Discover the South Downs from the comfort of a pub with rooms
27 February 2019
The South Downs and the South Downs Way
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the South Downs National Park represents some of the finest walking (and cycling) country in the south of England. Packed with attractive wildlife, visible prehistory, excellent pubs and pretty villages, the near 100-mile chain of hills, stretching from Beachy Head in East Sussex to Winchester in Hampshire, is a perfect natural playground and, being well served by trains and roads is readily accessible for a short break or revitalising weekend away – hurrah!
The extensive network of footpaths and bridleways in the South Downs Way are suitable for walkers and cyclists of all ages and the relatively easy walking means it can be safely undertaken at any time of year. However, don’t just think bracing hilltops and wide open spaces, consider a visit to Devil’s Dyke, a spectacular downland clef, 300 feet deep, half a mile long and rising to over 600 feet. This famous beauty spot north of Brighton is also a magnificent viewpoint where the downland views stretch for miles in all directions. The 19th century Clayton windmills, known as Jack and Jill, can also be glimpsed from here.
To the east lies Ditchling Beacon which soars above the village of Ditchling and at over 800 feet is the third highest point on the South Downs. Chanctonbury Ring near Steyning is another famous landmark and further to the western end of the South Downs is Harting Down and Beacon Hill which at almost 800 feet is one of the highest points on the South Downs.
Views along the South Downs Way
Where to stay whilst exploring the South Downs Way
As a popular tourist destination, there are many accommodation options available, so to make your choice easy and aid in planning your trip, here are David’s recommendations for some truly top notch pubs with rooms ideally located along the South Downs Way where you will be warmly welcomed and more than well looked after:
Firle is a timeless village set down a dead-end lane at the foot of the South Downs. At its heart stands the 500-year-old Ram Inn, a proper community pub with rustic-chic rooms, Sussex ales on tap, daily menus brimming with local produce, a gorgeous walled garden for summer sipping, and a clutch of simple, contemporary bedrooms upstairs. Also perfect for the Opera at Glyndebourne.
A truly great South Downs Way pit stop – freewheel off Ditchling Beacon for real food, craft beers, candlelit bars and boutique-style rooms at this cracking village inn below the majestic South Downs. It’s also the last place to rest and refuel before pedalling up the Beacon on the London to Brighton bike ride, when riders can expect a real party atmosphere at the Bull.
Set back from the A272, this lovingly restored old inn is much more than a roadside pit stop for weary travellers. Peaceful rooms are housed in a stunning converted barn hidden down a track, the pub is a warren of little rooms and cosy corners with real fires and candlelit tables, and the food is good, honest and makes sound use of local ingredients. Close to Petworth (antiques), Cowdray Park and super walking on the South Downs.
Timeless and cosy 16th-century inn set in sleepy South Harting, just below the South Downs, with walks radiating from the door. Offering a big welcome to walkers, dogs and families you can expect great pub food, decent Upham beers and smart contemporary rooms – most definitely a place to hunker down after an invigorating downland hike and equally ideal as a place to stay for Goodwood Races or the Festival of Speed. It’s open early for great coffee and hearty breakfasts too.
The 350-year-old Horse Guards Inn is a magnet for locals and foodies alike, and it’s always bursting at the seams. Inside, it’s a topsy-turvy, quirky sort of place with original beams, low ceilings, cottage windows and an eclectic, eye-catching decor. You’ll find hammocks, deck chairs and roaming chickens in the gorgeous, flower-festooned garden – Petworth House and Estate is just over the wall opposite the pub.
Set beneath the South Downs north of Chichester, this wisteria-clad former coaching inn is the perfect place for foodies and wine lovers to be fed and watered in style, as well as being a base for visiting Goodwood and exploring the glorious downland landscape. Tradition combines with a contemporary rustic-chic feel throughout the rambling bar and dining rooms, and the 15 quirky bedrooms tucked away behind the inn.
