The South Downs Way is one of England’s most spectacular National Trails. These walks are renowned for their natural beauty, cultural heritage, and historical significance. The South Downs Way fits…
The South Downs Way is one of England’s most spectacular National Trails. These walks are renowned for their natural beauty, cultural heritage, and historical significance. The South Downs Way fits nicely into all three of these categories at it takes walkers through the beautiful South Downs while visiting charming Sussex villages and grand cathedrals along the way.
The route covers 100 miles from its start in the cathedral city of Winchester to its finish on the coast in Eastbourne. Along the way walkers will have plenty of accommodation options to choose from, including many wonderful campgrounds, which are the focus of this resource.
This guide has been designed to be perfect companion for the walker hoping to camp along the South Downs Way.
Let’s get started.
In this South Downs Way Camping Guide
- South Downs Way Must Know
- South Downs Way Camping
- Stage-by-stage Itinerary for Camping on the South Downs Way
- What to Pack for Camping on the South Downs Way
South Downs Way Must Know
The South Downs Way was established as a National Trail in 1972, although the general route has been in use for thousands of years by Romans, pilgrims, and other precursors to modern England. The walk is one of the most popular National Trails in England, due in part to its close proximity to the major population centers of London, Southampton, and Brighton.
However, those seeking solitude shouldn’t be scared off by that fact, as there is plenty of quiet to be found on the South Downs Way, especially for campers!
The route begins in the cathedral city of Winchester before making its way through the South Downs National Park and the counties Hampshire and Sussex before reaching Eastbourne on the coast. Along the way walkers will enjoy highlights like the Winchester Cathedral, rolling Sussex hills, quaint village of Amberley, and the famous Seven Sisters Cliffs.
How long is the South Downs Way?
Officially, the South Downs Way is 101 miles or 163 kilometers long from the center to Winchester to Eastbourne.
However, walkers should expect to cover a bit more distance, as many of the campgrounds are located slightly off the main trail. Add in a few side trips to the local pub or to visit a shop and you can plan on walking well over 100 miles.
In addition to the main route which finishes by heading from Alfriston to the coast before taking the stunning pathway along the Seven Sisters to Eastbourne, there is an alternate inland path for the final stage. This route is primarily used by those cycling the South Downs Way, but does allow for a slightly shorter route for those who are interested.
How difficult is the South Downs Way?
The South Downs Way is a very approachable walk and is suitable for a variety of fitness levels.
However, while the trail never crosses any soaring mountain passes, you should be prepared for the constant up and down nature of walking in the South Downs. Those rolling hills provide a stunning backdrop for the walk, but they can certainly tire you out!
In addition, anytime you set out on a 100-mile walk you need to be prepared for long days on your feet. Most walkers will adjust after a few days walking, but any preparation you can do in advance will be beneficial.
For those who plan on camping, a little extra preparation will be especially helpful. Carrying the extra weight necessitated by your camping equipment will certainly make the South Downs Way a bit more challenging. We recommend taking a few walks with your fully loaded backpack prior to heading out as a way to prepare your body and adjust to carrying the weight.
South Downs Way Weather & When to Hike
The southeast of England is known for its generally sunny weather when compared to the rest of the country, making it the perfect destination for walkers. The South Downs are renowned for beautiful summers, while the winter months bring cooler temperatures, more precipitation, and even the occasional snow shower!
For these reasons, we recommend walking the South Downs Way anytime from mid-March through the end of September.
Keep in mind that many of the campsites in this guide close down during the winter, so if you’re planning on camping on the South Downs Way you’ll need to do it outside of the colder months.
Generally speaking, here’s what you can expect in each month of the hiking season:
March/April: Cool temps, moderate rainfall, and sparse crowds make this an attractive month to hike. Be aware of the shorter days, which allow for fewer daylight hours on the trail.
May & June: The weather tends to be a bit milder and more settled than in April and the days are longer, but it’s still pretty quiet on the trail. These are great months to walk the South Downs Way.
July/August: School holidays and warm weather mean that these are the busiest months on the South Downs Way. July and August (August in particular) tend to be wetter than May and June, but you can also get some brilliant sunny days, too.
September: With few crowds, mild temperatures, and relatively less rainfall, September is a wonderful time to be on the trail.
October: The days begin to get shorter, colder, and wetter as you enter October. You may get some incredibly clear and crisp autumn days, but you’ll also need to be prepared for harsh conditions. Many of the campgrounds on the South Downs Way may be closed for the season.
South Downs Way Camping
Camping on the South Downs Way is a great way to experience this wonderful trail. You’ll save money on your accommodation costs, enjoy increased flexibility, and in many cases avoid long detours off the track to reach your accommodation.
In addition, many of the campgrounds on the South Downs Way are small, family-run farms which will give you a greater connection to the local area.
