3 Days in the South Downs National Park

Travel Itinerary

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Matt Lynch
Itinerary by: Matt Lynch
a year ago
Travel Writer
Duration: 3 days

INTRODUCTION TO THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK The South Downs National Park is one of 15 parks in the UK and the newest of these areas of natural beauty. This 1,600km squared spot was officially declared a National Park in 2010 and has quickly climbed to a position of prominence by now holding the status of most-visited National Park in the UK. It stretches from Winchester – the Saxon capital of England - and Petersfield in Hampshire to the soaring white cliffs of the Heritage Coast in East Sussex. The National Park is known for its magnificent rolling countryside, chalky geology, clear rivers, and pristine woodland. A significant portion of the South Downs National Park is lowland heath, a habitat classified as rarer than tropical rainforests! The area has an interesting history and has been inhabited by our ancestors for an estimated 6,000 years since Neolithic times. There are many Neolithic flint mines, old hill-top forts, and ancient Bronze Age burial mounds to discover. The towns and villages are quaint and picturesque with many fantastic spots to eat local produce and sample regional ales in the cosy pubs. Clearly, this is one of the UK’s favourite National Parks for good reason and it has a lot to offer for all. GETTING AROUND THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK A great way to experience this National Park is on foot or by bike - in some places you can also explore on horseback! There are 1,200kms of biking trails and 3,300kms of footpath for you to experience which is more than any other National Park in the UK. The stately home gardens, sweeping English heathland, bustling woodlands, and famous South Downs Way are best explored on foot. Ideally, to get between most locations, you’d go by car. This gives you the freedom to explore some of the spots that can’t be reached by public transport. Some A-roads run through the National Park (A3, A272, A27), but for the most part, you’ll be driving along idyllic country roads. A few of the bigger towns are accessible by train (Winchester, Petersfield, Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne), which provides easy access for those wishing to visit from London or elsewhere in the UK. There’s a well-established bus network throughout the National Park which links transport hubs and towns with the local sites. Buying a Discovery Ticket for £9 per adult per day (£7.20 for children) will grant you access to unlimited travel within the South Downs National Park. FOOD & DRINK IN THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK Around 85% of the South Downs is pastoral or arable farmland. This means the restaurants and farm shops are overflowing with top-quality organic produce from the local area. Look out for the farmers' markets in Petersfield, Winchester, Lewes, and many others to sample a selection of the goods on offer. The National Park is also the home to English sparkling wine which means there are 20 vineyards spread about the South Downs. There are also many fantastic pubs to try and more than 50 breweries, some of which offer tasting tours - such as the Langham Brewery near Petworth. WHERE TO STAY IN THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK As this is a lauded area of natural beauty, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the park is by staying at a campsite. There are numerous campsites dotted throughout the park and they range from comfy glamping to a more wild night pitching in the woods or on a farmer’s field. If camping is not for you, there are many cosy countryside inns and BnBs nestled in the picturesque countryside. If you’re looking for a more urbanised setting you can find hotels in all of the bigger towns and cities. WHAT TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK The National Park will be at its most busy during the summertime, on weekends, and during school holidays. I recommend visiting during shoulder season to get the most peaceful experience whilst also having reasonably good weather. Spring is an excellent time to visit with the flowers in bloom and the landscapes alive with the activity of wildlife. My favourite time of year to visit is in Autumn when you can experience a range of colour in the trees and frosty morning walks through the grassy vales. BONUS LOCATIONS This itinerary attempts to cover as much of the South Downs National Park as possible. But as it ranges hundreds of kilometers, from Hampshire through to Sussex, there simply isn't enough time to fit everything into 3 days. To really get the most out of the National Park you'll need to keep returning for multiple visits! Here are some other locations you might want to consider for future trips: -Walk around the Devil's Dyke. -Visit the historic cobbled town of Lewes. -Experience the enormous chalk hill stencil of the Long Man of Wilmington and the Litlington Horse. -Discover the wonderful natural landscapes of the Meon Valley Trail. -Spend the day immersed amongst exotic animals at the Marwell Conservation Zoo.

