Best hikes in South Downs, England

Walking In South Downs

Region in England, United Kingdom

Green rolling hills, windswept cliffs, and lush woodland – the South Downs represents the English countryside at its best. This beautiful national park covers three counties in the south of England, a lush, green region with a long history. Inhabited for thousands of years, you’ll find traces of past civilizations hidden around every corner, as you walk through some truly stunning landscapes

The South Downs is England’s youngest national park, and it represents the bucolic, pastoral side of the British landscape. Much of the chalk hills of the South Downs are covered in farmland, but there’s no shortage of wildlife that calls this beautiful region home. Keep your eyes open for rare species of butterfly and dragonfly, as well as badgers, deer, stoats, nightingales and woodpeckers. You’ll have the chance to walk through ancient groves of yew trees, and stroll along paths decorated with wild orchids.

The South Downs also have a long literary history, inspiring poets and writers to compose fitting words to match the beauty of the landscape. Most famously, Alfred Lord Tennyson would regularly stroll to the Temple of the Winds, a Bronze Age mound, where he would sit and contemplate one of the most beautiful views in the south of England. A trip to this beautiful place is enough to inspire anyone to put pen to paper.

To give you a little inspiration for your next trip, we’ve put together a series of awesome hikes in the South Downs. Happy hiking!

Top 10 Walks In South Downs

The South Downs National Park offers some of the loveliest scenery in England, with all kinds of trails to suit every walker! There are plenty of easy trails suitable for families with young children and those with accessibility issues, meaning that you can get out into the countryside to experience the wild landscapes, even if you’re a beginner hiker. However, don’t let the diminutive size of these rolling hills fool you. If you’re looking for something more strenuous, the downs are an excellent place for a workout, and some of the longer trails listed here will challenge even fit hikers. Whatever you’re looking for, the South Downs has a walking trail for you.

  • East Meon and Butser Hill Walk: This lovely route is one of the finest easy walks in the South Downs. Butser Hill is the highest peak in the region, meaning you’ll have some sensational views from the summit. The trail passes through beautiful woodland and emerges on the South Downs Way, passing by the historic 12th-century church of East Meon along the way.
  • Temple of the Winds Walk: The Temple of the Winds is a classic South Downs route and a must for all visitors. The trail remains relatively flat throughout, but you’ll enjoy some of the best views that the South Downs has to offer. The trail brings you to a bench offering a stunning view over the downs, in the spot where Alfred Lord Tennyson was once inspired to compose his poems. We’re sure you’ll be inspired too.
  • The Long Man of Wilmington to Alfriston Walk: This short hike is a great family walk in the South Downs, with a view of the famous Long Man of Wilmington, a giant hill figure carved into the hillside. You’ve have views that extend all the way to the sea, and a wonderful panorama of the magnificent South Downs scenery. Don’t miss the opportunity toe explore the lovely village of Alfriston, with its 14th-century church.
  • Southease and the River Ouse Walk: This wonderful hike is the perfect way to introduce your family to the tranquil beauty of the South Downs. The walk begins with an easy stroll along the River Ouse before ascending gently to the South Downs Way where you’ll enjoy some incredible views. Reward yourself with a pit stop at the family-friendly Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell.
  • Hassocks to Lewes Walk: This hike is a real gem, and one of our favorite day walks in the South Downs. The trail departs from Hassocks and ascends steeply to Clayton, passing by a series of picturesque windmills. You’ll enjoy panoramic views on a section of the South Downs Way, before following the River Ouse all the way to the historic town of Lewes, where you can explore the impressive medieval castle.
  • Arundel Castle and Pubs Walk: This wonderful walk combines fascinating history, some great pubs, and the spectacular South Downs scenery. The walk begins in the pretty town of Arundel, where you can explore Arundel Castle, and then continues along the River Arun passing through lush woodland and beautiful countryside. You’ll find plenty of pubs and cafes along the way where you can stop and admire the views.
  • East Dean, Beachy Head and Birling Gap Walk: This strenuous hike is one of the best challenging walks in the South Downs. You’ll ascend a steep cliff that follows the cliff edge, passing along an invigorating windswept trail to the iconic Beachy Head and its red and white lighthouse. The views are simply stunning, and this is one of the best ways to spend a day out in the glorious landscapes of the South Downs.
  • Amberley to Shoreham-by-Sea Walk: This fantastic trail follows one of the most beautiful parts of the South Downs Way, from Amberley all the way to Shoreham-by-Sea. It’s a long hike with some steep sections, but it’s a manageable hike for most fit walkers. The trail passes by the prehistoric hill fort at Chanctonbury Ring, offering a wonderful panorama over the South Downs.
  • Amberley and the River Arun Walk: This fantastic hike passes through some stunning, varied scenery, and is one of our favorite walks in the South Downs. Stroll along the banks of the lovely River Arun, and pass through the historic village of Amberley. The route then takes you up a steep trail to Amberley Mount, where you’ll have an unforgettable view over the English landscape.
  • Glynde and Mount Caburn Walk: This wonderful trail is a South Downs gem, passing along an undulating path that ascends from the village of Glynde all the way up to Mount Caburn. You’ll have an incredible view over the surrounding landscape, and the trail is relatively easy and accessible, making for a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

