Walking

South Downs National Park, Sussex

Stretching over 87 miles between Winchester in Hampshire and Eastbourne in East Sussex, England’s newest National Park abounds with interest and activity. With a stunning array of landscapes from rolling countryside to impressive forests to dramatic coastline and chalky cliffs, the South Downs is one of the best natural playgrounds in the UK in which to enjoy an action-packed break or holiday of R&R. Needless to say, whether you’re looking forward to a rural retreat somewhere off the beaten track or want to base yourself in one of the park’s picturesque towns and villages, there’s somewhere just for you.

About the South Downs National Park

The South Downs was designated a National Park in 2010 to protect its diverse and wildlife-rich habitats. As well as being the country’s youngest National Park, it’s also one of the most unique, home to chalk grassland, rare lowland heath, densely wooded hills and vales, open coastline and more. With so many different landscapes within its borders, it's naturally a real haven for all kinds of flora and fauna and a magnet for nature-lovers looking to embrace its wilder edge. 

As well as its natural allure, the South Downs National Park is also rich in human history. Although the park itself is relatively new, it’s believed that humans have walked the chalk ridgeline of the South Downs Way for more than 6,000 years. In fact, all across the park are ancient relics and settlements that speak of the area’s deeply-entrenched history and lead you through the ages, including the Cissbury Ring’s Neolithic flint mine and Bignor’s Roman villa. 

Walks and Trails 

With its beautiful landscapes, the South Downs National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Tracks and trails weave their way across the area and all kinds of beauty spots hide in plain sight, just waiting to be relished from a suntrap perch or captured through the lens of a camera. From long distance routes to breezy strolls, you can choose from an amazing range of walks – as well as make the most of the plentiful country pubs and tearooms to visit along the way. 

One of the most popular trails, and most challenging, is the South Downs Way. Beginning at the stunning cathedral city of Winchester, this 100-mile-long trail runs the length of the park before arriving at Beachy Head in Eastbourne – Britain's highest chalk cliff. When broken up into chunks, it offers a truly rewarding way of experiencing the Park. The Centurion Way and the Meon Valley Trail are also particular favourites, both following disused railway lines and providing safe space for walking, cycling and more.

Attractions 

The South Downs National Park has something to inspire and captivate all those who visit, from its historic castles to manicured gardens to natural wonders. Arundel Castle, Cowdray Castle, Bramber Castle and Lewes Castle all provide fascinating windows into the past, while the open-air Weald & Downland Living Museum sends you on a journey through time with more than 50 historic buildings dating from 950AD to the 19th Century. In Winchester, the 900-year-old Winchester Cathedral is also a must-see, with its cavernous ceilings, cathedral tours and largest and best-preserved 12th Century English bible.

Whatever the season, it’s always a pleasure to get out and about and discover some of the South Down’s estates and gardens too. One of the country’s finest Elizabethan houses, Parham House in West Sussex features a 4-acre walled garden, stunning Pleasure Grounds and a sprawling 875-acre estate which are all open to the public to explore. Also in West Sussex, West Dean Gardens is home to one of the greatest restored gardens in the country – originally laid out in 1622 – and is perfect for gentle strolls. Of course, one of the greatest natural attractions are the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, a series of towering chalk sea cliffs overlooking the Channel.

Activities 

There are loads of activities that lead you around the South Downs National Park on foot, but if you fancy trying a different way of taking in the sights, you’ll be spoilt for choice. From Eastbourne, enjoy a day of ocean-based fun with kayaking or paddleboarding, or stick to dry land and make the most of the hundreds of miles of bridleways ideal for cycling and horse-riding. If it takes your fancy, you can actually bike or horse-ride along the South Down’s Way too – there are several horsebox friendly car parks dotted around the area, as well as water taps and troughs to keep both riders and horses hydrated. For those new to horse-riding, there are stables and riding schools offering tours and lessons. 

To learn more about the area’s wildlife or simply to take a peaceful time out, the Arundel Wetlands Centre and RSPB Pulborough Brooks are wonderful places to visit. Otherwise, you can set your sights skywards for a night of stargazing in one of the park’s ten Dark Sky Discovery Sites. Of course, there are also a huge number of festivals and events to look forward to throughout the year in the South Downs National Park, with some of the most famous being held at Goodwood Estate in West Sussex. An enormous 12,000-acre estate, Goodwood hosts the world-famous Festival of Speed, Goodwood Revival and Glorious Goodwood.

Eat and Drinking 

The South Downs National Park is known for its pleasant weather, enjoying the title as one of the sunniest places in the UK. Thanks to this, the South Downs’ balmy climate lends itself perfectly to wine production, with the region peppered with vineyards clinging to its sunny south-facing slopes. If you are looking for something different to do during your South Downs holiday, we can thoroughly recommend a wine tasting tour. Rathfinny Estate, Wiston Winery, Albourne Estate and Ridgeview Vineyard can all be found within the park and offer tasting experiences that are too delicious to miss.

As for places to go to eat in the South Downs National Park, the opportunities for foodie indulgence are endless. From takeaway by the sea and picnics in the countryside to hearty fare in gastropubs and fine dining in award-winning restaurants, there are all sorts of ways you can treat your taste buds. For high quality food in beautiful settings, we particularly recommend Amberley Castle restaurant in Arundel, the Lickfold Inn in Petworth, the Richmond Arms in Chichester and the Ginger Fox in Hassocks. Book yourself a table and look forward to seasonal fare sourced from farm, land and sea from the South Downs National Park and beyond.

Feeling inspired? Take a peek at our gorgeous Sussex retreats here.

South Downs Centre, North Street, Midhurst, West Sussex, GU29 9DH | 01730 814 810 | www.southdowns.gov.uk

 

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