Rivers are the new railways, which is nonsense of course, railways were the new rivers, taking the trade and profits away from the slow waterways to the fast steam trains. Moving on to modern days though, we no longer want to know about Portillo and his train guide, instead it is all about Paxman and rivers and for a while I have been secretly liking rivers and canals. Rivers feature quite a bit in my life in that I have to cross over one each day to get to work and back, when not crossing over it we are driving next to it. The river Adur is such a big thing in the area that even the local council is named after it.
I had thought in the past that it would be good to do a ride following this river from its source right out to the sea, I was further encouraged when I found out that, as far as rivers are concerned, it isn’t a particularly long one. It does however have a lot of sources running into it, the Adur valley is a bit of a marshy collection of bits of water that flood each winter to make massive impressive lakes at times. The people who know suggest that the source of the Adur is actually from two sources, one in East Sussex and one in West Sussex. I’ve always thought myself as a West Sussex person and so I concentrated on that. The people who know suggest it starts just south of Slinfold and after a bit of zooming in and out on Google maps I soon found what looked like the beginning, in a middle of a field south of the village that soon goes under a nearby road. For me, I had found the source, now I just needed to plan a route. For a change I drew up a route that the outgoing journey would be the no frills part going straight to the source, and then a much slower journey back home, using bridlepaths where they kept closer to the river than the roads.
This would be my first trip out on the Royal for well over six months, my last big ride being on the Dawes mountain bike along the South Downs Way. It would also be the first ride on a normal bike instead of the ebike. Over the weeks this has worked out well, saving lots of money already by not getting the train into work on bad weather days. It has somewhat got me used to not having to put much effort into pedalling, but a the same time it has meant I have felt like doing rides at the weekend. A bit of a small test the day before, going out with Tom for a small bike ride, I took the ebike but, apart from mucking about, I didn’t use the motor. Nicely, the feel of the bike even heavier with the motor, didn’t feel a hassle when the motor was not running. We had a nice little ride, until Tom got a puncture and we walked home.
Back onto the trip, another new thing would be the GPS used. Having bought the secondhand Garmin Edge Tour I had yet to really use it. It was nice not when planning the route being able to let the tool map the route out following roads, not having to restrict it to 200 points, then having no hassle in getting the route from the computer and onto the device. More on how I found the GPS later on, my experience was not totally great…
The route up to the source was mostly road with a little bit of DownsLink, an early morning with the hope for good warm weather. I was a little bit worried that I couldn’t feel my fingers quite soon after leaving the house, wishing I had worn proper gloves, hoping the forecast would work itself out.
The GPS was working well, until I got to the DownsLink when it quickly told me it was having no more and couldn’t give me any directions without recalculating. When it did, it was suggesting I did a u-turn, get back onto the roads, and follow a route to the end of the DownsLink from where I was planning to leave it. Not quite what I wanted it to do, I switched to map mode and followed the big blue line, long and straight following the off road route of the old railway line. This would be the first of many times it just did not cope with not being on a road, maybe it was a setting. In the end I opted to follow the route on visually on the map, it reminded me of the first time using the eTrex GPS where it stopped navigating and switched to the big black line (no map available) that a went from waypoint to waypoint.
I hadn’t chosen to do too much on the DownsLink as I would be using it on the way home as the nearest bikeable path to the river, but this small bit got me through Southwater (toilet stop!) and up to Christ’s Hospital school where I would nearly be at the source of the river.
I kept a bit of an eye on the map as I joined the busy A264 where at some point the very young river Adur would pass under as a trickle. This is a road I used to drive along quite often when I worked in the area, little did I ever know what importance was starting a journey to the sea, almost following me every day on my drive to and from work.
How do you know when a small stream is passing under a road? I gathered it would sit in a dip in the road, a little valley, and this was certainly the case as metal railings on the side of the road suddenly suggested something going on. I quickly stopped and looked over, finding a small trickle of what could had just been a drain inbetween two fields. Consulting the map, it was definitely the river Adur, just formed within the field a small distance from the road. My journey had just started, little to believe that in less than 20 miles there would be ships on the same river!
