- The National Trails
- Cleveland Way
- Cotswold Way
- England Coast Path
- Glyndŵr's Way
- Hadrian's Wall Path
- North Downs Way
- Offa's Dyke Path
- Peddars Way / Norfolk Coast Path
- Pembrokeshire Coast Path
- Pennine Bridleway
- Pennine Way
- South Downs Way
- South West Coast Path
- Thames Path
- The Ridgeway
- Yorkshire Wolds Way
Trail Information and FAQs
We have tried to provide answers to the most common questions about the Trail here. If you can't find the information you are looking for please contact us directly and we'll do our best to help.
About the Trail
The 100 miles (160 Km) long South Downs Way National Trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs. The route provides the visitor with the opportunity "to get away from it all" without having to travel too far in this busy part of England. The undulating route provides a wonderful trip for long distance riders as well as walkers. It also provides interesting day trips and short breaks.
Most people take 8 or 9 days to walk the whole 100 miles (160km) at 12 – 15 miles (25km) a day.
It’s worth considering if you are walking that the villages where accommodation is are at the foot of the hill so you’ll have to walk down in the evening and up in the morning.
To cycle the South Downs Way takes 2 or 3 days if you are used to off road cycling. It is possible to do it in a day but that’s an extreme challenge! There’s about 12,600ft (3800m) of climb as well as the 100 miles (160km) of distance.
That's not such an easy question to answer - there are lots of fastest times :
- The fastest run of the SDW is currently Robbie Britton set in 2013 at 15 hrs 43 mins
- Fastest unconfirmed cycle ride is 7 hrs 50 mins
- Fastest SDW double cycle is currently Josh Ibbett at 17hrs 47 mins
- Fastest SDW double on a single speed bike is Rob Dean at 18 hrs 41 mins.
- Fastest SDW double cycle by a female is Lydia Gould at 27 hrs 26 mins.
- Fastest SDW triple cycle is currently Richard Sterry in 37 hrs 04 mins.
- Fastest horse ride is unknown.
- Fastest non-motorised wheelchair user to complete the SDW is Swasie Turner in 9 days!
Anyone who is reasonably fit can walk the South Downs Way – if you can comfortably walk say 12 miles (20km) in a day you shouldn’t have a problem. You’ll enjoy it more if you do a few long day walks beforehand to get fitter.
You should be used to off road cycling before you commit yourself to cycling the South Downs Way – doing it in anything less than 3 days will require quite a high degree of fitness.
The South Downs Way is much more of a challenge for horse riders because of the road crossings and logistics of accommodation for horses.
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.
The South Downs Way couldn’t be maintained without the help of dedicated volunteers. Our volunteers get involved in surveying, practical work, helping at public events and administration.
The South Downs National Park has a dedicated volunteer coordinator. If you’re interested in volunteering on the National Trail or across the South Downs you can find out more from their website.
Exploring the Trail
It's easy to get to the South Downs Way, it has good public transport links which get better the further east you go. There are main line trains and long distance coaches to both Winchester and Eastbourne as well as several places in between. Allow around 60 – 90 minutes from London. Ferries to Newhaven and Portsmouth, and the London Airports (especially Gatwick) are handy for overseas visitors.
We encourage you to come and visit the South Downs by public transport, however, if you do decide to drive then the road connections to the M25/M3/M23/M27 are good.
Car Parks are often small in the South Downs, with farm machinery sometimes passing through especially during harvest, so please park considerately. Main car parks are shown on the interactive map.
See the Public Transport page for more information.
If you are walking the Trail there are plenty of companies that can book your accommodation, arrange transport of your bags or plan the whole trip for you. There are also companies that can arrange a bike tour for you. See the Baggage Handlers page or the Holiday Operators page for more information.
Unfortunately we are not aware of any companies that can organise riding tours. If you know of anyone that does please get in touch.
The South Downs Way can be enjoyed at any time of the year. However it does get busier during school holidays and on weekends between May and September you should expect to come across larger organised events.
You can do it in either direction, and of course you don’t have to do the whole Trail in one go anyway. The guidebook is written from east to west, starting at Eastbourne and ending at Winchester. The Trail Officer’s personal recommendation is to do it the other way, start in the west and head east, ending at Eastbourne. There are two reasons for this; one is that the wind will be behind you rather than in your face. More importantly the Hampshire countryside is very attractive but the white chalk cliffs at Beachy Head are spectacular.
We recommend that you take a map or guidebook with you, or a copy of the walk leaflet if you are walking a circular walk
It is also worth remembering that except for a few exceptions most pubs, cafes and shops are off the Trail, therefore you should take some snacks and drink with you to ensure you don’t get caught out.
Mobile phone reception is generally good. Most of the Trail follows an open ridgeline and has mobile phone reception including 3G. Areas with no reception are short and a few minutes walk will find you back in signal.
Some accommodation providers offer Wi-Fi. If this is important to you please check when booking.
The entire South Downs Way follows a series of defined Rights of Way along which you have a legal right of access.
An acorn is the symbol of the National Trails and it will be found on all signposts and waymark posts along the Trail.
When using the South Downs Way you will see the following symbols on the Trail or on connecting paths, which can be used by vehicles, horse riders, cyclists or walkers as indicated.
An acorn, the symbol of Britain's National Trails, is used to guide your journey by marking the route in a variety of ways. It is used in conjunction with coloured arrows or the words 'footpath', 'bridleway' or 'byway' to indicate who can use a particular right of way.
The yellow arrow indicates a path for use by walkers The word 'footpath' and/or a yellow arrow indicates a path for use by walkers only and where, without the landowner's permission, it is illegal to cycle, ride a horse or drive a vehicle.
