The Three Rings – Southdowns Way

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I now had the knobbly tyres on the Dawes and was all set for a bit of off road action.    The Dawes isn’t particularly high geared and so it was good that the route started and stopped almost on my doorstop.  Time to explore the South Downs, a land feature that impacts everyone’s life living nearby, be it finding a suitable road through or up and over, to the affects on the local weather meaning the difference between sun or snow from those living just miles down the road, but “the other side”.  It could be seen as disappointing that my knowledge and experience of the multitude of byways and paths criss crossing the hills is almost zero.

Mountain bikes are something I have not ridden a great deal of and so it was at first a bit strange as a I made my way down the initial 3 miles on roads until I got to the Southdowns Way trial.   The noise of the tyres and my pedals turning frantically fast in order to keep my normal pace, I soon slowed and and settled into the new experience.    The Southdowns Way goes from Winchester 100 miles to Eastbourne and is a popular route for walkers and off road bikers, almost every week there will be someone doing the challenge on various modes of transport or different ways of walking.  It is a bit like JOGLE in that aspect (a tad shorter!).   It is again, pretty bad that in the 24 years I have had this on my doorstep, the most I have ever done is seen the sign posts on the side of the road as the trial crosses in various places.    Not totally true as I have in the past gone from Devil’s Dyke to Styening, but that was just maybe 4 miles out of 100.

The history of the route must be interesting, being the A27 of the Mesolithic era, taking the higher ground instead of the lower boggy route.  To proof this, I would be passing three historic “rings”, that of Chanctonbury ring, Cissbury ring, and Lancing ring – all near each other of differing size, all proof that maybe thousands of years ago this would had been a very busy route and place to be.   Today the evidence exists, and for a country trail it remains surprisingly busy on the hot sunny day that I had chosen.    While I was initially heading from the East, the British Heart Foundation Mountain Bike Ride was taking place in the opposite direction, meaning I had the gates opened for me by marshals, but at some points I would have to wait on one side to let small groups by.

I got the the path and my first hill, I prepared by clicking down gears to something more suitable.  This was accompanied by the noise of clicking, slipping and general grinding of chain and cogs until the bike suddenly stopped.   While preparing the bike earlier I had thought I had solved the gearing problem and the slipping, but it seemed maybe not.  I looked at the back wheel and noted how the chain was now wedged between the spokes and the largest sprocket, a dangerous place to be.  Fortunately, because of the low gear I was trying to select, the chain was quite loose (maybe still too loose I wonder), and it was easy to put ride, I made a mental note to adjust that when I could stop in a more suitable place.   I carried on, the gears slipping now and then but they always settled down.  Something that would be the case for the rest of the ride, I figured out later on that it was not so much slipping but the indexing was out meaning it was having problems moving from one to another without some final tweak.  I got used to it, but it does need sorting, I am not totally convinced that everythign gear-wise on the bike is matching and suitable with each other, everything still seems floppy and not very exact.

I got up the first off road hill with no problem where at the top I found a massive pig farm!  I had seen this from a distance in the car many times and I always wondered if the pigs ever minded being up so high and open to the elements during the winter months.   Today though it was hot and sunny, the pigs were mostly sun bathing or getting up to watch the bikers and walkers as they passed.  “Do not feed the pigs” the signs said as the path made its way through the middle.

 

The fun of this route was now starting to take place, high up I was able to see over Worthing and Brighton to the sea from one direction, over to the North Downs many miles away in the other, with Sussex sitting in the middle.   I had a bird’s eye view of Steyning and Bramber and able to pick out landmarks but from a totally different perspective.    The only downside was the amount of work and effort needed for the path only to find you have only covered one or two miles as you reach a road crossing and familiar ground.

I got to my first ring, the first hill fort on the ride, Chanctonbury ring, a hill fort from around the Iron Age, and evidence suggests Roman activity later on.   Down below on the roads, I used to drive past this every day to and from work, a familiar landmark due to the clump of beech trees planted in 1790 within the ring, damaged badly in the 1987 storm but looking quite healthy and restored once again.   Like a lot of these rings, myths and story telling are the key, the suggestion that if you run round the ring seven times anti-clockwise (it is always anti-clockwise with these things) then the devil will pop up and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul.   The other tale is that if those woman who sleep within the ring for the night will have increased fertility, so a pagan dogging site too it seems.

The views to the North are fantastic at this point and the area pretty calm as I made my way past, on my way to the next ring.  Cissbury Ring means business, the largest hill fort in Sussex and second largest in England, Iron Age in date and abandoned, re-used a number of times right up until the Second World War.   The outside wall/bank is a mile long circle and being one of the highest points in the area you are meant to see all the way to the Isle of Wright on a clear day.  The Devil is included in the tales once again, this time suggesting the hill of the result of him digging out Devil’s Dyke as he tried to make the sea flood Sussex (and it’s churches), the resulting soil had to land somewhere….

