathedral, magnificent Arundel Castle and gardens, and the stunning surrounding landscape. The Black Rabbit riverside pub is an institution and one of the most famous pubs in all of England. The pub offers gorgeous views from its beer garden, over nearby wetlands and the castle – the food is awesome as well! If you’re in need of a sweet treat to finish your meal we recommend Roly’s fudge in the high street where you can watch the fudge being made through their shop window. We’re smitten with this delightful town which is why we want to share it with you.

Meals: B

DAY 7: Walk Arundel to Amberley (12.5km)

A short day’s walk which will allow you to linger in Arundel or set off early to enjoy the equally delightful Amberley village with its idyllic array of fairy-tale thatched roof cottages. If you arrive in Amberley around lunch time we recommend the Bridge Inn for super tasty pub food. Today’s walk begins in the beautiful grounds of Arundel Park passing by Hiorne Tower, a delightful folly that starred in an episode of Dr Who called the Silver Nemesis. Who knew!? Enjoy the stunning sheep-dotted views across the hills as the trail dips up and down on a rollercoaster before descending to follow the River Arun. You will hear the river more than you see it but it offers good company as you make your way along its banks.

Meals: B

Day 8: Walk Amberley to Steyning (17.5km) or Bramber (19.5km)

On the ridgeway as you leave Amberley, the trail opens to wide open horizons filled with fields of farmland and teeny villages off in the distance. The walking is easy and flowing which allows the walker the luxury of thinking, or thinking of nothing. In todays’ demanding world, to just ‘be’ is a blessing and something to relish. Allow yourself time to look for wildlife, take in the views – pinch yourself that you’re here, doing this when many others don’t have that opportunity. Soon enough you will come upon Chanctonbury Ring is an Iron Age hill-fort dating back to the 6th century. Renowned for its distinctive circle of beech trees and steeped in folklore and myth, some legends claim that if you walk counterclockwise around the ring seven times, the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul! I’m not running, you’re running!

Meals: B

Day 9: Walk Steyning or Bramber to Lewes (29km)

Your longest day on the trail so consider getting an early start if you can. There are several hills which add to the challenge but this section also offers several highlights, including Devil’s Dyke. This site is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its diverse flora and fauna, including rare chalk grassland plants and a variety of butterflies and birds. Naturally, with a name like ‘Devil’s Dyke’ there is also a legend associated with it. According to folklore the Devil was so angry with the local  Christian parishioners that he dug a valley so deep as to drown the entire village. You will also likely encounter picnickers, paragliders and kite-flyers enjoying the popular local beauty spot. If you prefer to sit indoors, the century old Devil’s Dyke pub sits atop the hill and offers good food served with stunning views of the countryside. Another highlight of this section is the Jack and Jill windmills, originally used for milling flour, they are now much-loved local landmarks. The trail diverts to Lewes, a fabulous town offering charming streets lined with independent shops, cafes, and galleries.

Meals: B

Day 10: Walk Lewes to Alfriston (18km)

As you reluctantly leave Lewes, take heart that Alfriston, although much smaller, is just as charming with quaint streets, traditional cottages, tearooms and boutique shopping. After a pleasant river-side walk, and before you rejoin the South Downs Way, you may want to visit St Peter’s Church at Southease. The pretty church is famous for its circular tower and well-preserved Norman architecture. From here the trail climbs again to the top of the escarpment to offer more fine views over the coast and down to Cuckmere Haven. The ‘haven’ is a protected area where the River Cuckmere meets the English Channel and provides refuge for boats in rough weather. You will get a closer view tomorrow as the trail leads you through the Cuckmere valley towards the sea. After arriving in Alfriston and settling in you may want to consider the pleasant 3km stroll to the village of Wilmington where the famous ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ measuring 69m high is carved into the side of a chalky hill. Don’t despair if you can’t muster the energy because tomorrow the trail passes close by the impressive, but not quite as historic, Litlington White Horse.

Meals: B

Day 11: Walk Alfriston to Eastbourne (20km)

Get ready for an exhilarating journey ahead! We’re sure there’s no better way to end your walking adventure than with the wondrous Seven Sisters rollercoaster that awaits you. Today is all about the spectacular grassy rolling chalk cliff path with breathtaking views over the English Channel. Each of the seven hills has a name: Haven Brow, Short Brow, Flat Hill, Bailey’s Hill and more. It is a glorious ride taking you past Birling Gap, then onwards towards Beachy Head with its historical distinctive red and white lighthouse standing at the foot of the highest chalk sea cliffs in the UK. Finally, as you near elegant Eastbourne there is time to catch your breath and congratulate yourself. You did it! 

