Best Hill Walks in the South Downs National Park

By Dave Roberts   

on December 9, 2020   5/5 (1)

Best Hill Walks in the South Downs National Park

The best walking in the South Downs National Park is often found on the eponymous chalk hills that run the length of the park. The hills on the South Downs aren’t the highest, between 200-280m in height, with the highest hills in the South Downs National Park being Black Down (280m), Butser Hill (270m) and Littleton Down (254.9m). The South Downs Way traverses the main chalk spine of the South Downs and walking that in sections is the best way to walk these hills, but there are also a few outliers such as, ironically the highest of them all; Black Down. For those looking to walk the sections by public transport, the South Downs National Park has published a leaflet which can be found at this link.

Of course, when we mention ‘hill’ walks, we’re not taking about the same sort of hill walking you’d find in Snowdonia, Lake District or Scotland.

Best Hill Walks in the South Downs National Park

Blackdown and the Temple of the Winds Walk

Distance – 3 km, Time –1 hours 

Blackdown and the Temple of the Winds Walk Route Map
Download file for GPS

Blackdown is the highest point of the South Downs National Park, though not of the South Downs themselves. Situated in the Western Weald, Black Down is a sandstone hill as opposed to the chalk of the South Downs themselves. Even if this may be the highest point, this is probably one of the easiest walks to a hill in the South Downs National Park. Setting off from the Black Down National Trust car park on Tennyson’s Lane, the walk contours around the hill towards the viewpoint at the Temple of the Winds. This is an excellent viewpoint to observe the South Downs and the Weald. The hill has numerous literary connections to Tennyson, who had two houses on the flanks of the hill (Aldworth and Foxhole) which he used in order to escape the admirers who flocked to his Isle of Wight home.

Walk up Butser Hill and East Meon

Distance – 13km, Time –4 hours 

Walk up Butser Hill and East Meon Route Map
Download file for GPS

Butser Hill is the highest point of the actual South Downs and is located in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park between Petersfield and Horndean. It is often walked from the country park, or as an even easier walk from the nearby Cross Dyke car park. This s a longer walk, exploring the countryside around East Meon before taking a detour to the top of Butser Hill along the South Downs Way.

Ditchling Beacon Walk

Distance – 7 km, Time –2 hours 

Ditchling Beacon, the highest point in East Sussex at 248m, can be a very busy little hill owing to it’s proximity to Brighton. The views over the Weald and towards the sea are among the best on the South Downs. We suggest that you make use of the Breeze up to the Downs bus service from Brighton as the car park gets very busy. Ditchling Beacon itself is climbed in the first ten minutes, as it is so close to the car park, so this walk goes exploring the nearby hills and returns to finish off with a second helping of Ditchling Beacon.

Devils’ Dyke Walk

Distance – 4 km, Time –1-2 hours 

The Devil’s Dyke is another popular walk, taking in both a hill and the widest and deepest dry valley in the UK. The dyke itself has numerous legends on how it was formed, one of which was that the devil wanted to dig a channel so that the sea could inundate the Weald beyond. It was at one time so popular that the summit had it’s own funicular railway, cable car, railway station as well as fairground attractions and a bandstand. Today, none of that remains, but there’s still a pub to welcome weary walkers (Devil’s Dyke Pub and Restaurant).

Beacon Hill Walk

Distance – 6 km, Time –2 hours 

Beacon Hill Walk Route Map
Download file for GPS

This walk takes in all three hills on Harting Down – including Harting Down, Round Down and Beacon Hill. As it starts from the National Trust Harting Down car park, you’re already at a height of 200m, with most of the climbing found at the end of the walk to return up to the car park. The South Downs Way is followed over the hills, making the going easy and navigation easy before returning via the valleys at Bramshott Bottom and Whitcombe Bottom.

Walk to Firle Beacon and the Ouse Valley

Distance – 15 km, Time –5 hours 

Walk to Firle Beacon and the Ouse Valley Route Map
Download file for GPS

A linear walk from Bishopstone station over Firle Beacon and down to Southease station that makes use of the railway to return back to the start. You could easily walk it as a circular by following the bridleway from Beddingham Hill to rejoin the outward leg at Poverty Bottom. Starting off near sea level, the route follows old tracks and bridleways before joining the South Downs Way over the hills.

Glynde and Mount Caburn Walk

Distance – 10 km, Time –3 hours 

Glynde and Mount Caburn Walk Route Map
Download file for GPS

This walk from the village of Glynde’s main target is the hill fort of Mount Caburn, and the walk can be cut down to around 3 km if you don’t want to descend down to Lewes and return via the golf course and Cliffe Hill. The hill fort of Mount Caburn is one of the most excavated site in Britain and is thought to date from around 400 BC. It was originally thought to be a defensive fort, but more recent excavations point to it being a ceremonial site. Either way, it’s still an impressive location with stunning views as you can see below.

Walk up Chanctonbury Ring from Finden

Distance – 13 km, Time –3-4 hours 

This walk takes in a section of the South Downs Way as well as  a visit to two hill forts, Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring. Cissbury Ring is the largest hill fort in Sussex, and the second largest in England and worth making sure you’ve enough time to explore it on your walk.  Chanctonbury Ring can be found near Chanctonbury Hill at around 240m on the South Downs Way, and it is thought to have been a spiritual centre owing to it’s spectacular positioning.

Walk up Chanctonbury Ring from Finden
Photo by Leimenide on / CC BY

Featured Image: Photo by Ben124. on / CC BY


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Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts founded Walk Eryri in 2004, with the aim of providing routes that are off the beaten track. Walk Eryri is now part of Mud and Routes which continues to provide more off beat routes and walks in Snowdonia and beyond. Dave has been exploring the hills of Eryri for over thirty years, and is a qualified Mountain Leader. Dave also established Walk up Snowdon, Walk up Scafell Pike and Walk up Ben Nevis just to mention a few.

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