Britain’s newest National Park, the South Downs National Park, was granted National Park Status in April 2011 and it wasn’t a minute too soon. So beautiful are the 1627 square kilometres within the park that people who live in the area have been wondering for years why it had not already been accorded the title and protections. The South Downs National Park reaches East to Eastbourne all the way through to Winchester to the West, and takes in the stunning southern counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire. Within that area the landscape encompasses the long undulating forests of the Weald over sandstone and clay vales and hills, the world-famous and iconic white cliffs at Beachy Head and the gorgeous chalk ridge of the South Downs and the rolling South Downs Way. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and packed with hundreds of archaeological sites as well as the endless beautiful villages and market towns and the Cathedral City of Winchester, South Downs National Park is a true highlight of southern England and one of my favourite walks.
The best way to experience the national park is along the South Downs Way. This traverses the length of the National Park, from the coastal town of Eastbourne all the way to stunning Winchester. It will take you into the heart of the very best of England’s green and pleasant countryside and you can travel the trail either on foot, mountain bike or by horse. There are some steep inclines along the way but for people with an average level of fitness there is nothing that should trouble you too much. And the rewards are worth it – on a clear day you can stand and look out over Hampshire and Sussex and further, over the English Channel. Stand at the top of one of the many hills and enjoy the green patchwork of fields, woods, rivers and forests, as well as the beautiful villages dotted around the landscape. Indeed as you walk along the trail you will pass through farms and farmland, woods and forests, gentle streams and flowing rivers, castles and forts, quaint English villages and bustling market towns. Stop en route for a pint (or three) of local ale in one of the hundreds of traditional pubs, or combine your walk with one of the many festivals in Brighton, Winchester, Arundel or Glyndebourne.
No matter when you go, or how you decide to do it, the South Downs Way is one of England’s most enjoyable and picturesque trails. It is the oldest bridleway in the United Kingdom and it is packed with beauty and history at every turn. If you have a choice, the best way to go (and my favourite route) is from Winchester to Eastbourne, meaning you start at the Cathedral and finish the walk amidst the stunning views of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.
Alex is a travel writer and blogger. He regularly writes about traveling and hiking around the UK and Europe. He also writes for a Kefalonia tourist information guide.
(Photo courtesy of Globalism Pictures)