With bluebells starting to go past their best (in my opinion) I felt it time to do a quick ride out along the country roads of Sussex that find themselves aligned by bluebells and primroses before it was too late. I took inspiration from a blog post I found quite a while back which detailed a countryside bike ride to take in the scenes. While not an actual bluebell ride, I was sure it would include quite a bit, as well as being a nice ride around The Weald and places I had not been through for a while. I am sure places around Arundel and Goodwood had potential for a lot more bluebells.
It was all a bit last minute and the weather did not look like it would be the most perfect. I left the house very early feeling a little underdressed and a tad cold. Small spots of rain were appearing as I rode down the rode to McDonalds. While eating breakfast and giving chance for the feeling in my fingers to return, I decided to call it a day if it was still raining when I left. It was not, so I started on my journey.
Taking advantage of the newly surfaced DownsLink section I was able to make good comfortable time through the South Downs with ease, normally I would be going up and down along the country road that sits next to it on the other side of the river. My legs had warmed up, but the cold air was hitting my chest and my hands hard, feeling was soon lost in fingers and toes. The worrying looking black clouds ahead of me didn’t look too welcoming, but I carried on as I cycled parallel to the new Edburton by-pass road works… or maybe it was the ongoing Rampion cable laying project for the offshore wind farm currently being built….
When I got back to tarmac it was looking like the day would soon settle into a drizzly cold day. I watched the spots appearing on my shrit as the rain started and pondered how long I would continue until I put on something a little more waterproof. In early morning, it did seem like I was the only person on the road, everyone else was wisely staying by a lit fire inside where it was nice and warm.
I stopped for a while at Fulking and by the pub that sites at the foot of the Downs and is no doubt a great attraction for walkers. It is a perfect country setting, little pub, big hills, small country road with the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. Due to all this, the feeling of countryside is normally lost due to the massic number of parked cars on the side of the road which makes school drop off time look pretty tame. With roads only just wide enough to allow cars to pass both directions, with cars abandoned sometimes both sides, plus a handy cut through if you know about it, the area is normally spoilt and unrelaxed as everything is either trying to get through or trying to park for the pub. At this time of the morning though, I was the only person about. Instead of using all my skills not to get killed by cars, I was able to stop for 5 minutes and take a closer look at the natural spring that gives a relaxing background of water flowing (when you can hear it over cars and horns). Being such a favorite place for walkers, you might think it is a chance to pick up some drinking water, but a sign warns you that this is not for drinking. The small pump house next to it seems to suggest otherwise, still in active used up to the 1950s there the villages only source of water was from this spring and pumped up the hill to the rest of the village. Maybe people didn’t drink directly from it, knowing that at one point in time the dip would be dammed and the sheep bought down off the hills for a dip in the flooding result.
From the blog post I had attempted to copy the route as best I could, which meant I had to get to Hassocks. This would take me via a bit of a short cut along sections of the old A23 and my first spotting of bluebells. When in a car you cannot take this route, but turning off onto a country road marked as a dead end, you end up on a small track taking to the side of the main A23 dual carriage way. If you look, not too closely, as you re-join tarmac you notice the old cats eyes off to one side and the faint markings of what was once the main road to London. Discovering these old roads, now silent, overgrown and narrowed, a bit of living history that is forgotten and yet still rather handy if you are on a bike.
Next stop was Hassocks and the start of the ride. Riding past the popular Proper Coffee shop where there were plenty of cyclist either just arriving or leaving after a spot of breakfast. The original blogger described Hassocks as not much to look at, and it’s certainly no different to change that perception. I didn’t stop, but carried on, noticing it was a busy area for cyclists.
For this ride I was wearing new cycling gloves. This was all to do with my last trip out when I noticed, or more smelt, that our new cats had been sitting on my cycling gloves. A bit worse, I had a feeling they had done more that just sit and maybe marked their new territory on them! By the end of the ride, not only did my gloves stink but my hands did too, the smell lasted for ages even after cleaning my hands many times. The gloves… the smell never went, even after the washing machine. Fortunately I had a a money token for Halfords, a visit the day before meant I was now wearing non-stinky gloves. The downside, the only pair of decent gloves I could find, were bright white! I felt, and maybe looked, as if I was all ready to clean the house silver….
I quickly escaped through Ditchling, dodgy all the cars within this rather unfortunate village that due to position and attraction has found itself a bit of a car bottleneck. Those using it as a legitimate through route and those trying to park in the small streets in order to visit.
The route would take me over the same railway line a number of times, either over or under. A more of a leisure ride I would be going backwards and forwards a number of times and certainly not taking the quickest route. I would hope though that this would aid with the aim of the ride, to cycle through country lanes with bluebells either side.
A bit of a lost moment at Streat, a village that seems to not really exist apart from some very large and posh houses, a church and a phone box. The original blogger commented how most of the village is along a dirt track in the form of a bridlepath. After passing carefully a couple of groups of horse riders out on a Sunday ride, I found myself having to turn back to find the bridlepath, and to once again pass the horse riders who were probably now wondering what I was up to, but could clearly see I was all kitted out to help polish the silver buckles on their horse wares if they had needed. At this half way point, I stopped by the church for a little while before I tackled the bridlepath.