We can’t recommend camping on the South Downs Way highly enough!
The sections below will give an overview of all the campgrounds on the South Downs Way as well as provide some information on wild camping. Finally, we’ll provide a detailed stage-by-stage itinerary for camping on the South Downs Way complete with distances, where to camp, and more!
Campgrounds on the South Downs Way
The map and list below show all of the campgrounds that are in the general vicinity of the South Downs Way. We’ve done our best to include all of the relevant campgrounds, but if you see any missing let us know!
The list and map are designed to give you a general sense of your options for South Downs Way camping, but we recommend utilizing our full South Downs Way camping itinerary in the following section when planning your own trip.
Campgrounds are listed in the order you’ll reach them when walking the South Downs Way from west to east.
- Morn Hill Caravan Club Campsite
- Located just outside of Winchester, this is your best option for camping prior to beginning the walk.
- Holden Farm Camping
- This is your best option for the first night.
- Meon Springs Glamping
- Not a campground per se, but this glamping set-up is located just off the trail.
- Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite (Sustainability Centre)
- Most campers will stay here on their second night.
- Upper Parsonage Farm Camping
- Located just off the South Downs Way near Butser Hill, this is a good option if the Wetherdown Lodge is full.
- Manor Farm Campsite
- Located right on the trail, Manor Farm is the perfect stopping point on Stage 3.
- New House Farm Campsite
- New House Farm is located south of the trail just past Cocking. A good option if Manor Farm can’t accommodate you.
- Graffham Camping & Caravanning Site
- Quite a ways from the trail, this campground has limited appeal to South Downs Way walkers.
- Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite
- Formerly known as the Gumber Bothy, this National Trust run campsite is highly recommended.
- Slindon Camping & Caravan Park
- The Slindon Camping & Caravan Park is quite a distance from the South Downs Way. Only useful for those who prefer to not stay at Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite.
- Foxleigh Barn & Campsite
- The Foxleigh Barn has an excellent location near the village of Amberley. However, they have limited capacity to accommodate campers so be sure to inquire ahead of time.
- High Titten Wild Camping
- Unfortunately this excellent wild camping spot has been purchased by private owners and is no longer open. We’re keeping it on the list in the hopes that it reopens in the future!
- Washington Caravan & Camping Park
- The Washington Caravan & Camping Park, or Wash Camp for short, is a great stopping point just off the South Downs Way. We recommend staying here at the end of Stage 5.
- YHA Truleigh Hill
- The YHA Truleigh Hill is located right on the South Downs Way and provides excellent facilities for campers.
- Saddlescombe Farm Campsite
- Saddlescombe Farm is a National Trust run campsite that we recommend for the end of Stage 6.
- Ditchling Camp
- Ditchling Camp is located short distance north of the South Downs Way.
- South Downs Farm Campsite
- The South Downs Farm Campsite will only make sense if Ditchling Camp is full.
- Stoneywish Camping
- Stoneywish Camping is quite a ways from the South Downs Way near Ditchling. It will not make sense for many campers to stay here.
- Blackberry Woods Camping
- This lovely campground is quite a bit north of the main trail and won’t make sense for most walkers.
- Hackmans Farm Camping
- Hackmans Farm is a small operation that is conveniently located just off the South Downs Way. This makes sense for those who don’t plan on walking all the way to Housedean Farm.
- Housedean Farm Campsite
- The Housedean Farm Campsite is the most common place to stay at the end of Stage 7.
- Firle Campsite
- The Firle Campsite is located north of the South Downs Way prior to reaching Alfriston.
- Alfriston Camping Park
- The Alfriston Camping Park is the perfect place to spend your final night before completing the walk to Eastbourne.
Wild camping on the South Downs Way
Generally speaking, wild camping is not recommended on the South Downs Way. Unlike their Scottish neighbor to the north, England generally prohibits any form of wild camping on private land without permission of the land owner. Since the vast majority of the South Downs Way crosses private property, it does not make for a great wild camping adventure.
However, a quick Google search will reveal several personal accounts of folks doing just that: successfully wild camping along the South Downs Way.
For our guide we’ve chosen to leave out any details on potential wild camping spots to help limit the impacts this type of camping can bring to the trail. If you’re set on attempting to wild camp on the South Downs Way, keep these suggestions in mind:
- Always abide by Leave No Trace principles and show respect for the environment and local communities.
- Always enquire with the land owner before setting up camp.
- If permission is granted be sure to set up your tent after sun down and be packed up by sun rise.
- Do not widely advertise wild camping as this can increase negative impacts on the trail and surrounding communities.
Stage-by-stage Itinerary for Camping on the South Downs Way
The following guide is based on a moderately paced 9-day itinerary. Beginning in Winchester and finishing in Eastbourne, there is camping available every night with the exception of the finish in Eastbourne. Given the number of campgrounds along the South Downs Way, there are plenty of alternative itineraries possible for those looking to spend more or less time on the trail.