The river goes under the road to the other side but soon switches back again. I take a small diversion down a dead end lane to find the river. It seemed like a good time and place to have a bit of a sit down and a snack, the river looked a bit more like a little stream now instead of just a boggy mess.
I had to leave the river for a while now, go back up the lane and join the main road again. There was a bridleway that looked like it might follow the river a bit closer, but it passed through woodland which to me meant a lot of mud, which I didn’t fancy. I was able to leave the busy A29 and settle back into country lanes. I cut the corner off of having to go through Billingshurst, but it would mean I would soon hit the equally busy A272. Rushing down a hill, I nearly missed the Adur as the road twisted at the bottom. The sound of rushing water made me stop and go back for a second look. One side, a small waterfall at the bottom of a garden, neat edges looked after and the sound of water. It had changed since I last saw it, maybe you could get a very tiny tiny boat on it, or at least play pooh sticks.
I soon joined up to the A272, surprisingly not too busy. I used to hate this road when I commuted up to Billingshurst and back, and on the odd occasion I have had to bike small distances it has not been much fun. It’s a bit of a marker, you can’t get too far without having to cross the A272. I wouldn’t stay on it for too long, at Coolham I ventured off road and towards an old second world war airfield, which just happened to sit slightly near the river.
I knew about the old airfield but had never seen it or read much about it. It turns out that it was used only temporary as an advance landing ground to support the D Day landings. One minute it was there, the next it had gone, and today the only clue is the fact that there is a long flat field… with some memorials along the footpath that skirts the edge. The polish air force were based here, no buildings were built but instead the whole airfield operated from tents. The memorials, positioned spaced out along the path are for each of the polish men who died, a tree planted for each one.
It was still a bridlepath, it turned into a bumpy and often muddy field which slowed me down. The other side, a small sunny path with blossom on the trees, and then suddenly a tiny bridge with the river going underneath. It seemed like such a nice location that a small snack stop was called for, it had taken ages going across fields to get here, but it was the river I had come to see so I didn’t mind.
It was quite nice to get back to a country road as I got to Shipley and past its windmill. It seemed the place to come to if you have a dog to walk, although it seemed you had to drive to get there with the roads clogged by cars with dogs jumping out of the rear of the posh looking estate cars and Range Rovers. Maybe it was a posh person’s dog walking outing, or maybe it was just a popular place. It was nice, if a tad busy for a village in the middle of nowhere. I left the village, I passed back over the river, and I continued onto the busy dual carriage way of the A24 Worthing to London road.
This would be my last visit to the river before it turned into something quite serious and boat worthy. I had to leave it’s edge as I crossed over the four busy lanes of the A24 and made my way towards Henfield. Normally you would not be able to do this journey as the real tidal river Adur sits between you and Henfield, but I had spotted a bridleway which included a river crossing. I ignored the GPS as it kept telling me I had gone the wrong way, I could see clearly from its map that I was still following the blue line on the map. It didn’t like me leaving roads, surely it had to be a setting somewhere?
All of a sudden the small mud path came to an end and in front of me was a bank of which over the other side of a real proper river. It had certainly changed a lot since I had last crossed it, and a small narrow metal bridge allowed me to cross over. A bit worrying that a sign said the bridge was closed, but it clearly wasn’t.
This was a handy little route I had found, across the now wide river which makes for a bit of a divide in the area with little option when it comes to road bridges and you are out and about, I’m not sure why I have not seen it before. It got me to Henfield through the backdoor and back onto the Downslink which would be most of my route back, knowing full well that it not only crossed the river later on but crossed it with the remains of the old railway bridge. I’ve biked along the Downslink both early in the morning and late in the evening and it is a nice flat quiet route with amazing views. The path close to Henfield is actually quite good bump wise, it tends to deteriorate the nearer you get to Steyning. Until then, you can get your head down and really go for it, bouncing over any bumps that there are and at the same time make good time off road. It must had been good doing this route from a railway carriage in the old days, a lot of it is not lost now that it is a bike route.
