Exploring the great joys of the South Downs Way

Author Henry Stedman ponders the great joys of the South Downs Way in the latest edition of his book.

Henry Stedman
Henry Stedman

Newly updated, South Downs Way has been released by Trailblazer Publications (£12.99, available from Amazon and bookshops).

Henry, aged 52, who lives in Battle, said: “The 100-mile South Downs Way is one of England’s most popular long-distance paths. Part of the reason for that is because, for many people, it’s the closest national trail to their house.

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“But I reckon there’s more to its appeal than that.

“I think part of their attraction is the fact that the south-east is one of the most crowded and busiest parts of the UK, and when you climb up to the top of the Downs it always feel like you're escaping the everyday. You are, quite literally, rising above it all.

“Added to that, of course, are the wonderful little villages, such as Alfriston and Amberley, that lie hidden in the folds at the foot of those slopes.

“And though I’ve walked a dozen national trails now, I still find the South Downs quite magical. On our family day trips to Eastbourne and Lewes they always loom large in the background, and I’ve always been drawn to them. It’s no coincidence that I am a big fan of the work of artist Eric Ravilious, and the composer John Ireland, whose Downland Suite is one of my favourite classical works.

“Many of my happiest memories are of walking the dog up on the Downs in summer. And one of my first dates with my partner was a weekend at the wonderful Belle Tout Lighthouse I was richer then, and flashier!”

Henry added: “As somebody who walks for a living, and who loves hiking, working on a book on the South Downs just makes sense.

“The book itself is for anybody who likes hiking, of course. But it's also for those who’ve never tackled a long-distance footpath before but think they would like to try. The South Downs Way is actually one of the more straightforward of England’s national trails. Once you’ve managed to climb up to the top of the Downs, the path is actually pretty flat, well signposted and very easy to follow.

“And thanks to a pretty good public transport network along the entire 100-mile trail, it’s possible to tackle the trail in day trips.

“This is actually the seventh edition of Trailblazer’s guide to the South Downs Way. It is updated approximately every two years. This is necessary as we include a lot of practical information in the guide, such as where walkers can stay along the trail, where they can find food, what shops and other services are available en route, bus and train services etc.

“This is information which, of course, changes regularly. Because Trailblazer guides are renowned amongst walkers for being the most useful and accurate guides to the long-distance footpaths of Britain, so, in order to maintain that reputation, the trails have to re-walked – and researched – on a very regular basis.

“I’ve been writing guidebooks for almost 30 years and am the author of more than a dozen titles – and have updated many more. Though best-known for writing the bestselling guide to climbing Kilimanjaro, I have also walked and written/updated guides to about 15 of the greatest long-distance footpaths of Britain.

“I started writing about 30 years ago when I was working in a travel agent. I was bored selling tickets to exotic destinations around the globe while I was stuck behind a desk in central London.

“But I saw an advert in The Guardian from the Rough Guide asking for authors. I was always pretty good at English at school, so thought I’d give it a go – because, to be honest, I had nothing to lose! For about a decade I travelled the world writing guides to the Middle East, South-East Asia and South America – but these days I’m happiest walking the long-distance footpaths of the UK with my dog, Daisy who’s also walked a dozen national trails, my partner Zoe and my son Henry Jnr.”

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