I have been to Cissbury before, by car, for a day’s walking but only from the other side at from there is just seemed like a hill with some lumps on top.  From this direction however it looked a lot grander.   You could imagine coming along this same path thousands of years ago, a main highway from one hill fort to another, being greeted by the large hill and climb up to the busy and noisy community inside.  You would hope you would be let in, otherwise a night out in the wild open you feared of muggers and robbers, even your live might be at risk from those outside with you…   For now, I didn’t venture inside, I took the ancient road past the base of the hill and onwards towards my final hill fort.

 

My guide book was serving me well and it goes to show how little the countryside and it’s many trails change over the years.  The booked was dated 1990 and yet when it said “follow wooden fence on your right”, or “at cross roads head towards the large tree”, amazingly after all that time there still remained the wooden fence or the large tree.   It was interesting out here, long lost cross roads, major intersections of thousands of years ago, mostly lost and forgotten about now apart from dog walkers and off road cyclists.   Many of these could be the A27/A23 interchange in thousands of years to come for our future countryside explorers (with their hover boards).    My final track would be a “Public Byway” which I always thought were country roads not quite fit for cars but if you had a Landrover then give it a go and see how you get on.  This byway seemed a bit overgrown and pearched on the side of a hill it would be pretty hard going by a 4×4, maybe a small thin tractor instead.  Indeed, the deep ruts suggested some form of farm tractor must have had used it plenty of times at some point.   Being near Lancing I started to meet up with plenty of dog walkers at this point showing that I might feel like I was in the middle of the countryside on top of a hill when in fact I was just minutes away from the nearest Lancing Kebab shop… if one was needed in a hurry.

Lancing has a big hill with a load of trees on top in a clump, all very much similar to the two previous hill forts, but I am not sure if there ever was a hill fort here.   It was however a branch off a Neolithic road going along the coast, a number of Bronze Age tools have been found.  Just slightly north, Roman remains have been found to suggest there was a temple along with some Iron Age fort remains.    There is a clump of trees, and where that happens there has to be a fort at some time it seems, so lets assume it was an important place at some point in the past.   Now it is a nature reserve with a Dew Pond and old chalk pits, even the remains of an old windmill if you look close.

It had taken me a good hard 2 hours + to do this journey, and yet I had never gone more than 5 miles away from home give or take.   The bike had faired well, the gears were dodgy but I was getting used to them, the number of times I had to stop and swear had not been that many – although enough to want to correct the problem before next time.   Once at the top of this hill, all that was left was to follow the track and then the road down the hill and straight back into Lancing – I was sitting in the kitchen having a cup of tea within 5 minutes.

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Number of dodgy gear changes: lots

Number of pigs on hills: quite a number

Number of dogging pagens: none spotted

Number of miles: 16

Going Knobbly Bobbly

from cheap slick tyres to cheap knobbly tyres

The Dawes Terarra mountain bike, that is not really mine, it is a bike we bought some years back for occasional use – and over the years it has had just that.   It was bought secondhand and so I don’t really know how old the tubes and tyres are, but I got a bit of an idea when I notice that the front tyre was flat all of a sudden.  Upon pumping back up, it went straight back down within seconds, which seemed all a bit strange as it hadn’t been used for a number of weeks.  I had a feeling it was just old and the rubber had in some way failed.

At the same time, I had been given a book of good bike rides in Sussex of which one such ride just happened to pass through Lancing on the way on a circle up the Downs.  I knew there were plenty of byways and bridleways criss crossing the Downs but I’ve never really fancied it on the Royal.  I had in a past ride taken a “shortcut” along the top of the Downs and while the Royal had no problems coping with the harsh chalk rough path, it wasn’t the most comfortable ride I had ever had!

So I was thinking….  while I was getting a new tube to replace the perished ones, maybe the slick tyres currently on the bike might be a bit past it too.   If I was to replace the tyres with proper off road mountain bike ones, then maybe I could do this route with the Dawes.   I didn’t want to spend too much money and so I was pretty happy to find two tyres and two tubes on Amazon for £17, surely a knobbly tyres is a knobbly tyre – for me anyway, at this level.  I don’t know why the Dawes came with slick tyres when we bought it although as we didn’t have plans to use it off road it was actually quite handy.  I expected they would be pretty thin tyres and so wouldn’t trust them for much off road and certainly not on the chalky and rocky paths over the Downs.

The tyres came off quick and easy, the new ones went on quick and easy.   Amazingly easy.  I have been used to the more puncture resistant tyres on both the Royal and the Highway which take sometimes hours to get on and off, including quite a bit of swearing too.