Routes with bridlepaths are always a bit of a gamble, of which I have lost out many times. You are legally permitted to cycle these paths which is great as it takes you away from the road and through places you would not normally consider. Takes you to older times when roads were tracks across the countryside, hundreds of years back you could be on the very same path which back then would be the equivalent to a 4 lane motorway these days. The hazard comes along when the track becomes a rather muddy path, made muddier and rougher by those on horses . You will have the same excitement, just now on (muddy) foot instead of bike. For the off road nature, the Royal is more up to the job being a strong steel touring bike, I never have any problems apart from maybe how dirty I am getting!
The original blogger choose to get off and walk this section, but for me it was a narrow road width, hard layed if not bumpy, but actually not really an off road track but just an untarmaced road that is not used by cars a lot (at all). It was clearly navigable by car just about, going by the hand made signs saying “GPS Error” showing that lesser quality GPS units attempt to take cars down this way. They would be successful, but I can understand the village’s annoyance (and having to go at such a low and careful speed if you were in a car, it would hardly be a shortcut).
It took me past two interesting places. A sheep farm filled with lamps and their mothers, the noise of bleating sheep and lambs gave them away. I stopped to have a chat with the lambs, all bouncing about and being cheerful, it was quite a site. Their mother’s didn’t look as pleased.
I had an impressive view of the South Downs as I continued down the track, soon I came across a tourist notice board which highlighted to me the importance of what I was looking at. Up on the hills, it was where the Battle of Lewes was launched by Simon de Montfort against Henry III in 1264. He was up against it, totally out numbered, but used surprise and the height advance of the hills to win the day. At the same time, UK history was changed.
Also on the hillside, a rather impressive plantation of trees in a V shape, planted to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. There is also an E cut into the hillside to mark our current queen’s achievements, but I couldn’t spot that.
The track ended up by Plumpton racecourse, at which point I went over the railway line and continued on. By this time, chance of rain had gone and it was starting to look more like it might be chance of sun. I had a quick stop at the Plough Inn, not for a drink, but instead to take a closer look a the monument that is placed in its garden. I had driven past this pub for many years but never known why it had an airplane alongside a plough on its sign, and now this tall monument with a plane on top. This had been the site of a pub for many years, but the original was demolished during the war to make way for RAF Chailey. It was intended to help with the Battle of Britain, but plans changed and ended up as an advanced landing ground, housing Polish pilots and helping out on operation Overload. A new pub, and later a monument, was built, the original airfield has since gone back to farm land. As with all things war live, not all got through it, hence the monument.
The route now took me back towards Hassocks and my way home along roads I use quite a bit both on bike and car. I stopped off at East Chiltington just like the original blogger did. They were in search of water, for me I was interested simply to trace their tracks. They commented that their search for water was unsuccessful at the church, I arrived as people were turning up for their weekly service. A little village which had nothing but church and phone box, lost and forgotten. I had a quick look in the phone box, no longer used for a phone but instead a place to swap books. The high hedges and flags were still there, this time sporting the English flag to show it was St George’s day (either that or they liked their football).
As I started on my way back, now against the wind, I was thinking of my route home. I would leave the original route and not go back to Hassocks but instead continue straight through until I got to Clayton, famous for its tunnel and its windmill. Where there are tunnels and windmills there are sure to be hills. As someone on a bike, you have the option to go up the hill along a quite busy road, or take a more flat and longer route around. I had biked up this hill before and didn’t like it, ending up having to walk and push while hoping none of the cars would hit me as they zoomed past. I had visions of it as a really steep hill, but in a dream prior the ride I dreamt that it wasn’t actually that bad. As I came the junction, I decided to go with my dreams, I turned left and started on the long steep hill that would be hard, but would cut off a number of miles.
As if by magic, almost as if it had been in a dream, the hill turned out not to be that bad at all, to the extent that I could not imagine why previously I had to get off and walk. The cars were there, but not a problem. Getting to the top was no problem, riding down the other side got me to my top speed, by accident, of the ride at 29mph.
The gain achieved by this was soon to be lost, now so near to home, I got lost around the maze of bits of village road, bits of new road, and bits of old A23 and found myself on route to Brighton instead of heading towards Bramber and home. The wind was behind me, I really didn’t want to stop and turn back, so I carried on into the city. Slowly, almost as if I was going backgrounds, I made my way through the city, sharing the road with cars on a mission to kill me, against the wind…. I did eventually make it through, if not a good 40 minutes or so later than I had hopped, and not as relaxing.
A bit of an experiment with “piece to camera”….
Number of miles: 51
Top Speed: 29mph
Number of railway crossings: 4
Number of cute looking lambs: lots
Number of bluebells: even more
Number of times cursing through Brighton: too many!