I pondered for weeks and weeks until finally…. on the last day of entry, I decided to give it a go. I have been on Brighton&Hove CTC events before and have never felt let down or out of my comfort zone – plus they always have great cakes! This would be a bit different as it would be a longer route and also because it would be an official Audax event with cards to put ticks on and everything. It would also be a longer route than normal which itself would not be a worry but adding on the mileage to and from home would potentially put it at over 100 miles. But the pull of the route and the ride told me I would go for it, life is not a race but a journey….. and the same thought goes into my biking too.
The theme of the ride was “Brighton Rock”, 117km around the city of Graham Greene’s classic story, made into an equally classic film with young Richard Attenborough, riding around the locations of the film. A clever idea for a route I thought, and that in itself would mean I would join in. Of course, I do remember a lot of the story took place at Brighton race course which just happens to sit at the top of a hill overlooking the city – with that I quickly remembered how little I enjoyed large hills….
I started the day with porridge, yuk. Something I have never liked, even when as children we used to mix Ready Brek with chocolate powder it never hid the stoggyness of something like that looked like it would not be out of place in Oliver Twist. This time I bought a mix of oats and bits of fruit and nuts (premixed etc…), I popped it in the microwave and actually it was not too bad. Eating first thing in the morning is never a favourite but I wouldn’t have the chance to stop on my way to Brighton so it had to be. I added in an milk energy drink that suggested it would be me 10 hours of “power”, and it was going cheap at 50p a cartoon. Strawberry flavour it wasn’t too bad. But more importantly, I made a large expresso using the AeroPress, famed by many for great coffee and little mess (that bit sold it to me).
An early start would mean I would get to the start at Falmer within plenty of time without having to rush. This early you have the cycle route along the beach to yourself, if it was a bit earlier in the year I would had seen the sun rise. At this point I seemed to be having quite a bit of strange and new rattling going on as I passed over the bumps, looking down I soon found this to be the first bottle holder was no longer really holding its bottle. Further investigation showed the small joints had come away holding it all together, it was just hanging there with a full bottle ready to fall out at any minute. Not an amazing problem as I could just use the other bottle holder and put the spare bottle in the pannier, a small curse maybe for buying ultra cheap at Wilkingsons months previous.
Water bottles re-distributed, I continued on my ride to Falmer along familiar route through Portslade, along Old Shoreham Road, Upper Lewes Road, the new cycle way around Sainsburys, and finally Falmer. A little bit earlier before opening time but a friendly welcome given while I registered and a cup of tea before everything started.
The first thing I noticed this time round was there were a lot less people attending this ride, maybe due to its length. The second thing was the type of bikes and people, no unicycles attending this time round but instead plenty of expensive fast looking bikes and people. I was slightly happier when I saw a couple of Surly Long Haul Truckers arrive, there was also a tandem that turned up, but it was clear this was a bit of a different game to the previous shorter rides. Not a problem though, as the pre-ride talk was taking place the emphasis was on enjoying the day and with that we all left at our own time and pace on the first section.
The first part of the ride was straight to where all the action took place in the story, the race course. This would mean a bit of uphill along a country but very busy road. The well planed out route instructions gave the option here to take the road or take the new gravel cycle path which looked like a friendly farmer had allowed along the side of the fields, following the road but quite separated by trees and bushes. While most of the road bikes opted for the road, I took the cycle route and had a pleasent and not too bumpy ride to the top of the hill, not too much of a problem. It was clear that the majority of the group was quite a long way ahead of myself, but like all such rides you start to fit into your own group of riders of which you pass and vaguely keep together swapping places for many miles. We passed the race course and got to the top of the hill ready to descent, but not before putting down the answer on our sheet for the first question.
A quick swoop back into the city centre going down one of the long hills rather than up, which seemed good to me. We joined in with the city traffic, slightly busier than I would imagine for the Sunday morning until I noticed it was the yearly London to Brighton mini run. The huge number of Minis both old and new gave the clue away. We all mingled together on the road down to the seafront and the Palace Pier, another key location of the story. We left the minis as we headed West towards Shoreham.
It was still quite early in the morning for Brighton and so the seafront cycle route was quite clear, a mixture of bikes on the road and the path as we continued mostly together. Interestingly I started to spot people in funny costumes, just another morning in Brighton I thought. They were starting to appear more and more until finally we passed what looked like a charity run or even possibly bike ride for those dressed as super heroes! It looked like fun.
After the Brighton and Hove seafront it was inland at Shoreham to the second check point, something I nearly missed if it had not been for the group ahead all stopping and getting out pens and their card. I was on more than familiar ground here being the route from Shoreham to Steyning and a road I go along to get to anywhere north of the downs. This would take us through Steyning and up to Partridge Green before heading back towards Brighton
The route back into Brighton would not be straight back but instead going over Devil’s Dyke and following the old railway line back into the city. The hill for Devil’s Dyke is never too bad, certainly a steep hill but nothing that is too much trouble if you just settle down into your comfortable pace and just keep going, upwards upwards upwards…. Sure, you do think you have got to the top a couple of times and find out there is more to come, but just take it steady and all is fine.
