10 wonderful walks on the South Downs

Rural, Walking, The Great British Outdoors

Posted by Ed Roberts on 23rd July 2021

10 wonderful walks on the South Downs

The South Downs is a beautiful area of countryside and undulating hills, sheer white cliffs, and ancient chalk grasslands in the South East of England. Covering a vast 260-square-mile area that stretches from the Itchen Valley in the west, to Beachy Head in the east, there are endless walks to discover on your hiking holiday.

One of the prettiest areas of the South East of England, the South Downs is also the UK’s newest national park, established in 2011 to protect its natural beauty and its 37 SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) from oppressive over-development. There is an exciting variety of South Downs walks from circular walks, coastal walks, and valley walks in the national park with views for everyone to enjoy.

If you are hoping to enjoy a holiday in the South Downs, we have compiled an inspiring collection of trails for you to try out from coastal wonders to the national park’s highest point. Discover even more Sussex wonders in our guide to the wider county. Why not browse our collection of self-catering holiday cottages on the South Downs so you can enjoy several of these terrific walks?

South Downs cottages


The South Downs Way

The South Downs Way

The South Downs Way National Trail is 100 miles long and it follows the former pathways trodden by ancient drovers along the chalk ridgeway as they edge their way to the English Channel in a south-easterly direction. It is possible to walk the entire trail in six or seven chunks and we’d recommend it in order to get the very best out of your trip to West Sussex and East Sussex.

Distance: 100 miles

Difficulty: Strenuous to easy (depending on the section you choose)

Stay nearby: King Alfred Cottage | Sleeps: 3 guests + 1 dog 


Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters  

The Seven Sisters is a series of adjoined chalk cliffs that loom above the beach at Birling Gap near Eastbourne. There is a 3.5-mile-long linear walk that takes in chalk grasslands at the cliffs’ edge, views of Belle Toute Lighthouse, the Haven Brow Inn, and Cuckmere Haven. It’s a great choice for flower and wildlife spotting, and also for those with an interest in shipwrecks and WW2-era fortifications.

Distance: 3.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Beekeepers Rest | Sleeps: 4 guests + 2 dogs 


Beachy Head

Beachy Head

Beachy Head is Britain’s highest chalk cliff and it's simply awe-inspiring to stand at a safe distance from the edge and view the sea below and take it all in. The walk originates in Eastbourne, climbing up the hill to the heady heights and then back down to Birling Gap and on to the village of East Dean and across grasslands back to the starting point. This walk involves long yet steady bouts of climbing, and a combination of chalk pathways, pavements, and sealed tracks.

Distance: 5 miles (shorter, easier routes also)

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Stay nearby: Little Chelsea Apartment | Sleeps: 2 guests + 1 dog 


Butser Hill

Butser Hill

Butser Hill, near the sleepy market town of Petersfield, is the highest point in the national park. It’s safe to say that Butser Hill is known to locals and few outsiders, yet its views rival those of more famous hills like Box Hill, Worcestershire Beacon, and Ivinghoe Beacon. There is a fire beacon at the summit of the hill as well as myriad walking tracks all around the hill’s wooded slopes up to the grassy peak – it’s a true lesser-known gem.

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Stay nearby: The Lodge | Sleeps: 10 guests + 3 dogs 


Cuckmere River and Alfriston

Cuckmere River and Alfriston

The Cuckmere River is one of the finest waterside walks in the South East. With ample chances to see all kinds of birds, the trail is a pleasant mixture of ancient chalk figures, forest tracks, quiet lanes and unsealed paths. There are a few steep upward climbs and stiles during the course of the walk. Points of interest along the way include the gorgeous Friston Forest, Littlington Tea Gardens, the Long Man of Wilmington, the Littling White Horse, and of course the river itself.

Distance: 6.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: The Cottage | Sleeps: 5 guests + 1 dog 


The Mardens

The Mardens

In the depths of the South Downs to the north of Chichester, this 7-mile walk around North and East Marden is a well-kept secret. Winding through wooded hills and hidden valleys, across ancient farm fields in sight of Norman churches, it’s a moderate walk full of shade and surprise views that rear out of the trees and from behind hills. Try this walk in the springtime when the woodlands are carpeted in beautiful bluebells. Enjoy views of Goodwood Racecourse and the distinctive Trundle Hill too.

Distance: 7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: The Cart Barn | Sleeps: 2 guests + 1 dog 


Meon Valley

Meon Valley

The Meon Valley Trail is an absolutely spellbinding secret walk in the heart of the South Downs National Park. It’s quite rare to meet other wayfarers along this trail on a weekday and for long stretches, you will feel as if you have left your old life of busy streets far behind you. Pass through landscapes unchanged for thousands of years as well as discarded and forgotten manmade structures. You can see the outline of huge Butser Hill in the east too. It’s here that you will find the crystal-clear River Meon and the beautiful Old Winchester Hill.

Distance: 9.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Nettlebed Farm Barn 3 | Sleeps: 2 beds + 2 dogs 


Ouse Valley

Ouse Valley

Follow in the footsteps of the author Virginia Woolf along the course of the River Ouse through the blissful Ouse Valley in East Sussex. This South Downs walk winds through the picturesque villages of Southease and Rodmell, and onto Idford Hill and Firle Beacon above Lewes, and by the National Trust-managed former home of Virginia Woolf, Monk’s House. Enjoy a well-earned pint in The Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell along the way.

Distance: 9.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Starlings | Sleeps: 5 guests + 2 dogs 


Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon

Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon  

Devil’s Dyke is the longest and widest dry valley in the UK and is a lush paradise of flowers and wildlife. This trail is a part of the South Downs Way and ends at the 248-metre-high Ditchling Beacon. Taking in the area’s signature chalk grasslands and ancient fort earthworks, Clayton Windmills, the village of Saddlescombe, and the Wildflour Café.

Distance: 7 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Stay nearby: Rushfields Barn | Sleeps: 4 guests + 1 dog 


Cissbury Ring

Cissbury Ring

Historians will love this walk to the 5,000-year-old Cissbury Ring near Worthing, Sussex’s largest hill fort earthworks. For butterfly and wild orchid fans, this is also one of the best places in the South East of England to see all nature of lesser-spotted species. Managed by the National Trust, this is a fantastic walk where you can really step back in time and enjoy the unspoiled nature of your surroundings.  

Distance: 3 miles

Difficulty: Easy

Stay nearby: Downs Gate | Sleeps: 2 guests + 1 dog


Stay with us on the South Downs

We have a great selection of self-catering holiday homes that provide the ultimate backdrop to your walking holiday in the South Downs. Browse our range of South Downs accommodation today to feel inspired. Click on the button below to begin your adventure.

South Downs cottages



Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.