Avatar for Shannonball

Shannonball

Member since Sep 2013 • Last active May 2024

Former club secretary and founder member of Islington Cycling Club

Islington Council Active Travel Team Leader
British Cycling Level 2 road and time trial coach
Provisional British Cycling Level 3 road and time trial coach
National Standards cycle instructor and instructor trainer

Photo Crater Lake Century Bike Ride 2015, Oregon.
Confession Totally addicted to endorphins
Why Sir_Shannonball? Because I am a Knight of Sufferlandria.
Motto I'll sleep when I'm dead
My recent rides
http://www.strava.com/athletes/203429/la­test-rides/82cace86c58f180c970aa41da8f39­f9d4f5ba4bb

Most recent activity

    • 129 comments
    • 24,321 views
  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    24/04/2024 - Anniversary present

    ICC had created a pot of money to spend on members to celebrate our 10th anniversary. One of the things chosen to support with our cash surplus was a subsidised weekend away in the New Forest. With an entire youth hostel booked, more than 70 of us rolled up to the Burley YHA with the prospect of two days of, arguably, the best gravel tracks in the south and/or some very pretty road riding through the forest and moors of this incredible beauty spot.

    Some arrived early on Friday and got an extra ride in, but I couldn’t get away before 3pm and arrived around 5.45pm. Actually 6pm. It should have been 5.45, but using Google maps for directions it took me down a hideous track which turned out to be a dead end with pedestrian access only to the YHA. Hideous for cars, but after a 3-point turn, I reflected that it would be superb for a gravel bike and that tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.

    Here's a little walk the YHA around on Friday night:
    https://youtu.be/3eufcuJvBO0?si=0l7Xy7_Z­¬-I9e1j8r

    All the dinners and breakfasts were laid on at the hostel, but I got tempted out to the pub for a couple of beers and an exceptionally tasty venison Bolognese. I spotted a dessert menu that included sticky toffee pudding, crumble and Nutella and brioche bread and butter pudding. Somehow I evaded this triple temptation, but considered the latter would be an excellent apres ride reward…


    I can resist everything but temptation, as they say


    The YHA was the perfect base

    Those doing a road ride set off at 9am and the gravel groups 30 mins later. I plumped for the 104km option, figuring go big day one and see what’s left on Sunday.


    One of the road groups setting off on Saturday

    After 3 or 4 road groups had gone off, the gravel ones clipped in and rolled out. The 104km group felt like it was about 20 or so strong. Throughout the day it ebbed and flowed and became two or three groups of varying composition. Gates seemed to bring us together. The chosen route was based on one from Bikepacking.com, but we had to ride a bit to join it. This seemed to involve a field, a bog, a river crossing, mud and more bog. So much for a gentle warm up.


    Craig made light of crossing this river/creek

    The weekend was marred by quite a few flats and one or two spectacular mechanicals. Richard was three hours out by himself on a long distance solo mission when his rear mech failed. Lucy had an issue with her big chain ring and made a plea for a spare 105 compatible replacement on WhatsApp.


    Zac’s colourful bike – those cool blue tyres misbehaved and both front and rear flatted


    Lucy’s unusual mechanical

    Once we’d cleared the early soggy challenges, we reached more typical New Forest gravel paths and it was simply heaven. 100km usually leaves me a little bit battered, but I finished somewhat unbattered.

    https://youtu.be/cfVPInckdpI?si=2X_JXMa0­¬3-jXXt3t


    I found watching Juan’s video oddly relaxing – yours truly in green with the orange bike

    The rest stops were well chosen First we had lunch at the Potting Shed in Hungerford, where there was loads of space for bikes, loads of calories on offer (the sandwiches were huge) and loads of time on our butts. Almost a full hour. Oops. But the weather was so pleasant and it was lovely sitting an d chatting. Why were we here again? Oh, yeah, to ride.