Putting everything back together I gave the bike a quick try and quickly found out that the chain was slipping badly and not really changing gear particularly well.   While in the smallest wheel at the front and the smallest at the back, peddling would be impossible and the chain would be dangling down so much that it was almost touching the floor.  Something really was not right.   What made it harder to look at is that the rear derailier works in the opposite way that would think it should do, some funny Dawes things that they used to do (maybe they still do).  It made looking at this problem a bit tricky as you find yourself looking at something that looks familiar because it does, until you look closer.     It was strange, everything was telling me the chain was too long, but at the same time it had not suddenly grown in length!     I thought maybe it was not springing back like it should be, or back far enough, and as I was playing with it there was a big clonk and the whole derailier shifted up and backwards.  The chain now looked a lot more normal and upon a quick test ride through the gears it showed there was no more slipping – problem solved.   It maybe got shifted as I was pulling back rear wheel out, it probably should not clonk like it does but it seemed it was in no hurry to be clonking backwards and forwards on its own in a hurry.

We now do have a mountain bike that looks ready for some off roading.

 

Night Ride – Summer Solstice & Zombies

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I noticed the local CTC group was organising a night ride on (ok, near) the summer solstice.  Ride your bike, watch the sun rise in the middle of the night on the longest day, have breakfast and come home.   This to me seemed interesting and a bit out of the ordinary.  I pondered about it for some time, I even bought a new front light to replace my broken one from the winter, which meant even before I had decided I knew in my head I had indeed decided and would be going along.

Biking early in the morning is a must, being the only one on the road at the best part of the day, and then getting to your destination with most of the day remaining.   On a normal ride I would tend to leave the house around 5 or 6, plenty of time to do some distance before stopping off for breakfast.   The mixture of a darkness and old slowly turning into day and life starting to appear seems to set the day off well.   For this ride, the longest day, I would have to get up a lot earlier to catch the sunrise, a 3am wake up with a 3.30am leaving time to meet the others in Worthing at 4am.   That would give an hour’s ride before the sun really started to show.

The plan for the trip was to meet the others in the group in Worthing, from there I would follow the leader along a route that would take us to Horsham for a quick look break and Dorking for breakfast.  I planned a route back home from there to do on my own.     I had never met these people before, in fact all the information I had was from a small post in their facebook group, but as my local CTC group I had been meaning to find time to go on a ride with them.

I had geared up my bike with the Cats Eyes reflecter lights that come on by themselves and I use all during winter, good for being seen by but no use for seeing.  I had visions of when I went on the London to Brighton night ride and the experience of being in the pitch black with just a couple of small LEDs showing the way, or not as it happened.   I gathered that at the most I would need a really good light to see by for only an hour, and so I re-bought the small 3-LED light that I had before and had stopped working at the end of the winter.  For £18, it’s not one of those series World War 2 search light style lights that some cyclist have, huge battery pack and blinding every person in a 10 mile radius.

As expected, there is not much traffic around at 3.30 in the morning.  Amazingly it was not that dark, at the horizon I could see the lighter sky and wondered if it had actually got fully dark overnight of is a slip of light was there all the time.  After the worry of not being able to see where I was going, it turned out that I would never the main light, the flashing reflector light would do its job and finally switch itself off later on as I rode out of Worthing and the sun was starting to come up.

Not a single car or person, at the most just the odd taxi and that was it.  I cycled the 5 miles to the meeting place, with the only excitement meeting a police car failing to stop at a roundabout and nearly hit me.  I held my hand out to say stop and he finally saw me, waved apologetically as he went passed, I’m thinking he was nearing the end of a long shift and wasn’t quite expecting to see anyone else.

I arrived at the cross roads just before the meeting time.  Once again, a normally busy junction was completely deserted in an almost spooky post-zombie apocalypse type of way.   As I waited, keeping a watch out for the undead, I started to wonder if anyone else would turn up.   This would only be my second such CTC ride (excluding organised Brighton ones) and I remember the last time I turned up early and waited quite some time until the first people would arrive.  Nothing wrong with that at all, infact it is nice in a cycle touring type of way where time is not as important.  However, at 4am in the morning, lurking at a cross roads on my own, fending off any zombies and looking slightly suspicious myself.  As 4am turned into 4.10am, I decided either people were running late, I had got the wrong meeting place, or no-one was going to turn up.   I decided to sort out my own route and make my own way up to Dorking, for breakfast.   I wanted to be riding when the sun did come up.

