Planning the South Downs Way

It’s almost one month to the day of which I aim to be starting my six-day trek along the South Downs Way National Trail. I’m looking forward to the experience, even though I’ve only very recently sat down to plan my daily routes and the itinerary, with regards to camping along the way.

In case you’re unfamiliar, the South Downs Way is a one-hundred mile long-distance path that naturally crosses the South Downs National Park. Being a National Trail, it is likely to be well signposted and I expect to find a few water taps along the way. It’s also likely to be a popular route – I know a few people who have walked it and many recognise it by name,


I’ve decided to begin my walk from Winchester at the western end of the trail and that I’ll finish in the east at Eastbourne, just along the coast from Brighton. I had contemplated walking from east-to-west (as this would mean I could overcome the dreaded public transport journey early on) but the prospect of finishing beside the south coast is too great to contend with.

Getting There

If I was to take public transport from Weston-super-Mare, I’d be faced with a journey of more than four holes, via a headache of bus and train changes, to reach Winchester. Therefore, I intend to drive the distance in around two hours and I’ll pay for a parking space using the same website as last year (from memory, that’ll cost £25 for six days – I did previously research this!).

Day One: Winchester to Wetherdown Lodge and Campsite
(19 miles)

From all I’ve read and seen, people typically use Winchester Catherdral as the start or end point, simply because there is no officially marker or sign (as on the West Highland Way, for example) that depicts the precise terminus. 19 miles makes for a lot of ground to cover on the first day. I’m happy to get the longer days done early on and I am working with the logistics of using available camp sites (as opposed to pricey pubs, B&Bs or wild camping).

I would like to see Winchester Cathedral but, depending on time, I may save this for a return to my car at the end of Day Six or, for a separate visit altogether. Along the way in this walk, I should be able to bag one or two trig points, while the one water tap may be turned off due to quality issues.

Day Two: Wetherdown Lodge to Graffham Campsite*
(21 miles)

While I’d like to keep my daily mileage between fifteen and twenty miles, it looks as though a 1.5 mile diversion from the trail north to Graffham is my most convenient option. There could be two working water taps along the way.

I currently anticipate that this will be my most challenging day. Not only for the distance to cover but the elevation, which comes close to one thousand meters… At least I’ll be getting it done early!

*This may be a ‘members only’ campsite, meaning I would instead detour south to New House Farm.

Day Three: Graffham to Washington Caravan and Camping Park
(17 miles)

Undulation looks to be a recurring theme of the South Downs Way! I’ve been told it’s not the flattest of trails, although I’m sure it doesn’t quite compare to the Pennine Way.

There should be a working water tap near Amberley and then another, a short distance south of my intended campsite for the night.

Day Four: Washington to Ditchling Camp
(17 miles)

There could be as many as three water taps to make use of along this section of my walk. Campsite options are becoming more fruitful – similar to my experience of The Ridgeway, where the logistics appear easier, the further east you travel. I’m looking to camp near two windmills named Jack and Jill…!

Day Five: Ditchling Camp to Firle Yurts*
(17 miles)

By this time, I should feel accustomed to walking 17 miles each day and I’ll had shed many grams in weight through the food I’ll have consumed. I’ll cross Ditchling Beacon early on, bypass Lewes, Brighton and prepare myself for a grand finale close to the coast.

*This campsite may be subject to change, as I haven’t yet contacted the site to see if they allow normal tents, or if I could book a pitch in time. Failing that, I should be able to detour a short distance north to Firle Camp.

Day Six: Firle to Beachy Head
(15 miles)

I’ve had to do some reading in to this, as the route of the South Downs Way appears to ‘end’ in a significant loop between Seaford and Eastbourne… I’m not keen on ending my trail with a twenty-two-miler than would bring my trail total up and over the century!

Taking the inland route via. Jevington, there is the opportunity to see The Long Man of Wilmington; England’s largest chalk figure. But with the Seven Sisters comes the coast… I claim Beachy Head as my end point but it looks to be where the Way meets the Wealdway beside a school on the fringe of Eastbourne.

If the weather is particularly bad on this final day, I may feel inclined to take the inland ‘detour’ and save the final leg along the coast for a return visit, one day.

Getting Back

Of course, upon reaching the end of a linear trail, you’re faced with the challenge of getting back to the start point, if not completing a longer or shorter journey home.

Google Maps suggests that I can make this train journey from Eastbourne to Winchester… Via LONDON…!! But it does look like, as Jon Combe said, I can change trains at Clapham Junction and avoid the overpopulated city centre with its tube. In less than three hours, I should be back in Winchester, ready to drive home.

Water Points

I mentioned these several times, further up. Basically, for every litre of water you carry in your pack, I’ve learnt that this equates to roughly one kilogram of weight. I’ll be packing a two litre hydration bladder for this trek, just as I did last year. Where possibly, I’d like to carry only one litre of water each day and make use of a convenient water tap to stop, rehydrate and top-up where appropriate.

I am not the most lightweight of backpackers and, if I can shave one kilogram of weight off my rucksack in this way, I will do so.


I still need to contact each of the campsites to check availability and book my pitch where necessary. Distances on certain days may vary, depending on logistics, misdirection and ‘second wind’ when I spot a previously-unseen trig point off the trail.

Food – Your Thoughts?

As far as breakfast and warm drinks go, I’m sorted. Evening meals, I am prepared for. But it is the lunch and daytime snacks that I still struggle with… Last year, I bundled a tonne of home-made flapjacks, breakfast bars and unfilling snacks in to a dry bag… By the end of my ridiculous twenty-six miler on Day One, I’d physically lost weight in my face.

I don’t like peanut butter that much but I do like wraps. Does chocolate and hazelnut spread keep well?! I’ve heard that chorizo can last. Any other suggestions for six days on the trail? Being a mostly-elevated route, the thought of detouring to a town of village is unwelcome and I’m not expecting the ‘honesty boxes’ of food you see on the West Highland Way (something I hope to tackle in 2020).

Have you walked the South Downs Way?

If you’ve walked this trail yourself, as a backpacker, day hiker or even a cyclist, I’d love to hear from you. Which bits you most enjoyed and what I should look out for.

Thanks for reading.


Author: Olly Parry-Jones

I live in Weston-super-Mare, close to the Mendip Hills in Somerset and I enjoy time spent outdoors, whether that's walking, camping or backpacking. My day job involved making furniture from recycled wood (I'm a furniture maker and carpenter by trade). I have two blogs: Olly Writes (woodworking, DIY, baking) Walks With Olly (walking, camping and kit) You can also find me on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. My second YouTube channel is titled 'Walks with Olly'.

3 thoughts on “Planning the South Downs Way”

  1. Hi Olly and good luck with your trip. I haven’t walked the South Downs Way as such, but I have done the coastal route between Seaford and Eastbourne and it is a fantastic walk, so you MUST do that section at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I certainly look forward to that section and finishing by the coast makes the most sense. I’ve been warned that the SDW is generally an undulating route anyway.


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