From the South Downs’ best walks and wildlife spotting, to great places to eat, drink and stay, ranger Tom Parry has the lowdown
This year sees the official opening of almost all remaining sections of a new long-distance trail, the Shipwrights Way. The 50-mile route takes in some exceptionally beautiful countryside and runs from Alice Holt Forest across the South Downs and down to the sea. The name reflects the fact that in medieval times oak grown at Alice Holt would have been used for shipbuilding in dockyards and the route finishes at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, home of the Mary Rose and HMS Victory.Nungwi Village
One of the best spots on the downs is Chanctonbury Ring, offering fantastic views looking out of the national park to the North Downs and the coast. Combine this with a circular walk to Cissbury Ring and you get to visit two of the South Downs’s most-iconic historic features as well as taking in beautiful downland and well-managed environmentally-sensitive farming, both of which are synonymous of the South Downs. The spectacular view of the Seven Sisters cliffs from Seaford Head should be on everyone’s to-see list. It’s probably the most famous view in the South Downs and people come from all over the world to see it.Nungwi Village
The 100-mile South Downs Way, stretching the length of the park, should be on every serious hiker’s list. Running from Winchester to Eastbourne this is the only national trail fully open to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
My favourite spots
Although I am loath to tell you it would have to be Washington Chalk Pits just next to the South Downs Way. This long-abandoned chalk pit offers all sorts of interesting humps, bumps and holes to explore, not to mention the wealth of wildlife that relishes the multitude of microclimates created by the lumps and bumps.
Harting Down is also one of my favourite places. Being a keen runner, I find the footbaths and bridleways around Harting Down offer some heart-bursting trails. And it proves that you don’t have to go to the Brecon Beacons for gruelling but beautiful running.
Where to eat/drink/sleep
One of the best ways to explore the flavours of the park is through our two new South Downs food trails. These guide you around local producers, cafes and pubs.You can spend a day stocking up at a farm shop, stopping for a pub lunch, taking in the sights and scents of a lavender farm, sampling local ale or cider and treating yourself to afternoon tea. The trails are available online at southdowns.gov.uk/foodanddrink .
You can camp along the South Downs Way at the National Trust’s Saddlescombe Farm (01273 857712, nationaltrust.org.uk, tent pitches £5pppn, available April-September) near Brighton and the YHA South Downs hostel (0845 371 9574, yha.org.uk. Beds from £18, rooms from £36) at Beddingham, near Southease station.
Wine making was introduced to southern England by the Romans in the first century AD, and today we have 16 vineyards producing award-winning wines, including Ridgeview, Plumpton and Breaky Bottom.
My best wildlife encounter
Having never seen an adder in the wild before, although to be honest I’d never really looked, I decided to go to a well-known hotspot and see what I could find. After stalking around an area I managed to find an adder’s skin under some scrub. Thinking this was rather a good find, and that it must be fairly recent as it was still malleable, I carried on my hunt.
On the way back I tried to retrace my steps, thinking to myself: “Where was it that I found that skin? I think it was under that piece of scrub … the one with the adder under it!” The skin was very fresh indeed, in fact my hand must have been inches away from the snake when I reached in to grab it earlier. Lying where the skin had been, there was now a freshly moulted, dark-as-treacle, smooth and elegant-looking adder, basking in the sun. Mission accomplished!