Day 1


Today you will take in the highlights of the Hampshire portion of the South Downs National Park. This includes walking around the old Saxon capital of England, Winchester, and following the gorgeous chalk stream of the River Itchen. Then it's off to see the house of the beloved novelist Jane Austen before finishing the day by stargazing on one of the highest hills in the National Park, Butser Hill.
09:00 - 11:00
Winchester Cathedral
9 The Cl, Winchester SO23 9LS, UK
Winchester Cathedral is one of Europe's largest cathedrals and boasts the greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in the world. Marvel at its stunning architecture and soaring arches set amongst the leafy green Cathedral grounds. Built in 1093 this building officially elevates Winchester to the status of a city despite its relatively small size. It's a burial site to a range of famous figures including Jane Austen, the celebrated British novelist. Other prestigious names include: St Swithun - patron saint of the cathedral, Josephine Butler - social reformer and women's rights advocate, Bill Wilson - co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. My personal favourite is William Walker, the man who spent 6 years diving beneath the cathedral to pump out water and rebuild the foundations. Over the years he deposited 25,800 bags of concrete, 114,900 concrete slabs, and around 900,000 bricks. His monumental efforts nearly single-handedly saved the cathedral from sinking into the ground beneath its stone structure. If you're a film fan you may recognise some of the building's features from a selection of Hollywood movies. The cathedral was used as a filming location for movies such as The Da Vinci Code, Les Miserables, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. TOP TIPS - If you’re visiting the cathedral, make sure you take a 5-minute detour to the King Alfred the Great statue at the bottom of Winchester high-street. This statue pays homage to the Saxon King who ruled over Britain and made Winchester his capital nearly 1,000 years ago. - The Winchester Cathedral grounds transform into a sensational Christmas market every December. There are numerous stalls selling hot food, local produce, and seasonal goods. On top of this, the stalls surround a large ice rink right beside the cathedral. It's a very special time of year to visit. FOOD & DRINK -Winchester has plenty of great restaurants and cafes to visit. If you're looking for a quick snack and a cup of coffee head to The Dispensary Kitchen right beside the cathedral grounds. Further into the city are Cafe Monde and Forte Kitchen, both very popular brunch/snack spots. -For a more refined dining experience there is The Chesil Rectory which is a historic restaurant set in a gorgeous 600-year-old Grade II listed building. In addition to this, there's the Michelin Star restaurant The Black Rat with its counterpart pub The Black Boy located a few steps downhill from the restaurant.
Article By: Matt Lynch
Standard 9.95 GBP
Students 6.50 GBP
Seniors 8.00 GBP

11:00 - 13:00
The River Itchen
The Itchen Navigation, Winchester SO23, UK
Hampshire and the South Downs National Park are famous for their chalk streams. The River Itchen is one of the finest examples of them. The water is stunningly clear, so much so that you can stand on the river bank and spot trout gliding amongst the reeds, suspended in the steady flow. The river is exceptionally clean and the chalk bed filters out many impurities allowing wildlife to flourish in the water and along its banks. It's the perfect location to spot wildlife and look out for the species that call this natural ecosystem home. The river is renowned as one of the best fly fishing spots in the UK and large swathes of watercress grow naturally in the northern section of the Itchen. There's a short walk called The Weirs which starts at the Winchester City Mill and stretches round to Wolvesey Castle. A more serene section will take you south past the prestigious Winchester College and into the water meadows. You can follow the path until it intercepts Garnier Road where you can then loop back into Winchester city centre. This walk should take about an hour. If you wish for a more challenging walk with better views yet, follow The Itchen Navigation path to St Catherine's Hill. After a 70 meter climb up +100 steps you'll be granted with a spectacular view over Winchester and across the River Itchen valley. This walk should take another hour added on from the water meadows. TOP TIP - If you're looking for another fantastic hill view in Winchester, go to the St Giles Hill viewpoint. Although it too has a steep climb, it's closer to the city centre and requires a shorter walk for similar sweeping sights. To find it, walk east towards the King Alfred statue. When you reach the statue continue in a straight line over the bridge that cross the River Itchen and follow the small path into the woods and up the hill in front of you. Keep climbing the numerous steps and follow the signs leading you to the viewpoint up top.
Article By: Matt Lynch

