The South Downs Way is a 100-mile (160km) long-distance footpath and National Trail which follows the ridgeline of the South Downs. The South Downs Way is the only National Trail that lies wholly within a National Park, spanning the South Downs National Park, England’s most recent National Park designated in 2010.
The trail starts in the cathedral city of Winchester in the West and finishes up in the seaside resort of Eastbourne in the East. The route passes by a number of villages along the way, including Cocking, Amberley, Washington, Fulking, Pyecombe, and Alfriston. Towards the end of the trail, the route also covers the beautiful Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and Beachy Head with views over the iconic Beachy Head Lighthouse. The entire National Trail is waymarked with ‘South Downs Way’ signs and there are various distance markers along the way to show your progress.
The 100-mile long walk is usually tackled over 6-10 days, depending on how far you want to walk each day. Completing in 6 days, will require you to walk 16.7 miles a day, whereas completing in 10 days will require you to walk 10 miles a day. Most people typically take 8 or 9 days to complete the walk.
Whilst completing the South Downs Way is considered a great achievement, anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can walk the route. The days it takes you to walk the route can be extended or shortened, depending on how far you feel capable walking each day. Unsurprisingly, the route is quite hilly in places, some days more than others and the terrain can be quite uneven in places so we recommend proper walking shoes (that you have worn in!) and plenty of snacks and water.
There are many different ways logistically to walk the South Downs Way. If you live locally and have access to two cars, you can park one car at the start of the walk, and one at the finish, which is considered the cheapest option although does involve a fair amount of driving.
For those who do not live locally, many people decide to camp on campsites located along the route. This is a cheaper option and allows you to get the full outdoor experience! If camping is not for you, there is plenty of fantastic accommodation along the route.
Also, if you do not wish to carry your luggage from point to point, there are a number of baggage transfer providers, which will transport your luggage from point A to point B.
Below we have listed the day-by-day start and finish points if you were to complete the route over 8 days.
If you are driving and taking 2 cars, see the Car Parks section below for where to park for each of these locations and refreshments section for cafes.
Day 1: Winchester – Exton (19.5km or 12 miles)
Day 2: Exton – Buriton (20km or 12.5 miles)
Day 3: Buriton – Cocking (18km or 11 miles)
Day 4: Cocking – Amberley (19km or 12 miles)
Day 5: Amberley – Upper Beeding (19.5 km or 12 miles)
Day 6: Upper Beeding – Lewes (25km or 15.5 miles)
Day 7: Lewes – Alfriston (22km or 13.5 miles)
Day 8: Alfriston – Eastbourne (17 km or 10.5 miles)
If you are using our itinerary of walking the South Downs Way in 8 days then these are some car parks if you are planning on taking 2 cars.
Exton – no official car parks but room to park on roads – applying usual common sense.
Buriton is next to Queen Elizabeth Country Park so best to park here, there is also a cafe here and facilities – what3words: ///caressing.welcome.bluff
Cocking – there is a small car park right next to where the SDW meets the a286. There is also the Flint Barn cafe here just by the car park. -what3words: ///section.lads.riper
Amberley – top of the hill by the A29, just as you come into Houghton on the B2139 (plenty of cafes and pubs in Amberley) -what3words: ///storm.thinnest.error
Upper Beeding – there is a car park by the roundabout on the A283 (The South Downs Fodder Box directly on the SDW by Upper Beeding) -what3words: ///trails.homelands.spits
Lewes – you can park on the little road that runs alongside the a27 where the SDW crosses over the a27 -what3words: ///credible.downs.relieves
Alfriston there is a public car park
We’ve listed some of the fabulous cafes and places to get tea/coffee and cake directly on (or just a short walk) from the SDW path. Take a look at our guide for refreshments on the South Downs Way.
Meon Springs Fly Fishery, GU32 1HW
Queen Elizabeth Country Park, tap is in the courtyard outside the cafe
Cocking, Tap is on a stone pillar as you walk through Manor Farm, GU29 0HS
Glaseby Lane, Washington. On the right-hand side when heading west to east.
YHA Truleigh Hill, just outside the hostel (near Upper Beeding/Shoreham)
Saddlescombe Farm, near Devils Dyke
Housedean Farm, there is a sign on the wall to the entrance of the farm with an arrow pointing to the tap (near A27 between Falmer and Kingston)
Southease Church, tap next to the bench at the church entrance
Kings Barn Camping, Steyning, open from July for a short period
To feature your accommodation or campsite, please get in touch
Top tip 1: Make sure to pack plenty of food and water. Whilst we had visions of plentiful cafes on route to refuel, cafes were a bit sparser than hoped so make sure to stock up on Mars bars! There are water refill points on the route also, but these are not always as regular as you may need so best to pack an extra bottle.
Top tip 2: Try to start the final day as early as possible. This means you can take your time and enjoy the last down without feeling rushed. It also means you can celebrate completing the route – we recommend treating yourself to fish & chips from Harry Ramsden’s on the beach and watching the sunset.
We have put together a blog post detailing how to cycle the South Downs Way (tried and tested!) so if you are looking to cycle the SDW, check the blog post out for more information along with an itinery.
We hope this has inspired you to lace up your walking boots and tackle some, if not all of the South Downs Way. Please tag us in any of your photos using the tag @discover_sussex on Instagram – we would love to see your adventures!
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