Cycling vacations in the South Downs

The South Downs is yet to experience the huge numbers of visitors experienced in other parts of the UK, a major plus for cyclists looking to explore the south coast: “We’re super passionate about cycling tours in Sussex” explains Harvey Downard, head of our cycling vacation specialists Cycling for Softies. “The area is much less developed as a destination for tour groups and therefore a lot more open-minded when it comes to visitors. Locations like the Cotswolds, for example, are already well known and sort of sell themselves. In the South Downs, however, not many people know about the local village pubs and sparkling wine vineyards that our cyclists head to. These are local employers in really quiet, picturesque locations.”

Knowing where to cycle is the key to planning a successful trip on two wheels. A great way to alleviate any uncertainty is to book a tailor made cycling vacation in the South Downs where all the routes have been tried and tested by local enthusiasts in advance.
Local enthusiasts like Harvey’s dad, John, for instance: “We’ve created numerous self guided cycling routes based upon some of the quirkier, off the beaten track locations suggested by our local destination managers. My dad, John, is our destination manager for the South Downs. He’s lived in or around the Brighton area his entire life. He loves cycling and knows pretty much every suitable cycle trail in Sussex like the back of his hand. It’s thanks to his local knowledge and first-hand experiences that we’re able to offer cyclists a huge variety of hand-picked suggestions.”

From chalk downland and sandstone escarpments to coastal plains and river valleys, this is an area where erosion is a real issue. Sticking to designated routes is the best way to stay safe and ensure you leave the natural environment just as you found it.

That doesn’t mean you will feel restricted, there are lots of brilliant shared tracks over hills and through woodlands and there’s also a veritable rabbit’s warren of rural roads and tarmac surfaces to take you from Hampshire to Sussex and all the way up to Midhurst, near Surrey. Hybrid bikes and e-bikes are ideal for tackling this sort of variety and you can bring your own or hire one as part of an organised self guided vacation. There are also marked mountain biking trails in woodlands like Friston Forest near Seven Sisters Country Park in East Sussex.

Where can I cycle in the South Downs?

Cycling for Softies recommend concentrating on Sussex: “We don’t want people to stick to a rigid itinerary. We want visitors to get to know the lesser-known locations which haven’t got into the big guide books. Places like Ditchling, where you can visit a sparkling wine estate for tasting sessions or pop into the arts and crafts museum that’s run by an independent charity. We know the area very well and can suggest a variety of distances, difficulties and points of interest to suit all cyclists” Harvey explains.

Their tours use designated routes to minimise cyclists’ environmental impact: “Although we encourage our self guided cyclists to take their time to explore and discover different destinations, we also want them to stick to designated cycle paths and respect the infrastructure that’s in place for cycling in the South Downs. The majority of routes that we recommend are also used by horses, walkers and other cyclists. It’s imperative that we respect other road users to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.”

Harvey points out that routes are used by a wide range of visitors and locals, which makes it even more vital that they are treated with respect: “Some routes, such as the Downs Link network, are accessible for wheelchair users and families with pushchairs, as well as pedestrians and cyclists. They connect lots of little villages and out-of-the way locations all the way from the coast to Midhurst, close to the Surrey border. Sticking to a recommended route, at a safe speed, is the best way to get into the Sussex countryside without damaging the environment or making it unsafe for yourself or other people.”
Travel Team
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Where can I stay while cycling in the South Downs?

Staying in lesser-known villages and towns in the South Downs is a great way to not only get to know an area by bike but also on foot. Locally owned B&Bs and family-run hotels and guest houses make great places to stay because you know that your money is going directly into the local economy and the hosts always have the best recommendations for things to do in the surrounding area.

Staying locally in the South Downs doesn’t just make for a better experience, it also puts money back into the local community: “We encourage our cyclists to stay overnight in historic Sussex hotels that have been family-owned for generations” says Harvey. “These hotels are situated in small villages like Cuckfield in Mid Sussex, and Climping, close to the sea. Lots of local people work for the hotels or at least know someone who does. We also use local bike rental companies who we know we can depend on for expert local knowledge and top quality equipment. Our tours are mutually beneficial for both local people and visitors and provide employment in areas that aren’t commonly considered to be on the tourist map.”

What’s the best time to cycle in the South Downs?

Tailor made cycling vacations in the South Downs can be booked all year round and the best time to go very much depends on your preferences as a cyclist. You won’t have as much daylight if you’re considering cycling during the autumn or winter, but what you will find at this time of year, though, are leafy woodland trails and far reaching sea and valley views. Cycling in the spring and summer is the best time for enjoying the ride without the worry of diminishing daylight. Some popular trails will be busier as it gets warmer but as long as you’re sensible and don’t speed down the lengthy hillside descents, you’re sure to be absolutely fine.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: © SDNPA] [Intro: © Sam Knight] [Where can I cycle in the South Downs?: © Matt Pitts] [What’s the best time to cycle in the South Downs?: Rebecca Saunders]