Everyone said it was going to be a summer’s day in the middle of March and looking so far over this year’s ride I had not been out much (if you ignore the daily commute by bike). Initially I thought a trip round Selsey and West Wittering might make a nice morning. It was then I noticed just how near Hayling Island was, infact looking on the map it was just a small jump over a bit of water and you would be there. With my idea of a good ride being one with purpose against riding round in large circles just for fun, this started to look interesting.
Being so near, I worked out around 40 miles, it seems strange that I had not been for years. I remember many happy family holidays in a poloroid 1970s type image, always sunny, flares and slightly faded Instagram-stylee. Being so young I expect we probably only had such a holiday once or twice at the most, but I remember the caravan we had, the sun, the bunk beds, the hotdogs and the caravan park shop which sold paper bags of plums. Happy days. Time for another visit.
I had my doubts, I didn’t really want to be doing much more than 60 miles and this was looking like it may well break the 90 mile mark. Over the year I have worked out the various mileages and my reaction to them:
- 0-10 miles: my daily commute
- 10-20 miles: a short trip out
- 20-40 miles: a reasonable ride
- 40-60 miles: probably the ideal for a day before a ride becomes a challenge
- 60-80 miles: a hard day, esp when carrying extra
- 80-100 miles: something I should be prepared to do
On my two day trip last year I did two days of 80 miles which was fine but not something I would want to keep up for many more days in a row. Not only would I feel it but I found those two days I was rushing to keep to a target and far away destination, which took the edge of the idea of touring where you stop when and where you like, explore and generally enjoy the day. In other words, a tourer using a bike is different to a cyclist going a long way. Back to the trip and I thought I would go for it as going somewhere near would just not be the same.
Setting off at my normal 7 o’clock start, nice that I’m no longer starting in the dark. It was cold but I imagined after 5 miles I would be warmed up. At that time of the day on a Sunday there are not many cars or people about and the routine ride along the coast through Worthing was pleasant.
Following my route to work and continuing on to first Littlehampton and then onto my McDonald’s breakfast in Bognor. It turns out to just be over an hour’s ride and an ideal stop. A pity about the service at that early hour, the long wait (not many customers at that time of the day) and the incorrect order of bacon and egg McMuffin instead of sausage and egg. Not to worry.
You do not have many choices when it comes to cycling to Chichester, it is mostly the Bognor road or not much else, the main A27 not being something I fancy. When planning the route, because of previous rides Chichester way, I happened to know about the canal side cycle path which takes you right into Chichester. A little known stretch of water, a short lived venture that never really caught on, see more from my last visit. Bumpy, but the short trip canal side was pleasant and I reached the city centre quite soon. The level of bumpyness was demonstrated by the GPS switching itself off each time it had encountered one bump too much, the “anti-switch off device” I had fitted previously to counter such occasions, ie a piece of card in wedged in the battery compartment, looked like it needed replacing. The canal ends at a basin where there is a nice little volunteer run cafe, I have stopped there before and welcomed the cheap normal prices for drinks and snacks. No time to stop however, it had only been half an hour since breakfast.
Within Chichester there seems to be lots of small bits of the old A27 laying about which have been made into cycle routes, the other real alternative being the current busy A27. Between that and paths through Chichester collage campus you soon get to the railway line. Last time I was here there was still a manual pedestrian crossing for the line, where you top the gate, look and listen both ways and walk over if all clear. It seems these basic “green cross code” ideas are no longer taught to children as nationally it is too much for people to work out and they end up crossing in front of a massive great big train and moaning when they get killed doing so. To me is seems a good way to improve the gene pool, but others think different and all such crossings are sadly being replaced by foot bridges. While the foot bridge in place here now, there is still work to realign the cycle paths which all direct you to a locked gate. Not a problem, the bridge is not hard to spot! (note, this crossing is next to a school so I can see why maybe it has been replaced).