I had not planned this and so could not press the magic route button the GPS and follow the big arrow.  Instead, I looked at Google maps on my phone and plotted the best way out of Worthing and up to Horsham, at which point I would do the same again to Dorking.  A bit “old school”, almost using a real map if it had not been on my phone!   The only problem I had, and a familiar one, was there are little options when it comes to escaping to the other side of the South Downs.  With sensible routes from Shoreham or Brighton, or Arundel.   I had in the past used the A24 to escape on previous rides, and while I have no massive problem with such a busy road, it’s not the most comfortable with cars whizzing 70mph+ passed you.  However, now it was all a bit different, with the whole of the human race turned into zombies, not a single person or car about, I had the roads to myself.

After one look around for both living CTC cyclists and undead zombies, I set off North along the A24 towards Ashington.  It had only just gone passed 4am and yet the darkness had gone and an eerie early morning light was replacing it.   The duel carriageway was carless as I made my way out of Worthing and through the small gap in the Downs leading to the rest of the world.   Within the whole 4 mile stretch the only other sign of live of a zombie decontamination lorry, although I must admit I never actually saw the driver…    As Ashington grew closer I contemplated staying on this trunk road all the way up to Horsham, but figured that if this road was a tad boring when in the car, it would be even more so on bike.     I left the main road and continued Northwards towards Christ’s Hosptial and Horsham.

It was a this point the sun was really starting to rise in the sky and the ever so required photo of a golden sunrise would happen at any minute.  The sky was clear and so I was not disappointed.     The sun rose, the sky was orange for a brief moment, and then it was cloudy and seemed darker than it was just moments before.   The days building up to this had all been clear hot blue skies, today was going to be different.

From spotting the sun rise (not hard to do), to spotting rabbits and deers.   Rabbits are fast little things, you see them all over the road in the distance but they can feel you coming and run off into the side ages before you have chance to see them properly.  To start with I tried to take photos of them but never managed to catch any within frame at a decent distance.  There were so many in the end that started to get used to them and a bit bored of yet another load of rabbits in the road.   Infact, it at times I was having to watch out for the odd lost rabbit still on the road running for protection and ending up running alongside me in and out of my wheels.   The rabbit survived and finally found safety in the hedge.    Which was just as good as suddenly a deer lept out from the side of the road and in front of me, straight across and off into the woods on the other side.   Being hit by, or hitting, a deer, the results would not be good, mostly for me I could imagine.   I would see two further deers, one in the woods watching me suspiciously and one just standing in the middle of the road in the distance all the time while I fumbled with my camera, right up until the moment of pressing the button and it ran off.

 

Within no time I had managed to reach Horsham and it was still very early, the town was diserted which gave me problems at traffic lights.  With no cars left after the zombie invasion, most traffic lights failed to spot me, most traffic lights seemed to be red.  I waited, and waited a bit more.  I started to get worried, sensing zombie creatures watching me and closing in.  I checked all directions, no cars, no visible zombies either, but I knew they had seen me and were planning.  I slowly eased through the red lights, no-one noticed, no-one was there….  I thought I heard a something more in the bushes, I didn’t look back but I did hear the faint moan of “brains….”.

At this point I had to plan the next part of the route up to Dorking.  The best way would be starting along the old Crawley Road, crossing the “new” dual-carriage way and upwards towards the North Downs.    On my way I passed a burnt down house and a deserted pub, both had seen better days and had been left abandoned for what seemed many years.  I could only imagine what zombie invested ending the occupiers had faced…    Northwards I soon had the sense that Gatwick was nearby and while still very early in the day the planes were low and frequent.  This matched the “No Second Runway” billboards appearing in the gated and enclosed gardens on the large houses, always a shiny Range Rover in the drive.  Maybe they had a point, it was still amazingly early and yet the noise and frequency of planes was pretty impressive.

Stopping now and then to check the map, Dorking soon started to appear on signposts and the North Downs in the distance.  It was a nice feeling to know that I would not have to climb these hills today, Dorking would arrive before the hills.   A slight off road section through the middle of a golf course, under railway bridges, through allotments and along long narrow alley ways (all seemed to be a cycle route) and I finally got to the “Cock Roundabout”.    A never ending source of amusement for anyone driving along the A24 to finally come across the massive statue of a “cock”, a male chicken, standing in the middle of a roundabout.    For some reason a cockerel has been part of the coat of arms for Dorking since 1951, just why I don’t know.   This also begs the question why in 2007 a 10ft cock was put on the roundabout, apart from making anyone’s journey through Dorking a bit more amusing.    As it happened, I had arrived, on my bike, at this roundabout.  I stopped and marvelled at the statue for a while before I started to think about breakfast.

