A week-end of hiking on the South Downs Way (UK)

I have always liked long distance trails. I like the idea of going from A to B by the simple power of your legs. The idea of hiking part of the South Downs Way came as I was looking for ideas of activities with mum, who was visited me for a few days. But I didn’t want to spend hours in transportation. I wanted an epic week-end adventure just a stone thrown from London, mixing sea and countryside. I had heard about the Seven Sisters hike so I decided we should tackle the last part of this national trail. We went up steep climbs, avoided cows, had fun on bales of hay, embraced Sussex views and ended up with our toes in the English channel – all under beautiful summer skies.

The north panorama from Firle Beacon, highest point of the hike

The South Downs Way

The South Downs way is a 100 miles trail crossing the protected area of the South Downs National Park. Officially you should start from Eastbourne all the way up to Winchester cathedral but honestly, who cares?

I was surprised  by the diversity of the landscapes of this section of the South Downs way we explored: rural, a 200m high plateau out of nowhere offering views from all around but also a forest, walking along rivers and ending up at the sea. I enjoyed being able to point at where we started and to follow the path from the distance. It is amazing how far you can go if you just keep walking.

There are as many ways to hike the South Downs Way as they are people: you can go wild camping and carry all your food for the trip, you can cycle, you can stay in comfy B&B, and you can break it down in small or big chunks. Carrying a simple map (a must) allows you to know where you are and to identify towns in the distance which is always fun ; the path is clearly marked, so you don’t need great navigation skills.

A marathon of hiking in two days

Difficulty: medium – no technicality but our second day was a long one. See alternatives if you want something a bit less demanding

Distance: 43km / 27 miles

Start and end: Lewes to Eastbourne, both accessible by train from London (hourly).

 

Day 1: Lewes – Southease, 12km

Day 1: Lewes to Southease

We left from London just before 16.00 and arrived in Lewes by 17.00. We quickly forgot about the packed commuter train and crossed the town. The road we walked went from two lanes to one, became more narrow, turned into a small path and finally, it opened into a big field and we met with the trail. Windmills, cows, sheep and field – London seemed so far.

After almost 3 hours of hiking, we arrived at the  YHA in Southease where we spent the night. It is a comfortable, modern and client hostel ; a twin room costs 70 GBP, breakfast 6.20GPB, and you also can buy dinner or a packed lunch. Self catering kitchen is also available. (If you are on a budget, these is also a campsite in Eastbourne).

Day 2: Southease – Eastbourne, 31km

Day 2: Southease to Eastbourne

On day two we left the hostel by 9am and continued our hike to the highest point of the weekend. We then descended to the cute and buzzing village of Alfriston, before turning south until we reached the coast. While on Friday we met many local going for an evening walk or jog, on Saturday the crowds got bigger and bigger as we were getting closer to the coast. The Seven Sister walk is a really day hike and though we were far from having the path from ourselves it didn’t really bother us. And then, Eastbourne was in sight!

Eastbourne was much more charming that I expected: the victorian sea town is protected in a nice bay, the pier is airy, with lots of space to sit and enjoy the scenery and there are plenty of places to eat out.

The next day we caught the direct train back to London (hourly, 18 GBP, 1h30), it was fun to look through the window to catch a glimpse of the area we walked, it looked so different.

 

Hiking alternatives on the South Downs Way

I would not change much if I would do it again. It is always fun to start your adventure right after work on a Friday and to arrive walking at the first accommodation and it was fun to challenge ourselves to walk a longer distance on the second day.

  • If you have one more day: You can walk back from Eastbourne to Alfriston via the cycling way or spend the day on the seaside sailing, kayaking etc
  • If you want shorter distances: Take the train to Southease, walk the 10km until Alfriston and tackle the last part of the trail on the second day.
  • If you have 2 full days of hiking, consider balancing the distances by breaking it down as follow: Lewes – Alfriston (22km), Alfriston – Eastbourne (20km)

NB: There are no train connection to Alfriston, only buses.

The Seven Sisters walk

Make it happen

Traveling light

We travelled light, with a 25L backpack each, carrying just food and water for the day, a change of clothes and enough toiletries to make ourselves presentable. We didn’t go dirt cheap but we didn’t go all in, the goal was to find a balance that will allow us to enjoy the week-end comfortably without breaking the bank.

On the first day we carried some light food to cook at the YHA. On day two, we had a big breakfast at the YHA,  bought a sandwich at the deli in Alfriston and ended the trip with a celebration dinner at an indian restaurant in Eastbourne (Indian restaurant Tuk-Tuk on Terminus road – absolutely delicious).

Useful links

  • The National trail website is a mine of information to plan your trip. The website include places to stay and tips on where to buy food or get water but also a route calculator function that is really handy!
  • Thanks to Rambling Man for the inspiration of his blog, he took over the all trail over several week-end.
  • Southern railway website for timetables and booking tickets online if you want (or just buy at the station).

Check more week-end adventures in England.

A week-end of hiking in Peak District National Park (UK)

It started with a misunderstanding. I had been talking for a few months about going for a week-end to explore the Lake District area, in the UK. Imagine my surprise when unwrapping the paper of my birthday present I discovered a guide of the best hikes in Peak District instead. But it didn’t really matter, I didn’t return the guidebook and instead we book a week-end to celebrate spring and the return of the outdoors season on this maybe less hyped destination. And guess what? Peak District didn’t disappoint me.

For this week-end we choose two hikes that we believe will offer the most dramatic landscapes, they also happen to be among the most popular. But outside of the week-end, you will have the hills for yourself!

