South Downs Way Guided Trail

The Seven Sisters in afternoon light
Duration: 11 nights
Type: Trails
Walking Grade: 3
from £1,499pp £1,474pp

The South Downs Way provides a challenging route of 100 miles between Winchester, the Saxon capital of England and Eastbourne, the Edwardian leisure resort. It follows the crest of the South Downs escarpment reaching the high point at Bunster Hill and culminating in the exhilarating switchback of the Seven Sisters leading to Beachy Head and Eastbourne. Sections have been trading routes as far back at the Bronze Age. There is much of interest along the way.

Holiday Highlights

  • Follow the crest of the South Downs, with panoramic views over the coast and the weald
  • Explore Devil’s Dyke and Iron Age forts
  • Spend a day walking along the Seven Sisters to Beachy Head 

What’s included

  • High quality en-suite accommodation in our country house
  • Full board from dinner upon arrival to breakfast on departure day
  • The services of an HF Holidays' walks leader
  • All transport on walking days

Trip Notes

Trip notes are detailed, downloadable PDFs for each holiday.

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We commence our journey at the Mill House, the official starting point of the SDW in Winchester, initially following the River Itchen before leaving the city and crossing fields to Chilcomb village. Sadly, there is insufficient time to explore Winchester. Leaving Chilcomb, we ascend our first summit, Telegraph Hill, from where there are good views to Winchester and over the natural amphitheatre below Cheesefoot Head. As the views begin to open up to the south, we meander across rolling countryside of mixed woodlands and arable lands passing Mill Barrows and the lost medieval village of Lomer. Nearing Beacon Hill, we gain a view over the Meon valley, before descending to the village of Exton.

 

12½ miles (20.5km) with 1,180 feet (360m) of ascent and 1,100 feet (330m) of descent.


From the village of Exton, we cross the River Meon and continue east to ascend Old Winchester Hill, a national nature reserve topped by an Iron Age fort and a Bronze Age cemetery. The strategic importance of this site is self-evident and the views are inspiring. We descend over open rolling downland with superb views, then on to Wether Down. From here the Downs begin as a ridge, stretching to the coast at Eastbourne and pierced by river valleys and roads. We now begin to experience the chalk ridge landscape of the Downs as we approach Butser Hill (883ft: 270m), the highest point on the SDW and formerly the starting point of the SDW. It is well-regarded for its butterfly populations, including the Chalkhill Blue. Having admired the views, we descend to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park for refreshment.

 

10½miles (17km) with 1,360 feet (420m) of ascent and 1,120 feet (340m) of descent.


Continuing eastwards, we see more forested landscape on the gentler southern slopes of the Downs. At Hundred Acres we cross over the county border from Hampshire into Sussex and continue along Forty Acre Lane to Harting Downs. Our next ascent takes us around (our second) Beacon Hill, the site of an Iron Age fort, and onto Pen Hill. We soon pass the Devil’s Jumps, a curious group of large tumuli. Some pleasant downland ridge walking rounds off our day as we traverse Cocking Down to our pickup point on the A286.

 

13 miles (21km) with 1,820 feet (560m) of ascent and 1,940 feet (590m) of descent.


At the start of the day we ascend back onto the ridge and passing Heyshott Down archaeological site, a group of Bronze Age burial mounds, we enter the woodlands of Charlton Forest. We continue to Graffham Down before passing to the north of the highest point of the Sussex Downs, Crown Tegleaze (830ft: 253m), covered by woodland. Further east, having crossed the A285, we ascend Bignor Hill (736ft: 225m). The nearby Roman Villa, a large excavated Roman house with extensive, coloured mosaics and Roman road (Stane Street) are evidence of Roman occupation. The road was constructed in 50 AD to connect London to the port at Chichester (Naviomagus) whose cathedral can be seen to the south-west. We now descend from the Downs to the floodplain of the tidal River Arun which we cross to reach Amberley and refreshment.

 

11½ miles (18.5km) with 1,240 feet (380m) of ascent and 1,580 feet (480m) of descent.