One part that I had never ridden before or knew it was there was the old Dyke railway line, I knew the line existed but I didn’t know it was now a paved route for walkers and cyclists taking you right over the A27 and back into the city. Devil’s Dyke (basically a large ditch at the top of a hill, created by glaciers or the Devil depending on how you think) was once a huge tourist attraction in the Victorian days. These days there is just a naff pub chain serving cold hard peas and little else, a pity, the Victorians really knew how to enjoy themselves and had the engineering to make it happen. The railway made the journey up the hill a lot quicker although for some reason didn’t go all the way, passengers had to the final 200 feet, which is maybe partly why it was not a long term success. The line closed in 1938. The initial cutting off the main line was filled in with the help of old anti-tank concrete blocks, all trace of it has gone at this point, but further out towards the Dyke it is now quite a popular path. The ride along this narrow path downwards towards the city was nice, imagining myself as a passenger on a train on the constant slight downwards slope of the railway on the side of the hill.
The next check point would be West Blatchington windmill in the depths of modern day housing estates. It seems like a windmill put on top of a church. Once in the middle of the countryside, now looking somewhat alien isolated in the middle of a road island, hard to believe so much can change around something standing still in time. I had never seen it so it was quite interesting, maybe I would had liked to had spent a bit more time there, but it was now just only miles back to the main checkpoint, a piece of cake and a cup of tea. Still in small groups, we joined the city’s traffic, retracing some of my route from earlier on in the morning until we turned off to go past Brighton train station and back along Lewes road up to Falmer.
That was the first half done, a really enjoyable ride discovering things new on my doorstep which I had not seen before, everything I always want from a ride. The second half I thought would always be less so, more of a basic square which of course took in the cliffs along Peacehaven. A key part of the Brighton Rock story, Pinkie plans to throw his girlfriend off the edge to her death. Quite a popular activity it seems, Quadrophenia’s Jimmy possibly pushes his now disillusioned idol’s scooter off the edge for a similar ending. Bringing it right up to date, Tiffany’s ashes in Eastenders went the same way, I don’t know who she is, but it seems she went out with style.
Setting off again, the groups had all split up and so I left on my own heading through Stanmer Park with the plan to come out the other side onto the Ditchling Beacon road. I never knew you could get all the way through, which was evident when I got lost and stopped to consult my map. Fortunately a friendly face of someone else on the ride showed me the way and we both head off through the village and up the car free hill to be main road. She left me there while I kept at my own slower pace on the ever so slight upwards to the top of the Beacon.
This would be the highest point in East Sussex, biked up on the easy side, the way down would be much quicker and something which is a bit of a challenge for local cyclists going upwards. Indeed, I do remember breaking down in our 1967 Triumph Herald while attempting to drive up one time. I was just wondering just what I was going to do, a queue of cars behind me and no hope of making a standing start and getting any higher when a friendly Volvo driver stopped with a tow rope and pulled us the rest of the way up. From there, he coasted mostly all the way down the other side to Asda petrol station where we were able to fill the car’s cooling system with water, it had all boiled away. This time though, on the bike, I started my way downwards at speed, remembering to stop at the bottom and take a quick right along Underhill Lane, forgetting to make a note of a checkpoint.
The wind seemed to be against me for this stretch towards Lewis until I noticed I was not dropping below 20mph and hardly noticing it, I concluded the wind must be behind me. Having left the other cyclist to go ahead on the way up to the Beacon I had not seen another person from the ride and that is how it would be until the end. I was starting to get quite tired by now, espically as I turned south at Lewis and made my way towards the joys of Newhaven. I kept in my mind the long hill out of Newhaven that I would soon face, I had almost decided in my mind that I would walk up that bit maybe, I would certainly have a small break at the next check point in Newhaven, a small bit to eat and then carry on.
This is indeed what I did, the small 5 miles to Newhaven seemed to go on for ever until I finally reached the town, stopped at the checkpoint, had a small bite to eat. I used my my free energy gel I was given back a the bike show in London earlier on in the year. Not really a person for gels (I’m not racing about after all) but packed it in case of times like this, I swallowed down the citrus and caffine flavour goo (yum!) and carried on to the foot of the hill out of the town. Probably more in my mind than anything else but in the end I didn’t stop to walk up the hill but instead just settled down to my own pace and slowly climbed up to the top. In the end I was wondering what I was fussing about and why I had found it so hard last time I was this way, this time it seemed not a problem at all.
That just left the run along the cliff top towards Brighton and then turning off and upwards back to Falmer and the end of the route. The wind was certainly against me now and the sun was out (to give me quite bad sunburn I was to discover at the end and the following days). Had I planned my route better I would had taken the walk at the bottom of the cliffs and gone passed the various up and downs of the road and possibly quite a bit of the wind. However, I was unsure if I would be able to get off the path in order to turn off and upwards back to Falmer, so decided to battle along the rode. Bad choice, I could had taken the easy route I worked out later.
A long hard constand upwards going inland, constantly in the lowest gear I had possible, slow but steady. I once again had in my mind to get off and walk but I carried on, I got to the top, I got to the gravel cyclepath which then led all the way back down to Falmer. I made it to the end… A bit puzzled why I never met anyone else go past me on this second stage, I wasn’t going fast and so had expected. I wasn’t the last to return, but I wasn’t in the first wave, plenty returned after me while I eat some of the left over cake and had a cup of tea. I heard some did not do the second half, I talked with another who said he took a shortcut from Lewes cutting off the last 10 miles. I was pretty happy with my performance for the day, and well done Brighton and Hove CTC for yet another well organised free and easy event.
No time to patting myself on my back though, I still had 13 miles back home to do. I knew it would be against the wind all the way. Brighton seafront now extremly busy with day trippers and Minis, I stopped off for a small food break before setting off, head down, homewards.
Number of Miles: 98! (should I have ridden for a couple more just to get over the 100 mile mark?!)
Number of super energy gels: 1
Number of great cups of tea: 2
Number of unicycles: 0
Number of tandems: 1
Number of times thinking when will this road end: quite a number