I quite fancied a quiet morning ride out to a cafe for coffee and breakfast, take a laptop with me and have a think of possible trips for next year. It seems 2014 has not been a great year for any real touring trips, at only around 500 miles this year on the Royal it is hardly anything compared to the total mileage of my daily commute that the Highway does. An early morning ride out in the winter sun to the “local” cycling cafe that I’ve heard all good things about, find a quiet corner with breakfast and a laptop – seemed like a good idea. After a number of typical winter sunny days, a ride along the Downs Link as the sun comes up sounded quite nice.
It was cloudy and drizzly the next day, a bit windy too. With the wind coming from the North I decided to take the road upwards and the flatter Downs Link, out in the open, route back again, no country sunrise for me. I started to think as I set off, it has been a couple of months or so since I have been out on a ride so a bit of time now planning routes nearby and places I want to see could be time well spent. I stopped off at Shoreham to visit a cash point, the bridge in the early morning was deserted, but did sport a large collection of odd shoes strung up on the fence. It seemed to be some sort of protest over lack of finishing off the south side of the bridge. Rightly so, still seems a bit of a mess and slightly embarrassing that this brand new long awaited bridge ends on one side into a bit of a building site with no real direction.
I continued on, choosing the country road via Botolophs where I would join the Downs Link/Southdowns Way a small part until the main road off to Henfield. This would be one of the many times today that I would either use or pass the route. A major cycle highway, but one that remains unpaved meaning in the winter it is more of a rural mud track than anything usable by a bike. It reminded me of something I read on a cycling blog just the other week which was talking about unpaved cycled paths and just so happened to feature Downs Link as a good example of possibly wasted opportunity. Reading this, I was quite interested as it is something I too have thought much about and written about in the past too. You can, in theory, get all the way from Shoreham to Guildford without seeing too much road, but be prepared and take an off road bike with you. It is suggested it is unpassable in the winter by even that. If it were paved, then it would be a main link North and South, long distance off the roads, for any bikes. The blog post talked of people moaning that this haven for nature would be ruined if it were to be paved, forgetting it seemed that only 50 years back it had massive great steam trains thundering up and down all day long. Sure, there are some hard standing stretches of the route which fair better in the bad weather, but there are some (yet to be ventured by me) parts that look more like long lost forgotten paths through the woods rather than a national cycle route. With that in mind, even before getting out of Shoreham I left the path to carry on along tarmac.
I’ve come up with quite a nice route to get through the Downs, which is a slightly hilly (but nothing too much) ride along the country road and join the Downs Link (again) and Southdowns Way at Botlophs – at which point I cross over to the main road and off up to Henfield. Bonus is a free water tap, handy for the last 4 miles when coming back home. I join the main road, letting a couple of road bikes past as they are getting beeped at by a motorcyclist who, although has more than enough room to go past, points and seems to think they should not be there. Strange angry person.
Riding up to Henfield I started to think that I had never gone up this road before and soon found out that while things like and feel really flat in a car, on a bike you suddenly start to remember that actually there is the odd hill here and there. Henfield, surrounded mostly by flood plains, is at the top of a hill…. Sunday morning, Henfield is still asleep as I pass through.
The first sign of problems is when I get closer to Partridge Green. This is the home of the small Dark Star brewery which as a small brewery in the middle of nowhere in Sussex has quite a good reputation. The village pub, just down the road from it, has it’s own supply of Dark Star beer. Being on the Downs Link (yep, we join it again), it is ideal for long distance cyclists and walkers and I’m pretty sure there is even an organised offroad cycle ride from Shoreham to the Brewery each year – sounds like a good event. The old railway line (and so the Downs Link) passes through Partridge Green, give or take the odd new housing estate or two, it is an ideal place to set up business to cater for the cyclists and walkers as a middle way marker between Horsham and Shoreham.
Stan’s Bike Shack is that business. Last time I came this way there was nothing here, but now a small “shack” has been setup and I’ve heard a great deal about it. I had visions of cycling out to the shack, sipping on a cup of strong early morning coffee with a bacon sandwich, and looking up things on the laptop, writing plans, generally taking in the early morning piece and quiet. Stan’s Bike Shack, I’ve heard of plenty which means many others have too. Sunday morning is prime MAMIL season, lycra covering country roads around the whole of Sussex in close packs. I wondered if actually a Sunday morning was the most ideal time for a quiet coffee at a cycling cafe and as I drew up to the Shack I first heard the sounds of many enjoying an early morning coffee, bikes parked everywhere, and the small cafe completly full.
Not a problem I thought, I’m a friendly people person who loves the idea of mixing with people and talking about bikes – unfortunately I suddenly remembered I was not. I thought I would brave it and ventured in, but alas I couldn’t get much further than just in the door where the queue started. They were doing good business, and good on them too, but the line was too long for me to want to wait, in the Shack it was standing room only, so I opted out and back outside into the piece and quiet once again. Note to myself, don’t try to go to a popular cycling cafe first thing on a Sunday morning.
The was all a bit of a disappointment (the coffee did smell good too, but it was hardly a place for a quiet relaxed time), I desperately looked around Partridge Green for a small cafe (I knew there wouldn’t be one) before I turned back to head home. Past the Shack, the numbers had increased and were sitting in the old outside, and onto the Downs Link. The plan then would be to follow the route all the way back home.
Being winter, the route was deserted, but also muddy in places needing a bit of effort to get through. I passed the odd dog walker but that was it, making it quite a nice ride across the flat country side and over the old railway bridges.
I pondered a bit if I should revisit Shoreham to find breakfast there but as I didn’t have a lock for the bike I decided against it and carried on passed Steyning and along the same road I came up on a couple of hours previous. The Sunday morning MAMIL fest seemed to be in fall swing making the normal quiet Coombes Road into quite a busy place – all good to be part of. A pity hardly any of the cyclists zooming either towards me or past me returned my nod or cheery ‘Hello’ as we passed – not until I got a a cyclist sitting at the church with a wheel in their hands. I stopped and offered any help that I could but it appeared that not only had they had a puncture but the tyre itself had split as well. They were waiting for a friend in a car to turn up, after a short chat they thanked me for stopping and I continued on my way home.
In all, not quite the ride out I was hoping for, but it had been the first real ride for a quite a number of months and so it was good to get out. I never got to sit down and plan trips for next year, so maybe another time.