Reservations are recommended for all of the campsites along the trail and prices are listed to the best of our knowledge.
Stage 0: Winchester
Distance & Elevation: N/A
Where to stay: Morn Hill Caravan Club Campsite
The South Downs Way officially starts in the center of Winchester. Unfortunately, there are no campgrounds directly in this cathedral city, so you’ll either need to camp a bit outside of town or plan to stay in one of the many hotels available.
Keep in mind it is not necessary to stay in Winchester the night before starting your trek, given that transportation is relatively quick and easy from the London area and your first day is only 7 miles.
For those who would like to camp near Winchester prior to their South Downs Way walk, we recommend staying at the Morn Hill Caravan Club Campsite. This campground is about an hours walk outside of Winchester, although you may be able to take bus number 64 to the campground rather than walking.
Morn Hill is a large campground that is more geared towards caravanners than walkers, although you will find some nice amenities. These include laundry facilities, WiFi, and hot showers.
Services at Morn Hill Caravan Club Campsite
- Hot showers
Price: £7.90 per adult.
Nearby in Winchester
- Post office
- Outdoor retailer
- Train and bus connections
- Taxi service
Stage 1: Winchester to Holden Farm Camping
Distance & Elevation: 7.19 mi // +1,055 ft, -842 ft
Where to stay: Holden Farm Camping
The first stage of the South Downs Way for campers is relatively easy and a good introduction to the walk. You’ll enjoy walking on some of the undulating hillsides that the South Downs are known for as you cover 7 miles before stopping for the day at Holden Farm Camping.
Holden Farm is a lovely, rural campsite that is geared specifically for walkers and tent campers. You’ll get to choose anywhere in their large field for your pitch, and each comes with a complimentary fire pit for the evening. They also have an excellent shop featuring locally sourced essentials for your trip!
Services at Holden Farm Camping
- Hot showers
- Potable water
- Communal kitchen
- Electronics charging
- Small shop
Price: £15 – £20/adult depending on the time of year.
Stage 2: Holden Farm Camping to Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite
Distance & Elevation: 12.43 mi // +1,725 ft, -1,378 ft
Where to stay: Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite
The second stage of the South Downs Way covers nearly 12.5 miles as walkers wind their way to the Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite. A part of the larger Sustainability Centre, this campground is surrounded by lovely woodland and forest, making for a rejuvenating place to spend the night.
Keep in mind that there are only six pitches at Wetherdown Lodge, so advance bookings are recommended.
Services at Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite
- Solar showers (not always hot!)
- Wood fired pizza oven
- Electronics charging
- Small shop
Should you arrive and find the campsite at the Wetherdown Lodge full, simply continue on to the Upper Parsonage Farm Campsite, described below.
The Upper Parsonage Farm Campsite is located a short distance (.75 miles) from the South Downs Way, just before reaching the top of Butser Hill. This will make your walk on Stage 2 a bit longer, but you’ll be rewarded the next day by getting a head start on the longest stage of the walk!
Services at Upper Parsonage Farm Campsite
- Hot showers
- Potential for evening meals/breakfast
Stage 3: Wetherdown Lodge & Campsite to Manor Farm
Distance & Elevation: 17.06 mi // +2,225 ft, -2,523 ft
Where to stay: Manor Farm Campsite
Stage 3 is a long one! You’ll be covering over 17 miles en route to the Manor Farm campsite, just south of Cocking. Don’t be too intimidated, as the day’s walking is relatively flat, but you’ll still want to be prepared for a full day’s outing. Your reward for all that walking is a lovely campsite just off the main trail, known as Manor Farm.
This pastoral campground has lovely views and very friendly owners. You’ll have easy access to Cocking for supplies, but we recommend picking up some local delicacies from the on-site farm shop.
Services at Manor Farm Campsite
- Hot showers
- Farm shop
Stage 4: Manor Farm to Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite
Distance & Elevation: 7.78 mi // +1,114 ft, -1,086 ft
Where to stay: Gumber Camping Bar & Campsite
Stage 4 is a nice reprieve after a long walk on the previous day. You’ll walk just under 8 miles before reaching the Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite, formerly known as the Gumber Bothy. This National Trust run campsite is a rural and simple campground, perfect for those walking the South Downs Way.
You won’t find any cars or caravans at this car-free campsite and you’ll enjoy a communal atmosphere in a beautiful location.
Note: Traditionally this stage has taken walkers all the way to Amberley where a free wild camping spot was available at High Titten. As of 2021, High Titten Campground has been purchased by a private owner and is not currently open for camping. If the situation changes we’ll update this guide.