Starting with a relatively steep ascent back onto the ridge of the Downs, we reach the summit of Rackham Hill with views over the flood plain of Amberley Wild Brooks, site of an RSPB reserve. Beyond here we experience undulating, ridge-top walking with fine views. Necessarily descending to bypass Washington village and cross the A24 (London to Worthing), we ascend back to the ridge to reach Chanctonbury Ring, a site famous for both the Iron Age fort and its clump of beech trees. The site offers a panoramic view, including to Cissbury Ring, just a few miles to the south. We progress over a mixed landscape of arable and pasture lands with wooded slopes below. The tops of the Downs themselves are on the whole bare and give a feeling of isolation. Passing Steyning Bowl and, for a short distance joining the Monarch’s Way, we make our way to the River Adur and our pick up just south of Upper Beeding.

 

13½ miles (22km) with 1,400 feet (430m) of ascent and descent.


We first have a gradual ascent to reach the ridge top near Truleigh Hill (706ft: 216m) and continue to the spectacular, and popular, landmark of Devil's Dyke, a Victorian leisure centre. Through a mixed arable landscape, we descend to cross another busy route through the Downs (A23 London to Brighton) to reach Pyecombe church with its unusual Tapsell gate. Ascending back on to the ridge through Pyecombe golf course, we can make a short detour to reach the Clayton Windmills (Jack & Jill), before heading on to another famous landmark, Ditchling Beacon (811ft: 248m): the third highest point on the South Downs. 10 miles (16.5km) with 1,860 feet (570m) of ascent and 1,140 feet (350m) of descent.


A day without any scheduled walks, providing the opportunity to relax and recuperate, perhaps exploring the local area independently or enjoying Abingworth Hall’s facilities: swimming pool, putting green and croquet lawn.


We continue along the ridge of the Downs until, just before the summit of Blackcap, our route turns south across open downland and descending to cross the A27 Lewes road. A gradual ascent, partly along Juggs Road (an ancient route), takes us back on to the Downs. At White Way, another old route into Lewes, we pass from the western to the eastern hemisphere as we cross the Greenwich Meridian. Descending into the Ouse valley, we pass through the village of Southease. Rodmell, once the home of Virginia Woolf, is just up the valley. Much of this area became famous having been frequented by the artists and writers of the unconventional bohemian ‘Bloomsbury Group’ in the early part of the last century. After crossing the River Ouse, we reach our destination for the day.

 

12 miles (19.5km) with 1,020 feet (310m) of ascent and 1,760 feet (530m) of descent.


Starting from the Ouse valley, we ascend Itford Hill, but the effort is rewarded by several miles of open ridge-top walking with accompanying views. Firle Beacon (710ft: 217m) provides one of the finest panoramic views from the Downs. We next follow a chalk track that used to be a sheep drove road, and descend into Alfriston. The Old Clergy House is one of the first buildings to have been owned by the National Trust. After crossing the River Cuckmere, we turn south, following the valley seawards, meandering past Litlington and West Dean to reach Exceat and its tea rooms for refreshment.

 

10 miles (16km) with 1,320 feet (400m) of ascent and 1,300 feet (390m) of descent.


From Exceat, we gradually ascend the Downs beside the classic meanders of the River Cuckmere to reach the first of the Seven Sisters. Our cliff top route takes us along the switchback of the ‘bottoms’ and ‘brows’ of this popular section of the South Downs Way to reach Birling Gap – the site of continuous and dramatic coastal erosion, and the NT café. Continuing along the cliff top path, we pass the old lighthouse at Belle Tout to reach Beachy Head. The cliffs here are 530ft (160m) high and tower over the famous ‘candy stick’ Beachy Head lighthouse on the rocks below.

A gentle descent takes us to the outskirts of Eastbourne and the end of our journey. Following our promenade to the pier, we can deservedly reward ourselves with celebratory refreshment. 9 miles (14.5km) with 1,540 feet (470m) of ascent and 1,560 feet (470m) of descent.



Abingworth Hall

Tucked away in the village of Thakeham at the foot of the South Downs, Abingworth Hall has stood in one form another since the 13th century. Gutted by fire, it was rebuilt in 1910 in its current distinctive style. As well as 27 ensuite rooms the house has all the ingredients you need for the perfect country house stay: three comfortable lounges with squishy sofas to kick back in, the largest of which opens onto an attractive conservatory and bar in which to dally, great food and super-comfy rooms to retire to. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to walking here; go for a lazy amble around the wildlife rich chalk Downlands to discover a colourful tapestry of historic villages, thatched cottages, pastoral landscapes and vibrant market towns. Highlights of your stay might include the Seven Sisters, the Glorious Goodwood estate, the Devil’s Dyke and Chantonbury Ring, as well as Arundel and the National Trust property at Petworth. Take your pick.

