Britain’s newest national park is also the most accessible from London. Less than 50 miles from the capital, the South Downs National Park takes in impressive downland, a spectacular stretch of cliffed coastline in East Sussex and some breathtakingly beautiful villages.
We love this part of England. After the frenetic pace of London, Sussex and the South Downs National Park are invitations to slow down, places to pause and allow our souls to catch up with us.
The Lewes Connection
The park was inaugurated last year and extends from the edge of Winchester in the west almost to Eastbourne in the east (though neither Winchester nor Eastbourne are themselves actually within the park boundary). The largest community that lies entirely within the park is Lewes, a modest-sized market town with a population of 17,000.
Lewes is very easy to reach by train. There are two direct trains per hour from London Victoria. The journey time is 65 minutes. Gatwick Airport is even closer to hand, the twice-hourly trains taking just 33 minutes from Gatwick to Lewes, thus making the town a plum choice for long-haul passengers looking for a quiet spot to hole up and recover from jet lag for a day or two.
Lewes is a good base for exploring the eastern half of the South Downs National Park. It lies at the hub of four rail routes and there are also a great range of local bus services including a direct link to Alfriston and the unspoiled Cuckmere Valley. Don’t expect dramatic scenery but rather a delicate beauty that is the very essence of rural England. And yet it is so close to the buzz of London and nearby Brighton.
Southern Railway Downlander Tickets offer cheap deals for exploring the area and extend well beyond the new national park. The South Coast Downlander ticket is a one-day pass that extends along the coast from Southampton in Hampshire to Ashford in Kent (for connections with Eurostar). It also includes many bus services in and around Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne. It costs £10.
For just slightly more (£12.50), the All-Network Downlander also includes travel to and from London and allows the holder to roam at will throughout Southern’s extensive rail network – with the same bus services thrown in.
Lewes-based author Tim Locke seized the opportunity of a new national park to write an engaging guidebook to his home area. His book Slow Sussex and the South Downs National Park was published last spring. It is the latest title in the “Slow” series from Bradt Travel Guides. This is no ordinary guidebook, but an evocative, often quirky, introduction to the region. We like “Slow Sussex” a lot. The book nicely tempts the readers to spots she or he never knew they wanted to visit. All in all, the book is a splendid introduction to one of the most attractive and accessible parts of England.