Meals: B

DAY 12: Depart Eastbourne

If you have time, wander along Eastbourne’s renowned pier and beachside promenade and admire the fine Victorian architecture. Check out of your accommodation today anytime before 10am. 

Meals: B

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Route Map

Explore

Winchester

Medieval Winchester is the historic first capital city of England. Amidst the city’s age-old charm, you’ll also find a buzzing modern food scene led by celebrity chefs like Rick Stein and upmarket tearooms by Olly Biggs. An absolute must-visit is the awe-inspiring Winchester Cathedral to marvel at its Gothic splendour.

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Exton

Picture-perfect Exton is an historic village that can trace its roots as far back as 940AD. It’s a great stop along the South Downs Way and has a couple of pubs to choose from.

Buriton

Buriton is an idyllic village with two pubs, a large duck pond, a Norman church and lots of pretty cottages. John Goodyer, one of Britain’s greatest botanists, lies in the churchyard in an unmarked grave. 

Cocking

The lovely village of Cocking lies in the shadow of Cocking Down and Linch Down. Just before you reach Cocking you’ll see a unique piece of artwork by renowned environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy called the Chalk Stone Boulder. Look out for the Cocking History Column – a unique bronze sculpture which commemorates key scenes in the village’s history.

Arundel

The vibrant historic market town of Arundel is famed for its beautiful listed buildings including the Arundel Cathedral, magnificent Arundel Castle and gardens, and the stunning surrounding landscape. The Black Rabbit riverside pub is an institution and one of the most famous pubs in all of England.

Amberley

Delightful Amberley village has an idyllic array of fairy-tale thatched roof cottages. The Bridge Inn serves super tasty pub food.

Chanctonbury Ring

This Iron Age hill-fort dates back to the 6th century. Renowned for its distinctive circle of beech trees and steeped in folklore and myth, some legends claim that if you walk counterclockwise around the ring seven times, the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul!

Lewes

Lewes is a fabulous town offering charming streets lined with independent shops, cafes, and galleries.

Alfriston

The small, charming village of Alfriston has quaint streets, traditional cottages, tearooms and boutique shopping. A pleasant 3km stroll takes you to the village of Wilmington where the famous ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ measuring 69m high is carved into the side of a chalky hill.

Eastbourne

Elegant Eastbourne is home to a renowned pier and beachside promenade, and fine Victorian architecture. The pier was built between 1866 and 1872 and has since become one of the town’s most iconic landmarks and a popular attraction for visitors. Eastbourne’s location on the English Channel provides stunning coastal views and its mild climate makes it an ideal spot for outdoor activities including hosting the Eastbourne International Tennis Tournament.

Inclusions

What's included?

Included
  • Hassle-free walking with exclusive use of our RAW Travel navigational hiking app
  • 11 nights quality accommodation including warm welcoming B&Bs, guest houses and small hotels
  • Daily breakfast including fresh fruits, yoghurt, cereals and/or a hearty, cooked English breakfast to support your day on the trail
  • Pack-free walking with luggage transfers on each hiking day (1 x 20kg bag per person)
  • UK-based RAW Travel support person 
  • RAW Travel hiker’s buff and luggage tag
  • Pre-trip guidance and planning from experienced and dedicated RAW Travel staff
  • Carbon offset and a native tree planted on your behalf
Excluded
  • Single supplement $1200
  • Travel insurance
  • Flights
  • Lunch and dinners
  • Taxi, bus fares
RAW Travel App

navigation app

finding your way

Our unique RAW Travel walking app has been designed to help you navigate easily on the South Downs Way. Simply download your map with the unique link we send you and you’ll be able to follow your route with ease, showing your location in real-time without any internet connection needed or cumbersome pages of notes. The app has many great features: it shows the location of each night’s accommodation, weather forecasts localised for your overnight stops, plus important reminders, safety information, videos and emergency contact details. It also has a unique audio feature that can tell you about places and points of interest as you approach them on the trail.

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