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.

 

 

Hot Cross Buns at Beachy Head

map

A bit of a last minute ride on an unexpected free day with good weather.   I decided it had been quite some time since I last went Beachy Head way (a good 10+ years!), a route that we used to take quite often (by car) in a previous life.  A quick look on the map and it seemed a ride along the coast out, “round the Beachy Head block” and then back along the coast to home.   Without going too bonkers out of my way there was no other way to do it unless I came back via Lewes and the other side of the Downs, to come back home via Bramber.  I decided the “same way back” idea, although it would be something I would question later on.  No need to put the route onto the GPS, we all know how to get to Beachy Head, so preparation was quite simple.   I packed my bag full of hot cross buns (it was Easter Monday after all) and set my alarm for “early in the morning”.

It was dark when I woke up, after a breakfast of apple, raisins and crunchy oats, the sun was still coming up when I left.   The weather was suggested to be calm and warm so I had decided against bringing a jacket, but I soon popped back in to grab my gloves when I noticed ice on the cars.  The ride through deserted Lancing and Shoreham was quiet and nice for once biking into the sun rise.   The sun was coming up red, a oman of “red sky in the morning, naff weather…” as the old saying goes.   That seemed to be a bit different to what the weather forecast had suggested.  One thing was for sure, it was pretty cold, ice on the parked cars and the beach huts, by the time I got to the bridge at Shoreham the feeling in my fingers were a distant memory.  I stopped to put on my gloves, thinking that given time the sun that was rising slowly would soon warm us all up.   An unexpected frost all the same.

 

Stopping in Brighton for the “West Pier” photo, along the recently opened cycle path that has been closed on the seafront for ages while building work has been taking place.   No longer do people need to write into the local paper complaining of either “cyclists using the pavement while the cycle path is closed” or “cyclists using the road while the cycle path is closed”.  Now it is all letters about brand new cycle path and cyclists don’t pay tax (which is annoying as I seem to pay a load of tax and I still can’t work out how only the cyclists featured in the letters page manage to not pay any….).   However, early in the morning there were few people around, those that had ventured out so early were people on bikes, using the new cycle path.

 

 

A quiet sunny seafront in Brighton is a rare treat, it was nice cycling along past those preparing for the day, the various street cleaners and those making their way to work along the front, camper vans, lorries and coaches parked up with curtains still drawn.   Soon I could see the marina in the distance and the shape of cranes and new buildings.  I had seen for many years in the paper reports of planning for a couple of tower blocks to be build at the marina and the various objections.  I am thinking the plans now say they must not go above the cliff top from sea level and so no disturb anyones views from the houses above.    In the “old” days, I remember coming to the marina and on an Easter Monday the whole place would be full of families sitting on the grass eating picnics and enjoying a day off work.   Now… there is no grass in sight at all, it can be quite hard to find a view with a boat in it with all the new development turning it into quite a busy “town”.   Still, as I rode past the petrol station I noticed it was 2p cheaper here than in Shoreham…. not all is bad it seems.

 

Undercliff walk took me from the marina to Saldean and away from the cliff top ups and downs and main road.   A shared cycle path, although constant signs telling cyclists will be shot if they even think about doing anything at all, shows that it has maybe not been a popular idea.  Even so, it was still early, the only people using the path was myself and the odd dog walker, plenty of room for everyone.    It was in the 1930s that the path was created, really a sea defence with a walk on the top in order to stop the corrosion of the cliffs and the main road that sits quite close at the top of it.    It was always designed to be a bit of a tourist feature, taking you from popular Black Rock to Rottingdean and Saldean further on.    While parts of it have been closed some winters and the whole path in general not advised in bad weather, it has done well and is still popular, even with the demise of Black Rock to be replaced with the marina.

Previous times I had ridden along here the spray and at times the waves from the storm sea were splashing over as I quickly made my way along (ever so mindful of salt water….), today the tide was right out.  This permitted me to not only see the (black?) rocks but also for the first time the foundations and route of the track for the infamous “Daddy Longlegs” railway built by Magnus Volks.  So much has been written about this that it is no mystery, it is instead an idea by Magnus Volks in the late 1800s to have a rail track on the sea bed with a car like a pier on long legs to allow it to move along in low tide and also look like a spooky boat (maybe) in high tide.  It was called Pioneer, but everyone called it the Daddy Longlegs for obvious reasons.   Not too much of a surprise, while popular, it did not work well and soon closed when sea defences cut through the route and plans to go round them were never drawn up.   His more successful land based electric railway lasted better, being the first electric railway in the country to still running today.