Also near Amberley, the Foxleigh Barn Campsite is a potential option. However, they have limited capacity so we recommend stopping at Gumber Bothy instead.
Services at Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite
- Kitchen & BBQ
- Drying room
Price: £15/pitch + £12/person for each additional person
Stage 5: Gumber Camping Barn & Campsite to Washington Caravan Park
Distance & Elevation: 12.8 mi // +1,402 ft, -1,656 ft
Where to stay: Washington Caravan Park & Campsite
Stage 5 requires campers to walk approximately 1 mile off the main South Downs Way trail to reach your campground at Washington Caravan Park & Campsite. This isn’t too much trouble, and does take you past an excellent pub, but walkers should be prepared for the extra walking.
The Washington Caravan Park & Campsite is a large site with room for up to 80 tents in addition to caravanners. You’ll find plenty of amenities here as well as easy access to the surrounding area.
Services at Washington Caravan & Campsite
- Dishwashing area
- Food/meals available during peak season
Price: £8 – £12/pitch + £6/adult. More information here.
Stage 6: Washington Caravan Park to Saddlescombe Farm
Distance & Elevation: 12.95 mi // +1,858 ft, -1,616 ft
Where to stay: Saddlescombe Farm
This is a lovely stage filled with some of the best scenery on offer in the South Downs. You’ll finish at the rustic, yet lovely campsite at Saddlescombe Farm. This is a National Trust run campsite which retains much of its pastoral character by forbidding cars. You won’t find any glitz and glamor here, but this is what camping on the South Downs Way is all about!
If you’d like to break this stage up, we recommend stopping at the well run YHA Truleigh Hill, located a bit past the halfway mark of Stage 6.
Services at Saddlescombe Farm Campsite
- No showers available – this is rustic camping!
Price: £10/pitch + £10/adult.
Stage 7: Saddlescombe Farm to Housedean Farm
Distance & Elevation: 9.91 mi // +1,305 ft, -1,554 ft
Where to stay: Housedean Farm
Stage 7 is a beautiful walk, although you can expect the trail to be a bit more crowded given how close you are to Brighton at this stage of the South Downs Way. Your campground for the night is the beautiful Housedean Farm Campsite, a very well run establishment.
Although just off the busy A27, you’d never know it from the tranquil countryside surrounding the campground.
Services at Housedean Farm Campsite
- Washing basins
- Communal fridge/freezer
- Charing points
Stage 8: Housedean Farm to Alfriston Camping Park
Distance & Elevation: 14.45 mi // +2,068 ft, -2,148 ft
Where to stay: Alfriston Camping Park
You’re getting close to the end!
Stage 8 takes walkers closer to the coast and the completion of the South Downs Way, with an overnight stay at the excellent Alfriston Camping Park. This large campground has good service and a separate field specifically for families. You’ll find the caravanning crowd here, but there is always plenty of space for South Downs Way walkers.
There are plenty of services available nearby in Alfriston.
Services at Alfriston Camping Park
Stage 9: Alfriston Camping Park to Eastbourne
Distance & Elevation: 11.12 mi // +2,197 ft, -2,101 ft
Where to stay: YHA Eastbourne or other hotel.
This is it, your final stage of the South Downs Way!
The route saves the best for last with a stunning walk along the Seven Sisters, culminating at Beachy Head. This is a challenging day’s walk, but we’re willing to bet you’ll be too distracted by the beautiful views to care too much.
Unfortunately there are no campgrounds in or near Eastbourne, although we recommend treating yourself to a hotel anyways. For the budget conscious, you can’t go wrong with the YHA Eastbourne.
What to Pack for Camping on the South Downs Way
Deciding what to pack for the South Downs Way is an important part of having a successful trip. This is especially true for campers, who can expect to be carrying a much heavier rucksack. It’s simple- the heavier your pack, the harder your effort.
As such, we recommend focusing on bringing high-quality, lightweight equipment. With a little planning and strategy, you can keep the weight of your backpack manageable while still ensuring you have everything you need for your trip.
We’ve provided some general packing information for camping on the South Downs Way below, but for more in-depth information be sure to check out our full packing list for the South Downs Way below.
In general, you should be able to get by with a 40L – 60L backpack and the following essentials:
- Tent – we recommend this lightweight version from MSR
- Sleeping bag – it doesn’t get especially cold in the South Downs so no need to carry a heavy sleeping bag.
- Camping stove + cook set – part of the allure of camping is getting to cook your own meals
- Good socks – we recommend Darn Tough socks for all long-distance hikes
- Rain jacket + rain pants – essential for campers hoping to stay dry!
- Hydration bladder – way easier than water bottles!
You’re well on your way to an incredible camping experience on the South Downs Way. However, you still have lots of preparation before you’re truly ready! Be sure to read our entire series on the South Downs Way to learn everything you’ll need to know for your trip!