The idea here was for a two day bike tour of around of around 100 miles over the two days. The first plan was to go Southhampton direction but I dismissed this as I had only just done a trip over to Chichester and I didn’t fancy repeating the first 30 miles of a trip. So I looked eastward and noticed that by stretching the mileage I could make it as far as Dungeness which in my eyes is a great place, flat and deserted, pebbles everywhere with a road that winds itself past various sheds/shacks/houses. Apart from that, the other noticeable features include a lighthouse, a narrow gauge steam railway, and a massive great big nuclear power station. Interestingly, the mini railway has been there for years, during the war it was turned into a armoured miniature train patrolling the coast just in case Hitler decided to pop over and book himself into the nearest Butlins (see here for more on that story). That would had been a bit of a shock for anyone, watching a family fun day miniature train go past, fully armed and ready to kill! It never saw action.
I planned two routes, one which skirted the coast and followed National Cycle Route 2 and one which went inland following various unnamed roads. For this I used OpenCycleMap maps which tries to stick to national routes or bridle ways. You have to be a bit careful as it sometimes takes you a bit too much off road, for instance suggests you go over the top of the South Downs using the various chalky paths instead of keeping flat and going round them. Depending on the wind direction would dictate which route was used for going and coming back the next day. With winds mostly blowing the West I expected the coast (and more interesting) route on day 1 with the return following the in land route.
The days before had seen sun and hotness, days sitting in the garden doing not much and generally liking the idea that summer had come. I kept my eye on the weather and it seemed this would all change on Friday, day 1 of my trip. Rain would be expected in the morning with drizzle on and off for most of the day, brightening up in the evening. The good news out of all this was there would be some wind but nothing too serious until late in the evening. I was all set.
A slight false start in the morning. I pushed my bike on the school run in order to leave from there only to find out I had forgot my gloves and the vague map I had printed. The map I could had gone without as it was just a rough print out from Google maps with the purpose to give me something to go on if the GPS failed (ie I would be able to vaguely work out where I was in order to get there/get home). The gloves were needed however, and so I walked home and finally get off just a little bit behind what I had planned, no real problem.
It was pretty much overcast and light rain was planned for later on in the morning. Getting through Brighton and along the under cliff path was fine. The extra weight on the bike was soon forgotten and even the first hill up to Telescombe Cliffs was not much of a challenge. I had expected to be walking up hills going by the weight I was now carrying but infact it didn’t really come into it, felt only when I was stationary or when going downhill and trying to stop!
I had planned the coast route following National Cycle Route 2 for most of the 70 miles. Here was a cycle route that went passed my house, through three counties and to a mile of the final campsite. Throughout the day I would discover that it is very noticeable as you change counties by how they plan, maintain and signpost the route. For some reason at Peacehaven it took me away from the main road and along the backstreets along some pretty nasty concrete roads, speed bumps and hills when in fact it could had just kept on the main road past all the shops and no rough road or big dips. I can see it was nice to take you away from the traffic but concrete roads with speed bumps is not nice in a car, doubly not nice on a bike! I thought it a shame too that I had in fact bypassed Peacehaven and all it’s local shops and services. No problem though as I was soon to have my first off road section of the route into Newhaven.
The first rain started as I rode into Newhaven, which seemed quite fitting. Newhaven was clearly something many years ago having both a one way system and a pedestrianised shopping centre all taken straight out of the late 1970s. The ferry service to France was clearly the input to make what was probably just a small fishing town into something that could had been much more and attempts were made to do so. However, over the years the ferry service was cut back and as I walked in the rain through the shopping centre it was clear this never really worked out. As with most declining small towns it was full of closed up shops, betting shops and pound stores. There were not even any shoppers.
I lost Cycle Route 2 going through the town, a mixture of Cyclist Dismount signs(!) and small bits that take on onto the pavement and back off seconds later. Fortunately I knew the way and off towards Seaford through a recently made nature reserve (with paved cycle path). I remember all this being made 10 years ago and by putting the cycle route through it made a it much easier to bike with the only other option going along the busy A259.