It was 7.30am, another hour until the cafe would open.   Traffic and people were now about, the threat of zombie invasion subsided and normal life was starting to wake up.   The weather too, it had started to rain.    I could sit and wait for an hour for the cafe and breakfast, or I could look up Tanhouse Farm Shop in nearby Rusper, a place I had visited before (with CTC) for a great lunch, I was sure their breakfast would match.   A quick check on Google maps and Ride with GPS app and I noticed my route back home took me past the farm shop anyway.   I selected the route on the GPS and set off to follow the arrow.   A small mistake following the lines and not the arrows on the GPS led me to start tracing back the way I had just come, I soon turned round and put my trust in the arrow only.  I should never doubt it, the arrow showed me the way.

It really was raining now but it was not cold, meaning the rain was refreshing.  I had no problem getting wet and no plans to stop to put on waterproofs unless it looked like it would continue for a while.   By the time I had made my way through and our of Dorking and was heading back south, the rain had stopped.  A friendly smell of fresh rain was in the air.  Riding along I spotted two lonely looking cyclists coming towards me in the other direction, something drew me to them.  While they had nothing to suggest it, they looked like CTC members, they looked like people who had biked up from Worthing….  By the time I had processed all of this, we had both passed and they had disappeared into the distance, I shall never know.

Bad news when I turned up at the farmshop, opening time was not for another 30 minutes.  The choice of sitting and waiting, or carrying on, I would be back in Horsham within 30 minutes.   A Beefeater grill, by the station, offering all you can eat breakfast at a reasonable price (and the coffee and sausages are good).   I know I had opted for the big chain store instead of the small independent, but… I hate waiting around.

Maybe it was not a good idea, the small distance into Horsham seemed to go on for hours and miles, I was starting to feel the affects of non-stop biking for a number of hours.  Stopped for a muesli bar snack which I hopped would see my into Horsham and breakfast.  A carried on going, keep checking the distance on the GPS and suddenly… Horsham by-pass was in front of me!   I was nearly there, just a ride up a small hill, over the railway crossing, down the dreaded Kings Road (never liked that road, always seemed boring even when I biked along it when I was 10) and then in for breakfast.   But wait, over the railway crossing, seconds before I got there, the lights started flashing and the gates came down, it seemed a train had left Crawley and we all had to wait for it to get to us….   It seemed like hours before the gates went back up again, but after the rest I was in fine form to do the last stretch before breakfast.

Sausage, bacon, eggs, bean, mushrooms…. lots of orange juice, lots of coffee.  A number of croissants.

I was back home by lunchtime, the ride had been hard for the way back.  A constant head wind which made the small 4 miles from Partridge Green go on for ever.   The early start had been fun, the fact that I had not found the others had not got in the way of a good day out.   It was clear though, with an early start of 6 or 7am all would be fine, with a start of 3am it was like I had never been to sleep (which was nearly true) which meant… most of the afternoon I spent alseep.

Brighton Rock Audax

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I pondered for weeks and weeks until finally…. on the last day of entry, I decided to give it a go.   I have been on Brighton&Hove CTC events before and have never felt let down or out of my comfort zone – plus they always have great cakes!   This would be a bit different as it would be a longer route and also because it would be an official Audax event with cards to put ticks on and everything.    It would also be a longer route than normal which itself would not be a worry but adding on the mileage to and from home would potentially put it at over 100 miles.   But the pull of the route and the ride told me I would go for it, life is not a race but a journey….. and the same thought goes into my biking too.

The theme of the ride was “Brighton Rock”, 117km around the city of Graham Greene’s classic story, made into an equally classic film with young Richard Attenborough, riding around the locations of the film.   A clever idea for a route I thought, and that in itself would mean I would join in.   Of course, I do remember a lot of the story took place at Brighton race course which just happens to sit at the top of a hill overlooking the city – with that I quickly remembered how little I enjoyed large hills….

I started the day with porridge, yuk.   Something I have never liked, even when as children we used to mix Ready Brek with chocolate powder it never hid the stoggyness of something like that looked like it would not be out of place in Oliver Twist.   This time I bought a mix of oats and bits of fruit and nuts (premixed etc…), I popped it in the microwave and actually it was not too bad.  Eating first thing in the morning is never a favourite but I wouldn’t have the chance to stop on my way to Brighton so it had to be.   I added in an milk energy drink that suggested it would be me 10 hours of “power”, and it was going cheap at 50p a cartoon.  Strawberry flavour it wasn’t too bad.    But more importantly, I made a large expresso using the AeroPress, famed by many for great coffee and little mess (that bit sold it to me).

An early start would mean I would get to the start at Falmer within plenty of time without having to rush.  This early you have the cycle route along the beach to yourself, if it was a bit earlier in the year I would had seen the sun rise.     At this point I seemed to be having quite a bit of strange and new rattling going on as I passed over the bumps, looking down I soon found this to be the first bottle holder was no longer really holding its bottle.   Further investigation showed the small joints had come away holding it all together, it was just hanging there with a full bottle ready to fall out at any minute.   Not an amazing problem as I could just use the other bottle holder and put the spare bottle in the pannier, a small curse maybe for buying ultra cheap at Wilkingsons months previous.

