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 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
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
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.
Make it happen
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).
- 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).