    I honestly could have stayed at the Potting Shed all day

    We swung on and enjoyed another super session on the trails to Woods Cyclery in Lyndhurst, which is both a bike shop and café. There were mouth-watering cakes and some mouth-watering bikes and assorted cool components and accessories on offer.

    We came upon a couple of serious log piles and I insisted that the group stop and get some photos as it is the law of gravel riding to have a log pile pic or two.



    It is a legal requirement of all gravel rides to take a photo when you pass a log pile

    I’m sure you all know there are wild horses and donkeys wondering around the forest. Many. It always amazes me each time I’m in the forest how relaxed these creatures are with humans, cars and bikes. They act and move like they couldn’t give a stuff about us. Our group did have a moment with a non-wild horse. We did everything you’re meant to, but the rider was very nervous and this alarmed the poor horse who did a small circular charge and then calmed.

    Perhaps the sweetest moment of the ride for me was seeing a baby donkey lying on the grass and dozily looking up and blinking. I regret that I didn’t get a shot of it. Please post one below if you did.


    The kind of picture the internet was made for - thanks to +BiancaB for this image


    This was just after seeing the dozy donkey


    The terrain looks innocuous here, but Davide had just got through a very technical section

    Saturday night Grainne and Graham organised a quiz at the YHA and I took to opportunity, as founder, to tell a little of why and how the club was formed. Well, everyone I chatted to wanted to know, so it made sense to me. Worth repeating that welcome for all and openness to accommodating riders of every level is still strongly in evidence. Keep hold of this, my friends, it is very special.

    I had a second night in my “Land Pod” and after breakfast headed out for another gravel session. This was a bit of a comedy of errors. It seemed like everyone was doing the one route I hadn’t loaded. While I fiddled around trying to load it, they headed off. Steve H held back with me and we set off – at some pace – to catch up. Somehow we never did catch them until we reached the rest stop at Buckler’s Hard. It turns out they had been going the wrong way round the route.

    The route turned out to be 75% road, which initially peeved me. By the time we’d done half the ride my legs were feeling the pace of the day before and were completely happy with less gravel. I found myself back at the pub and sought out the dessert menu. Nutella and brioche bread and butter pudding – the best group of words in the English language. Well, they were that day.


    I had to eat a spoonful before I took the photo – sorry


    Taking a moment to capture the New Forest vibe in the run in of the last few miles on Sunday

    A big thank you to the organisers - especially +Grainne - your club email says special events and this was special. Where to next?

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    28/02/2024 – Welcome to hell

    In 1993, when Manchester United played the away leg of their Champions League fixture with Turkish champions Galatasaray, they were greeted both at Istanbul airport and the Ali Sami Yen stadium with signs proclaiming “Welcome to Hell.” Hell it was. The Red Devils couldn’t assert themselves in the heated atmosphere, Eric Cantona was sent off and they lost the tie.


    Cantona has the proverbial "early bath" in Istanbul

    I found my own special place in hell – as Eddie Izzard would put it – at the Hell of the Ashdown sportive. This event has eluded me over the years, so I thought I’d check out HOTA, as it is known, and see what kind of a welcome it held.


    Feeling welcome

    As it turns out, it was a great welcome. Warm in fact. The turnout was impressive – something like 1,200 – who enjoyed a really well run event. HOTA started life as an inter club reliability ride and has developed into a seriously good challenge ride – 62 miles and 6,000 ft of elevation gain. Close to the golden ratio of 1,000 ft per 10 miles.

    When the HQ is a craft beer brewery in Westerley, you are certainly incentivised to get round the course. And you need every incentive. When I set off it was barely 1C and didn’t rise above 5C. It was foggy for the first 2 hrs, which lent an extra sense of mystery and menace to the forest. The route starts as it means to go on, hitting Toys Hill before you reach the 2-mile point. Ouch.