By this time it was seriously raining and I had to think about how to keep things dry. I had planned for light rain but this looked like the sort of rain that would be with me for a number of hours. I put on my waterproof top and used the trousers to keep my sleeping mat and fleece dry, it seemed todo the job. Unfortunatly it was still quite warm, the rain was a bit of a welcome at the same time as being a bit of a pain.
It was now wet but still a good ride into the next town, Seaford, somewhere I had not been to for many years. I stopped off by the side of the Martello tower, originally built as a defence against a Napolean led invasion, now the town museum. The tower at Seaford is number 74 of a line of 103 that stretched along the south east coast. Two more Seaford towers were planned but never built. The tower was sold off in 1880 many years after its military importance had dissepeared, later turned into tearooms and ice rink(!) until finally turned into the town’s museum in 1979. Years ago we visited the museum and discovered just how large inside it was, quite an informative museum too. No repeat visit today as it was closed, but I made a note of the limited opening times for the future. Instead, I continued along route 2, sometimes inroad, sometimes offroad, towards Seven Sisters, in the rain.
I had the choice here to leave route 2 and continue along the seafront towards Eastbourne, but I knew the type of climbs waiting for me that way as it climbs up to Beachy Head and then suddenly back down into Eastbourne. Instead I kept with route 2 and started going inland at Exceat, a village that was quite something at one point in time before the French raids and finally the Black Death took it off the map. Now days, there is a small bridge and a pub, and a road junction going inland, and that’s about it (ignoring Seven Sisters country park of course).
This road saw the first of a small numbers of navigational errors that I would make during the trip. At a junction the GPS said one way but the sign post pointed another for route 2. I did start down the road signposted but the GPS was not happy at all and so I turned back and left route 2 and started on a long steep hill. Maybe the hill is the reason by route 2 goes a different (longer) way?
The rain had mostly stopped by the time I got to the Longman of Wilmington. No one is quite sure why there is a giant figure of a bloke holding ski poles chiseled out of the South Downs, while some think of it as a ancient item is seems it was done around the 16th or 17 century. He stands on the side of hill minding his own business, although in 2007 TV programme Undress the Nation added pigtails and breasts to him, the Sussex Archaeological Society were not at all pleased and the Druids got upset. Then in2010 someone did draw a giant willy on him. Today though he was back to normal and if I had not looked to the side of the road as I went past I would had missed him, likewise if I had kepted to route 2. If I had kept to route 2 then I would had missed the great pub The Giants Rest (fantastic Sussex food) plus I would have had a stint on the thin A27, route 2 really did go the wrong way.
I passed over the A27 and along my first “Road Closed” sign. During the trip I would encounter, and ignore, three times when the road was signposted as closed, for each of these I never got to the closed part. My thinking was road would be closed due to roadworks meaning cars would not be able to get passed but maybe bikes would have no problem. I would soon leave the road though as I followed route 2 onto bridle ways and eventually meeting up with route 21, the Cuckoo Trial. I wouldnt stay on this for long as it goes north to south and not east to west, but it would be a link back down to the coast and route 2 woul continue. However, the Cuckoo Trial is a path I have wanted to go along for sometime as its meant to be a very well kept route along an old railway line, named after the Sussex tradition of releasing a cuckoo at the nearby Heathfield Fair. It was also my first (and mostly only) muddy section, hidden from the sun by trees and churned up by horses I had to get off the bike and make my way through the bits of mud. What amazed me was the high standard of signposts of the various cycle routes, even in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a forest you suddenly come across a road sign telling you which way to go.