Rustic, authentic village gem close to the South Downs Way recently spruced up by Upham Pubs making it into a fabulous stop-over with cracking pub food drawing from quality local suppliers and an array of tip-top Upham Ales on handpump, brewed on a farm a few miles down the road. There are 5 quirky and fabulous cabin rooms in the garden each with their own porch and in the summer months great pizzas are served in the stunning garden.
Depending from which direction you plan to tackle the South Downs, this iconic Winchester city centre gem found quietly tucked away in the back streets (close to the Cathedral and College) is a great base for either the start or the finish. Rambling bars with real fires, great pub food, top notch beers and fabulously revamped rooms await weary walkers. Whilst dogs are welcomed in the bar, they are not allowed in the bedrooms.
What else to add to your South Downs Way itinerary?
So you’ve eaten well, slept well, breakfasted well and walked or cycled well – perhaps you are now looking for a great pub for lunch, a good café for coffee, a light lunch or afternoon tea, or somewhere to purchase local produce and supplies for your journey home. If so, go exploring at one of these top recommendations:
Part of a group based in Brighton, this thatched country pub is more of a dining destination than a boozer, so expect some posh modern stuff. There’s a garden with views of the South Downs and it is possible to pop in for a pint and a (classy) ploughman’s lunch.
A hive of activity, Middle Farm is a genuine working farm where you can watch the cows being milked, but there are also children’s play areas, an impressive farm shop and a cider centre stocking over 100 draught and bottled ciders and perries.
Explore the vineyard where Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes grow in the Sussex sun, tour the state-of-the-art winery and, most importantly of all, sample their latest wines in the tasting room.
Take a brewery tour and get a thorough understanding of the brewing process, but tours must be booked in advance. There’s a shop, too, stocking bottled beers, wines and gifts.
This farm shop within a thriving garden centre stocks everything from regional cheeses to local ales, and artisan breads to homemade sausages.
Locally owned 17th century country pub set in the picturesque village of Burpham with an inviting contemporary interior, great food and a very warm welcome… “By the locals, for the locals, of the locals – and a very warm welcome to everyone” . . . including muddy-booted walkers and well-behaved dogs!”
The redundant Forge building in pretty Slindon village has now been restored and extended providing a community shop selling local produce. The cafe serves their own blend of coffee, cakes, light lunches including their legendary sausage rolls, home-made soup and homemade ham. With a full licence and local beers for sale it’s a perfect stop off for walkers and cyclists.
Set at the heart of the 12,000 acre Sussex estate, Goodwood Home Farm is the largest lowland organic farm in the UK. The Farm achieved full organic status in 2004 and boasts the first dairy herd in the UK to be totally organically fed. The farm shop sells estate game, organic beef, lamb, pork and dairy including Goodwood cheese, ales and lager.
The Cowdray Farm Shop and Cafe, is the hub of the 16,500 acre Cowdray Estate set in the South Downs. The shop is famous for its holistically reared lamb, beef and vension and sale of local produce. The cafe’s outstanding food – from lunch to afternoon tea – is all homemade using traditional artisan techniques. The Farm Shop and cafe are open every day, 9am – 5pm (please check website)
Langham Brewery is an award-winning independent brewery producing cask-conditioned real ale. For craft ale lovers, who want to know more about it, a guided tour of the 10 barrel steam-powered brewery is a perfect treat. Groups of all sizes are welcome, so please call the brewery to book: 01798 860861. Friday night and Saturday tours are particularly popular!
This family run vineyard is dedicated to making magnificent English sparkling wine, using traditional methods. Tours and tastings run May to September on Fridays and Saturdays at 2pm (please check website). Guests are treated to spectacular views of the South Downs from the vineyard’s viewing platform as well as sampling some of the finest British sparkling wine.
On the edge of the South Downs National Park, Tinwood’s has a swanky tasting room where you can sip on sparkling wine while gazing over the vines (after a tour of the vineyard of course).
400-year-old flint pub with beams and blazing fires tucked away in a peaceful South Downs village. Perfect for a pint and ploughman’s after a downland ramble, best enjoyed in the glorious summer garden with farmland views.
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