Water bottles re-distributed, I continued on my ride to Falmer along familiar route through Portslade, along Old Shoreham Road, Upper Lewes Road, the new cycle way around Sainsburys, and finally Falmer.  A little bit earlier before opening time but a friendly welcome given while I registered and a cup of tea before everything started.

Broken bottle holder, serves me right for buying the cheapest
Broken bottle holder, serves me right for buying the cheapest
The debated Sainsburys cycle way, not actually that bad it seems which surprised me
The debated Sainsburys cycle way, not actually that bad it seems which surprised me

 

The first thing I noticed this time round was there were a lot less people attending this ride, maybe due to its length.  The second thing was the type of bikes and people, no unicycles attending this time round but instead plenty of expensive fast looking bikes and people.  I was slightly happier when I saw a couple of Surly Long Haul Truckers arrive, there was also a tandem that turned up,  but it was clear this was a bit of a different game to the previous shorter rides.   Not a problem though, as the pre-ride talk was taking place the emphasis was on enjoying the day and with that we all left at our own time and pace on the first section.

The first part of the ride was straight to where all the action took place in the story, the race course.   This would mean a bit of uphill along a country but very busy road.   The well planed out route instructions gave the option here to take the road or take the new gravel cycle path which looked like a friendly farmer had allowed along the side of the fields, following the road but quite separated by trees and bushes.   While most of the road bikes opted for the road, I took the cycle route and had a pleasent and not too bumpy ride to the top of the hill, not too much of a problem.  It was clear that the majority of the group was quite a long way ahead of myself, but like all such rides you start to fit into your own group of riders of which you pass and vaguely keep together swapping places for many miles.  We passed the race course and got to the top of the hill ready to descent, but not before putting down the answer on our sheet for the first question.

 

quiet cycle route away from the busy road
quiet cycle route away from the busy road
while others took the road...
while others took the road…
first casualties
first casualties
view from the race course...
view from the race course…

 

A quick swoop back into the city centre going down one of the long hills rather than up, which seemed good to me.   We joined in with the city traffic, slightly busier than I would imagine for the Sunday morning until I noticed it was the yearly London to Brighton mini run.  The huge number of Minis both old and new gave the clue away.  We all mingled together on the road down to the seafront and the Palace Pier, another key location of the story.   We left the minis as we headed West towards Shoreham.

mingling with the minis...
mingling with the minis…
some sort of clue that the London to Brighton run was on...
some sort of clue that the London to Brighton run was on…
minis and tandems
minis and tandems

 

It was still quite early in the morning for Brighton and so the seafront cycle route was quite clear, a mixture of bikes on the road and the path as we continued mostly together.   Interestingly I started to spot people in funny costumes, just another morning in Brighton I thought.   They were starting to appear more and more until finally we passed what looked like a charity run or even possibly bike ride for those dressed as super heroes!   It looked like fun.

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super heroes on bikes!
super heroes on bikes!

 

After the Brighton and Hove seafront it was inland at Shoreham to the second check point, something I nearly missed if it had not been for the group ahead all stopping and getting out pens and their card.   I was on more than familiar ground here being the route from Shoreham to Steyning and a road I go along to get to anywhere north of the downs.  This would take us through Steyning and up to Partridge Green before heading back towards Brighton

The route back into Brighton would not be straight back but instead going over Devil’s Dyke and following the old railway line back into the city.   The hill for Devil’s Dyke is never too bad, certainly a steep hill but nothing that is too much trouble if you just settle down into your comfortable pace and just keep going, upwards upwards upwards….   Sure, you do think you have got to the top a couple of times and find out there is more to come, but just take it steady and all is fine.

One part that I had never ridden before or knew it was there was the old Dyke railway line, I knew the line existed but I didn’t know it was now a paved route for walkers and cyclists taking you right over the A27 and back into the city.    Devil’s Dyke (basically a large ditch at the top of a hill, created by glaciers or the Devil depending on how you think) was once a huge tourist attraction in the Victorian days.     These days there is just a naff pub chain serving cold hard peas and little else, a pity, the Victorians really knew how to enjoy themselves and had the engineering to make it happen.     The railway made the journey up the hill a lot quicker although for some reason didn’t go all the way, passengers had to the final 200 feet, which is maybe partly why it was not a long term success.    The line closed in 1938.   The initial cutting off the main line was filled in with the help of old anti-tank concrete blocks, all trace of it has gone at this point, but further out towards the Dyke it is now quite a popular path.   The ride along this narrow path downwards towards the city was nice, imagining myself as a passenger on a train on the constant slight downwards slope of the railway on the side of the hill.