When Is The Best Time To Go Walking In South Downs

The mild climate of the south of England means that you can go hiking in the South Downs throughout the year! Autumn and winter can be wet and windy, which makes some of these trails a little hard going, particularly paths that follow the cliffs. Summer offers the best weather, but on hot, sunny days the route can often be quite exposed, as there are relatively few trees in the South Downs. As a result, we think that the best time to go walking in the South Downs is in spring and early summer. At this time of year the weather is usually fairly warm, but not too hot, and the downs are covered in beautiful wildflowers.

Other Outdoor Activities In South Downs

Hiking is one of the most popular things to do, but there are plenty of other fantastic outdoor activities in the South Downs! This part of England is a wonderful place for road biking and mountain biking, with plenty of cycling trails crisscrossing the beautiful countryside. There are also many opportunities for horse riding or wildlife watching, especially at one of the local bird reserves.

How To Plan A Trip To South Downs

Want to plan a trip to the South Downs but not sure where to start? We’ve got it covered. Check out our guide to planning a trip to the South Downs, complete with tips on where to stay and good places to eat. All you need to do is sit back, relax, and start dreaming of your next adventure in the beautiful English countryside!

Frequently-Asked-Questions About South Downs

How long does it take to walk the South Downs Way?
The South Downs Way is a long distance walking trail that runs for 100 miles across the length of the South Downs. This beautiful trail passes through some gorgeous undulating scenery, between Winchester and Eastbourne. It usually takes most people 9 days to walk the entire trail, at an average of 12-15 miles per day.

Why are the South Downs called downs?
Downs are round, grassy hill in England that are usually made up of chalk. The name comes from the Old English ‘dun’ meaning ‘hill. Downs are common throughout the UK, but they have different names in other parts of the country (for example ‘wolds’ in Yorkshire).

How big is the South Downs National Park?
The South Downs covers 628 square miles in the south of England, including the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex.

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Best Hikes in South Downs

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    Open details for Levin Down Circular Walk

    Levin Down Circular Walk

    Easy
    5.5 km
    228 m
    1.5-2h

    The Levin Down Circular Walk is a wonderful, family-friendly journey. Look out for the livestock roaming this path, such as chickens, sheep and horses. You will have to navigate some stiles and gates, so ensure you wear comfortable walking shoes.

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    Open details for Friston Forest Walk

    Friston Forest Walk

    Moderate
    10.3 km
    234 m
    2.5-3.5h

    The Friston Forest Walk is a beautiful, pet-friendly walk. Take in the stunning, rolling hill views of the surrounding English countryside. The path will take you through the woodlands, where you can get away from the busy city life and surround yourself with nature.

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    Open details for Amberley Wild Brooks Walk

    Amberley Wild Brooks Walk

    Hard
    22.2 km
    467 m
    5-7.5h

    The Amberley Wild Brooks and Bignor Roman Villa Walk offers a special mix of views, wildlife and history. The George and Dragon pub is full of history and is a great place to stop for refreshments. Wander along the River Arun and explore the Roman Villa, which was excavated and put on display.

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    Open details for Avington and Ovington Walk

    Avington and Ovington Walk

    Easy
    9.7 km
    168 m
    2-3h

    Meander through lovely countryside fields and across bridges leading you over rivers carved into the stunning South Downs landscape on the Avington and Ovington Walk. This is an out-and-back route, but you’ll know when you’ve reached the turnaround point when you arrive at the Bush Inn. Stop here for some refreshments before following the same path back to your car. The 9.7 km distance also includes a quick out-and-back visit to the ever-so-pretty Avington Lake, which is just under 300 m or so from the car park!

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