A review of campsites along the South Downs Way

Camp for the night
Camp for the night

Here is a list and review of each camp site that Ishai and I stayed at during our hike across the South Downs Way. We carried our own tents (sharing a two-man tent), stove, food and water and always booked the camp sites before arrival.

We covered the South Downs in four weekends, arriving on a Friday afternoon at the first site, walking to the second campsite on the Saturday afternoon, and then continuing the walk to a train station to return home in London. (Incidentally, if you are planning to do something similar, investigate a Friends and Family railcard to save a small fortune on rail tickets).

This required a fair amount of research beforehand. The first source was the Official South Downs Campsites and hostels. This was compiled in 2013 and doesn’t include some of the campsites that we stayed in (I asked the owners to add their campsites to the guide).

Campsite 1: Morn Hill Caravan Club Site

First campsite - the well maintained Morn Hill Caravan Club Site

Morn Hill is about three miles walk from Winchester train station.

It was a welcome warm-up to the South Downs walk starting the following morning.

Morn Hill is well maintained, and as its name indicates its primary purpose is for caravans.

The camping area is a flat, manicured grass area enclosed by a picket fence with a water tap opposite.

The shower/ toilet block was nice and clean when we stayed.

The campsite is close to the A31, which wasn’t much fun to cross in the morning to get to the South Downs Way.

Note: As I wrote this article I realised the camp site is very close to Juniper Leisure Tank Driving which looks like a lot of fun.

Campsite 2: Sustainability Centre

Arrived at our second campsite - The Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way

Camping at The Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way

Camping at The Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way

Camping at The Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way

Pizza Oven at Camping at The Sustainability Centre on the South Downs Way

After almost 16 miles of walking with a heavy backpack, we were delighted to reach the Sustainability Centre. The first, positive point about this campsite is that it’s one of only a small number of campsites actually on the South Downs Way, which means no additional walking off the path.

The Sustainability Centre is an experience in itself. As its name suggests, everything about the campsite is self-sustainable. And it’s not at the compromise of being hippy or dirty.

When we stayed, all the facilities were very clean and orderly, despite the site being half full. Our site was a small secluded site surrounded by nettles and bracken. There was a metal fire pit/ BBQ and some small logs for seating. It was lovely and tranquil. The shower block is solar heated, not that it made any difference – it was a lovely hot shower, with a particularly large cubicle.

The toilets are a “long drop” – you climb up some steps to reach it, there’s a normal toilet seat, and your ‘stuff’ then lands on some hay, about six feet below. It’s all very clean, and quieter than a regular water-based toilet.

In the morning we had breakfast in a communal-style area, with an outdoor oven (see the photo above) and a separate covered area which I hung the tent from to dry the dew.

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Sustainability Centre and I recommend it to others for its convenient location, the tranquillity of the place and the overnight experience.

Campsite 3: Upper Parsonage Farm

Upper Parsonage Farm

Upper Parsonage Farm

We stayed at Upper Parsonage Farm on our second South Downs weekend – catching the train from London to Petersfield station. The station is over five miles walk from the campsite, so we got to the site by taxi. A note of caution – this area is poorly signposted so the driver dropped us at a nearby farm (which we all thought was the correct place) and we ended up walking about a mile to the site. Upper Parsonage Farm is simply beautiful.

The farmhouse is immaculate. The grounds are immaculate. There is a kitchen area with all the facilities imaginable – it was the first campsite I’ve ever stayed in with a deep fat fryer.

On the opposite side of the building to the kitchen area were a couple of toilets which looked more like they were in a luxury B&B than a campsite. The whole place was lovely and welcoming. I was surprised this campsite isn’t listed on the official campsite list for the South Downs Way – the path is literally at the end of the road, less than a mile away (although it was a steep walk to get to the path).

If you are in the area visiting Queen Elizabeth Country Park or walking the South Downs Way, I thoroughly recommend Upper Parsonage Farm.

Campsite 4: Graffham Camping and Caravan Park

Our 2 man tent for the South Downs

Graffham Camping and Caravan Park is a nice, well-kept site, consisting of dozens of individual pitches. Our site was a combination of hard, packed mud and sand.

The shower block was nice and clean.

There were several tables with seats, which is a welcome comfort when hiking – most meals are eaten from a cross legged position!

