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Geology of the South East, Chalk is light green (6)
The Wealden Anticline.

The South Downs is one of the four areas of chalk downland in southern England.[1] They extend from the eastern side of Hampshire through Sussex, culminating in the cliffs at Beachy Head. Two areas of the Downs have been designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); there are many Sites of Special Scientific Interest; and much of the Downs will be included in the future South Downs National Park[2].

The area is relatively unpopulated, although along its southern periphery there is an almost uninterrupted ribbon of seaside towns: it is extremely popular with walkers, having one principal long distance footpath, the South Downs Way, and many interconnecting ones. There are three principal gaps in the upland through which rivers flow; and there are also many dry valleys along its length.

The South Downs have a long history; there are archaeological remains from Neolithic times. Until the middle of the 20th century, sheep-rearing was the main occupation of those living on the Downs.[3]



'Downs' is from Old English dun meaning, amongst other things, 'hill'. The word acquired the sense of 'elevated rolling grassland' around the fourteenth century. [4] These hills are prefixed 'south' to distinguish them from the morphologically similar range of hills - the North Downs - which run roughly parallel to them but some 50km to the north.


The South Downs are formed from a thick band of chalk which was deposited during the Cretaceous Period around sixty million years ago within a shallow sea which extended across much of northwest Europe. The rock is composed of the microscopic skeletons of plankton which lived in the sea, hence its colour. The chalk has many fossils, and bands of flint occur throughout the formation.[5] The Chalk is divided into the Lower, Middle and Upper Chalk, a thin band of cream-coloured nodular chalk known as the Melbourn Rock marking the boundary between the Lower and Middle units. The strata of southeast England, including the Chalk was gently folded during a phase of the Alpine Orogeny to produce the Weald-Artois Anticline, a dome-like structure with a long east-west axis. Erosion has removed the central part of the dome, leaving the north-facing escarpment of the South Downs along its southern margin with the North Downs as its counterpart, as shown on the diagram. The softer underlying rocks form the vale beneath the Downs with Ashdown Forest upstanding centrally within the Weald between the North and South Downs.[6]

The chalk, being porous, allows water to soak through; as a result there are many winterbournes along the northern edge.


The South Downs extend about 70 miles (112 km) from west to east, and seven miles (11.2 km) wide, north to south. Both the North and South Downs come together at the Wessex Downs, just inside the Hampshire border at the River Meon valley. The eastern end, where it reaches the coast between Seaford and Beachy Head, produces the spectacular scenery of the Seven Sisters, the undulating cliffs which are the remnants of dry valleys being eroded by the sea.

There are four river valleys which cut through the Downs: from west to east they are the Rivers Arun, Adur, Ouse and Cuckmere. Chalk acquifers and winterbourne streams supply much of the water required by the surrounding settlements. Dew ponds are a characteristic feature on the hillside: artificial ponds for watering livestock.

The highest point on the South Downs is Butser Hill, just south of Petersfield, Hampshire. At 270 m (886 ft) high, it qualifies as one of England's Marilyns. A list of those points on the South Downs above 700ft (213m) follows, in a west to east direction:

Name of hill Nearest settlement Height Notes
Butser Hill Petersfield 270m (886ft) Highest point in the South Downs National Park and the highest point in the East Hampshire ANOB
West Harting Down South Harting 215m (707ft)
Beacon Hill South Harting 242m (793ft)
Linch Down Bepton 248m (814ft)
Littleton Down East Lavington 255m (836ft) Summit is ‘’Crown Tegleaze’’: the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex [7]
Glatting Beacon Sutton 245m (803ft)
Chanctonbury Hill Washington 238m (782ft) Site of Chanctonbury Ring hill fort
Truleigh Hill Upper Beeding 216m (708ft)
Ditchling Beacon Ditchling 248m (814ft)
Firle Beacon Firle 217m (713ft)


Archaeological evidence has revealed that the Downs have been inhabited and utilised for thousands of years. Neolithic flint mines and settlements; Bronze Age burial mounds; and Iron Age forts are all in evidence.[8].

