What I did on my holidays. By Sarah
The South Downs Way is the UKs 1st national trail to be a long distance bridle
way, that means that for its way-marked length of approx 100 miles it is legal
to walk, ride a horse or cycle, most of the trail is off road and covers
beautiful rolling country side with much of the route following the escarpment
top of the downs.I tackled on my MUni last week and had a great ride, for more
details read on.
We ( Paul and Sarah) decided to split the ride into 3 long days riding and a
short first day as a warm up.YHA and B&B accomadation was booked, train times
investigated , backpacks carefully loaded, tires pumped and off we set arriving
at Eastbourne on the south coast at lunchtime on Sunday.
A short afternoon ride in glorious sunshine took us out of the busy resort town
and up Pashley Down. Yes there is a photo of Paul upon a Pashley up on Pashley.
This early part of the bridle way is well used by locals and tourists alike, out
for an afternoon in the sun and we drew a number of comments and chatted to
passing M. Bikers including one couple on a tandem, now they had the right idea,
one person, one wheel. True to my usual form I had a reason free face plant
fairly early , hitting the flint strewn path in the middle of a golf course. No
sign of a slug this year, maybe it was a golf ball. With only ego bruised we
rode on down a superb lumpy bumpy cart trail into the village of Jevington, this
path is reckoned to be a technical descent on two wheels, top fun on one.
I was starting to realise that the SDW could be renamed the South Ups and downs
and ups way, slogging up the hill to the next ridge way section. A few km riding
on close cropped grass took us past the long man of Wilmington chalk cut figure
and around the head of a dry valley full of model gliders being flown in
intricate loops and twists , we took a moment to gawp at the radio control
pilots whislt they gawped at us, some people have the strangest hobby’s.
Down another flinty lumpy track and we rode into the charming, totally over run
with tourists, village of Alfriston.We paused to visit the 14th century clergy
house now owned by the national trust, where we admired the newly laid rammed
chalk and sour milk floor , made to a tradional downland recipe. Then a 1km road
ride took us out to the youth hostel , showers, food and bed.
Come morning however things were looking less rosy.The sky was grey and drizzly,
and worse,Pauls knee injured in the Polaris competion some weeks previous was
playing up and quite painful. We decided to press on and hoped the knee was just
stiff and would relax once warmed up. The mornings route was 13.5 miles to reach
the Newmarket Inn for a Pub lunch. Once up on the ridge top the clouds cleared a
little and the sea was visible off in the distance . The cropped grass or packed
chalk under wheel was easy riding and the miles soon passed before we had to
drop down again to cross the river and railway at Southease.1 km road riding and
another slog up hill returned us to the ridge top and more great riding, I was
getting peckish as we made the last few miles before lunch.
The SDW passes under a railway just before the pub, I peddled joyfully down hill
towards the tunnel, emerged on the other side of the tracks and … NO PUB. umm.
Facing me was the busy duel carriage way A27, an empty field and on the other
side of the road a mobile transport cafe. Dejected we decided the pub must have
been demolished in road improvements and followed a new diversion of the path to
a farm crossing bridge. Some how a bacon buttie from a trailer cafe sat only
yards away from thundering lorries wasn’t what I’d been looking forward to.
It was at this low point that Paul decided his left knee was not going to
survive another 16 miles that afternoon. He reluctantly left to limp the 2 miles
to Lewes train station and return to collect our car, his SDW attempt over, I
meanwhile had to carry on alone. Boy was it a tough afternoon, just as I got to
the top of the hill the rain came down and stayed with me for the next 13 miles.
Apparently I rode past an iron age earth works, a pair of wind mills and the
Devils Dyke beauty spot. Didn’t see a thing, the cloud cover was down to my
knees and it was only regular flapjack stops which kept me going. Finally damp
and unhappy I reached Truliegh Hill and knew it was downhill all the way to the
Pub for the night. Relieved I turned onto a bridle way claiming to lead down to
the village, only to stop a a hundred yards later convinced I heard my name
called . It was Paul who had walked out to meet me and was now on a different
path in an adjoining field, he scrambled thru the hedge and we limped off to
find a bath and bed for the night.
Tuesday dawned all to soon, I was stiff and rather uncomfortablely chafed from
riding in wet shorts the previous afternoon. Oh and my boots were still soaking
wet. The threatened journalist from the local paper hadn’t showed up by nine a.m
much to my relief as I rode off alone again. Paul waving farewell from a foot
bridge over the river Adur. The first indication of what a great day this was
going to be was the sun coming out as I gained the ridge, then I managed to over
take some mountain bikers. Of course they promptly returned the favour along
with queries about my speed and distance abilities, then they pedaled off into
the distance. I had to cover 13 miles before lunch at the Bridge Inn ,
Amberley,and after lunch 19.5 miles to our overnight stop. Easy, at least the
run till lunch was , superb riding on fairly solid tracks, mostly gently
rolling. The sun shone, the wild flowers in the track-side verge were vibrantly
coloured and there were butterflies every where. I romped into Amberley in just
3 hours. Arriving at the pub long before Paul.
