Planning a Downs Link walk

Last updated 3 March 2017

Downs Link waymark

Ever wanted to walk between the North and South Downs? Perhaps you’re someone who wants to start walking at Farnham and end walking at Eastbourne. Or maybe you’re just someone who is after a short walking challenge.

Starting near Guildford in Surrey, the Downs Link heads down to the town of Shoreham-by-Sea, over a distance of 37 miles. With a close proximity to London, it’s of an ideal size to do in a long, relaxing weekend.

In this guide

  1. What is the walk like?
  2. The Route
  3. Planning an itinerary
  4. Extending your walk
  5. Accommodation
  6. Getting to/from the Downs Link
  7. Guide books and maps
  8. And finally, and any questions

What is the walk like?

Under a bridge on Downs Link

The Downs Link mostly follows old railway lines, which means that generally the going is flat and easy going. As you’d expect, this means the route is relatively flat and easy going.

For much of the trail, you’ll be walking on tree-lined embankments and cuttings, surrounded by trees and nature. As you get closer to Shoreham-by-Sea, the trees begin to thin out and there are lovely views of the South Downs to be admired. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll find various railway memorabilia as you travel, leading you to sit back and reflect on the steam trains that once headed down the footpath you’re following.

Navigation is easy, and as the route is a bridleway, conditions are generally good. It’s an ideal walk to do at any time of the year. The route’s name comes from the fact that it “links” the North Downs Way with the South Downs Way.

Want to know more? Read about my walk.

The Route

You can see the route of the Downs Link using the map above. Using the controls you can scroll around, zoom in and explore the route. Note that this map is a guide only, and should not be used for navigation.

You can also download the GPX file of the route.

Planning an itinerary

Wooden bird near Shoreham-by-Sea

The Downs Link can be walked in either two longer days, or three shorter ones. Both options have itineraries shown below. Unless otherwise stated, the locations listed below have accommodation, a pub and shop, as well as being served by local bus services.

All distances are approximate. Locations with a railway station are shown with a *

2 Day Itinerary
Day From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 St Martha’s Hill * Christ’s Hospital *
or Southwater
18½
or 20½
30
or 33
[1] [2]
2 Christ’s Hospital *
or Southwater
Shoreham-by-Sea * 18
or 16
29
or 26
3 Day Itinerary
Day From To Distance Notes
Miles Km
1 St Martha’s Hill * Rudgwick 13 21 [1]
2 Rudgwick Partridge Green
or Henfield
12½
or 14½
20
or 23½
3 Partridge Green
or Henfield
Shoreham-by-Sea * 11
or 9
18
or 14

Notes:

  1. Nearest station and facilities for St Martha’s Hill is at Chilworth.
  2. No facilities at Christ’s Hospital. For accommodation, pubs and shops, take the train or bus north to Horsham.

Extending your walk

Downs Link Visitor Centre at West Grinstead

As the Downs Link connects with both the North Downs Way and the South Downs Way, there are plenty of options for extending the trail. The northern end starts on the North Downs Way at St Martha’s Hill, a few miles to the east of Guildford. The South Downs Way is crossed at the hamlet of Boltophs, a short way south of the three villages of Steyning, Upper Beeding and Bramber.

In both cases you can head east or west. See ‘Planning a Trip on the North Dows Way’ and ‘Planning a Trip on the South Downs Way’ for more information.

Finding and booking accommodation

Train shaped playgtound

There is no single accommodation guide for the Downs Link, and no official tourist board website for West Sussex, which most of the route is in (well, unless you know different – we couldn’t find it anywhere.)

Accommodation details for key locations are shown below:

You may also find alternative accommodation in neighbouring villages.

Hostels and Bunkbarns

There are no convenient hostels or bunkbarns on the Downs Link. The only hostel near the route is YHA Truleigh Hill which is two miles from the hamlet of Boltophs, near Upper Beeding/Steyning/Bramber. It can be found by following the South Downs Way east. However as it is close to the end of the trail, it is only of limited use.

Camping

There are also no convenient campsites on the Downs Link route, although wild camping may be possible at several locations along the way – subject to landowner permission.

Getting to/from the Downs Link

Distance sign at West Grinstead

The northern end of Downs Link is on top of St Martha’s Hill. The nearest train station is Chilworth, on the North Downs line. The easiest way to get from Chilworth station is to follow the Downs Link, although this does mean you will be walking the section between Chilworth and St Martha’s Hill twice. Chilworth is served by trains from Reading, Redhill and Guildford. Alternatively you can walk to St Martha’s Hill from Guildford station. This is approximately 3½ miles. From the town centre, follow the River Wey before joining the North Downs Way to St Martha’s Hill. Guildford is on the South West mainline with regular services from London Waterloo and the south west.

At the southern end, the Downs Link finishes at Shoreham-by-Sea which has train services to London Victoria, Brighton, Southampton and Portsmouth. There are also limited trains running to Cardiff.