The blue arrow indicates a path which can be used by walkers, horseriders and cyclists The word 'bridleway' and/or a blue arrow indicates a path which can be used by walkers, horseriders and cyclists but where, without the landowner's permission, it is illegal to drive any vehicle.
The plum arrow indicates a path which can be used by walkers, horseriders, cyclists and carrige drivers. The term 'restricted byway' and/or a plum arrow indicates a path which can be used by walkers, horseriders, cyclists and carrige drivers but where, without the landowner's permission, it is illegal to drive any motorised vechicle.
The red arrow indicates a right of way which can be legally used by walkers, horseriders, cyclists, carrige drivers and motorists.The word 'byway' and/or a red arrow indicates a right of way which can be legally used by walkers, horseriders, cyclists, carrige drivers and motorists.
To report a problem on the trail go to the Report a Problem page. From here you will need to identify where the problem is on the map and add some details. If you want to be informed about progress to resolve the problem please add your email address.
Trail staff aim to resolve problems as quickly as they can, but some things do take a long time. Please be patient if you do not see immediate resolution.
Who can enjoy the Trail
The National Trail has been developed for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. In some places the walkers route takes a slightly different line to the bridleway route.
The South Downs Way is open to mountain bikers and horse riders for the full 100 miles from Eastbourne to Winchester. Please be aware that there are sections where footpath and bridleway routes are separate, cyclists and horses must stick to the bridleway. Notably between Alfriston and Eastbourne at the eastern end of the Trail. The coastal route over the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head is a footpath only and can not be ridden. Cyclists and Horse-riders must use the Bridleway route, passed the ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ and through Jevington to Eastbourne.
Winchester isn’t an ideal starting point for equestrians – if you are planning to ride the whole Trail we advise starting or finishing at Chilcomb village instead. This avoids the city centre and M3 bridge crossing. Please note that Chilcomb is a small village and is best suited as a setting down and picking up point only. Please park considerately in the village.
Your dog is welcome on South Downs Way but as with any countryside must be under close control. Please remember that the South Downs is a farmed landscape and livestock are common.
Cows with calves are very protective and can be aggressive towards dogs. Try to avoid walking close to cows with calves, if you encounter any aggression release your dog, do not try to pick it up.
National Trails are not intended for motor vehicles. Some sections of the Trail can be legally used by recreational vehicles, however there are also several Traffic Regulation Orders banning vehicles from sections they could otherwise use. Vehicle drivers should check with the relevant County Council for details.
Walkers, cyclists, and horse riders should note that much of the South Downs Way runs on farm tracks so you may well meet agricultural vehicles almost anywhere.
The South Downs Way doesn’t have any stiles, at least on the bridleway route, but it is not engineered as a fully accessible route. Parts are steep and much of it is used by farm vehicles. It is possible to explore the Trail using a “Tramper” or other rugged mobility scooter. Contact the Trail Team for more information and contact details for disabled people who’ve already enjoyed completing the Trail.
The South Downs Way is a very popular venue for organised events including charity events and endurance challenges. Weekends in summer can be especially busy.
If you are organising or thinking of organising an event along part or all of the Trail please contact the Trail Team.
What is special about the Trail
The South Downs Way is one of the 15 National Trails in England and Wales. National Trails are designated by the Secretary of State and are administered by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, and managed by the local authorities and National Park Authorities whose area they pass through.
Most National Trails have a dedicated Trail Manager responsible for maintaining the high quality standards on the Trail. National Trails are waymarked with the distinctive “acorn” symbol.
National Trails are special because they pass through some of the best landscapes, and they are managed to a very high standard. Because of this you can be confident that any journey you make along a National Trail will be one of the best you have taken.
Natural England sets quality standards for National Trails and their management. You can find out more on the Natural England website.
The South Downs Way is tranquil island in the busy South East running entirely within the new South Downs National Park. You can feel a million miles from the hustle and bustle of modern life, but only be a few minutes from civilisation.
Running along a chalk ridge means that the Trail drains and dries out quickly making it good year round. The elevated position ensures you are rewarded by breathtaking views across the English Channel and Isle of Wight to the south and over the wooded Weald and heathland ridges to the north.
Whether you’re walking, on a mountain bike or on horseback the South Downs Way passes through a varied landscape of protected habitats including internationally important chalk rivers, internationally rare species rich chalk grasslands and beautiful ancient woodland. The Trail passes through or passes by 5 National Nature Reserves and dozens of Sites of Special Scientific Interest where you can enjoy stunning wildlife at close hand.
Maps, guides, certificates and merchandise
There are a number of different maps and guides. The official guide is produced by Aurum Press. You can see a list of the most popular maps and books on the Maps and Guides page.
Yes – you can. Simply complete this questionnaire and we will send you one. Please complete all the questions and give as much detail as you can by adding any comments or suggestions for improving the South Downs Way. Don't forget to include your name and address.
How to add information to the Trail map
Anyone can add information to the website. We hope that people who have enjoyed the National Trails will want to share their good experiences and that businesses will promote their services by adding information to the map.
You can add information to the map. This includes:
- Points of interest or attractions
- Services - for example shops, pubs, vets, cycle hire shops etc
- Details of your accommodation business
- Events - for example farmers’ markets, village fetes, guided walks
- Information to help horse riders or cyclists such as busy road crossings or water points
To add content you will need to sign up – click the join button in the top right corner. You’ll need a username and an email address. We won’t give your email address to anyone, we’ll only use it if you need a password reminder or if we need to contact you directly. For more information read our data protection policy.
Once you’re signed in you can add information to the map by clicking here.