A spot more rain after lunch and another small spell of getting lost as the cycle route joined back onto Route 2. I must had been just above Polegate and spent quite some time along old railways under the cover of trees, it meant I had not got that wet. When it came to it, my bearings were a bit wrong and I wasn’t believing what the GPS was telling me, I’m not too sure why. After a small argument with the GPS I decided I would trust it(!) and I found my way onto Pevensey Levels making towards Pevensey and ultimately Bexhill. Pevensey Levels was a bit like biking around the Fens, with flatness, wilderness and dykes I could had been on one of my many bike rides 20 or so years ago. Interesting ride into Bexhill, still on Route 2 and following the coast road. With the railway one side and the beach the other, the road could not had been more coastal, infact in places the pebbles from the beach had made their way onto the road.
It was now cold’ish and wet and my lunch while tasty and a nice stop had not given me a vital sugar boast to keep me going. I peddled into Bexhill and soon came across a cafe on the seafront, it looked like your typical wet beach cafe complete with OAP special fish and chips on the menu and the ability to order liver and onions for breakfast if you wanted to. As it was specials day, it was full of OAPs but also enough room for me and my cup of coffee and carrot cake. I say while looking out of the misted up windows at the drizzle and rough seas thinking it would be just the sort of cafe that would feature in a song. Reading the menu on the table it gave a bit of history about the cafe and indeed someone had included it within a song. Keane wrote Sovereign Light Café based on this cafe (of the same name), they live in Bexhill and the pop video was filmed in the town. I had never heard of them I must admit, I pictured the pop video showing a bloke (or girl) on their own, sitting in the cafe looking out through the misty windows at the drizzle and rain…. I looked it up later and instead it was a bloke walking along the (Bexhill) seafront in the sun, but it did end up at the very same cafe (watch it here) I was sitting in and so its claim to fame was more than justified – plus they did very nice coffee and cake.
From wet Bexhill and onto war torn Hastings, cycle route following the seafront and railway. The path soon left the side of the road and kept to the beach one side and the train the other, so much so that coming into Hastings it was actually on the beach with rubber matting giving you a funny sound as you rode on. Hastings was looking good and the rain had once again stopped. The town gets a bad press as being quite rough but I suppose it is like any other town in the UK which has its good and bad points, many seaside resorts have fallen on hard times over the years and Hastings is just one such town (Bexhill was no looker either) trying its best to keep going. The seafront (like Bexhill) had been tarted up and was looking quite smart, so much so that I would be tempted to come back in the sun one day soon.
I did get to see my second burnt out pier of the trip (the first being Brighton’s West Pier). It has recently not had much luck, being sold and finally closed a number of years ago due to structural problems (previous owners had ignored). The people behind rebuilting Weston-Super-Mere pier were interested in buying it and restoring it (like they had done so after the fire whcih destroyed Weston’s pier) but were put off by a massive costs in just making it safe again. Just like Weston (and Brighton), the pier was finally destroyed by fire. Prior to this it was on the UKs most at risk piers, the fire probably promoted that a bit! Local groups and the National Lottery have started the rescue and maybe one day in the future it will be back in business, with all the things Hastings have done on their seafront, the pier would surely now be a boost.
The route out of Hastings looked a bit daunting, all I could see was a massive hill with a funicular railway going up it. Not just any railway but the UK’s steepest funicular railway, and at the top John Logie Baird (him of TV inventor fame) found it was so good (and maybe high) that he did his first radar experiments up there. Cycle Route 2 takes you right up to the top, I didn’t get off to push but I was standing up to pedal up parts of hills that the car would struggle with. If I was cold and wet before, I was now very much warmed up! The cycle path left the road and was even paved asit made its way up, and up, round corners and up a bit more, even on the flats it was going on an upward trend. All worth it at the end when it joined back up with the road (the first time for miles I had been on a road) and downwards, doing a good 35-40mph most of the way down, my poor brakes.