Because of that, this particular stretch is normally quite busy on warm sunny days with walkers and cyclists. I reached the bridge over the river, and having taken suitable photos I couldn’t help but notice a cyclist in distress with a flat rear tyre, a bloke and his son. I like to think that out on the road people on bikes try to help each other. This might well have been the case many years ago but I notice these days that it is not something you can ever depend upon, which is a bit sad. I’ve had the odd occasion when stopped at the side of the road doing something, a cyclist will ask if all is ok as they approach and I answer with a thumbs up, but mostly a lot of people on bikes just want to get to their destination as quick as they can in order to keep their rating on Strava looking good. That’s all a bit sad. Maybe I do the same, when I see someone all lycra’d up with a wheel in one hand and a canister of air in the other, I tend not to give it much attention. If however I see a normal looking person, bike in one hand and worried look on their face, I always ask if they are ok. It seems bias comes in many forms and I might be as guilty as the next person on a bike.
In this occasion it was clear that they were about to start the long walk back to Steyning which would had been a good hour by foot. I wasn’t going to let them use my rapid fix ‘foam in a can’ puncture stuff, you never know when you need it, but I did have plenty of patches and rubber solution and so together we found puncture, applied the fix, pumped it back up again and they were ready to go. This has delayed me somewhat, so close to home too, but I felt it had been worthwhile, and indeed the first time I had had to use tools on the side of the road, so to speak.
I was now only 4 miles or so from home, but tracing the river would mean going all the way out to sea, and not straight home. Instead of the quick route home I turned and went through Bramber, narrow streets and another bridge. This time a road bridge, and before the railway disappeared it would had been the first road bridge having left the coast. Now the main traffic is taken over a new wide bridge, leaving this one a little hump back bridge what on a sunny day had plenty of walkers passing by.
In old days the river at Bramber would had seen ocean going ships either stopping at Bramber or passing by to Steyning. It was an important route which had Bramber castle positioned up high with good views of the river to keep an eye on things. It no doubt gave fortune to both Steyning and Bramber, today is seems strange that ships ever got this far inland, but then the course and flow of the river at this point has changed greatly over the years.
After the little detour through Bramber and Upper Beeding, cross the river, I would join and cross back over again quite soon, while also rejoining the Downslink. River and railway keeping very close to each other, while at the same time being enemies, now both links no longer used for transporting goods. While the river remains, the railway is history, the river has the last laugh maybe.
I would normally keep to the Downslink back into Shoreham, but I had heard of flood defense work taking place and I didn’t want to have to come back should the route be closed. Instead, I crossed the river using the Downslink footpath (the original railway bridge being a little bit down river and no longer present) and rejoined the country road what would keep me still close to the river before it ended at the airport.
This got me to what was the main A27 trunk road up until the late 1960s, an ancient wooden bridge that once took all the traffic, the cars and lorries, the buses for the whole of the south coast. It was a toll bridge and had just a single passing place in the middle where cars and lorries would slowly pass each other while hoping the wooden supports of the bridge would keep holding things up until at least they had got to the other side. It was even more exciting than that, the now long gone railway was at the other end with a level crossing and the all important toll booth with the man to collect the money. It wasn’t just an old bridge, it was an ancient bridge build in 1781 when the only option was to go up to Bramber or to cross the river at low tide. When the new massive urban dual carriageway flyover was built, it must have felt like science fiction to the traffic, flying over the valley in seconds on something which would had been almost a family adventure day trip! It closed for good to traffic in late 1970, unbelievable when you look at it.
The bridge was no longer needed after that and so it fell into disrepair. The ancient’ness of the bridge finally meant it was restored and is now a very well used footbridge. People would look at you strange now if you suggested it was a main trunk road not that many years ago.
At this point the river is both very wide and very tidal. Wide flat water looking nice when the tide is in, lots of brown mud when it is out. The toll bridge has become a bit of a symbol for Shoreham, and neighbouring Lancing seems to have stolen it for their promotion ‘come and visit Lancing’ material. It does join Shoreham and Lancing, so maybe it is a bit of both. We won’t ask why it takes you to Brighton Shoreham airport which is not in Brighton, and not really in Shoreham, but instead in Lancing.
