The fifteenth and newest member of Britain’s national park family, the South Downs National Park came into being in 2010. Covering over six hundred square miles, it stretches for seventy miles from eastern Hampshire through the hills of West Sussex to the white chalk cliffs of East Sussex. The park is located in one of the most densely populated parts of the country, and in contrast to other “wilder” national parks, it contains a high proportion of farmland – about 85 percent of the park.
There are visitor centres in East Sussex at the Seven Sisters County Park and at Beachy Head, and in Hampshire at the Queen Elizabeth County Park. The South Downs National Park Authority website is another useful source of information about the area.
The South Downs Way
One of the best ways to explore the park is to strike off into the countryside on the South Downs Way, which rises and dips over one hundred miles along the chalk uplands between the city of Winchester and the spectacular cliffs at Beachy Head, and offers the southeast’s finest walks. If undertaken in its entirety, the bridle path is best traversed from west to east, taking advantage of the prevailing wind, Eastbourne’s better transport services and accommodation, and the psychological appeal of ending at the sea. Steyning, the halfway point, marks a transition between predominantly wooded sections and more exposed chalk uplands.
The OS Landranger maps #198 and #199 cover the eastern end of the route; you’ll need #185 and #197 as well to cover the lot. A guidebook is advised, and several are available, the best being by Kev Reynolds (written for following the route in either direction; published by Cicerone Press).