Sussex trails for biking and hiking
Looking for a local adventure by bike or on foot? Try one of these Sussex trails, handpicked to take in the best of the county on a mix of terrain to suit all abilities and fitness levels.
South Downs Way, Winchester to Eastbourne
This 100-mile trail follows the old droveways and routes along the chalk ridges of the South Downs. Popular access points by car include Bignor Hill to the West, Cissbury Ring near Worthing, Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon near Brighton, and Mount Caburn near Lewes but you can get up to the Downs from any of the numerous bridleways and footpaths leading up from either side. Be warned, many are steep!
The views once you’re up there are more than worth it and it passes through heaps of towns and villages with cafe and pub stops galore, albeit most of them a 200m descent and therefore climb back up afterwards. It’s one for the more experienced bike riders, and a suitable offroad bike in good condition with well-serviced brakes and tyres with a decent amount of tread is an absolute must. The A24 road crossing at Washington isn’t fun, but an alternative route is available.
Downslink, Guildford to Shoreham-by-Sea
This 37-mile route follows two disused railway lines and connects the North Downs Way at Guildford to the South Downs Way at Shoreham-by-Sea, meandering through the Surrey Hills and High Weald as it does so. As it’s almost completely flat, with a reasonably decent surface (albeit one that gets very wet and mucky in winter) it’s ideal for families on bikes and little ones will love pedalling past the odd reminder of its previous incantation in the form of station signs and even a train carriage at West Grinstead.
It’s completely tree-lined though, so don’t expect to see much of the countryside you’re passing through. The bluebells around the Rudgwick portion are stunning in the spring, and nearby The Milk Churn is a perfect pitstop for coffee, cake and famous Sussex Charmer on toast. Very accessible and safe as it’s almost all offroad, but not the most exciting for thrill-seeking cyclists.
West Sussex Literary Trail, Horsham to Chichester
A winding 55-mile route packed full of literary associations and some seriously inspirational countryside. The trail begins in Horsham at the site of the now-departed and rather infamous Shelley Fountain, created to commemorate the poet Percy Bysse Shelley, and ends at Chichester Cathedral. Take in Bury, where John Galsworthy used to cross the River Arun by ferry, and follow some of Hilaire Belloc’s Four Men’s footsteps before you reach the administrative capital of West Sussex. A great walking route for all abilities and the bridleway sections are great fun on a suitable offroad bike, but probably too challenging for very little ones. Be aware it gets very muddy in the winter.
The Serpent Trail, Haselmere to Petersfield via West Sussex
This tour of the rare heathland of the South Downs resembles a serpent in its shape, and is also a great way to encounter some reptilian residents. Full of purple heather, green woods and golden valleys, the trail explores a habitat rarer than rainforest. Snake your way through the pretty market towns of Petworth and Midhurst en route along with the smaller villages of Fittleworth, Fernhurst and Stedham among others. Opportunities for pub and cafe stops abound. You can cycle some of the route where it crosses bridleways, and wherever you see the sign for open access land you’re free to leave the trail to climb, run, roll, picnic and watch wildlife.
Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex
A much shorter, very family-friendly trail, this 14-mile route is almost all traffic-free. It follows the former Cuckoo Line railway track from Heathfield to Shinewater Park, passing through Horam, Hailsham and Polegate. You’ll pass sculptures in wood and steel, and plenty of picnic spots and pit-stops, so it’s perfect for a family outing. A bit tame for the hardcore shredders though.
Monarch’s Way, Midlands to Shoreham Harbour
This 625-mile *yikes* footpath is Britain’s second-longest signposted walking trail, and follows the route of Charles II’s escape after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. It would appear old Charlie boy hotfooted it for quite some distance, as the route covers the Mendips and the Cotswolds as well as the South Coast. As per a few of the trails, it’s mainly footpath with some sections of bridleway – Muddy’s favourite stretch at Houghton is a rootfest next to the River Arun and requires some decent mountain biking skills. You can also join the trail at Steyning, Arundel, West Dean, Bramber, Findon and Shoreham and it passes through plenty of sites of historic interest as well as some stunning scenery.