Hill walking on Kinder Low plateau (Peak District, UK)

 

Day 1: Kinder Low hike

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Trekking options in Torres del Paine NP in Chile

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Ice as far as the eye can see, granite towers, turquoise waters, forest, tundra, wildlife and more than 150km of trails: Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile has everything Patagonia has to offer to explore. With 8 days and 8 nights of adventure  on one of the most beautiful trails of the planet, our South American exploration ended up in apotheosis.

In this article, I tell you all you need to know about this magical place. You will get:

  • an overview of the trekking possibilities in Torres del Paine National Park,
  • some tips to navigate between the different options,
  • a zoom on the “circuit” trek
  • some advices for the hike,
  • all the online resources I used myself to prepare my trek.

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Adventures in the Gorges du Verdon, the Grand Canyon of Provence

“Provence”. The name probably makes you picture cute villages and lavender fields, but did you know that it is in this area that you can find one of Europe’s most grandiose canyon?
It looks like that:

 

gorges_du_verdon_panorama

A million years back, during the last ice age, the river found its way in the rocks, creating the Gorges du Verdon.

 

Difficult to seize properly the dimension of the Canyon on a picture… Try to imagine that the limestone walls are 700 m (higher than 2 Eiffel towers on top of each other!) and that the emerald river Verdon runs in the canyon over 25 kilometres, creating a fantastic playground for outdoor lovers.  By foot, by car, by canoe or climbing, discover in this article the many ways to explore this jewel of Provence.

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Hiking around El Chalten (Argentina) – a 3 day trek by Fitz Roy

After 22 hours of bus, on a straight road in the middle of flat and boring steppes land, we saw its silhouette in the distance: the famous Fitz Roy chain. Slowly, the silhouette becomes sharper and bigger, until revealing a fantastic mountain range like created from shark tooth, surrounded by a beautiful grey laguna and several glaciers. We arrived to the promised land of El Chalten, self-proclaimed capital of trekking of Argentina.

El Chalten_Fitz Roy

The dream starts at the end of a 22h bus ride.

El Chalten offers plenty of hiking possibilities: you can easily take day hikes but why not going for a mini trek for a more immersive Patagonia experience?

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In my backpack – Hiking equipment

Packing for a travel is never an easy process, but when you are heading out into the wild with no option to buy missing items, it becomes even more critical to give it some good thoughts.
What to pack and what to leave home? How to make sure you can keep going even if the weather change? I am sharing here my packing list for the happy trekker along with a few learnings and tips, acquired kilometre after kilometre.
So, what's hiding inside the backpack?

So, what’s hiding inside the backpack?

Packing list for going trekking

If you want to be a minimalist packer, any item that goes into your backpack should answer one of the 3 essential goals of a hiker: stay dry, stay warm, stay clean. This, and some good food of course, will ensure you remain a decent human being even if you are trekking for more than a week without showering (think it’s too gross, it is still time to move to another post ;-)?)

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Kungsleden, a 7 days trek above the Arctic circle

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Kungsleden, “the royal trail”, it’s a 450km trail running into the swedish mountains of Lappland, above the Arctic circle. Thousands of hikers come every year in summer to complete a portion  (or all!) of one of the most beautiful treks on the planet and enjoy full wilderness – not even phone connection! The first part of the trail, between Abisko to Nikkaluokta is a rewarding 5-7 days trek.

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5 ways to get close to glaciers in Patagonia

 Ever since I watched the fantastic documentary Chasing Ice by James Balog (see the trailer here) I have been fascinated by glaciers. I wanted to get close to them, to touch them, to explore them. In Patagonia, my dreams became true.
The glaciers of Patagonia are among the most accessible in the world. Did you know that the Southern Patagonian ice field is actually the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water? It stretches between Chile and Argentina, over 12.000sqkm. It feeds more than 40 glaciers in the area among them the famous Perito Moreno (El Calafate,  Argentina) but also glaciers Viedma (El Chalten, Argentina) and Grey (NP Torres del Paine, Chile) , all really accessible to the active traveler.
Getting close to glaciers is the number one  on the list of my must do in Patagonia.

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How much should you pay for your trek to Machu Picchu?

Arrival at the camp on the first day of the Salkantay trek

Arrival at the camp on the first day of the Salkantay trek

For many travellers to Peru, the trek to the inca site of Machu Picchu is the highlight of their trip to Peru. Many prepare it many months in advance, but many arrive without anything booked. In Cusco, the old capital of the inca empire and departure point for the mythic ruins, trying to choose a tour operator for what shoud remain as a once in a lifetime experience can be quite overwhelming. Hundreds of agencies are lined up on the streets and where you can’t walk around without being shout at by some dynamic “Machu Picchu? Tourist information?“. The situation gets even more tricky once you realize that, for what seems to be the very same experience, prices of a trek can vary from $195 to $600 (or even $2000 if you don´t want to camp). In this jungle of offers, how to choose?

 

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Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu: it’s like Peru in a nutshell

With this 5 days trek, you leave from bursting Qosqo (Cusco) to start hiking into a fantastic valley, you will pass amazing snow y andean peaks, admire glaciers and lakes, cloud forest and humid jungles before ending up at the amazing archaeologic site of Machu Picchu.
The trek brings you in the steps of the chaskis´ steps, the inca messengers. Thanks to a vast network of inca trails which was connecting Cusco, mountains and the jungle and a system of relay, a message could reach Machu Picchu from Qosqo in only 5h. For you, it will be in 5 days, on one of the world´s top 25 treks, according to National Geographic.

salkantay_trek

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