When I looked back I noticed I had not been out with the Sussex Cycle Club Sunday run for a number of months, weekends have been busy lately. During the week I pondered about making the early morning trek to Lewes for the upcoming Sunday but I had doubts in the weather (forecast to be super hot) and the distance (40 miles, which on my own at my own pace I have no problem, keeping up with others for that distance possibly a different matter). In the end, I decided I would give it a go for at least the first half of the trip and then leave to find my own way back Worthing way after the cafe stop.
I had done similar the time before where the cafe stop was mostly halfway home and it seemed silly to go all the way back to Lewes just to come straight back again, it worked out well. This time, the long route was northwards from Lewes up to a cycle shop near East Grinstead, no real savings if I went back to Lewes or not. However, looking at the map I noticed National Cycle Route 21 passed nearby, and it just happened to be an ex-railway line!
Things I like about railway line routes:
- because it used to be a railway, there are no massive hills….ever!
- away from the road and the noise
- takes you through routes that you never knew existed, both within towns and in the country side
- the possibility to go past old railway infrastructure and stations, urban decay and “what if” at its finest
- makes for a bit of an adventure!
I was even more delighted when I noticed I could pop onto Route 21 just 4 or 5 miles from the cafe which would then take me to Route 20, that would take me into Brighton if I wished. However, if I did a small bit of cross country through Tilgate Forest I would soon come across Route 222 which was the now all familiar path that would take me all the way back to Shoreham. Total distance would be around 30 miles which means it wouldn’t save much, if anything, but it would make for an interesting ride back home.
Come Sunday, the early morning ride through Brighton was uneventful, apart from meeting up with fellow club member in Shoreham of which this would be his first ride. He followed as we rode towards Lewes in the already hot and cloudless morning. As we got to the University we met up by change with two other club members and we all started up the hill to Falmer, with the feeling of joy that after that bit of work it would be all (fast) downhill all the way to Lewes.
A good turn out for the club run with a mixture of bikes and people which made me feel good, a lot of people I had not met before too which made the first miles of the run interesting as we all got to know each other. The trip northwards was good, no wind and cloudless skies, water was taken on board at regular intervals, it was hot! The pace was good, not too slow and not too fast (the important bit!) just a nice morning out with friends.
So far we had been fine with hills but I knew from looking at the map earlier that there was a massive one just before the cafe stop and I wondered how it would go. It seemed a slight uphill to start with which was more of a pain than a problem, you just re-adjust yourself for a long ongoing slog, not killing yourself going too fast and not slowing down too much making it into more a problem than it was. The slight uphill then became an almost vertical cliff face! I knew it was a short steep hill so I wasn’t too worried and adjusted myself again for a last quick boost of power, knowing too that at the top the cafe waited.
A well needed break and time to regroup and chat over a cold drink and cake. The cafe was empty when we arrived but did good business!
It felt a bit of a shame to leave the group at the cafe as they went back down towards Lewes and I went upwards in search for Route 21. It felt even more of a shame when I found out it was uphill, although after a mile got to the bridge over the old railway and ventured down onto it. Route 21 would take me all the way to Crawley in a nice flat straight line, with the benefit of trees covering a lot of the old line. In the shade it was a nice ride, no paved road but smooth track making it quite pleasant. Although I had just come from a cafe stop I took the opportunity to stop for a small bite to eat prior to arriving at Crawley (at which point I didn’t know what form the route would take). There is nothing nicer than fresh pineapple to cool you down while also giving you some slow release energy.
Route 21 followed the old line from Tunbridge Wells to Three Bridges, a line that was one of the many closed by the Beeching Report in 1967. The stretch I followed showed no signs of once being a railway apart from the straightness and flatness, and the station at Rowfant. It appears that the railway had to go across land of a wealthy business man who accepted the railway but only if a station was built at Rowfant, and so it was. The line never really had many passengers, it was used mostly for the local brickworks and for a time for the newly opened Gatwick airport when jet fuel was stored in the goods yard. The station building remains, although it is nothing too much to look at.
Route 21 soon hits the suburbs of Crawley and winds round housing estates that has since been built on railway land, probably making these sleepy estates into quite a busy place during the summer months with cyclists and walkers passing through. Route 21 also turns northwards to get to its destination at Three Bridges, but Route 20 takes over on a southward journey towards Brighton. I wouldn’t be following it for long, but long enough for it to take me through Tilgate Park, true mountain biking country (on a touring bike!), a mixture of mud tracks and dreaded sand.
Tilgate Park is somewhere that I have been going to on and off for years since I can remember. With parents who were (motor)bikers they were members of a bike club that met each week at the club huts found within the park. I have many memories of exploring the park and its nature reserve while my parents were busy doing whatever bike club members do, eating heads of chickens and things like that I should imagine. The old Tilgate estate covered what was then known as Worth Forest, and used to contain iron works before becoming an estate complete with mansion. This remained until after World War 2 at which point the estate was split and sold off, Crawley Council buying some of it in the 1960s probably as part of being a new town and making it look attractive to potential people wanting to move there. Unfortunately they set about demolishing the old mansion (maybe it was past it by then) and built a grotty restaurant building there instead. Something that over the years has never been much of a place (even today) although good enough for The Cure to perform there in the early 1980s I believe.
I left the route at Pease Pottage (after crossing the M23 for the third time) and made my way on road towards Route 222. The section was mostly slightly downhill which made for good riding and good progress, with a short cut across land using a bridleway. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as it was obviously very popular with horse riders, a fact discovered by the amount of horse manure to avoid but worse still noticable by the horse foot prints set in the hard mud. It made for slow and very very bumpy ride. A note to myself, think before planning such routes!
I made it to Route 222 at Copsale, pointed my bike southwards and peddled off. Route 222 could be so much more (a bit of a theme from previous posts) but I made for fast speed and time towards Shoreham and home. At times I was starting to get bored of the constant bumpyness and the tunnel vision of railway track routes, and the bike was starting to take quite a battering along with getting coated in thick layers of dust. Still, I was holding together and more so was the bike, showing of its strong nature of what makes a good touring bike and being able to put up with a punishment like this.
A good 10 miles until I got back to Shoreham, passing through West Grinstead station, or what is left of it. This has been a location I have wanted to visit for a while as it still has its old platform and a lot has been made of it, it is now a nice picnic spot. The platform has an old looking West Grinstead sign and an old signal, along with an old railway carriage. Granted, none of that is original, the signal is in the wrong place and the carriage I have read is of a type that never went on the line. But all the same, it is a nice spot. I noticed as the path crossed roads there were mostly notice boards tempting you to come off the track for some yards to stop at the nearby pub, most possibly called The Station I would think.
The old railway has been built on at Partridge Green so I followed the signposted way along the main road for the small section, then it was back on the path. Making good speed once again I was getting to familiar ground and soon joined the last, and roughest, part of the track from Steyning to Shoreham.
Total number of miles: 80
Number of times crossing the M23: 3
Number of times path blocked by horses: 1
Number of times path blocked by Llamas: 1