The South Downs

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Whether you want to visit cosmopolitan towns, rolling countryside, or beaches, the South Downs has it all.

Encompassing the southern counties of East Sussex, West Sussex, and part of Hampshire, the area of the South Downs includes some of the most varied and stunning landscapes in the UK. Here you will discover open grassland, ancient forests, and lush valleys. The South Downs Way National Trail runs for 100 miles between Winchester and the dramatic white chalk cliffs at Eastbourne.

Dog-friendly days out and attractions in The South Downs
  • Jill Windmill is a 19th century corn windmill at Clayton, West Sussex, in the South Downs National Park. The South Downs Way passes Jill Windmill, connecting it with Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon — the highest point in East Sussex. The traditional working windmill has been fully restored and is open at certain times of the year. On open days there is a souvenir and tea shop, car park, and picnic area. Dogs can visit with their owners; they are welcome in the shop on the ground floor, but not on the upper floors of the windmill. For further information and open days visit www.jillwindmill.org.uk
  • You cannot visit the South Downs without stopping off at Brighton. The vibrant seaside resort is a stone’s throw from the South Downs National Park and is considered to be one of the most dog-friendly towns in the UK. As well as its famous pebble beach, Brighton has many things to offer doggy visitors. Lots of shops on the seafront and in the Lanes welcome dogs, and there is a large number of dog-friendly pubs, restaurants, and cafes; make sure you visit 1930s tea salon Metrodeco, which has been described as Brighton’s most canine-friendly cafe.
  • While in the Brighton area, you and your dog can explore a legendary beauty spot called Devil’s Dyke. Five miles north of Brighton, the Dyke valley is the longest, deepest, and widest dry valley in the UK, and offers stunning panoramic views. Legend has it that the Devil dug the chasm to drown the parishioners of the Weald. There are lots of footpaths to explore, and the South Downs Way runs alongside Devil’s Dyke. For further information visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/devils-dyke/
  • The Mid Hants Railway Watercress Line travels through the heart of the countryside, running along the edge of the South Downs National Park. There are four period stations including Ropley, which was featured in the fi rst ‘Harry Potter’ film. Four-legged travellers are welcome on board trains on normal service days. They must be on a lead, and are not allowed to sit on the seats or travel in the dining areas. Dogs are issued with a Rover ticket for free. For further information visit www.watercressline.co.uk or call 01962 733810.
  • Step back in time at Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, Singleton, West Sussex, which tells the story of the people who lived and worked there, over a 600-year period. Dogs on leads are welcome in all areas of the museum, except the watermill and Tudor kitchen. You can also take a walk in the woods or enjoy a picnic. For further information visit www. wealddown.co.uk or call 01243 811348.
  • At Cowdray Park in Midhurst, West Sussex, dogs on leads are welcome to wander around the magnificent ruins of an important Tudor house which was partially destroyed by fire in 1793. The park itself is perfect for dog walking with many routes to explore, including a walk along the river. For further information visit www.cowdray.org.uk
  • Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre is a 36-acre open-air site dedicated to the industrial heritage of the south east. Exhibits include the telecommunications hall, electricity hall, working printshop, lime kilns, road steam engines, radio and TV exhibition, and stationary engines. The museum is also home to traditional craftspeople. Dogs on leads are welcome throughout the museum, except in the cafe. There are bowls of water for dogs around the site. A train and bus run around the museum, and well-behaved dogs are welcome to travel on them. The museum is open between March and the end of October. For further information visit www.amberleymuseum.co.uk or call 01798 831370.
Dog-friendly places to stay in The South Downs
  • Wilmington Priory near Eastbourne, East Sussex, is just a few miles from the sea. The self-catering property sleeps six and is part of a mainly ruined monastic site. Up to two dogs are allowed to stay free of charge. It costs from £454 for a four-night stay at Wilmington Priory. For further information visit www.landmarktrust.org.uk
  • Located in Watersfield, West Sussex, Beacon Lodge bed and breakfast is perfect for a walking holiday with your dog in the South Downs National Park. About a mile from the South Downs Way, Beacon Lodge has an annexe adjacent to the main B&B, where dogs can stay with their owners. The annexe has a double and single bed, an en suite bathroom, and looks out over the countryside. Beacon Lodge has an enclosed garden where pets can roam free safely. It costs £75 per night for two people to stay in the annexe. There is no charge for dogs. For further information visit www.beaconlodge.co.uk
Dog-friendly places to eat in The South Downs
  • Pop into Fitzcane’s ice cream cafe in Midhurst, which offers more than 20 flavours of ice cream all year round, as well as other food. The dog-friendly cafe makes and sells special ice cream for dogs in several flavours, with a dry sausage for a handle. Free dog biscuits and water are also available, and owners can buy poo bags. A book of the best dog walks in the South Downs is also available to buy in the cafe. Owner Caroline Cheshire said: “We like dog owners coming in. We’ve got a nice outside area too — some people even bring their dog’s bed.” For further information visit www.fitzcanes.com or call 01730 814612.
  • Call in for a cup of tea or coffee at Highdown Tea Rooms, which is next to the famous Highdown Chalk Gardens in Worthing. Although the gardens are not dog friendly, there are lots of walks nearby. Hidden away on Highdown Hill, the tea rooms won a Kennel Club award for being dog-friendly six years in a row. Dogs are welcome inside and outside, and there are home-made biscuits and bowls of water. For further information visit www.highdowntearooms. Enjoying a doggy ice co.uk or call 01903 246984. cream at Fitzcane’s cafe.
The South Downs Way – Birling Gap walk route