It has been estimated that the tree cover of the downs was cleared some 2500 years ago, and the present closely-grazed turf is the result of continual grazing by sheep.

Special areas

Two areas of the Downs are designated AONB: East Hampshire and Sussex Downs AONBs.

The proposal to set up the South Downs National Park first received governmental support in 1999. After a public enquiry between 2003-2005, and various legal objections, the enquiry re-opened in February 2008. On the 31st March 2009, it was announced that the South Downs would become a national park, after 60 years on the shortlist.[2]

Among the National Nature Reserves (NNR) is Kingley Vale NNR, near Chichester.

Tourism, leisure and sport

In 1923 the Society of Sussex Downsmen (now the South Downs Society) was formed with the aim of protecting the area's unique landscape.

The South Downs is a popular area for ramblers with a network of over 2,000 miles (3,200 km) of well-managed, well-signed and easily accessible trails. The principal bridleway, and longest of them, is the South Downs Way. [9]. The Monarch's Way, having originated at Worcester, crosses the South Downs and ends at Shoreham-by-Sea.[10]

Sports undertaken on the Downs include paragliding, mountain-biking, horse riding and walking.[11]


Two of the landmarks on the Downs are the Long Man of Wilmington, a chalk carved figure, and Clayton Windmills. There is also a war memorial, The Chattri, dedicated to Indian soldiers who died in the Brighton area, having been brought there for treatment after being injured fighting on the Western Front in the First World War.

South Downs in literature

Rudyard Kipling who lived at Rottingdean described the South Downs as "Our blunt, bow-headed whale-backed Downs".[12] Writing in 1920 in his poem The South Country, poet Hilaire Belloc describes the South Downs as "the great hills of the South Country".[13] In On The South Coast, poet Algernon Charles Swinburne describes the South Downs as "the green smooth-swelling unending downs".[14]

The naturalist-writer William Henry Hudson wrote that "during the whole 53-three mile length from Beachy Head to Harting the ground never rises above a height of 850 feet, but we feel on top of the world".[15]

Poet Francis William Bourdillon also wrote a poem "On the South Downs".[16] The South Downs have been home to several writers including Jane Austen who lived at Chawton on the edge of the Downs in Hampshire. The Bloomsbury Group often visited Monk's House in Rodmell, the home of Virginia Woolf. Alfred, Lord Tennyson had a second home at Aldworth on the edge of the Downs at Blackdown. Geologically part of the Weald, Blackdown lies close to the chalk downland and is part of the South Downs National Park.

Suggested reading

Roundabout to Canterbury Charles S. Brooks 1926 copyright



External links

Coordinates: 50°55′N 0°30′W / 50.917°N 0.5°W / 50.917; -0.5


Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

South Downs[1] is in East Sussex, England

  • An area of chalk upland that stretches from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex. The energetic can walk the entire length using the "South Downs Way".
  • The eastern end finishes at the sea from east of Brighton Marina to Eastbourne. The section of cliffs from Brighton to Seaford is largely built on, although the cliffs west of Newhaven (River Ouse) are noteworty for being overlaid by Tertiary sand.


The South Downs passes through the counties of East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire; there is no great difference between the counties.

A typical path with a typical view

East to West:

all the towns above have a shop, public toilets, transport links and some form of life

An iconic image, The Seven Sisters
An iconic image, The Seven Sisters

The south Downs are the remnants of the former Wealden Anticline, which stretched across Sussex, The chalk was laided down between 100 and 65 million years ago, on top of the weaker Greensand and Sandstone which makes up much of the Weald, the beds were then folded from 30 to 1 million years ago, the top of the chalk was then eroded, leaving two nearly parallel ridges, which is why 'The Downs' form a long ridge. They are mirrored in the north by the North Downs.


The Downs have undergoing inhabitation since the Bronze age at least, with numerous camps and figures on the hills. There are remains dating from The Bronze Age to the Second World War, the Battle of Lewes was fought on the downs and in the Elizabethan times their height was used for beacons (this is preserved within names, such as Firle Beacon).


