Most people travel from Winchester to Eastbourne, i.e. West to East. The benefits are that the prevailing wind is usually - but not always - from behind you and the white cliffs and sands at Eastbourne are a dramatic end to your holiday.
Many holiday providers and supporting businesses operate from March through to September. However, hotels, inns and many B&Bs are open throughout the year.
Perhaps the best time to visit is in spring and autumn. In April and May the meadows are awash with colour and in October and November the trees are very beautiful. There will be less competition for accommodation at these times too.
Winter can also be a special time, on a crisp clear morning the views can be terrific. However the days are much shorter. See the trail statistics for average rainfall and temperatures throughout the year.
- In the summer months the days can be hot so take plenty of water. However, as this is England rain can be expected throughout the year so always carry a waterproof jacket.
- The chalk ridge doesn't hold the water so heavy boots are not necessary except following prolonged wet weather. During winter exposed parts of the trail can be cold and windswept so dress appropriately.
- Consider the off-trail distances. The off-trail distance is how far you must travel away from the path to reach your hotel, inn or B&B. Remember you will need to cover the same distance the next morning to return to the path.
- Some accommodation providers will collect you from the trail and drop you back in the morning, which means you can stay in much better accommodation than that which is available closer to the trail.
- Try to avoid the crowds throughout your trip by simply adding a few more miles to your first stage. For example, most walkers leaving from Winchester stop for their first night near Exton. If you can continue to the lovely East Meon valley you will have more accommodation options. Also, start mid week if possible as most people begin at weekends and this creates bottlenecks along the trail.
- Most people assume they will cover the same distance each day. You may find that the first and last days are when you feel the strongest and the middle of your trip is when you would benefit from resting a little.
Organised holidays are a convenient way to arrange your trip. Holiday operators will book your accommodation and arrange bag transfers. They may also send you a guide book, provide maps and offer general advice.
Holidays are almost always self-guided. Local holiday operators can give you support on your holiday as they are close by. National companies may give you a telephone number to ring in case of an emergency but very little else.
Our South Downs Way holidays include car parking, bag transfers, cycle hire, return transfers at the end and local support throughout your holiday.
Our bag transfer service is useful for walkers, cyclists and horse riders who prefer to organise their South Downs Way holiday independently. To help you plan your trip we have put together a Distance Calculator.
During the spring and summer the hotels, inns and B&Bs close to the trail are often fully booked - even the poor ones. So you may find that you need to travel a mile or two away from the ridge at the end of the day.
Price of accommodation depends on the standard and type of business of course but is generally quite expensive compared with other parts of the UK. There are cheap options including hostels and camp sites, mid range hotels and inns and expensive hotels and country houses. It's been the case for some time that the South Downs Way could benefit from more choice at all price levels.
Some accommodation providers will collect you from the trail and return you in the morning, which means you can often stay in much better accommodation and at a cheaper price than that which is available closer to the path.
Where you stay of course is determined by how far you can travel each day and the accommodation that is available. Our Distance Calculator can help you decide where you need to stop each night.
When booking accommodation always check what time the hotel, inn or B&B will be open. Some inns for example close in the afternoon and you will have to wait until 6.00 pm to access your room. Cyclists should also check what time breakfast is served the following morning as a late start may mean you have to finish the next stage in the dark.
Winchester is an hour by train from London Waterloo, with connections at Basingstoke for Reading and Woking for Guildford and the South Coast. Eastbourne to London Victoria is 1.5 hours by train.
If at the end of your holiday you need to return to the beginning of the trail you can take the train from Eastbourne or Winchester towards London and then change at Clapham Junction.
If you are driving, our South Downs Way holidays include free parking in Winchester for the length of your trip and we can provide return transfers from Eastbourne back to your car at the end.
Winchester, Petersfield, Amberley, Lewes and Eastbourne have train stations
National Express operate regular bus services to Winchester and Eastbourne
Nearest airports are London Heathrow, Gatwick and Southampton
Our holidays include car parking in Winchester
The South Downs Way is very well signposted and the landscape is full of features so you are unlikely to use your compass.
The Harvey Map of the South Downs Way covers the whole trail on one convenient sheet. It's at a scale of 1:40000. It shows the trail very clearly but if does not cover a large area either side of the path. This means that you can miss many of the villages, places of interest and pubs that are just off the trail. It is also not much use should you become lost.
Ordnance Survey maps are very good but unfortunately you have to purchase lots of them to cover the whole South Downs Way.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps are to a scale of 1:25000:
Ordnance Survey Landranger Maps are to a scale of 1:50000:
The great guys at Walk and Cycle have produced a series of Landranger map segments that show the whole path and the towns and villages nearby. You can download and print these maps for free.
A GPS device can come in handy particularly if you need to end the day early and require collection from the nearest road.
To download GPS points for the whole South Downs Way click here (right click, save file as).
If you would like to buy a guidebook of the trail have a look at:
- South Downs Way: Winchester to Eastbourne
- Mountain Biking on the South Downs
- The South Downs Way National Trail Guide
For lots of useful information on the South Downs National Park including things to do see South Downs Discovery.
There are several taps along the trail to refill water bottles. It's worth taking purification tablets with you as the taps are usually on farms and beside fields.
- Boots: above ankle walking boots with a ribbed sole
- Waterproof jacket and trousers
- Windproof trousers and jumper
- Short trousers are useful in the summer
- Hat: a sun hat in summer, a warm one at other times
- Gloves: not really needed for walkers in the summer
- Water bottle or bladder, worth carrying 2 litres of water as there are few places to refill between pubs!
- Day pack for your guidebook and map, sandwiches, drinks, camera, etc
- Large pack if you are not using our bag transfer service. If you decide to lighten the load during your trip telephone us on 0844 870 8648.
- Walking poles: feel no shame, they're great!
- Foam mat to sit on although a plastic bag is just as good and much cheaper
- Simple first aid kit and insect repellant
- Water purification tablets
- Comfortable shoes in case your boots play up
- Cyclists: tubes, pump, multi-tool, tyre levers, etc and a cycle bag to carry it
- Evening clothes for the restaurant, wash kit, night dress, slippers, etc
The level of fitness required depends on the distance you intend to travel each day and the weight of the rucksack or cycle bags that you will carry. Most people will cycle the trail in 2-4 days and walk it in 8-10 days. Generally speaking you need to be over 10 years of age and under 100 and in good health.
There are no official records for the fastest times the South Downs Way has been cycled. Completing the 100 miles in a single day is a fantastic achievement and only possible when conditions are good. The very strongest of riders will cover the distance in less than 12 hours.
Although the path follows the South Downs chalk ridge you will still climb over 12,500 feet (3800 metres) between Winchester and Eastbourne. Add the extra ascents each morning to return to the ridge from your overnight accommodation and you can see that a reasonable standard of fitness is required.
The best preparation is to lose some weight and do plenty of walking or cycling. Start with short distances and build up slowly for several months before your holiday.
The graph below shows the ascents and descents along the South Downs Way. Click on the graph to view a larger picture.
The table below shows the distance in miles of towns and villages from Winchester. Each distance is measured from the start of the trail and assumes you travel along the trail until you reach the nearest exit path.
For example, Cheriton is 5.6 miles along the South Downs Way from Winchester. To reach the village you need to leave the trail and travel a further 1.9 miles. The total distance is 7.5 miles.
See also our Distance Calculator.
Town or Village along the