A bit of self congratulations went on as I looked back at my adventure over the “hill from hell”, I had not got off my heavy bike to walk although had nearly killed myself in doing so. Now I was back down the other side, the GPS took off off the main road, still following Route 2, onwards to come off road sections. Along with the strange road names I was impressed by the level of good sign posting of the route following paths and tracks which could had been taking you anywhere!
I was welcomed into Rye with an old windmill and a manual level crossing. The second time on my travels I have come across a manual level crossing, you stop, listen and look for trains and if nothing is coming you open the gate and walk across. Massive plans are in action to remove all such crossings as people tend to get themselves killed by crossing just as a massive great big train is coming along, but it will be a pity as many rural crossings may simply be removed.
Rye is an interesting town, makes you feel like you are on holiday, but also from previous experience it seems to have no cash points. That was not a worry for me today but had been in the past when looking for places to stop and find money. I’m sure Rye has many more claims to fame worth a lot more, but ATMs is something that has stuck in my mind. As well as feeling like a holiday town, it was the start of the flat land and the feeling of biking in The Fens. There has always been something about scooters and motorbikes at Rye, as I found myself riding through the town centre flanked by scooters and the fantastic smell of two-stroke oil – taking me very much back to long road trips in the Trabant years ago. It was noisy though and I left the scooters to find their way along the road while I followed Route 2 off through the middle of a field of sheep, all giving me a bit of a look as if to ask what was I doing in their field.
The end of Day 1 was in sight as I rejoined the main road and started my way along Lydd Road, my destination would be just a mile the other side of Lydd. I met up with the scooters again at Camber Sands as they all pulled into a Pontins holiday camp for what looked like a scooter meet. Hilter was never much interested in Pontins holiday camps it seems (unlike Butlins) but Camber Sands has featured not only in real World War 2 training adventure but over the years been in many war films, been the Sahara desert in Carry on Camel and features on many album covers and references. There’s not much to see from the road.
It’s not a nice road to bike along and so it was good to have Route 2 following its own path along side but away from the road all the way until mostly getting to Lydd. On the left I was kept company by sheep and a large number of wind turbines that would be a main feature of the landscape for not only the rest of today but tomorrow too, from all angles. The rest of the landscape was flat with the odd cluster of old houses appearing in the middle of no-where. I was welcomed into Kent by the normal county sign, plus a glimpse of the Dungeness nuclear power station in the distance, but also with a paved cycle path, Kent clearly spent a bit more money than East Sussex did. It was a nice smooth welcome to the county.
I was making good speed and time along the now paved path, skimming round fields and lakes until I reached Lydd. I stopped for supplies for tea, annoyingly not being able to find a tin of rice pudding with a pull tab (note to myself, a tin opening may be needed next time), instead I fell back on a tin of custard. The sun had also come out too for a small bit making it actually feel warm for the first real time of the day. I set off for the last mile up to the road to the campsite watching the distance countdown, telling me I had arrived and then start counting up again – it may had said I had reached my destination but there was certainly no campsite! The campsite suggested they were around a mile outside of Lydd but a kept an eye ahead while watching the GSP count backwards thinking up various next options if the site never appeared. A couple of miles later though I saw the sign and pulled in, checked into the campsite and set up camp.
New Romney Farm campsite was very friendly, small and quiet. They have marked out pitches of which the bloke spent a considerable amount of time explaining how the system worked, with the size of my tent I could had just pitched up anywhere to be honest but I can see for normal sized tents and a busy weekend it must soon fill up. A good rate and a special rate for cyclist and walkers made it pretty much inexpensive. I noticed a cafe but it looked like it was closed most of the time, but the showers were free and hot.
Tent up, showered, tea cooked and eaten, I settled down to resting and reading, listening to the coming and going rain, and the noisy children from a group of campers that turned up later. Annoying at the time it didn’t prevent me from sleeping.
Total miles: 76
Number of burnt out piers: 2
Number of sheep: millions
Number of wind turbines: lots from every angle
Pots of custard eaten: 2