There were a few Duke of Edinburgh (D of E) teams which stayed at this campsite, proving how popular it is for the South Downs.

Whilst Graffham was a lovely site, it’s over two miles downhill from the South Downs Way, which seemed a long way after walking twenty miles that day. And the two miles back uphill the following morning meant we were pretty tired before we’d even started the day’s walk.

Campsite 5: Houghton Farm camp site

This site is a Camping & Caravan Club Members Only site, so you can’t book it online through the website unless you’re a member (which we’re not*). But you can book over the phone directly with the owners.

Houghton Farm is wild camping with a water tap in the field. There’s basic toilet across the road in the farmhouse, which is probably a 500m walk.

The owner was very friendly when we arrived, and drove us from his farm house to the campsite.

The biggest advantage of Houghton Farm is that it’s literally on the South Downs Way, so we continued walking first thing in the morning.

Campsite 6: Hillside Scout Camp

South Downs tarmac

Leaving Hillside Scout Camp site

Finding a campsite in this area of the South Downs Way presented the biggest challenge to us. Many of the sites at this stage had terrible online ratings, so I resorted to looking up Scout campsites. As a Scout leader, and Ishai was a Scout at the time, we were well within our rights to camp in a Scout site. D of E teams use Scout sites, but I’m not sure about the general public.

We were already exhausted when we arrived at the camp site. It’s two miles from the South Downs Way, and it had already been a hard day’s walk. Arriving in dense fog on Halloween was something we’ll remember forever.

Once we arrived, we couldn’t find the lights to the first shower block (neither could the Explorer group looking after the site). So we used the girls’ shower block instead, and the water kept going from freezing cold to scalding hot. It was better than nothing.

A special mentioned goes to a nearby pub, The Fox, which took care of Ishai and me. I have never felt such relief taking off a pair of shoes in a restaurant, playing cards with Ishai and enjoying an ale as much as The Fox. We returned to the scout camp in even thicker fog, which lingered around until we left the next morning.

After schlapping back two miles back up steep hills to return the South Downs Way in the morning we found a Youth Hostel (Truleigh Hill). Unless you want to visit The Fox, stay at the Youth Hostel instead.

Campsite 7: Housedean Farm Campsite

Sorting out the tent at Housedean Farm campsite

Eating Dinner at Housedean Farm

Housedean is conveniently located along the South Downs Way. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s also on the A27 – an extremely busy, loud and fast A27.

Housedean Farm camp site was lovely. We found a pitch overlooking the farm (and unfortunately the road), set up the tent and built a fire. Fires are encouraged at the campsite, so every pitch has a fire pit.

The facilities looked brand new – including a slightly-different-but-still-functional ‘open’ wash basin and kitchen block. Even the toilets were heated. There was a communal fridge and even USB chargers for people to use.

It would have been even nicer if there was a covered seating area. We cheekily used the kitchen area to fry some breakfast (I cleaned up meticulously), but it would have been nicer to have a more legitimate area.

There were some log cabin/ camping pods in the campsite for those who want slightly more comfort.

Campsite 8: Alfriston

Pleasant Rise Campsite, Alfriston

This was our last campsite on the South Downs Way. We only had ten miles or so to walk the next morning, so this would also be our longest lie in of the walk. That would come in handy.

The campsite is shared with Alfriston Tennis Club, or what used to be the tennis club, because now it’s quite run down. As is the campsite itself, with broken fences and signs lying on the floor.

We arrived in the middle of the afternoon and there wasn’t any hot water. And some of the lights weren’t working in the toilet/ shower block. We returned an hour later, and there still wasn’t any hot water.

We popped into nearby Alfriston village that evening (an amazing place, worth visiting even for the day) and on the way back we found hot water in the showers. After a quick shower we headed for our tent.

At about 2am that night, I woke up to loud music. This had been the first campsite along the entire South Downs Way where we’d encountered this kind of antisocial behaviour. The music continued and eventually I fell back to sleep.

All the other campsites had friendly wardens. At Alfriston I emailed them during the weekend before our arrival to say we were coming, and they said to pay cash once we were there. During the time we were at the campsite, I couldn’t find the warden. So I still haven’t paid.

Please note that all these reviews are fully independent and we paid the full amount at all the campsites. Except Alfriston where I tried paying but couldn’t find anyone to pay.

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