South Downs Way by Josie Dew

Ride level Regular cyclist
Distance 100 mi / 161 km
Type of bicycle Mountain bike
Traffic free
Circular route
At the top of the South Downs!

Cycling UK's vice-president, Josie Dew guides us along one of the finest cycling experiences in Britain: the South Downs Way.

I’ve cycled this route countless times and I’d be very happy to cycle it every day until the cows come home if I could: it’s that good. I walked it once, too, pushing and heaving a glorified wheelbarrow containing Jack (he was 11-months-old at the time) and camping clobber for four (a 7-year-old Molly and a 4-year old Daisy were with me). As a result I feel I now know the South Downs Way fairly intimately – we spent almost 4 weeks inching our way along the route at the speed of a snail in labour, sleeping at the edge of the track.

The conventional way to do the South Downs Way seems to be from east to west — treating it as a bit of a pilgrimage and ending up in Winchester cathedral. But 99% of the time I’ve done it west to east as it seems more fitting (especially if you have children with you) to be heading closer to the sea (chips and ice-creams!) with every footstep or turn of the pedals. The scenery also becomes a lot more dramatic the further west you travel, culminating with the white-cliffed marvels of The Seven Sisters.

Although this south-east corner of the country is busy and over-populated, I’ve found the SDW to always be virtually empty – even at the holiday height in August. Whenever I take Jack and the girls on a mission onto the Downs they revel in such adventure. Up here, on the hills, in the wind, with the huge skies and the magnificent views that stretch down to the sea on one side and across the Weald on the other, there are no rules or schools or screens or time constraints. And definitely no health and safety! 

It’s perfect for children: they ride and roam and run and forage and fossick and climb high trees. They find rocks and stones and feathers and sticks and flowers and insects. And it’s a history lesson on the move: the SDW passes castles and forts and Roman remains and Iron Age burial mounds and Neolithic Camps. And then, to cap it all, on arriving in Eastbourne you can run into the sea with a lolly.

Read more about this route