Day one: 124.5km, av. 17.4km/hr, max 45.9 km/hr, calories 1668, co2 saved 18.6, time on bike: 7hrs 7 mins (a new record!)
With the sun shining and an unexpected few days off work and in the UK (plans to cycle in Germany as part of the ride to Ende Gelande didn’t quite come off) I decide instead to ride for a couple of days in SE England, staying over night at a youth hostel for the first time. I’m no youth but I’m reliably informed that doesn’t matter any more, and at £13 a night (£10 for members) you can’t really argue.
I set off relatively early (for me) at around 10.30am in glorious sunshine on my now usual route out of South London, although this time going via Sydenham Hill station (Fountain Drive) to get to Crystal Palace, which is a much nicer route and makes me wonder why I haven’t done it before – it also avoids the absolutely killer steep bit directly up Sydenham Hill Road.
After Croydon and Purley I take a right and head towards Banstead. Somewhere near Epsom I end up cycling right through the racecourse, which is kind of odd, and then through some woods along a bumpy, steep uphill dirt track which is part of the national cycle network (Route 22) but would surely be impassable in winter. Fun though!
Eventually I get beyond the M25, though this time via a dark little tunnel going under, rather than a euphoric downhill woosh going over. Beggars can’t be choosers; it’s still great to escape London’s clutches.
Suddenly, I’m in the Surrey Hills and find myself back on Leith Hill, for want of taking the quieter route. I stop for lunch part 1 (split lunch into two halves for double the enjoyment) at the top, in woods, sitting on a log as the birds sing around me and the sunshine peaks through. It’s lush. As is the downhill…
Back on the main roads, I dick-up near Dorking, riding about an extra 5km for no good reason. Back on track, I suddenly find myself again in glorious countryside, heading towards Coldharbour. Whizzing downhill, ringing my bell thrilled at how amazing it is to be cycling here in such beautiful, green surrounding, I (stupidly) get my phone out to take a photo and somehow capture the moment (you can’t, silly!)
At this point, with only one hand on the bars, I hit some kind of pothole and nearly – oh so nearly – come off. I pull on the brakes instinctively, skid a little, and head towards the verge, but somehow stay upright. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and begin to think just how much damage I might have just done to myself had I come off at 35km/hr, which is probably what I was doing. And of course while I packed a tool kit in case the bike needs any patching up, I didn’t pack anything to patch myself up…
Lesson well and truly learnt.
Finally, and a little later than planned, I hit the Downs Link in the village of Rudgwick. The link is a cycle track on an old railway line down to Shoreham, shut after the infamous Beeching report in the 1960s. The guy rightly gets a lot of stick, but at least on the plus side we now have a legacy of green corridors for wildlife and cyclists, walkers, and horse riders.
The first thing I come across is the crazy double bridge, which also makes a great lunch (part 2) stop. They built one bridge but then realised it was too low, making the gradient too steep for trains to get to the nearby station, so they built a second bridge on top of it. Genius. Nearby there’s a beautiful glade and nature’s own sculpture…
From here on the ride is enjoyable, although the surface is a bit tricky at times (you couldn’t do it on a road bike), and I do start to yearn for a bit of tarmac. Or just a track you can ride on without shaking all of your bones. It’s also sometimes a bit weird being stuck in a green corridor without much of a view – although it would be amazing in summer if you need shade. By now, it’s clouded over and there’s even a few spots of rain when I stop at the abandoned station of West Grinstead, so it’s actually quite gloomy cycling under the canopy.
Somewhere near West Grinstead, my phone (and with it MapMyRide) dies, and it’s around here that I accidentally lose the Downs Link route as it passes through a housing estate. But this is no bad thing as I need to get to a place called Southease (love that name!) in time for dinner at 7pm, so it’s time to get back onto the roads.
I end up on the A281 heading through / over the South Downs, near to Devil’s Dyke, passing the 100km mark as I do. I won’t lie, it’s hard work, but I push on through, and then enjoy the long descent into Brighton.
There’s no time to enjoy any of the attractions in Brighton though, and I ride on, via the coastal path that I last cycled on in December, with the waves crashing over the sea wall. There’s no such drama this time, but it’s still great to be beside the sea, after a day spent cycling in the countryside. Eventually, Google Maps tells me to take a bridleway for the last bit of the route.
The bridleway is basically grass, uphill, through a huge field. Completely nuts but good fun. It eventually returns me to a road, and there’s a final bit of downhill joy before I eventually hit the Youth Hostel at Southease. It’s in an old farm building and has real character. I’m just in time for dinner (no time for a shower first) so I literally sit down and then eat. Lots. It’s pizza and I have to say I temporarily put any pretence of being vegan or even veggie aside as I pig out.
Apart from post a load of pics to Instagram, and chat to the two guys I have dinner with (one a retired guy riding a motorbike, the other a young Lithuanian carpenter staying overnight between jobs), there’s not too much to do other than go to sleep. I’m in bed by 11, tired but glad to have cycled further in one day than I ever have before!