 

The next check point would be West Blatchington windmill in the depths of modern day housing estates.  It seems like a windmill put on top of a church.  Once in the middle of the countryside, now looking somewhat alien isolated in the middle of a road island, hard to believe so much can change around something standing still in time.   I had never seen it so it was quite interesting, maybe I would had liked to had spent a bit more time there, but it was now just only miles back to the main checkpoint, a piece of cake and a cup of tea.    Still in small groups, we joined the city’s traffic, retracing some of my route from earlier on in the morning until we turned off to go past Brighton train station and back along Lewes road up to Falmer.

That was the first half done, a really enjoyable ride discovering things new on my doorstep which I had not seen before, everything I always want from a ride.    The second half I thought would always be less so, more of a basic square which of course took in the cliffs along Peacehaven.  A key part of the Brighton Rock story, Pinkie plans to throw his girlfriend off the edge to her death.   Quite a popular activity it seems, Quadrophenia’s Jimmy possibly pushes his now disillusioned idol’s scooter off the edge for a similar ending.   Bringing it right up to date, Tiffany’s ashes in Eastenders went the same way, I don’t know who she is, but it seems she went out with style.

Setting off again, the groups had all split up and so I left on my own heading through Stanmer Park with the plan to come out the other side onto the Ditchling Beacon road.  I never knew you could get all the way through, which was evident when I got lost and stopped to consult my map.  Fortunately a friendly face of someone else on the ride showed me the way and we both head off through the village and up the car free hill to be main road.    She left me there while I kept at my own slower pace on the ever so slight upwards to the top of the Beacon.

This would be the highest point in East Sussex, biked up on the easy side, the way down would be much quicker and something which is a bit of a challenge for local cyclists going upwards.  Indeed, I do remember breaking down in our 1967 Triumph Herald while attempting to drive up one time.  I was just wondering just what I was going to do, a queue of cars behind me and no hope of making a standing start and getting any higher when a friendly Volvo driver stopped with a tow rope and pulled us the rest of the way up.   From there, he coasted mostly all the way down the other side to Asda petrol station where we were able to fill the car’s cooling system with water, it had all boiled away.    This time though, on the bike, I started my way downwards at speed, remembering to stop at the bottom and take a quick right along Underhill Lane, forgetting to make a note of a checkpoint.

The wind seemed to be against me for this stretch towards Lewis until I noticed I was not dropping below 20mph and hardly noticing it, I concluded the wind must be behind me.   Having left the other cyclist to go ahead on the way up to the Beacon I had not seen another person from the ride and that is how it would be until the end.  I was starting to get quite tired by now, espically as I turned south at Lewis and made my way towards the joys of Newhaven.    I kept in my mind the long hill out of Newhaven that I would soon face, I had almost decided in my mind that I would walk up that bit maybe, I would certainly have a small break at the next check point in Newhaven, a small bit to eat and then carry on.

This is indeed what I did, the small 5 miles to Newhaven seemed to go on for ever until I finally reached the town, stopped at the checkpoint, had a small bite to eat.  I used my my free energy gel I was given back a the bike show in London earlier on in the year.  Not really a person for gels (I’m not racing about after all) but packed it in case of times like this, I swallowed down the citrus and caffine flavour goo (yum!) and carried on to the foot of the hill out of the town.   Probably more in my mind  than anything else but in the end I didn’t stop to walk up the hill but instead just settled down to my own pace and slowly climbed up to the top.  In the end I was wondering what I was fussing about and why I had found it so hard last time I was this way, this time it seemed not a problem at all.

That just left the run along the cliff top towards Brighton and then turning off and upwards back to Falmer and the end of the route.   The wind was certainly against me now and the sun was out (to give me quite bad sunburn I was to discover at the end and the following days).    Had I planned my route better I would had taken the walk at the bottom of the cliffs and gone passed the various up and downs of the road and possibly quite a bit of the wind.  However, I was unsure if I would be able to get off the path in order to turn off and upwards back to Falmer, so decided to battle along the rode.  Bad choice, I could had taken the easy route I worked out later.

A long hard constand upwards going inland, constantly in the lowest gear I had possible, slow but steady.  I once again had in my mind to get off and walk but I carried on, I got to the top, I got to the gravel cyclepath which then led all the way back down to Falmer.   I made it to the end…   A bit puzzled why I never met anyone else go past me on this second stage, I wasn’t going fast and so had expected.   I wasn’t the last to return, but I wasn’t in the first wave, plenty returned after me while I eat some of the left over cake and had a cup of tea.   I heard some did not do the second half, I talked with another who said he took a shortcut from Lewes cutting off the last 10 miles.   I was pretty happy with my performance for the day, and well done Brighton and Hove CTC for yet another well organised free and easy event.