Travel time
0 hours 10 minutes
14:00 - 16:00
Jane Austen's House
Winchester Rd, Chawton, Alton GU34 1SD, UK
One of the world's greatest writers had the pleasure of calling the South Downs National Park her home. Loved by critics, scholars, and casual readers the world over, her novels are considered timeless works of art. You may recognise titles such as Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma. Her 17th-century cottage in the village of Chawton has now been turned into a museum and exhibition area. Jane lived in this house for the last 8 years of her life before being buried in Winchester Cathedral when she died. This lovely red-brick home is now a Grade I listed building and contains many important artefacts owned by Jane during her life along with information on the author and her relevance to English Literature. If you're interested in learning more about another historical figure in the area, there's the Gilbert White & The Oates Collections 5-minutes drive down the road. Gilbert White was a famous 18th-century naturalist; his house is now a museum documenting his life with an exhibition of other British explores from the time. TOP TIP - Just down the road is Chawton House, a spectacular Elizabethan manor that was once owned by Jane Austen's brother. The building has spectacular gardens and an ornate library with exhibitions dedicated to works by feminist writers. FOOD & DRINK - Directly opposite the house is a popular 16th-century pub called The Greyfriar. This cosy establishment is adorned with all the homely architecture you'd expect from an English pub: low wooden beams, exposed brickwork, and a random mix of old furniture. Photo credits: LSE Library on Unsplash
Article By: Matt Lynch
Standard 9.00 GBP
Students 7.00 GBP
Members 4.50 GBP
Kids 4.50 GBP Under 16
Seniors 8.00 GBP

Travel time
0 hours 25 minutes
19:00 - 21:00
Butser Hill
Butser Hill National Nature Reserve, Buriton, Petersfield GU32 1RT, UK
Butser Hill is a 592-acre National Nature Reserve near Petersfield in the South Downs National Park. It's a Site of Special Scientific Interest and one of the highest points in Hampshire. For all these reasons, it's a fantastic place to go on a walk. For those wishing to hike a section of the South Downs Way - the 100-mile National Trail in the South Downs National Park - this is a great section to do as it marks the highest point on the path. Rather than visit during the day, there's another special time I recommend you to visit. In 2016 the South Downs National Park became the 13th International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR) in the world. Every year there is a 2-week festival to celebrate this galactic status. However, you can do a Dark Sky viewing at any time of year you desire and Butser Hill is one of the best locations in the park to get clear skies. (Harting Down, Old Winchester Hill, and Iping Common are also great spots!) If you head to the hill just as the sun is going down you can enjoy a walk around the summit as the sun sets. Then sip away at a thermos of hot coffee - or something stronger - whilst waiting for the stars to fill the sky. Don't forget to bring warm clothing and a head torch to get back to your car! TOP TIPS - Try to time your Dark Skies visit with a lunar event or another exciting change in astronomy. - If you have time, it could be well worth a trip to the Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium around the time of your visit. This would provide you with plenty of extra information about the skies above and could help you to learn some more about what you're actually seeing. Photo credits: Annie Spratt from Unsplash
Article By: Matt Lynch

