Encompassing over 260 square miles of South East England, The South Downs National Park offers some of the best iconic landmarks in the country alongside the most dramatic coastline and all within easy reach of London and the home counties. However long you have, be it a couple of hours, a day or a week, here are a few of our favourite places to visit that we think you will love!
1. The South Downs Way
Incredible views and coastal walking.
This epic 100 mile, long distance footpath and bridleway from Eastbourne to Winchester, traverses the South Downs taking in the majestic Seven Sisters, Beachy Head and Birling Gap. Luckily it’s possible to explore several bite-sized chunks rather than tackling the entire walk.
2. Beachy Head
One mile hike to the peak!
Starting from Eastbourne, follow the signs west along the seafront and you will come across a small free car park at the start of the climb. This is the start of the South Downs Way and your options are either the 100 mile walk to Winchester or one mile to Beachy Head. As I was expected home for dinner I chose the latter! It is quite a steep hike with a flight of steps to navigate at the start. Most of the footpath is grassy and easy underfoot. The views on the way are stunning, out over the English Channel and back towards Pevensey Bay. Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, standing at 531 feet so you’ll know when you’ve reached the top.
If you chose to carry on, further down the path you’ll reach Belle Tout Lighthouse, decommissioned in 1903 it has had several owners over the years and in 1999 was moved 17 metres away from the eroding cliff edge in a remarkable feat of engineering. Today it is fully restored and enjoys a new lease of life as a bed and breakfast. At the base of the cliff stands the current unmanned lighthouse which is operated by Trinity House. It is possible to walk along the beach from Birling Gap to the base but great care is needed along with stout footwear and a watchful eye on the tide. The lighthouse itself is private property.
3. Birling Gap
Dramatic views and the classic white cliffs.
Birling Gap should be high up on your “things to do” list, whether you arrive by car or on foot. Situated in a valley between chalk cliffs, the National Trust have a large car park, café and shop. There’s a platform with easy access above the beach, located in exactly the right place to see the magnificent Seven Sisters so don’t forget your camera. The café is the most splendid place to buy a hot drink and admire the view. It is possible to access the beach below and with a mixture of rock and sand it’s a great place to rock pool.
4. Seven Sisters
An eight mile hike to walk all seven!
Named after seven well-defined hilltops, the Seven Sisters create a visual masterpiece. The cliffs are named Haven Brow, Short Brow, Rough Brow, Brass Point, Flagstaff Brow, Bailey’s Hill and Went Hill. There are actually eight hills with the latter being created by sea erosion. The white chalk cliffs contrast with dark seas and grassy downs so whatever time of year you visit you are guaranteed a breath-taking vista (apart from when it’s foggy of course!). My photographs were taken from the viewing platform at Birling Gap but there are also splendid views from Hope Gap.
5. East Dean
Pretty local village close to the coast.
After all that sightseeing it felt like high time for refreshments and the quaint village of East Dean fitted the bill with its flint and oak cottages. Sherlock Holmes retired here in the early 19th century and today it is a quiet, pretty village. Call in at the Hiker's Rest café for light refreshments or visit the Tiger Inn on the village green with lots of outdoor seating. There’s a large car park which is free so you can stay all day if you wish.
After a day out exploring, retire to your delightful self-catering cottage and relax in comfort. We have a delightful choice in Sussex waiting for you, many have open fires and are dog friendly.