Re fueled I hit the SDW after an hour or so , another unending up hill and a
strange lack of way marks were a little disconcerting, but with trusty guide
book and rapidly drying boots I made it up Bignor Hill and along to Stane street
Roman Road. At this point I realised I had made the mistake of turning two pages
together in the guide book and had woefully under estimated how long this
section would be. I had 8 miles to do not 3 before Cocking where I planed to
meet Paul for tea in 45 minutes time. AH. Then two m.bikers overtook me, they
were not pleased to see me, it was the same pair I’d overtaken earlier in the
morning. Some how they had got behind me again , I thought they’d got lost or
dawdled over lunch. 1 mile later I realized it was because they were crap at
hills,as I overtook them again on the way up Litleton down. OK so I was racing
along when I reached the ridge again but strangely it took another 4miles for
them to catch up with me. I was impressed at my own turn of speed and managed to
keep up with them for a further .5 mile or so before the two wheel advantage on
downhill took them ahead of me only shortly before my rendezvous point with
Paul. I was late but I had managed 8 miles off road in a hour and 10 min. To
allow the now very disgruntled M.bikers a chance to get a head I took a pit stop
for a flapjack and to admire the view for 10 min.
The last 8.5 miles of the day were tough, I was tired and the ridge ride gave
way to continuous ups and downs. Meanwhile Paul was having trouble with the car
brake pads dying on him and he had to abandon the thing in a local garage for
repair and continue to South Harting by taxi. When I finally pulled up the last
hill and headed down to the village I was an hour overdue and my right knee was
hurting, possibly from pulling back on all the descents. We limped into our
accomadation together again. The Mill House at South Harting is the best B&B
I’ve ever stayed at. It is beautiful, our host had never seen a Uni in the flesh
and was fascinated, the gardens could have been a stately homes and walking back
from the Pub we saw a Badger, a good nights sleep and free range eggs for
breakfast rounded the stay off nicely.
Wednesday, my final day riding, I had only to reach Winchester a mere 27 miles
away. Today the big section was to be 15 miles before a lunch stop at Exton.
After experimenting with the mountain bike trails in QE country park and
surprising some squaddies on a training run I walked up Butser Hill , the
highest point on the SDW in the company of some learning disabled lads on a
school trip, they were bemused by the MUni but very polite holding open gates
for me. Leaving them near a fake iron age hut at the hill top I pressed on along
a sandy bridle way pleasantly shaded by trees.Passing HMS Mercury was fun , this
land locked Naval base appeared to be very relaxed with only 2 security chaps on
the gate and a swarm of builders who were the first people all trip to ask why I
wasn’t juggling. Then I hit rambler country and got stared at lots. After
slogging up to Old Winchester hill I had a nasty shock and got an extra 2 mile
road ride/limp as my reward for wanting to stay legal. The route had been
changed to keep horses and bikes off an iron age fort. Eventually I staggered
into the pub garden to find Paul had been waiting hours. My right knee was
killing me now and it was tempting to jump in the car and give up. But"only 12
miles to go" , goaded Paul and thus provoked I downed some pain-killers nicked
his Tubigrip knee support and set off on the final stretch. Now riding up hill
had become as painful as down so I had a fair old walk up beacon hill ( 201m
high) before the way leveled out and I could ride most of the afternoon, hardly
seeing a soul but admiring hedge-row flowers, crickets, butterflies and
birds.Much of the final stretch to Winchester is an old green lane , many years
ago this would have been a busy throughhfare rattled over by carts and
carriages. Now it was so overgrown in places that I had to walk or risk being
thrown off by branches in my spokes. My solitude came to an end a mile outside
Winchester where in the village of Chilcomb the SDW bridle way ends and only
walkers are allowed to tramp the final mile across a wheat field. Us poor saps
on one or two wheels are directed to the nearby A 31. a busy duel carriage way
full of lorries and other unpleasantness. I limped along side the road to a foot
bridge which would take into Winchester town and reflected on the irony that
such a foul final mile should end a fantastic off road trek .
I’d done it,Eastbourne to Winchester, 100 miles ish in 3.3 days on a MUni. The
trip had taken its toll, the car had broken down, Pauls left knee had broken
down, my right knee was on the way out and my shoulders were aching. But the
MUni was still going strong, not even a puncture or spoke broken. I’m impressed.
Next Year? maybe I’ll do the coast to coast.