After the flatness so far, it was time to venture up onto the cliffs and the route to Newhaven.  The road down into Newhaven has for many years been a wide road with the edge coned off, probably a measure to stop cars trying to overtake on the downwards bends that was never revoked and just stayed.   There are two ways into the town from this direction for a bike, either along this road with the rest of the traffic (normally going the same speed as you due to the downhill) or follow Cycle Route 2 which hugs the coast a bit more until dropping suddenly into town, but not before it has climbed suddenly upwards along an unpaved road.  It’s not good.  Nice to see then that they have started to turn the coned off side of the road into a cycle path which in time will allow you safe passage along the side of the road, maybe keeping speed down seeing as it will be a (wide) shared path.

Once into Newhaven you tend to keep going.   It’s mostly a large roundabout with some closed down shops in the middle and factories around the outside.   There is a ferry too, probably the only saving feature for a town that is neither “new” or a “haven”.  It is listed in the book “Crap Towns” and it didn’t get there by chance.   You know it is port town as signs in French direct you to the town centre, but you probably wished it had not.

It is not all bad though, I have fond memories of picnics in the back of the car on damp days watching the large ferries come and go.   It starts as nothing, you sit eating your corned beef sandwich in the back of a 1980s car just staring at the horizon while others in the car pour hot tea from a Thermas into china cups and saucers perched up on the dashboard.    You slowly see something appear on the horizon and great excited envelopes, although thinking it will be forever for the ferry to get any neither.   But, within a surprisingly short period of time, the ferry appears larger and larger until you can make out the shapes better, before you know it there is a sodding great big ferry moving past you just meters away with their passengers waving (they look happy, they have not come to Newhaven before….).      It is quite an experience.    It was made even more so years back when they had super fast catamarans which halved the time it took to go between Newhaven and French.  They were like space aged super boats which would, once again, appear as little specs on the horizon but in a matter of minutes be towering boats from the future making loud un-earth like noises as they skimmed past almost flying.    They don’t run anymore, a pity.

Let me not also forget the Fort that stands to stop enemy ships at the entrance to the town, quite a structure.  It was never used, no-one wanted to invade Newhaven.

 

 

Onwards to my first break stop and a moment to eat hot cross buns, into Seaford along cyclepath and beach front.   It was still very early in the day, everywhere was quiet.  I stopped by the martello tower to watch the ferry appear on the horizon – I didn’t wait but instead continued on.

Next landmark would be Seven Sisters and a bit of a challenge as while the ride down into the valley would be fun, the ride up the other side and the start of the white cliffs would maybe be not so.   Since last time I came this way an alternative off road section of Cycle Route 2 had been opened.  Instead of rejoining the busy A259 down the valley you have the option to go cross country instead.   I opted for that and while initially quite a bumpy track it soon took you through a series of fields all populated by lambs and sheep, making a bit of difference to cars.   Most sheep took their young and hurried away as they saw me coming, some were caught by surprise and quickly scampered away at the last moment.  Some brave lambs ran alongside and stopped with me when I did, only to get a disapproving look from their mother who, in silent sheep language, called them back and to stop talking to strangers.    It turned out to be a good route, hills were not steep and I was soon at the bottom of the valley facing the large climb up the other side.

 

If you are not in a hurry (and on ride why should you be?) then hills become a lot friendlier.  If you are in a rush or part of a groups, hills are set to kill you.   The plan of action, find a good pace, find a good gear, peddle.   Nothing too complex or taxing.   I got to the top and it was not a problem at all, I didn’t get to the top in super fast speed, but it didn’t take me for ever either, plus was not out of breath.   This was a good job as basically it was an upwards trend all the way until I got to the Beachy Head/Eastbourne turn off.

I could had continued on down the steep switch back into Eastbourne or turn towards Beachy Head and the start of making my way back home.   Eastbourne would be for another day.

