The South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a National Trail which runs for 100 miles (160 km) from Eastbourne to Winchester. For much of its course, it follows an ancient ridgeway track over the rolling, chalk hills of southern England. It is the only National Trail accessible to walkers, cyclists and horse-riders.

 

The entire length of the route was photographed from the air in 1991. This feature highlights some of the most striking landmarks along the way.

 

 

1. Eastbourne

 

The South Downs Way begins in the seaside town of Eastbourne. Walkers arriving at the railway station can head towards the pier and enjoy a stroll along the esplanade before reaching the official start point of the Way, at the west end of the town.

 

2. Beachy Head

 

Rising 500 feet (150m) from the sea below, Beachy Head is the first significant landmark of the Way, and the climax for those undertaking the walk from Winchester. For those heading west from Eastbourne, the next 4 miles offer a breathtaking walk along the edge of the Seven Sisters cliffs.

 

3. Cuckmere Haven

 

The only example of an undeveloped estuary in south-east England, Cuckmere Haven is home to a variety of salt-loving plants and wildfowl. From here, the Way turns inland along the River Cuckmere towards the village of Alfriston. 

 

4. The Long Man 

 

The South Downs Way offers walkers an alternative route between Eastbourne and Alfriston. Avoiding the rolling coastal section, the alternative route climbs into the chalk heath land to the north-west of Eastbourne. Here, walkers can view the Long Man of Wilmington, a 226 feet (68m) human figure cut into the turf on the face of the hill.

 

5. Firle Beacon 

 

Heading west from Alfriston, the Way follows the crest of a chalk escarpment. At Firle Beacon, it reaches one of the finest viewpoints on the South Downs, with the sea to the south and the Weald to the north. This section of the Way is a popular launching point for para-gliders and hang-gliders.

 

6. Ditchling Beacon

 

As the Way follows the arc of chalk hills north of Brighton, it offers extensive views over the wooded landscape of the Weald. At Ditchling Beacon, it reaches the highest point on the Sussex Downs, at 814 feet (248m) above sea level.

 

7. Upper Beeding

 

The quarry and cement works at Upper Beeding are reminders that chalk has been worked from the South Downs for thousands of years. Historically, its major uses were in lime mortar and as a dressing for the heavy, clay soils of the Weald.

 

8. Cissbury Ring

 

The great hill-fort of Cissbury Ring lies to the south-east of the Way. Commanding wide views, extending east to Beachy Head and west to the Isle of Wight, this important Iron Age site encloses an area of 65 acres. Traces of earlier flint mines can be seen within its ramparts.

 

9. HMS Mercury

 

Way-walkers once had to pass through the Royal Navy's School of Maritime Operations, adjacent to Leydene House. Known as HMS Mercury, this establishment trained generations of signallers and navigators until it closed in 1993. The site has now been demolished.

 

10. Crop Circles

 

Crop circles have been observed in the vicinity of the natural amphitheatre of Cheesefoot Head for many years. Several are visible on the aerial photography taken in 1991.

 

11. Winchester

 

The ancient city of Winchester lies at the western end of the South Downs Way. Its Norman cathedral provides a fitting conclusion to the route.