I was now into new territory, never biked by me before and so in reality the real start of the trip. I had noticed on the map that I would be going passed Bosham, a small pretty village that has a couple of key points. The first is that when I was in reception class at school (aged 5) I had a friend who left the school during the term to move to Bosham. We had great delight as 5 year olds saying “Bossom” instead of “Bosham”, and I still get a slight delight for thinking about that even now! The second, and probably more globally relevant, is that one of the roads through the village is tidal. There are many stories of visitors parking their car only to find when they get back that the road no longer exists and is under meters of water. As it was only a slight deviation from the route I thought I would give it a visit, checking first that the tide would be out (or maybe I just hopped on my luck!). I turned South and was soon amongst the posh houses of Bosham and then the big warning signs telling me the road was tidal. Fortunately, the tide was only lapping at the side of the road and I had plenty of time to ride through, missing the debris that collects on a road what is submerged twice a day. For such a nice little village it was nice to see it was not commercialised in any way, after taking the required photos I was soon through and back on route. I didn’t bump into my friend from reception class 35 years ago….
Back on route, I had the destination signposted and within easy reach, it had been a pleasant pain free ride so far. A long straight road against the wind for a good 5 miles was not too much of a problem, although the longness and straightness got a bit boring after a while. I soon bumped into a cycle route sign telling me to turn left for the Island. I followed through the residential streets and soon lost my way, the GPS not helping too much here as I thought such a route would be well sign posted for the popular Island route.
I ended up in a maze of high pedestrian bridges going over and under various roads and having a bit of its own eco-system high up in the sky. The aim for all this is to allow those not in cars to reach the Island which itself is a bit cut off for those without cars. The single main road in and out (or on and off I suppose) is a massive big roundabout underneath the A24 there it is starting to become three lanes. Being the only road, its pretty busy, coming off what is a near motorway, not a nice place. I later found out, when I got home, that it looked like I had missed the path that would had got me passed all that, missing all the roads from Havant to the bridge to the island. I must had missed a signpost somewhere but it was good to at least find out, otherwise the island is really cut off for cyclists.
Once on the Island you are welcomed as a cyclist (although improvements to parts of the cycle path made it slightly harder but I could see what it would soon be). Old railways come to the rescue once again with the Hayling Island Branch line, gone since 1962, is now part of National Cycle Route 2. It’s off road, but nothing a touring bike should be afraid of.
The line lasted nearly 100 years with a number of stations on the island for both goods and holiday makers in the summer. It had various problems in the building and maintaining, parts eroding away before it had even opened. The seasonal holiday makers were not enough for all year round, and the boggy nature of the route meant it was only fit for smaller lighter trains. By the 1960s the bridge from the mainland needed replacing and British Rail decided it was not worth doing so. A small attempt to reopen it using tram cars instead came to nothing, the bridge was removed and now it is a cycle path sponsored by Sustrans and in doing so takes you away from the busy main roads of the Island which, not having many roads, I can see must get filled up by holiday makers pretty badly.
You share the path with pedestrians and horses (horses having their own side of the path for bits) and it takes you most of the way to the beaches meaning you do not have to touch any roads much if you don’t want to. There are plans to improve the current off road’ness and get the link to Havent done a bit better, something which is clearly needed seeing as I missed it twice!
The plan, now that I was on the island, would be a ride along the seafront, a spot of lunch, and then bike back to the mainland via the road and North Hayling.
Lunch was eaten sitting on the grass by a small tourist railway track of which the small train trundled past a couple of times. The sun and heat had bought everyone out and it really was feeling very summery as if we had skipped a number of months. Looking at the redness of my arms I had clearly caught the spring time sun.
The plan to get back home followed a more direct route, none of the diversions to small tidal villages or small canal side cycle paths. The wind would be mostly behind me although it didn’t feel like it, although the 5 mile stretch of straight road I kept a steady 20mph all the way allowing me to make good time. The main hold up was the search for toilets and one-way systems in Bognor and Littlehampton. Another closed pedestrian crossing for a railway (this time with no replacement bridge) meant going round various circles in Littlehampton until I decided to finally head for the coast road and carry on from there!
The journal home was uneventful. I had the trip through Chistester college campus once again and the seafront journal I’m used to from work.
The whole trip came to just about 90 miles, I almost wanted to bike into Brighton and back to get it over the 100 mark, but I refrained. A good long distance ride, helped by the flatness of the coast, but hampered by the wind.