South Down Way


This had been our first long distance path and we had got the bug well and truly. It had been a great experience and it had all gone as smoothly as we had hoped. The weather had been fabulous, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions. We perhaps should have taken a few more photos on certain days but being on a ridge means you are looking at the same view for much of the day. We also found that due to the great weather there was a heat haze which meant we were getting poor definition which didn’t help. With the exception of the blister, our fitness regime had paid off and our stamina had improved during the week to the point that we actually felt in better shape at the end, than at the beginning. We had learnt a few lessons which would stand us in good stead for our next LDP, but overall we had covered most eventualities and we were quite chuffed that it had gone so well.

It is a lovely walk and we would certainly recommend it to others but with a word of caution. Don’t underestimate it, a flat walk it is not!


The terrain
Many assume that the SDW is an easy walk. Yes, it is in the south of England and the highest point is a mere 888ft. But people who don’t know the area, don’t realise that the downs are criss crossed, north to south by roads in natural valleys. The SDW is east to west which means an awful lot of ascents and descents, most of which are steep. In addition, all accommodation (except Alfriston) requires the walker to come off the hill, so there is an additional descent in the evening followed by a sharp ascent first thing in the morning just to get to and from the route. On top of that, most accommodation isn’t conveniently situated at the foot of the downs right next to a path, directly connected to the SDW, so yet more mileage. It is not unusual to add 1000ft of ascent and descent and 2-4 miles extra to your day, just getting to and from your accommodation. The mileages I have used in the narrative do not include these extra miles.

The tracks are all well signposted and vary between chalk and flint along with muddier sections where water has run off and accumulated, especially in the valleys. Most of the walking on the ridge line is downland turf and easy going. Even if there has been prolonged rain, much of the route will remain relatively dry as water runs through the chalk.

With the exception of Alfriston there are no shops on the direct route. However, having had to come off the route to find accommodation, most villages do have a general store of some sort where provisions can be purchased but choice can be limited. There are two pubs at Beauworth and at Devils Dyke which are directly on the route and may be of use if itineraries allow, but neither have accommodation.
Due to the problems of re-supply, we did order packed lunches from the B&B’s at South Harting, Bury and Kingston.

Guide book and maps
We took, Along The South Downs Way guide book, published by the Society of Sussex Downsmen which at first glance doesn’t appear to give a lot of detail and I was sceptical whether it would be enough. The book is not written in the style of modern walking guide books like the very good Trailblazer series. However, once on the ground and using it in earnest, it is very clear. We also took 1:25000 OS Maps that cover the whole route which clearly mark out the path. We only had to refer to them a couple of times, as the way marking was excellent and easy to follow throughout.

We had never stayed in B&B’s or pubs before so we didn’t know what level of quality to expect. In the main we were pleasantly surprised, although we did have the odd issue with a couple. At the end of the day it is a bed for the night and as long as it is clean, then after a hard day out on the Downs, you won’t be too picky anyway.

Although in the south of England the downs can be extremely windy, as they are high enough for one thing, but also they are close enough to the sea to pick up coastal breezes especially in the second half of the route.
We had wonderful hot weather during our walk at the beginning of April, too hot on a couple of days which isn’t unusual for the summer but it was unusual to be quite so hot in early April. Even so it can be wet and cold and as most of the route is exposed, rather uncomfortable one would imagine.

We carried all our own stuff so 45 and 55 litre packs were the order of the day which were just about sufficient. We didn’t take trekking poles but they would have been helpful on some of the ascents and descents. We took 2 sets of clothes and alternated as and when required as well as rinsing through if necessary. In addition, a fleece, water proof coat and over trousers completed the clothing side of things. Swiss army knives, torch, first aid kit along with camera, camcorder, mobiles and associated chargers were also taken. With food and water we ended up carrying approximately 21lbs for Rachel and 24lbs for me.


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