 

No time to patting myself on my back though, I still had 13 miles back home to do.  I knew it would be against the wind all the way.   Brighton seafront now extremly busy with day trippers and Minis, I stopped off for a small food break before setting off, head down, homewards.

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Number of Miles: 98!  (should I have ridden for a couple more just to get over the 100 mile mark?!)

Number of super energy gels: 1

Number of great cups of tea: 2

Number of unicycles: 0

Number of tandems: 1

Number of times thinking when will this road end: quite a number

The ‘fed up at work’ ride… to the end of the world

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The plan had been to leave work at midday making the most of flexi-time, to then spend the afternoon for a bit of light biking seeing as I had not been anywhere for a while.   It didn’t  quite work out that way, after an unsuccessful day in the office I finally left at half four, only one hour earlier than normal!   This changed the ride into more of an early evening rush than an afternoon browse.  For some reason I notice my front light had stopped working, so I really would have to make sure I got back before it started to get dark.

The destination would be nowhere special or tricky.  When looking for somewhere nearby I noticed Pagham which would be somewhere I would never get to pass through on the way to anywhere as it is completely out of the way and a bit of a dead end.  Nicely, the route is all completely flat and only 20 miles away.

A late start meant I would have to get a move on, I was hoping that the head on wind against me would mean the ride home would be a lot more pleasant.   It was quite nice then after a hard day at work to be on the bike with the wind against me allowing me to have something to work against!   Within no time I had gone through Littlehampton and onto Bognor.

The weather was turning and I was starting to get a little bit worried about the light.  The sun would not be due to go down for a number of hours, but even so I was sure it was getting dark already.   I checked the map to see how much further it would be, it seemed so close and as a place I would probably nether bike to again (so out of the way there would never be a reason).  I decided to go on.

A small stop to check the map while the GPS was directing me into a private estate, it turned out it was correct.  A curious occurrence within the area between Littlehampton and Chichester it seems, private estates of houses, little oasis of poshness full of walled and gated houses.  It suggests they are all private roads, but they are on the map and the gates are mostly open (although warnings all the time that the gates can be closed at any time).   There are plenty of signs, no parking on the road, no stopping, no fun etc… but never No Entry.   They are though creepy places, walled and gated off from the smelly public.  The roads are wide and clean, no cars on the road, large fake houses (thatched in this case) and range rovers on the long drive ways.   There is never a person in sight, but you feel like everyone is watching you.  It must be a bit like how biking through North Korea must feel like at times.  Maybe it is out of an episode of X-Files, or Dr Who….   I soon made my way out the other side, although not before getting lost in the labyrinth, feeling all the eyes behind the posh net curtains watch as I stopped to look at a map…. It felt that if I stopped for too long, something bad would happen, Scully and Moudler would have to be quick to rescue me.

I did escape and continued West to Pagham bay.   My visit through X-Files world would soon come back, this time not a posh clean private estate but more like a collection of houses made of old railway carrages and sheds sitting on the pebbles with the road a pot marked dirt track.   The sign to this estate suggested there was nothing to see, I continued on slowly along the unmade road.  Lots of signs, private property, no parking, no breathing.  A bit more interesting this time though, no fake old looking mansions but instead little shacks made into houses, all sitting on the pebbles on the beach.  Must be a great place to live, if not a bit strange.    Just like the posh estates with their little noddy looking junctions and fake road signs, it was the same here, although seemed more like a refugee camp with road signs made of old bits of wood with badly painted letters.    Following these signs I found the last “road” to the edge of the bay, the end of the road Westward, it warned me (with rough painted sign) that the carpark was not open, not a problem for me.   When I got to the end of the road, it just stopped with a large locked gate across (the carpark really was closed, and it looked like closed for good).    Not a huge amount to see, the weather was not the best, a bit strange and “end of the world” like.

Some photos before I started back.  I was starting to notice and get a bit worried about my rear tyre as I was sure it was not as pumped up as it was, I was certainly I could feel the bad unmade road a lot more than I should.  All of a sudden, 20 miles from home on what seemed like the estate at the end of the world, I remembered the only tool I had with me was a bike pump.  I only hopped if I did have a puncture it would be a slow one.  The interesting and strange estate at the end of the world on the pebbles suddenly turned into a dump with an unmade road which seemed to be damaging the bike, I just wanted to get back to tarmac and a normal world….

Pagham itself did not seem like a pretty place, a bit of a rundown amusement arcade and a cafe, a closed down pub and not much else.  It did seem now as if it was starting to get dark, I started my way home as quick as I could.

When I finally got home, my rear tyre didn’t have a puncture, I would keep my eye on it and check again the next day.  An interesting ride out after a not so productive day at work.