The South Downs National Park, although only designated a National Park in 2010, has been enjoyed by walkers and cyclists for decades. Its varied landscapes see a higher number of visitors than any of England’s nine other National Parks.
Our route starts in the lovely old town of Lewes and follows part of the famously scenic South Downs Way. We walk over rolling hills and high ridges dotted with long barrows and ancient earthworks, often accompanied by magnificent vistas down to the sea. We tackle stiff climbs and descents before our spectacular final stretch over the famous white chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters, before finishing on the highest chalk sea cliff in England – the beautiful headland of Beachy Head, near Eastbourne. This is a tough event over rolling downs and cliffs; at 26 miles, it forms an enormous challenge for walkers. There will be full support throughout the challenge with marshals and water stops along the route.
Our challenging day starts from the market town of Lewes, an old Roman settlement with a castle dating back to Saxon times and re-built after the Norman invasion. We set off early in the morning – essential for completing the distance – from Lewes Castle, and head southwest towards the downs. It’s not long before we’re climbing uphill, with some steep sections in the first few miles. Walking along a ridge with wonderful views inland to the downs and south to the coast, we skirt the pretty village of Rodmell, descending to cross the River Ouse. It’s not long before we climb up high again, steeply at first and then more gradually to Beddingham Hill and its twin radio masts. The land drops away steeply inland to form deep combes; the views are very picturesque and you can soak them up as you stop to catch your breath! Inland, the downs are dotted with occasional farms and small villages, in contrast to the more built-up coastal belt to our south.
Our route now contours along a beautiful ridge, with impressive views in all directions. It’s not long before we climb a little higher to reach our halfway mark, and the highest point of our day, at Firle Beacon (217m). Firle Beacon is a Marilyn – the term given to a hill which is 150m higher than its surroundings, regardless of actual height – and is one of only 11 in the southeast.
This is a great point for a rest and a snack before we head downhill via the ancient, well-preserved Long Burgh long barrow to the small village of Alfriston. Alfriston is very pretty, with lots of authentic timbered buildings, and attracts many tourists. We walk through the village, crossing and then following Cuckmere River as it winds its way to the coast. This is our first flat section of any length! The riverside scenery is very different and we will feel refreshed for the change, and the respite to our leg muscles!
Cuckmere Haven, where the river meets the English Channel, is a common film location: with its backdrop of white chalk cliffs, its beach is often used to depict Dover. Second World War pillboxes and other remains show its role in the country’s defence. From here, we take the South Downs Way over the Seven Sisters, a series of rolling chalk cliffs – the most well-known section of our day, and arguably the most spectacular. Some of the ascents and descents before us are steep and arduous, others more gradual, but with every climb our destination grows nearer and it’s not long before we can see it in the distance. The views over the sea are wonderful on a clear day and will encourage you to keep going!
Dipping right down to the abandoned National Trust hamlet of Birling Gap, with its nineteenth-century fishermen’s cottages clustered perilously close to the eroding cliffs, we climb again. We pass Belle Tout lighthouse and then make a last uphill effort to the top of Beachy Head. We’ve made it, and earned a powerful sense of achievement that will never leave us!
We have time to celebrate with our fellow participants and enjoy the views before returning home.
Your trip will be led by experienced Discover Adventure leaders and support crew. Our leaders are selected for their knowledge and experience, friendliness and approachability, sense of humour and ability to safely and effectively deal with any situation that arises; they are also trained in first aid. You are in very safe hands with a Discover Adventure leader. The crew will have mobile phones and/or radios where appropriate, medical kit and other safety apparatus where necessary, as well as vehicle support.
Your safety, and that of the rest of the group, is our highest priority. Our trips are designed and planned with safety in mind. Your crew will be equipped with communication devices (eg phones, radios and/or emergency satellite phones), medical kit and other safety apparatus appropriate to the destination. Our leaders always have access to our 24-hour emergency UK back-up. They are responsible for safety on the trip, and will make any changes to the itinerary they deem necessary, should local conditions dictate. Pre-trip administration - such as medical questionnaires and travel insurance as appropriate - is all done with your safety in mind.
This is designed to be a challenge, and it is vital that you train sufficiently for it. We will supply you with a thorough training guide once you have registered. We expect all participants to train hard in advance, but we respect everyone’s limits and do not expect everyone to maintain the same pace. Inadequate training is likely to have an impact not just on your chances of completing the challenge, but enjoying it too - and we want you to have the time of your life!
Our challenges attract people of all levels of experience, fitness and ability as well as all ages and backgrounds. We design our challenges so that everyone can go at their own pace: this is not a race. If you have concerns about your fitness or if you have reduced mobility please do contact us for a confidential chat about whether this challenge is appropriate for you.
For logistical and safety reasons we sometimes need to re-group, so the front-runners may find themselves waiting for the slower ones. Please relax, and remember that this is a team effort that enables people to achieve their personal goals and earn sponsorship.
We plan our trips around the optimal weather conditions, but could still be exposed to bad weather at any time. It is vital you are prepared for all conditions. We provide you with a detailed packing kit-list on registration, as well as details on useful discounts you are entitled to as a Discover Adventure customer. We are always available if you need advice.
If you are still to buy some kit don’t forget that Cotswold Outdoor, Snow and Rock, Cycle Surgery and Runners Need offer all Discover Adventure participants 15% off any purchases you make with them. Please ask us for the code if you do not have this already.