This year has seen the 40th anniversary of the South Downs Way. It is one of only 13 National Trails which exist in some of England’s finest countryside and the only trail to be wholly within a National Park. Over the years it has been a great success, with many thousands of people using it every year on foot, bike or horseback. Indeed it is one of the most popular National Trails, being easily accessible and running along the spine of the South Downs from Eastbourne to Winchester with great views along its whole length. At weekends it can became particularly busy and is popular with charities and events organisers.
The official South Downs Way National Trail guide was written by Paul Millmore, one of the first people in modern times to call for a National Park, and a key member of the South Downs Network. He’d just completed his latest revision before his untimely death earlier this year. The guide provides a wealth of information about the area, its history and local contacts and facilities.
As to what the future holds for the South Downs Way is uncertain. It undoubtedly is popular and is good for people’s health and well-being, but it also supports the local economy. It draws people to the area who then spend money in shops, pubs, on campsites, farms, B&Bs, hotels, etc. Yet with a number of pubs and other local community assets under threat from property speculators, will the trail remain the attractive proposition it is now if these are lost? That’s not to say things are perfect and cannot change, but the future viability of the South Downs Way and community facilities nearby are somewhat interlinked. Therefore it is imperative that both are taken seriously and properly supported at all levels.
At a national level, there appears to be uncertainty over the future of Natural England, the champions, if you like, of National Trails at present. At the same time, Natural England is looking at devolving the responsibility of National Trails to local authorities. With the South Downs Way being wholly within the South Downs National Park that may be less of an issue, but funding could still be a problem. Overall funding levels may reduce and unless the National Park Authority is given the money directly, money spent on maintaining and promoting the trail may fall considerably.
While the future is uncertain, with the advent of the National Park and the current popularity of the South Downs Way, this National Trail, at least, is likely to be around for us all to enjoy for some considerable time yet.