The South Downs extend about 70 miles (100 km) through East Sussex, West Sussex, and part of Hampshire. The South Downs Way is a bridleway that follows the South Downs. Towns include Eastbourne with its 164 m high headland Beachy Head, Lewes, Ditchling, Clayton and the nearby Clayton Windmills, Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint and the nearby Wolstonbury Hill, Brighton, Hove, Portslade, Shoreham-by-Sea, Washington, Arundel, and Midhurst.

The Downs are penetrated by several rivers, such as the (from East to West) Cuckmere (its lower reaches form the famous meanders), the Ouse, the Adur, the Arun (passing through Arundel). The Views from the Downs take in some of the most beautiful countryside in the South East of England.

Get in

There are main line trains and long distance coaches to both Winchester and Eastbourne as well as several places in between. Allow around 60 – 90 minutes from London. Ferries to Newhaven and Portsmouth, and the London Airports (especially Gatwick) are handy for overseas visitors. Train's from London stop at these places close to the route:

Long Man of Wilmington, on the route of the South Downs Way
Long Man of Wilmington, on the route of the South Downs Way
  • Winchester: Mainline services to and From Southampton (South West Trains)
  • Petersfield: Train services from London (Waterloo) and Portsmouth (South West Trains)
  • Amberley: From London (Victoria) towards Arundel and Littlehampton. (Southern Trains)
  • Hassocks: From London (Victoria) towards Brighton and Lewes (Southern Trains and First Capital Connect - From Blackfriars)
  • Lewes: From London (Victoria)Towards Lewes and Newhaven (Southern Trains)
  • Eastbourne: From London (Victoria) via Lewes or from Ashford. (Southern Trains)

Cyclists Please note that at some periods of the day and on some operators bikes are not allowed on the trains. also most of the more modern trains only have space for 3-4 bikes, thus large groups may have to book ahead or travel in smaller groups. Southern for example requests that 'limited number' of cycles are carried free on all services except on trains due to arrive into London or Brighton between 07.00 and 10.00, or due to depart from London stations or Brighton between 1600 and 1900 on Mondays to Fridays. Reservations for cycles are not required.

Car parks Car parking is normally good, although in towns and villages be expected to have to search and pay for parking spaces. Car parks are usually free from crime. but normal precortions must be taken. narrow lanes are common, as are steep hills, trying to take a caravan around the South Downs is not recommended.

Get around

No Bus routes run the complete length of the path, although there are coastal and inland routes, the park is serviced by routes passing through it, and has a fairly decent train service. Check out Traveline South East for full transport routes.

If you want to travel by car (advised) the A27 runs parrel to the South Downs, with various roads passing through the area (A23, A284, A24 and more).

A popular way is by foot, bike or horse, there is a route through the park (South Downs Way) which will take you over some of the best scenery in the UK (and you're not really affected by traffic).

The Work of the Devil? Devils Dyke, Sussex
The Work of the Devil? Devils Dyke, Sussex
  • Plenty of chalk cliffs the most famous are the Seven Sisters (Country Park) and Beachy Head, west of Eastbourne. Could be combined with a the Cuckmere River valley below Alfriston and Cuckmere Haven.
  • Beautiful vistas from Firle Beacon, Ditchling Beacon, Devil's Dyke and Telscombe village (not to be confused with the nearby coastal Telscombe Cliffs).
  • Quick trip to Brighton, Eastbourne or the historic city of Winchester.
  • Take a bus or drive up to Devils Dyke, this V shaped valley was formed during the last glaciation and offers many folklore stories about its formation.
  • Visit the windmills on Clayton Hill. Jill Mill is a fully restored post mill which grinds corn at certain times of year. Volunteer guides will take you up inside the mill and explain the workings. There's a tea shop with home made cakes in the base. Normally open on Sunday afternoons 2 - 5 from May to September. The mill is signposted from the A273 near Pyecombe and there's a car park adjacent to it. Other opening times and info at [2]
  • The Chattri is the war memorial to the Indian soldiers who faught in the First World War. About a mile south of the South Downs Way near to Pyecombe golf club. Over a million and a half Indian soldiers faught alongside British troops, and many wounded were treated at hospitals in Brighton.