One more bridge, this time the A259 main coast road that started life as a narrow but exciting looking suspension bridge, to a 1950s cantalever bridge that whistled in the wind, to a modern day concrete bridge that has no character to mention. Maybe it was because of this that I forgot all about it on my trip (even though I cross it regularly normally) and went straight to the final but newest bridge, the Adur Ferry bridge.
There are photos of livestock fooding the river from new Shoreham town centre to over to the shingle of the beach. The Shoreham beach area has the river one side and the sea on the other, pretty much a narrow strip that has changed shape greatly over the years but it now quite firm with where it sits, which is good as it contains a lot of houses. Shoreham beach contained nearly nothing up until recently, even photos of the 1980s shows it pretty much deserted with the odd wooden house here and there. Now you will find beach side properties all trying to out do each other in terms of getting the attention of ‘out there’ architecture. If your funny box looking glass sided house doesn’t have a small boat, a range rover, and a telescope pointing out of the window to the sea, then you are a nobody.
The UK were pioneers when it came to film making in the early days, due to the type of behemium people that had settled there and the masses of natural light, the first first moving film studios were built on Shoreham beach. The settlement of these people, using old railway carriages and what ever they could find to build some sort of house on the beach must have meant there was plenty of chance for performers and all sort of strange an unconventional people being available. The film making went over to Hollywood, and the little houses either got destroyed by the sea or destroyed by the British army in the second world war. The river continued, and an ugly looking concrete footbridge was built to prevent people having to ford over.
The bridge was narrow and ugly, but seemed to last for a very long time until just recently. Sustran part funded the building of a new wider bridge to take the national cycle route over and it saves me many minutes each day on my cycle to and from work each day. It suffers from it’s glass panels breaking on a regular basis, could it be vandals, could it be a bad bridge design – no one knows, but it keeps the local council busy and the local facebook groups populated with speculation.
It would not be a complete ride if I did not make it to the sea, and so I followed the road along Shoreham beach to get to the mouth of the river. It is where where ships still exist, but instead of turning left into the main river they turn right and into the docks. These docks have been there for many years and by the number of times I have to wait to cross the lock gates on my cycle into work, it remains pretty busy.
At the mouth of the river sits an old fort, planned in the 1850s, it has a local support group that looks after it. It’s not really a family day trip out, but it is an interesting and sometimes little know about part of Shoreham that local people come to. It featured some of the first ever outdoors film making too.
The film making had better results than the fort ever did. There was worry at the time that the Royal Navy would not be able to prevent the French from popping over and so they built this. By the time it was build though, it was all a bit outdated and a new fort planned. This was never built and the whole lot had no real meaning in life until the second world war when it was no doubt ready to be put into action should the invasion happen. After the war, the guns were removed and a coast guard tower was plonked on top, looking very much out of place. Recently that tower has been removed and a lot of work by the volunteers have made a good job at looking after it. The yearly open day events tell you a lot of interesting history.
The coast guard volunteer service keep an eye on boats and ships passing by, I don’t know why in the age of GPS and transponders, but it keeps those manning it busy and gives a purpose.
The trip had been a long one, not so much in distance but certainly in time and in the whole feeling of what was just a small trickle of water in a ditch to a massive wide river with ships. The weather had been good and the bike handled everything I forced it to ride over. The new GPS had given me some cause for concern with not only its constant losing of the route but also the inability to be able to read the screen in bright daylight. The remaining battery at 22% by the time I got home did not feel me with confidence either, maybe not helped by me constantly having to use it to put it back on track. A bit disappointing, and I wonder if I will continue to use it or I will fall back to the old but totally reliable eTrex that had served me very well before this (apart from the hassle of connectivity and the 200 point limit of course). It needs another ride to determine if it will find its way onto ebay soon. It does show that the old, cheap, basic GPS really does the job, the new flashy GPS just tries too hard.
Number of miles: 56
Number of river crossings: millions
Number of rivers: just the one
Number of times cursing GPS: I just gave up in the end!