Beachy Head is a bit like Lands End, it is a feature in the landscape but once you are there it does not present much to look at.   The top of a cliff is like any top of a cliff.  Unless you are one of the many who go there to end it all and jump off the edge, you are not going to get too much out of your visit.    There are walks that take you to the good spot to be able to see the light house at the bottom, it all seems a bit close to the edge for me to venture that way.   I sat for a rest, eat a hot cross bun, and continued on my way.  I noted now I was having to battle against the wind quite a bit, I thought due to the height but I found out the wind would be against me for the rest of the way.

 

 

The Beachy Head road is a good road and a good place to ride/drive and visit.  If being on the top of a cliff is not your thing then the Belletout light house is interesting just for its story.   Beachy Head is a “head”, ie it is jutting out a bit and no doubt there are various rocks under water you cannot see which a boat would soon find as they made huge holes in the bottom of it.   The Belletout lighthouse was build at the top of the cliff so ships 20 miles away could see it, and if you could not see it then you had got too close to the cliff!   This worked well, apart from the times there was fog and mist at the bottom of the cliff meaning you could not see the light.  But an even bigger problem was the fact that erosion round this way is quite big,  the lighthouse was getting a bit close to the edge.   The now famous red and white striped lighthouse at the bottom of the cliff was built to replace this one.

This should had been the end of the lighthouse as it changed hands, fell into disrepair and finally got used for target practice during WW2.    The council took it on, understanding its historical significance, it was repaired and put back into use…. by the BBC for film of “Life and Loves of a She-Devil”.    The end really did look coming when it had become so close to the edge that it was no longer safe.  Like a cat with 9 lives it escaped once again by the whole building being put on rollers and moved to the other side of the road!    Now  it is a bed and breakfast, you can spend the night there to wake up with quite a unique sight in the mornings.

Erosion doesn’t stop there, further on down the road I got to a favorite stopping place, Birling Gap.   It is a gap in the cliffs, and it must be near a place called Birling I would think.   Apart from stories of smuggling and invasion threat, there is nothing too amazing until you look at old photos.   There sits just a small terrace of old coast guard cottages, still being lived in by the looks of it.   Look at photos 10, 20, 50, 100 years back and each time you are shown a completely different view.  The terrace of cottages were build, sensibly, a way off the edge, you could had got quite a number of more houses there before you got to the edge.   Due to the nature of the chalk and the formation of the coastline, it all contributes to massive erosion.  This means the terrace of cottages are now just few in number, with the last one looking a bit unloved and not lived in, and only meters away from the edge.    Maybe some might had thought the cliff edge would get near, but I wonder if they saw that given quite a short amount of time they would one-by-one start falling off the edge.   Indeed, in another 20/50/100 years, not only will the coast guard cottages be gone, the hotel and cafe and accompanying car park will be no more, they will probably be trying to protect what would by then be the cliff top coast road.   At the moment, there are no plans to save the houses, nature is just too powerful to stop it seems.

 

The wind was certainly now against me now, I put my head down and started my journey back home along the way I came.  A quick stop off at Friston church for a hot cross bun.   A small but pretty stopping point on the side of the road that if you didn’t know was there you would go straight past it in a car.   I have visited and had picnics here before, I had always known there was something special about the church gate and indeed it did look a bit unusual pivoting off a centre post.   I had to wait until I got home to find out more and indeed it is not only a special gate but it is just one of six in the country and they are all around Lewes (maybe I need to plan a route to visit them all?).

The idea behind these gates was to make it easy to open from either side with little effort and yet span quite wide openings.  For those carrying coffins it made it much easier.  For large animals (not welcome in a grave yard) it was too narrow due to the centre pin for them to get through.   Copies have been made, but in theory you will not see a true Tapsel gate outside of Sussex and indeed far away from Lewes.

Turning around and looking in the other direction you are drawn towards a pretty village pond, making this site ideal for a picnic without venturing off the main road.   A lot of work has been done on the pond recently I found out by reading the information board next to it.  It turns out it was of great importance during the war as a source of drinking water in an emergency, and so guarded by soldiers.   Probably then it was good it was never needed as it was said that the soldiers would drive their vehicles into it in order to give them a wash!

