Canals, railways, race cars….

I have had a book with Sussex cycle routes for sometime but it is only recently that I picked it up again and reread it.   Most of the routes are near train stations which allows you to travel to far off places in the county and enjoy easy going rides on sunny days with a picnic and the family.   I wanted to give one of them a try at sometime as being pre-planned routes they are using cycle tracks where possible and mark out good pubs for lunch along the way, making the whole thing quite family friendly for short rides in the summer.   Being mostly based on tracks and small roads, they take you to places you would not normally see from a car.

A route round Chichester looked interesting as it took you along the canal and past the marina and I never knew there was either a canal or marina at Chichester!  It was mostly along the tow path or purpose made cycle tracks along old railway lines (I never knew there used to be a railway!).    I thought then one day I would give it a go and that day was here.  In order not to use up the whole day of what would be a long ride I decided to leave at 6 in the morning with the aim of getting back for lunch.   I planned the route using a mixture of roads and bridleways in order to avoid the main A27 dual carriage way.   I also planned to take both panniers with the aim to get used to them and used to a bit of weight.

I am all for using roads (seeing that is what they are there for) but some trunk roads are just motorways without the status which is not really where I wanted to end up on my bike.  The route would take me mostly in a circle, along the seafront on the way with a stop off for breakfast at Bognor.  Up to the canal using bridleways, over to the Marina then following the cycle track to the Centurion Way getting off at Goodwood and making my way back following close to the A27.    A mostly flat ride (yeah!) but with the wind coming from the North it would not be helping me a great deal (which hopefully meant it would not be hindering me either).


I was surprised, by 06:10 I was on the road on a slightly windy and cloudy morning.   With hardly any cars on the road, the ride to Worthing along the seafront was peaceful, so much so that I forgot to leave the seafront and go a bit in land and through Worthing town  (tip, keep one eye now and then on the GPS arrow!).     If you did not know it you would never know you were out of Worthing all the way to  Littlehampton as the towns all merge into one.  A quick stop to take the most of a sleepy Littlehampton river view and then onto breakfast at Bognor.

Photo 09-06-2013 07 05 39 Photo 09-06-2013 07 05 29

Time to moan, on a bike you have plenty of time to think and ponder things.   Roads are for riding, pavements are for walking, which seems like a good idea until some clever bloke a number of years ago came up with the idea that actually on some pavements it is perfectly safe for cyclists and pedestrians to share the pavement as for those stretches it is suddenly perfectly save and not against the law.  It seems, for these stretches of pavement there is an invisible beam that separates those walking against silent bikes going along at any speeds from 10-20mph – possibly.  Or possibly not, which is why I tend to frown upon them and would prefer to hear abuse shouted at me from passing cars on the road instead of abuse shouted at me from pedestrians, I found out actually there is no difference from a normal pavement apart from a sign saying “Shared Path” for such cycle paths.     Sometimes it works, for example when the pavement is never used by pedestrians because no pedestrian would ever be in such a location.  Sometimes it fails for all, for example the narrow shared path along the seafront, a National Cycle Route (in car speak, the A27 of the bike world) which is impassable during sunny days due to pedestrians and where both cyclist and pedestrian are not happy (old people with walking sticks stuck out to prevent your way seems to be a favorite, rude cyclist behind you dinging their bell at you another).

This does all have relevance to this trip as I use a number of share pavements at times, both ones I knew about and ones I didn’t.   Unfortunately my experience was not always good as the picture below shows.   Just as I got near a roundabout, with railings separating myself from the pavement and road, it just ended!    Did someone in planning just have some spare paint and a cycle way quota to meet?

Where now?
Where now?

On to breakfast, McDonalds.   They seem to be pretty cycle tour friendly, early morning or even 24 hour opening, free wifi, warm, toilets, and egg McMuffins which has got all you need to keep your biking.   Bognor is a place I have not gone to much.  I was welcomed by the large Butlins complex which really is the largest thing in Bognor, a mixture of modern looking hotels and lodges but also the older style rows of chalets straight out of Hi-Di-Hi.    It’s been there since 1932, during the early stages of World War 2 it included images of Hitler in its fun fair shooting range, something which Butlins got worried about as the Germans got nearer to invading the UK, they appeared worried that the Germans would not take too kindly to the images if they turned up!  As it happens, Hitler quite liked Butlins and had plans of copying the idea of camps, he wanted to set up Nazi style Butlins camps and be the largest in the world.   In the end he had his mind of other things and only one such camp was ever made.

Parked up outside McDonalds in a deserted early morning Bognor
Parked up outside McDonalds in a deserted early morning Bognor

I continued on the ride, following the arrows of the GPS and knowing that I had included some bridle paths along the way in order to either go a more direct route or to avoid busy roads.  Sometimes such paths are hard to spot and I had wondered how I would cope with no map, not knowing too much about where I was, and having to keep an eye on the GPS.    When it came to it, I noticed the GPS telling me to turn left out of the blue and I followed as I was told, in much the same way some crazy people in cars follow what they are told even when it tells them to drive off a cliff or town a railway line.     I was faced with a field but also a sign confirming it was a bridleway and so I followed the direction and the path, over fields and small little bridges, bumping over the hard mud left from horses hoofs.   All went well though, without any roads the GPS kept me on track and I soon met tarmac again (a nice sight!) and I was off on my way once again, happy that I had just bypassed a number of miles of roads.    Always trust your technology (unless it is telling you to drive off a cliff or down a railway line!)