Mid-way, the Downs Link passes near Christ’s Hospital Station, served by trains to London Victoria, East Croydon, and Bognor Regis.

Several villages en-route are served by bus services, connecting to larger towns with railway stations, such as Guildford, Horsham and Shoreham-by-Sea. Services can be infrequent, especially on Sundays. West Sussex County Council publish a bus map for the county (PDF) showing services and how they interact with the Downs Link. Note that many services do not run on Sundays.

Guide books and maps

West Grinstead station

There is no formal guide book for the Downs Link, however West Sussex County Council do publish a route guide which is available on their Downs Link page.

The route is split over the following Ordnance Survey Maps:

And finally, and any questions

Bench shaped like a train, near Shoreham-by-Sea

As you head down the Downs Link, it’s almost impossible not to wonder what it would all be like now if the trains still ran. Although the answer is that you probably wouldn’t be walking there in the first place! As you wander round the old stations, it’s hard not to get too immersed in it all.

Yes, the Downs Link is there waiting for you to walk it. And if you have any questions about doing so, please feel free to ask in the comments box below.

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Your Comments

Matt Kennedy

21 September 2014 at 6:08 pm

I am planning to walk from Shoreham by Sea to St Marthas Hill and plan to camp at Sumners Pond which is near Chrsit Hospital I have stayed there before and its a very nice spot with good facilities, it is aimed at caravans and fishing but accepts small tents as well

Has a good restuarant and bar as well as washing facilities

http://www.sumnersponds.co.uk/faci.htm

Holly

31 December 2015 at 5:31 pm

Thanks for this guide! You say that navigation is easy, but is it well enough marked by signs that it can be walked without a map? Thanks!

Andrew Bowden

1 January 2016 at 7:57 pm

I walked it with a map, but rarely used it. The map is useful just as a backup.

Matt

30 May 2016 at 9:58 pm

I really want to do this and camp out, but are you aloud to just pitch up along the link?

Andrew Bowden

1 June 2016 at 10:18 pm

Matt – the law in England and Wales does not offer the right to wild camp like that. You could pitch up, however if the landowner requests you to move, you must do so.

Pamela Ashby

4 October 2016 at 10:01 am

To all who have walked the Downs Link or intend to walk it, please keep up to date with the development plans for Dunsfold (Waverley Borough Council) Part of the plans will involve change to the use of the Downs Link from Cranleigh to Shalford. This will remove the opportunity to walk this stretch.

Holly

5 October 2016 at 10:04 am

Pamela, do you have a reliable link for information on that? Is this for the bus line that they want to establish on the Downs Link?

Pamela Ashby

5 October 2016 at 1:02 pm

No link, as it depends on planning permission. As soon as I have a reliable link or any news on this I will post. This is the link to Dunsfold Park planning application.

http://www.waverley.gov.uk/info/200349/view_and_comment/1811/dunsfold_park_new_proposal

Thanks for your interest

Pamela Ashby

5 October 2016 at 1:05 pm

Sorry, did not answer your question about the bus line. Although we thought it had been ‘dismissed’ as an idea. It has been raised again, a Bus/Tram line.

Paul Jonsson

7 April 2017 at 11:41 pm

Andrew, thank you for taking the trouble to post all of this useful information. I intend to do this walk in 2017. I live nearby in Woking and am often on St Martha’s Hill and have noticed the start of the walk several times. It’s beckoning me, and I’m really looking forward to it!

Paul Jonsson

24 April 2017 at 2:57 am

Got to this walk quicker than expected, and really enjoyed it. In case anyone is wondering if it can be done in a day, I can say yes! It’s a distance I’ve done in a day before (White Rose Walk, Lyke Wake Walk in north east England) and at this time of year (mid April) there is just enough light in the day, 14 hours. I set off at 6.15 and arrived in Shoreham-by-Sea at 8.15pm, just as the light was fading. I had two 10-15 minute stops to air my feet and change socks to prevent blisters – which worked OK. I only had one day to do the walk due to work/ family commitments, but to be honest I enjoy endurance walks. I will try the walk again soon in smaller stages, and enjoy the pub stops etc!

Catherine bradley

20 May 2017 at 1:44 pm

I want to drive to start fo the downs link, leave my car and get the train back to my car when I finish. Is this possible?

Andrew Bowden

20 May 2017 at 6:22 pm

Yes it is possible if you can find somewhere to park. If you can’t find anywhere at Chilworth, you may have more joy at Guildford where you can follow the North Downs Way to the start.

Amy

13 June 2017 at 5:19 pm

Hello. Myself and my fiance have very recently taken on The Cock Inn pub in Southwater. We are in the heart of the village right next to the Downs Link 😊 and we are more than excited to welcome any fellow walkers to our pub for a nice drink or a meal (or just a break).
We will also be offering accommodation in the near future for anyone wanting to break their activities up in Southwater. As there’s not much accommodation on this route – we thought you’d like to know 😊.

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