Travel time
0 hours 35 minutes

Day 2

West Sussex

Today is a day of views, gardens, and stately homes as you explore the West Sussex section of the South Downs National Park. The day begins in Midhurst where you will stroll around the incredible Cowdray Ruins before nipping down the road to spot deer in the Pentworth House and Park. In the afternoon you'll head south to sample some of the National Park's famed forest and hill walks. In Kingley Vale you'll get the opportunity to see some of the oldest yew trees in Britain before heading over to The Trundle to wander about the remains of a Bronze age fort with views out across the coastal plain to the English Channel.
09:00 - 10:30
Cowdray Ruins
Cowdray Heritage Trust, Visitor Centre, River Ground Stables, Midhurst GU29 9AL, UK
In the heart of the South Downs National Park sits the market town of Midhurst. Despite having a busy A-road running through its centre, it's hard not to be swept away by the quaint buildings in this quintessentially English setting. The town is fringed by fabulous rolling hills and deciduous woodland which creates a picture-book feeling to the landscape. A short walk through a floodplain takes you to the River Rother where you're greeted by the astonishing crumbling walls of Cowdray ruins. This is a spectacular example of Tudor architecture and proudly holds claim to visits from King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. Unfortunately, in 1793, a devastating fire raged through the property destroying all but the exterior foundations. The only section of the house to survive unscathed was the Kitchen Tower. There's a lovely 20-minute walk you can take around the grounds of the mansion. It's possible to add a short extension to the walk along the river and up past Midhurst Castle taking you back to the village center. TOP TIP - Midhurst is home to one of the South Downs National Trust visitor centres. Be sure to stop in to collect some pamphlets and to ask about any additional information you have on the National Park. FOOD & DRINK - Midhurst has numerous cafes along its small high street that are a great place to stop in for a hot drink after your walk around the ruins. Fitzcane's serves excellent coffees and plenty of breakfast and lunch options. On the other end of the village, Garton's Coffee House is also a very popular establishment.
Article By: Matt Lynch

11:00 - 13:00
Petworth House and Deer Park
London Rd, Petworth GU28 9LR, UK
This enormous 17th-century mansion has such expansive grounds that it's home to the largest resident population of fallow deer in England. The park itself is 700-acres across and so exquisite that it inspired multiple works from the Romantic painter William Turner. The house is a National Trust Grade I listed building with its architecture inspired by the Baroque palaces of Europe. It's said to be home to one of the National Trust's most prized art collections. If you park in the Petworth House Car Park you can enjoy a scenic stroll through the gardens to spot the wildlife and deer. If you walk in the direction of Upper Pond you'll be greeted by one of the finest views on the estate of the park leading up towards Petworth House. Entrance to the deer park is free and parking costs £3 for non-members. TOP TIP - Visit the park in October to see the magnificent changing in colour on the oak and horse-chestnut trees. This is also the time of year the stags partake in their ritual rutting. The noise of the stags roaring as their horns crack together is something quite incredible to behold. FOOD & DRINK - The town of Petworth is filled with squat wooden buildings and narrow winding lanes. The perfect place to amble about looking for something to eat or drink following your walk around Petworth House and Park. Tiffins of Petworth does an excellent cream tea in the traditional English style. - If you're looking for a lunch spot, The Angle Inn does upmarket pub food and has a lovely stone-walled pub garden to sit in. - 10 minutes drive outside of Petworth is the Langham craft brewery. It's possible to book a 1.5 - 2 hour tour of the brewery costing £15.
Article By: Matt Lynch
Standard 10.00 GBP
Kids 5.00 GBP Under 16