 

Rooms

Tea & coffee-making facilities, TV, Hairdryer, Toiletries, Wi-Fi

Stay in one of the Hall’s smartly presented rooms, which make use of every nook-and-cranny in the interesting architecture of this characterful house. With 27 bedrooms, Abingworth Hall has plenty of space and there’s a range of Good and Better Rooms to choose from. Clean and bright, with accent colours to offset the simple palette, the rooms are airy and light. Better Rooms might have a feature wall or strong print wallpaper as well as pretty tiles in the ensuite bathroom.

All ‘Good’ rooms are ensuite and furnished to a high standard. There are also several ‘Better’ Rooms that are either larger or have a desirable view, a more luxurious mattress, larger television, enhanced toiletries and a fluffy bathrobe & slippers – upgrade your stay for just an extra £15-20 per person per night. You can choose a specific room for an extra £30 per room, subject to availability. Upgrade supplements still apply.

Facilities

Free Wi-Fi, boot room and drying room, extensive garden, outdoor swimming pool, multi-purpose activity room, three lounges, library and board games to borrow

After a day strolling on the South Downs, come back to the house and its specially tailored walkers’ facilities. Relax in the large gardens and sit by the pretty pond, turn your hand to croquet or practice on the putting green. Ease through a couple of lengths of the heated outdoor pool if you’ve still got energy to burn. Hole up in the light-filled conservatory with pretty views of the gardens or retire to the Drawing Room with its wood-panelled walls, log burner, library of books to browse and comfy seats to sink in to; there’s a telescope for you to scour the night sky too. In the evening, take your seat in the bar or join fellow guests in the large ballroom for the evening activity.

Food & Drink

As at all our country houses, holidays are full board, from afternoon tea served as a welcome treat through that evening’s meal to a hearty breakfast on the day of departure. Lunch is a chance to stock up on our famous picnic snacks. Food at Abingworth Hall is varied and tasty and has a strong emphasis on ingredients from the area and seasonal produce. Once a week the dining room, which has a giant brick fireplace at its heart, hosts a Local Food Night, when, over a sociable evening, you might try a five-course feast of local Sussex flavours. Look out for the Sussex Churdle, a traditional, meaty ploughboy lunch, local Chiddingly beef cooked with black olives and Sussex smokies, smoked haddock served in a prawn sauce. Cap it all with a Sussex Pond Pudding, a pud that’s part of the honourable tradition of British dishes with names to pique the interest more than the appetite, which is actually bright and zingy, suety and syrupy all at the same time

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Getting to Abingworth Hall

Find out more about this location including travel details and room types.

More Information

What to Bring

Essential Equipment

To enjoy walking/hiking comfortably and safely, footwear, clothing and equipment needs to be suitable for the conditions. Safety is our priority and Britain is famous for its changeable weather, so our advice is to come prepared for all eventualities.

  • Footwear with a good grip on the sole (e.g.Vibram sole) is the key to avoiding accidents
  • Walking/hiking boots providing ankle support and good grip are recommended (ideally worn in), and specialist walking socks to avoid blisters
  • Several layers of clothing, which can be added or removed, are better than a single layer (include spares)
  • Fabrics (lightweight and fast drying) designed for the outdoors are recommended
  • Waterproof jacket and waterproof over trousers
  • Warm hat and gloves. Gaiters are an optional but useful extra
  • Denim jeans and capes are not suitable on any walks
  • Rucksack with a waterproof liner
  • Thermos flask for hot drink
  • Water bottle (at least 1 litre)
  • Spare high-energy food such as a chocolate bar
  • Small torch
  • First aid kit – your leader’s first aid kit doesn’t contain any medication or blister kits (such as Compeed)

Optional Equipment

  • Walking poles are useful, particularly for descents
  • Insect repellent
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sun cream
  • Camera

Guest Reviews

All holidays are subject to availability and prices are subject to change.
Non-member associate fee: £10 per person.

Holiday Prices

Date (Start/ End) Version Price Status Trip Notes Book
2020
22 Jun / 03 Jul 2019 Itinerary £1,499 £1,474 Save £25 Per Person Book Now
14 Sep / 25 Sep 2019 Itinerary £1,499 £1,474 Save £25 Per Person Book Now
Duration:
11 nights
Type:
Trails
Walking Grade:
3

11 nights from £1,499pp £1,474pp

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