Hiking in the Southeast of England
For those who prefer to travel on their own two feet, the Southeast offers long sweeps of open terrain that make walking a pleasure. Ardent walkers can explore all or part of the popular North Downs Way (153 miles) and the South Downs Way (106 miles), following ancient paths along the tops of the downs—the undulating treeless uplands typical of the area. Both trails are now part of the South Downs National Park (www.southdowns.gov.uk), but each maintains its separate identity. Both are very popular with hikers (particularly on weekends).
Trails on the Downs
The North Downs Way starts outside Guildford, in the town of Farnham, alongside the A31. You can park at the train station, about ½ mile away. The path starts with absolutely no fanfare, on a traffic-choked bypass, but soon improves. It passes several scenic spots, including the White Cliffs of Dover, along the way and follows part of the old Pilgrim's Way to Canterbury that so fascinated Chaucer.
The South Downs Way starts in Winchester, at Water Lane, and ends on the promenade in the seaside town of Eastbourne. Along the way it crosses the chalk landscape of Sussex Downs, with parts of the route going through deep woodland. Charming little villages serve the walkers cool ale in inns that have been doing precisely that for centuries.
The 30-mile Downs Link joins the two routes. Along the Kent coast, the Saxon Shore Way, stretching 143 miles from Gravesend to Rye, passes four Roman forts.
Guides to these walks are available from the excellent website for National Trails (www.nationaltrail.co.uk). Tourist information offices throughout the region also have good information.