It says to go down here...
It says to go down here…
and cross here...
and cross here…
through here...
through here…
and back to tarmac right on course!
and back to tarmac right on course!

I was now close the to canal and had to keep my eye out for the path that would run along side it.  As I had lived near Chichester for most  of my life and never knew of any such canal I was thinking it would be not something that would be easy to spot when I did come up to it.    GPS suddenly told me to turn right off the road and at closer inspection I noticed not only water but a signpost telling me which way to cycle.   I followed and was soon making my way along the (bumpy) tow path with the still water of a long lost canal.   I was so much into this that I did not notice until a good half mile down the road that the GPS was silently pointing its arrow back the way I had come, I had found the canal but I was going in the wrong direction!  As the worm on Labyrinth said, “cor, if you had carried on that way it would had taken you straight to the centre of Chichester”, or something like that.    I turned round, and I was back on my way.  A nice ride along the canal, now no more than a straight river.  The water was still with just the off duck and swan keeping me company.

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The canal has been here since 1822 and played a part in joining Portsmouth with London but it was never really used a great deal, the last cargo was carried in 1906, but it was mostly abandoned before then from 1868 and was no longer navigable from 1925 when road bridges were removed.  It is now run by volunteers with the aim to open it back up to the sea, a task that will require new bridges and locks to be built, plus a lot of money.  Good luck to them as it is a lost bit of Chichester and could be quite a tourist spot.

I left the canal before it got to the sea and made my way through the marina and onto a purpose made cycle track that runs from the marina to Chichester itself.    It seemed like another lost part of Chichester and very nicely laid out, away from roads and would make a nice family trip from the city to the Marina (if there was much to do and see at the Marina).

Photo 09-06-2013 09 05 56 Photo 09-06-2013 09 09 00 Photo 09-06-2013 09 14 39

Photo 09-06-2013 09 01 59

By now I was heading North and straight into the wind which made for slower progress.  I had no real idea of where I was but I followed the path, the GPS, and the cyclist in front of me.   We skimmed along the edge of fields, through small woods and finally under the A27 trunk road afterwhich it ended with a manual no-gates level crossing.    There cannot be many of these left on the network these days as people tend to step out in front of trains without looking and wonder why they get killed and because of that they are phasing them out.  A shame,  it’s simple to look left, look right, listen, and cross, much like we were all told to do when we were smaller.   The fact that for those who do not do that and end up dead under a train could almost be seen a good thing (gene pool, survival of the less thick!) it is probably not fair for the family and friends of both the one who didn’t look and listen out for trains and for the poor driver that ends up running over them.

From one path to the next one, this time an old railway which had since been turned into a paved (thanks!) route from Chichester to West Dean, the railway used to go all the way to Midhurst.   A great path with plenty of room for cyclists and walkers and just like rail journeys where you go along looking into people’s back gardens you get a bit of the same as you go along by bike.     If only the railway path from Shoreham to Guildford could be like this along bits of it.    I wasn’t going along the whole route but left to turn off towards Goodwood, but not before I had stopped for a little snack and break in the sun.

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I had looked forward a bit to going past Goodwood, again off road along a bridle way, but alongside the race track.   As it happened, the owners had probably thought it would be a good way to see the action without buying tickets and the parameter was banked up meaning you could not see a thing.    The most car oriented bit I did get to see was the Rolls Royce offices, car park filled with either Minis or BMWs.   I suppose these days they are all owned by the same people.

At this point I was heading back home, away from the seafront and more inland following or criss crossing the A27 most of the way home.    Cycle path (shared) along the first bit of dual carriage way and then away from the main road for a bit there I had found a bridle path that went through woods and would allow me to carry on without going on the main road.    More off road tracks which was starting to become a bit tiring, but a nice ride down into a a bit of a dip through the woods.   Unfortunately even though it had been sunny for the last days the sun had not really made it to the bottom of the dip and the dusty tracked soon turned into a mud bath.   I did think about carrying the bike over these bits, sacrifice my shoes to keep the bike clean from mud!

In the end I had got through the worst but not before my bike had ploughed its way through the muddiest “puddle” possible so much so that it clogged the front wheel.   I cleaned off what I could and carried on, back onto tarmac and familiar roads for the rest of the way home.    On first usage of brakes since going through the mud I found out that I hadn’t in fact cleaned off most of the mud as mud flew off the front wheel rims splattering me as I used the brakes and came to a stop at the first junction.  Now they were cleaned off!   At least it added a look of dramatic adventure to the end of the trip.

Photo 09-06-2013 10 56 42 Photo 09-06-2013 10 50 28


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