Travel time
0 hours 15 minutes
14:30 - 16:30
Kingley Vale (NNR) and Devil’s Humps
Kingley Vale (NNR), South Downs National Park, Chichester PO18 9BS, UK
Kingley Vale was one of the UK"s first National Nature Reserves to be announced in 1952. To accompany this, it contains one of the best yew tree forests in western Europe. Amongst these ancient woods stand some of the oldest living specimens in Britain. Several are estimated to be at least 500 years old. The area is a 505-acre Site of Special Scientific Interest just north of Chichester in the West Sussex region of the South Downs National Park. There are numerous routes winding amongst the woodland with the Natural England nature trail being one of the most popular. The path takes you down between the trees before climbing up Bow Hill to reach a chalk bluff with expansive views over the valley below you. From here you can also see the shine of The Solent meeting The English Channel on the horizon. Near the summit of Bow Hill are four large mounds of grass known as the Devil's Humps. These are some of the best surviving examples of Bronze Age barrows in the National Park. These barrows were used as burial grounds and, due to their size and position, are expected to hold important figures of the time such as chiefs and priests. The West Stoke Car Park at the base of Kingley Vale is free to park in. At the trailhead, there's a signpost with a map detailing the walking paths and flora and fauna in the area. Expect the walk to take between 1-2 hours to complete. TOP TIP - Kingley Vale is home to resident populations of avian species. Once you reach Bow Hill it's worth stopping for a while and scanning the sky to see if you can spot any green woodpeckers, red kites, or buzzards. FOOD & DRINKS - There is nowhere in the immediate vicinity of Kingley Vale to get refreshments but just south of the nature reserve are a couple of excellent pubs in the nearby hamlets. The Fox & Hounds is a traditional-style pub and The Richmond Arms is a more experimental gastropub/restaurant - both worth a visit.
Article By: Matt Lynch

Travel time
0 hours 30 minutes
17:00 - 18:00
The Trundle
The Trundle, Chichester PO18, UK
Rising just above Goodwood racecourse is the remains of a once magnificent Iron Age hill fort called The Trundle. This fort was built on top of the 206-meter tall Saint Roche's Hill with all that remains of it being mounds of chalk. From the summit, there are fantastic views across the coastal plain over Chichester and out to the English Channel. On a clear day, you can see the edge of the Isle of White rising up from the sea. The area holds a fascinating insight into our anthropological past. The site was the location of an ancient Neolithic causeway established in 4400 - 4000BC. This was one of the first causeways created in what is now the South Downs National Park. The hill was then occupied again during the Iron Age when the circular fort now called The Trundle was built. The car park is free and only a short 10-minute walk to the summit. From here you can walk around the rim of Saint Roche's Hill to take in the panoramic views. This should take no more than 30-minutes in total. TOP TIP - Visit the Trundle on race day at Goodwood to get a bird's eye view over the racecourse. This incredible horse racing venue is over 200 years old and is home to some of the UK's most prized racing events. FOOD & DRINKS -North of The Trundle car park is the hamlet of Singleton which contains the immensely popular gastropub The Partridge Inn. This pub has a lovely garden, cosy fireplaces, a good selection of ales, and does a delicious Sunday lunch.
Article By: Matt Lynch

