With a week’s annual leave booked, and without the requisite short-haul flight for yet another anodyne city break to go with it, I started to think closer to home. The weather forecast for the week was spectacular (including the hottest day of the year so far – in mid-September), so a three day trip by bike to the Isle of Wight seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Day one, Tuesday 13th September
At least 93km, av 17.4km/hr, max 47.3, 5hr 22 mins (route on MapMyRide up to the point the battery died)
For day one, I decide to keep things relatively straightforward, with a ride from SE14 to a youth hostel just outside Shoreham-by-Sea. On paper, around 90km. On the hottest day of the year.
Due to having some errands to run, I don’t get going until about 10.30am, by which time it’s already pretty damn hot. I head out of London via my ‘usual’ route through Croydon, Purley, up onto the expanse of Farthing Downs, and then that awesome downhill over the M25 that I’ve come to know and love. It’s then familiar country roads to Redhill, followed by a stretch on the Brighton Road, down past Horley.
Here, road fans, I decide to stick with the more direct B2036 rather than the route suggested by Google Maps, which in retrospect is perhaps a mistake. This is a busy, narrow, fast road. Not massively fun to cycle. It got me thinking, is there an online map that shows how busy/fast (and therefore safe for cyclists) a road is, because clearly being an A or B road doesn’t really mean much in this respect. Turns out Google Maps does this already (of course it does), so will give this a go next time.
The road passes close to Gatwick Airport, and I enjoy a noisy lunch in a field right under the flight-path, as Sleazyjets take off over my head every couple of minutes.
After crossing over the M23, the road passes through woodland, providing some welcome shade, and then a turn onto the B2110 through Handcross provides respite from the traffic.
There’s then a bit on the MapMyRide map where I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent. I was trying to take a shortcut across some farmland to Burnthouse Lane, but it turns out that while there is a footpath, it’s got one of those annoyingly non-bike-friendly kissing gates halfway through the route, and there’s just no getting through. It’s also a ‘permissive’ footpath (ie: the local residents don’t really want you there at all, since the path passes through their estates) so I decide to give up and turn back rather than having the hounds set upon me.
After a pit-stop at the crazily air-conned Co-op in Cowfold to pick up some essential supplies (a nice cold cider and some Skittles), I carry on – making pretty good progress. Eventually I pick up my old friend the Downs Link, only this was the bit that I missed last time I cycled on it. It’s great to be finally cycling off-road and the path isn’t as bumpy as some of the other stretches.
Pretty soon I pass over a small river, the River Adur, with the sun still hot in the sky. It’s about 5pm, the perfect time for a swim, so I lock up and wander down to investigate. The river is barely moving, although there is a lot of weed and mud. It looks a little like other people have clambered down the bank before me, so decide it’s probably safe. One foot in to the soft mud, then another, and I’m in. So refreshing! There’s not much room to swim before becoming entangled in weeds, but it’s still totally worth it.
Afterwards, I crack open the cider and enjoy what can only be described as a few minutes of bliss. The warmth, the stillness, the sense of having got here under my own steam, with 80km on the clock. This is why cycling rocks.
Conscious of the fact I need to be at the hostel by 7pm to get dinner, I can’t hang around too long though and it’s back on the road. I also keep on getting distracted by the plentiful and oh-so-tempting blackberries at my every turn. And sheep.
It’s somewhere around here that phone #1 dies and I’m trying to navigate the last bit with phone #2 and its shonky GPS. Big mistake not to check the exact instructions and route for finding the hostel. Because it is literally in the middle of nowhere, on the top of a hill on the South Downs Way.
I totally miss the path (since I’m expecting a road) and cycle on way too far, almost all the way to Shoreham, as dusk falls. I end up turning around and pushing the loaded bike up a steep, bumpy track – the South Downs Way – in semi-darkness, finally arriving at the hostel at half 7, having done well over 100km… (my bike pedometer is playing up as well, recording only 93km). Knackered, but hugely relieved that they’ve kept my dinner!
The hostel itself is fine, if a bit basic (no plug sockets in the bedroom, what’s up with that?), and quite busy. I’m too tired to socialise so, after a much-needed shower, I just read and watch the news before nodding off to sleep in the super-warm, super-snory dorm.