 

As with all trips, the rest of the journey went by on the quest to get home.  The undercliff walk was now busy with walkers and cyclist, at points making it so busy that there would be people queuing to get through the thinner sections.  This was replicated once into Brighton with the seafront path being a sea of people, again slow progress through was made.

I got home, in time for lunch.

 

 

Number of miles: 63

Number of sheep and lambs: many

Number of long hills: lots

Number of lighthouses on rollers: 1

Number of doomed coast guard houses: 1 terrace (or infact now half a terrace)

Number of Tapsel gates: 1

Number of tourist feeling pleased in Newhaven: 0

 

Stand.. and deliver – a gamble with Lidl

Before - a bit on the muddy side

I noticed on forums that this week was the start of cycling goods at Lidls, some promising items of dubious quality but very low price.   I was not at work for the day so I thought I would take a look seeing I was in need of new cycling gloves after leaving mine on the back of my bike and cycling off after the Brighton Breezy last year.   At £3.49 during the Lidl cycling event they seemed to have my name on them.

Walking out of Lidls I had the new gloves, new sun glasses (£2.99!) and a new bike maintenance stand.   The gloves were good (on par with the cheap Halfords ones before), the sun glasses were… cheap but functional.  The stand (only £24) I was interested in.   Once I got home I decided it was time to clean the Royal and putting it on the stand would make it a lot easier.  I had also decided to change the saddle back.      During the week before I had purchased a large container of “Rhino Goo” which told me all I had to do was spray it on my bike, leave it for five minutes and then rinse off, it would be like magic!   Not completely taken in on the advertising, it was only because people had recommended a similar Muc Off product and indeed I had watched the You Tube videos of something spraying it all over, what I thought, a pretty clean bike, rinsing it off and bingo, a clean bike!     Pretty pricey however, if I was going to be swept up with all this marketing magic then I was going to do it a tad cheaper.   A quick five minutes on ebay and a massive bottle of Rhino Goo, promising just the same (although in this case it suggested it would work with motorbikes and caravans as well as bikes!) for not much more than a tiny bottle of Muc Off spray was on its way to me.     Armed with a spray bottle of Goo and a spray bottle of clean water, along with a watering can of more water, I was ready.

Setting up the stand was pretty straight forward, but like a music stand but on a larger and heavy duty scale.   I fitted the magnetic tool holder, something actually quite useful when working on shingle.   The legs spread out pretty wide which meant even on the not so flat bit of shingle I was on, it was all pretty steady when I placed the bike on.   I tightened bits up and all was ready for the cleaning.

Water down with the watering can, spray with Goo over and over, give some parts a bit of a rub, especially the tyres and up under the mud guards, leave while you make a cup of tea.   Come back, rub down some tougher bits, rinse with the clean water spray, another watering can of clean water and let it all drip dry.

While drying, load chain cleaner with Gunk degreaser and whizz it around a number of times.   In the stand, this was much easier than on the floor where back pedalling means your chain spends a lot of the time jumping gears and ultimately coming off.  Pedalling forwards I had none of this problem.     A quick brush with degreaser in all the cassette, wipe chain dry again by pedalling, bingo.

Dry last bits off, spray on some funny stuff from Halfords that tells me it will displace any last bits of water (I doubt it), give a quick polish.   Re-oil chain, rub of excess by pedalling.  Job done.

I don’t think it was any quicker but it was a lot lot easier just walking around the bike, getting to bits underneath and being able to pedal.

While on the stand, I replaced the saddle with the more padded one again making sure the angle was not tipping me off, no need to bend down as everything was at standing height.

Took bike off, folded stand up and stored out of the way.   Pretty much a success making me wonder that the stands costing hundreds of pounds do that my £24 one does not.    The only grumble was the stick for keeping the front wheel straight, you were meant to hook a piece of rubber with holes in it onto the pole but the holes just seemed so very small.  I am sure after a lot of swearing and such like I would had got it, but using the bungee rope normally on the back rack did the job just as good, quickly and without swearing.

 

Before - a bit on the muddy side
Before – a bit on the muddy side
After - all sparkly and clean
After – all sparkly and clean