Travel time
0 hours 12 minutes

Day 3

East Sussex

Today will only include 2 stops but each location requires a good deal of exploring to get the most out of the area. In the morning take in the views of Arundel Castle before going on a lovely walk around WWT Arundel and the River Arun. In the Afternoon drive to Seven Sisters Country Park to explore some of the most incredible chalk cliffs in Britain and climb to the highest point at Beachy Head. This point is the edge of the South Downs National Park and a fitting place to end your 3-day itinerary with a magnificent view out to sea.
09:00 - 12:00
Arundel Castle
Arundel Castle, Arundel BN18 9AB, UK
On the southern edge of the South Downs National Park is the spectacularly restored fortification of Arundel Castle. Rising up from a hill and overlooking the market town of Arundel on one side and the sweeping fields of the National Park on the other, this 11th-century castle is a pure joy to behold. It is a Grade I listed building and provides the opportunity to go on walking tours around its interior and grounds. The castle boasts a variety of architectural styles due to being originally built in Norman times, before being remodelled and refurbished with a Gothic style in the Victorian era. The town of Arundel itself is a great spot to go for a walk and get something to eat. I recommend heading up towards the Arundel Cathedral of Our Lady and Saint Philip Howard which has magnificent views over the plains and out to the coast. Following this, head out towards Hiorne Tower and into the forested vales surrounding Swanbourne Lake. A walking path will then lead you back through the WWT Arundel Nature Reserve where you can spot many species of birds and other varieties of wetland wildlife. From here you can walk back up the road to Arundle Castle to complete the circuit. This walk should take around 45 minutes to an hour depending on how much bird watching you do! There are various parking options in Arundle with most of them charging to park. I recommend The Mill Road Car Park which is suitably large and close to the town centre. TOP TIP -It's possible to extend your route from the wetlands along the River Arun. This path is mostly empty and it loops back round to the Mill Road Car Park and the Arundel Museum anyway. There are spectacular views back over the floodplains and towards the castle on the hill. When I walked it, there was no one about and it was incredibly peaceful sitting by the river listening to the sounds of nature around me. This will add an extra 45 minutes to your day's walk. FOOD & DRINKS - There are a few delicious cafes to sample in Arundel. The Motte and Bailey Cafe does delicious coffees and a fantastic brunch. Partners Cafe also offers a hearty breakfast menu at competitive prices. -If you're on the hunt for a pub you can't go wrong with The Kings Arms which looks up the cobbled street towards the cathedral.
Article By: Matt Lynch
Standard 15.00 GBP

14:00 - 18:00
Seven Sisters Country Park and Beachy Head
Beachy Head, Eastbourne, UK
When people think of chalk cliffs in the UK, they mostly conjure up ideas of the white cliffs of Dover. What people don't realise is that Beachy Head in West Sussex is actually the highest chalk headland in Britain. This coastal section between Seven Sisters Country Park and Eastbourne also marks the end of the South Downs National Park where the nature reserve meets the sea, making it a perfect final stop to your 3-day itinerary. It's possible to park at the Seven Sisters Car Park and follow the walking paths beside the Cuckmere River to the Cuckmere Haven beach. From here you'll have fabulous views along the shingle beach and up towards the white cliffs. Alternatively, you can park at the South Hill Barn Car Park, which is closer to the beach, to spend some time exploring the Seaford Head Nature Reserve. If you follow the walking paths east you'll cross through Birling Gap and up towards Beachy Head for some of the finest coastal views in the area looking out over the English Channel. Keep an eye out for the small red and white lighthouse at the base of the cliff which has been warding off sea-faring vessels for over 100 years. There's a small museum called the Beachy Head Story which has an exhibition and places for car parking. If you're lucky you'll be able to see out to France on a clear day. From this point, you can walk down into Eastbourne or back to Seven Sisters to collect your car. TOP TIP The route from Seven Sisters to Eastbourne is 7.5 miles one-way. So it may be worth taking a taxi or a local bus to get back to your car. That way you can enjoy walking along all the best bits of this coastline without having to drive between each spot. FOOD & DRINKS - Right on the seafront is the National Trust Birling Gap Cafe which offers a selection of hot drinks and cakes with an incredible view to boot. - In Seaford, at the Frankies Beach Cafe, you can sit on the loungers on the beach and enjoy your refreshments with the waves lapping nearly at your feet. - Nestled atop the headland is The Beachy Head, a country-style pub serving food and a selection of ales with a fantastic view from the windows and the surrounding gardens. Photo credits: Xavier Coiffic on Unsplash; Hilda Rytteke on Unsplash
Article By: Matt Lynch

Travel time
1 hour 0 minutes
Privacy: public
About the author

I have visited nearly 50 countries so far with some of my favourite destinations being: New Zealand, Norway, Japan, Mongolia, Iceland. I love hiking and all activities that involve exploring the outdoors. If you're interested in nature, walking, and adventures outdoors then you're going to enjoy my articles! Check out my website for some other travel blogs from around the world: https://mattwalkwild.com/ .

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