Devils Dyke

The Devil's Dyke is the largest chalkland dry combe (a big waterless valley) in Britain and home to many associated plants and butterflies. From the summit there are dramatic views north towards the Weald and south over the sea. the area became a popular visiting spot during the 19th century, due to its proximity to Brighton,

Get in

  • Car parks at Devil’s Dyke and Summer Down Road
  • Buses to Devil's Dyke:
    • Number 77 service: winter – Sundays and Bank Holidays (except Christmas Day); spring/autumn - weekends and Bank Holidays; summer – everyday
    • Number 17 Stagecoach service to Poynings (20min walk to Devil's Dyke)
    • A classic open-top bus runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays. A bus leaflet called 'Breeze up to the Dyke' is available

Eat and Drink

The nearest pubs are in villages which means you have to walk down, and then back up. Some of the closest places to the the Downs to eat are:

  • The Shepherd & Dog, Fulking (near Devil's Dyke)
  • The Royal Oak, Poynings
  • The Plough, Pyecombe (more a restaurant than a pub)
  • The Jack & Jill, Clayton
  • The White Horse, Ditchling
  • The Half Moon, Plumpton

Ditchling Beacon Car Park normally has a couple of ice cream vans floating about.

Further Information

  • Seasonal information officer with mobile trailer from Easter to October (mainly weekends)
  • Discover Devil’s Dyke with self-guided family activities (similar to Tracker Packs) £2. Available during summer
  • Further information and educational / group bookings from the Head Warden or Education Warden on 01273 857712
  • the land is owned by the National Trust [3]]

Get Out


South Downs Way a long distance bridleway From Eastbourne to Heathfield (in the heart of the Weald) there is the Cuckoo Trail a cycle and walking path along a disused railway line.

Eat and Drink

Every Village has its own pub, each with its own character, expect good quality food and great beers (normally the local beer, Harveys, brewed in Lewes).

If you want to try some of the lamb produced on the Downs visit a local butcher or see if it is a special at a pub. You won't be disappointed!


Accommodation is plentiful; Camping sites, barns, hotels, pubs, cottages, YHA Bed and Breakfasts are all available. Consult the city and town articles for specific listings. Often smaller villages will have perhaps a restaurant and a small hotel, but not anything else for a traveller.

As far as 'wild' camping is concerned it is legal; however landowners permission is needed and for now it is difficult to cover the whole route by backpacking. The Sussex section has more opportunities to 'wild' camp than the Hampshire section.

The South Downs near Brighton (not related the the text!)
The South Downs near Brighton (not related the the text!)

Although the Downs are far from remote people have died on them, therefore ensure you have good quality footwear and a map. The South Downs Way is as safe as anywhere and much safer than any city – you need have no security concerns about going alone by day, however it is probably best to ensure you are not alone at night, the area is commonly used as a social gathering area for teenagers. The route often has sections with steep sides.

If you are planning some serious activity, especially alone remember the area as a whole is not suitable for people who are frail and due to its nature is not specially surfaced for wheelchairs and so can be rough and/or steep in places.

If you want to take young children on the downs, since it can be very hilly it is probably best to bring a pushchair.

If you are older you’ll need a suitable electric cross-country buggy such as a Tramper. Contact the Trail Officer for detailed information about the path surfaces, slopes, and useful contacts.

A basic kit should be as follows:

  • First aid kit; for any scrapes or falls
  • Mobile phone; just for piece of mind, most of the route has reception
  • Water; it can get pretty windy up there and especially in summer you can get quite thirsty.
  • In the winter warm clothing is recommended.

Luggage movement For those who may not want to carry all the things they need for 3 days on their backs; [4] has information on luggage movement services.

Take warm clothing e.g a jumper or fleece as even if it's sunny the wind speed can be high up on the downs.

Get out

Just check out the pages for East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire, there's always France, from Newhaven.

This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

South Downs


South Downs

  1. An area of chalk downland, in southern England

Derived terms

See also

  • North Downs


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