The South Downs Way
The South Downs Way is a 100-mile long trail spanning from Winchester to Eastbourne in the United Kingdom. It was the first trail I hiked end to end, making it my first ever thru-hike. The South Downs is a historic route dating back over 8000 years. Packed with ancient hill forts and cutting through some of England’s most picturesque agricultural countryside, the South Downs traverses the chalky hills making up the landscape of the south of England. It was approved as a National Scenic Trail back in 1963 and is the fifth national trail in the country, consisting of a continuous and well-marked bridleway which attracts walkers, cyclists and equestrians from all over the world.
Resources and maps
- Water points: Be sure to download the free water points PDF which gives the locations of public drinking water taps
- Maps: The South Downs Way is very well sign-posted, but this map comes in handy for mile counting and understanding your whereabouts
- More information: National Trail has all the further information you’ll need to know about the trail
I made it!
I made it to Winchester Cathedral which marks the start point of the South Downs Way, from here on it is approximately 100 miles to Eastbourne and the only way is east. Upon my arrival to Winchester I found a sweet parking spot in a residential area without permit restrictions and began walking to the Cathedral which took about half an hour. It was an incredibly warm day and the weather was forecast to get warmer and dryer over the coming week, glad I took 2 x 1L water bottles with me!
Over the M3
To leave Winchester, I crossed over the noisy M3 Motorway. Watching the cars flow underneath me like a roaring river was fascinating, but not as fascinating as the instantaneous silence which completely took my breath away after I crossed the bridge and entered the first agricultural land on the South Downs Way. The view opened up to an incredibly beautiful and peaceful wheat field, the M3 just a faint white noise in the distance. It was a clear evening, the sun was low and blackbirds and starlings chirped in the trees while bees and grasshoppers buzzed and called in the humid summer air.
Attack of the bugs!
After a good 3 hours and 7 miles of hiking into the trip, the sun began to set and I found a delightful spot, hidden and tucked away in the corner of a field not too far from the trail. It was the first night I’d spend in my Zpacks Solplex tent. Foolishly, when I tested the tent I forgot to zip up the rainbow door and upon setup on my first night a bunch of huge crane flies found their way into my tent. Bugs out and all set for a cosy night’s sleep I took stock of the day and enjoyed the views over the fields as the twilight fell into darkness on my first day on the South Downs Way.
This first section of my hike started out flat with a steep but short climb onto the Downs after the M3. Camping high in an elevated area at 500 feet meant condensation wasn’t an issue that night.
- Views and vista 60% 60%
- Difficulty 30% 30%
- Elevation gain 20% 20%