The South Downs Way is unique as it is the only National Trail that runs entirely within a national park — the South Downs National Park. The route passes by, or through, five National Nature Reserves and many sites of Specific Scientific Interest. The South Downs Way has been travelled for thousands of years. Early Man hunted on the chalk ridge, and during the Iron Age tribes built large forts on its highest points. Shepherds would also move their vast flocks of sheep along the route.

To Birling Gap and back

This circular walk to Birling Gap, near Eastbourne, gives great views over the South Downs and coast. It follows old drovers’ and smuggling routes to the sea. You will come across livestock at various points during the walk, so owners should ensure their dogs are on leads.

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At a glance

Distance: 3 miles.

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Terrain: Mostly grazed farmland on chalk grassland, some gravel tracks, and tarmac roads. Four short, steep sections on the whole route.

How to get there: A259 south coast road; turn off at East Dean towards Birling Gap, along Gilbert's Drive. 

The route:

  1. Start at the Tiger Inn, The Green, East Dean. Walk straight across the green opposite the pub on to the small road and turn right. Follow the road as it goes round to the right. After a few metres, turn left up the small track towards a field. Here you will pass a National Trust sign for Farrer Hall on your left.
  2. Go through the gate and follow the footpath straight up through the field (named Hobbes Eares). Near the top of this field is a short, steep section. From the vantage point of the hill you get a great view of East Dean — you will see Belle Tout lighthouse in the distance. You may encounter sheep from the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre as this is one of their grazing areas.
  3. At the top you will reach Friston church; go through the kissing gate leading into the churchyard. Walk straight along the path through the churchyard to the gate with an arch over it. The village pond will be in front of you and on the right is the A259 coast road. Turn left up the tarmac lane between three houses along the narrow road.
  4. You’ll soon come to the welcome sign for National Trust Crowlink car park. Go through the walkers’ gate to the left of the cattle grid. Follow the fence line on your left, with the water trough on your right.
  5. Follow the fence line and as it turns right you face south towards the sea. Be aware of rabbit holes on this section. Keep following the fence line and you will spot a red barn roof and then a line of windswept trees as you pass several gates on your left. As you reach the corner of the field you’re now quite near the sea on Bailey’s Hill, the second of the Seven Sisters.
  6. Go through the kissing gate in front of you, then go left downhill to the east. You will spot the Belle Tout lighthouse on the hill in the distance in front of you. Walk downhill and then carry on east up the next hill, which is quite steep.
  7. You are now on Went Hill; keep going east and take the path on the right to join the South Downs Way, which runs parallel to the cliff. Belle Tout lighthouse will still be in the distance in front of you, and as you keep walking, Birling Gap hamlet will come into view in the valley. You will shortly reach a gate with a signpost and map of Crowlink.
  8. At the next gate, take the right path downhill under cover of some pine trees and the private road down to Birling Gap. At the bottom of the track on the right are steps leading to Birling Gap cafe and bar, which welcomes dogs inside. Take some time to go to the top of the steps by the beach for a fantastic view of the Seven Sisters cliffs.
  9. The return journey is shorter and will give you more views to the east towards Belle Tout lighthouse, with the beautiful rolling downland in the foreground. Start by going back along the private road, but instead of taking the gate on the left, go straight up to the top of the track past the last house (Seven Sisters cottage) to another gate through Crowlink.
  10. Following the hedgerow on your right, go through the next gate ahead of you and continue straight ahead along the track until you come to the red barn you saw earlier. Go straight on past the red barn, keeping it on your right. Don’t take the track leading left to the derelict stone barn, but instead follow on to the field boundary, edged with trees, until you spot a waymarked post with a pink arrow on your right.
  11. Take the small path on your right leading down through some trees; you’ll have a view of the village below. The path is quite steep and can be slippery with leaves.
  12. After passing through the trees, go through the gate and continue along the path until you reach the next gate. Follow the flint wall through the final gate which leads on to a small road.
  13. Walk down the lane, bearing left to return to East Dean village. You will soon see the Tiger Inn where you started your walk.
CLICK HERE TO TO READ OUR SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL TRAIL GUIDE