I’ve biked past Cissbury Ring, I’ve never really stopped to take a look, and it is only 4 miles cross country, the sunrises and sunsets from the top look great. I wasn’t really thinking it through when I thought I would cycle to see the sunrise, on almost the longest, sunniest, hottest day of the year. I would have to set off at 4 in the morning to see the sunrise just before 5. What could be nicer than biking over the South Downs, watching the sun rise…
I hadn’t used the Dawes mountain bike since I did half of the South Downs way and it still had part of the South Downs attached to it. A quick brush down, I fitted lights and GPS ready for the morning. The GPS would be for tracking only, I knew how to get to Cissbury, a case of just going up the hill and turning left in the dip by the huge electricity pilon. I pondered for a while about lights, not being able to fit the powerful torch front light due to the small size of the handlebars, I opted for the smaller and much less powerful town light. I wondered how it would be in the pitch dark in the middle of nowhere.
As it happened, it didn’t really get dark that night, when I woke up just before 4 in the morning it was as if dawn had started, and yet it was 50 minutes away. The worry about not being able to see where I was going was not really relevant, infact I wasn’t really thinking I needed lights on at all, although I was fully illuminated as I set off up the hill to the South Downs.
I made my way up Mill Hill, slowly. I hadn’t seen any other traffic, it seemed like mid morning and yet everyone was still asleep. By the time I got off the road and onto the Downs, there was no trouble seeing where I was going, looking back down the hill I could see Shoreham and Brighton still hours away from a new day.
I made my way slowly along the byway, last time I was cycling here it was cold and I was tired, it was getting dark and raining a lot. The sun was not up yet, but I could see it coming and while I stopped in places to take photos, I kept an eye on time too hoping I would not miss the full sunrise at Cissbury.
Cissbury is a small drive away, but direct over the Downs it is hardly any distance at all. Even at the slower speed going cross country, it seemed suddenly the Ring was next to the track I was on and I was soon heading upwards. It is always interesting cycling along the tracks the link these ancient settlement sites together, you feel that you are following routes that thousands of years ago were main routes around the country. While I might be away from modern roads and houses, I was in fact on a main route with a major settlement right up on my lefthand side. If this was ancient times, would I be welcomed in through the busy gated entrance or would I be seen as a threat, a stranger making his way on his own early in the morning, on a bike…..
The climb up seemed long and was certainly steep. I looked behind me and the top of the sun was starting to show, I had made it for sunrise. Over the next 20 minutes the sun got higher and higher as I watched the different colours while sitting by a tree. They had found a good site in ancient times to give them a good view all around, good sunrises, good sunsets.
It was quiet and peaceful as I walked around. I had a feeling was no alone as I made my way to the highest point and the trig point that was place there with a line of site to a similar trig point back towards Lancing. The footsteps got nearer at which point a herd of semi-wild horses walked passed, not really bothered about me being there.
It was pretty warm even though it was still really night time. I sat for a little while longer, drinking cold water from my bottle, taking photos. It was now time to make my way back home, maybe I would get back in time to get a couple of hours back in bed. I decided to take a different route back, still mostly off road but this time ending up in Sompting so I could then make my way back along the sleeping streets of Sompting and Lancing. The Garmin Tour GPS was doing well with its maps, it was easy to find the tracks I needed and after a long downhill ride I met the A27, crossed over and went home.
I watered the plants, and went back to bed.
Number of miles: 11
Number of fantastic sunrise opportunities: millions
Number of ancient settlements: 1
Number of friendly wild hoses: lots
Number of moments left in the pitch black of the night: night, what’s night – it no longer gets dark
Number of times thinking it will be a very hot day: lots, it was hot and the day hadn’t even begun