    The sun did poke through eventually, but only a little

    The climbs keep coming. We are provided with an ominous top tube sticker that flags the main ones, plus the two feed stops. These are very well appointed. The first is at a rustic forest recreation area and the second a village had. The sausage rolls and cake kept me going. Real food always helps my tummy. I can take only so many gels and energy bars before another kind of hell hits down below.



    Woodpiles and piles of snacks at the first rest stop

    I’ve been coming back from a period of illness and bereavement, so I am a long way from race fit. My plan is to ride this like a training ride and build up my endurance before looking to kicking out a bit more. Maybe I’ll do that in a few weeks, but not yet. To emphasise the point, it feels like everyone else riding is incredibly strong. I do have to consciously work to forget about being constantly passed and just ride my pace. I must have been passed by 1,000 of those riding on the climbs. I believe I overtook just one rider on a black Sonder gravel bike.

    Speaking of bikes, despite the rough and filthy nature of the roads, the vast majority of riders are on their Sunday best summer bikes. Very few winter trainers or mudguards are in evidence. There a healthy smattering of gravel bikes doing service. They all went passed me. There was group of four Kent Velo Girls in pink stripy kit riding in a tight group f four that seemed to be going my pace. I rode with or near them a few times, but not long. I was pretty much on my own most of the time.


    The Kent Velo Girls at one of the two fords on the course

    All the climbs, long or short, are steep. The steepest grade is 11%, but most seem to be 6-11% and they keep coming. It really is a great test of resilience. You are rewarded for or resilience with a splendid welcome at the HQ. Your given one of the locally brewed beers and rather excellent-looking burgers and fries are available. There’s a few stall with bikes kits and other cycling paraphernalia that adds some more interest.

    I had driven down with +RichardM, who borrowed my driving gloves. He cunningly left his on the roof of the car. Anyway, he’s ridden a blinder, just over 4hrs and had come 140th overall, 24th in his age group. I am actually impressed. He’s had a long wait for me and looks half frozen, as I am 1hr 39mins slower than both him and my gloves. Even my gloves were faster than me, I reflect, but I’m not bothered by that. It was a thoroughly entertaining day out, well worth the effort to get out there, if you fancy it next year.

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    +Greg_Kabulski try the Hemel one. It's easy to get to by train and the actual event is defunct. The Chinnor climb and descent through Wendover Woods are fab. The valley near Bledlow Ridge is special. Rest stop at the Hell Fire Caves in West Wycombe.

    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/31345389

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    10/02/2024 - Tales of a pessimist

    Back in 1987, BBC weather presenter Michael Fish gave a forecast that denied rumours that a hurricane was on its way.

    https://youtu.be/uqs1YXfdtGE?si=vvA2vkfC­JhaxGzep

    The next day a violent cyclone ripped through the country with winds of up to 132mph, 18 people died and 15 million trees were felled. Since then, it seems to me that BBC weather forecasts have erred on the side of caution to the point of pessimism. For some reason, I failed to remember this...

    So, it was the Friday before a 100km reliability ride and – I know, know – I checked the BBC weather app on my phone. In truth I’d been checking every day for a week. The prediction was bleak. A 70% chance of rain all day. Not really what I wanted to subject myself to, especially after recovering from a nasty chest infection in January. When +Greg_Kabulski posted that he was thinking about doing a DIY ride of the route on the better-looking Saturday, I decided to do the same.

    I’ve ridden the Verulam CC Reliabilty Ride a few times – there are two reports above – so I knew what to expect - hills. My coach gave me a plan: “ride this on heart rate and keep it under 125BPM on the flat.” “What flats?” I wrote back, attaching the elevation profile. “Oh, I see, just go over 125BPM on the climbs then!”

    I set out from Redbourn doing as coach instructed. I kept it pretty mellow and the weather stayed pretty mild, a misty start that grew a little bright as the day wore on. I went through Tring and Albury, saw a very friendly white horse, then Wendover Woods and lunched at Wendover. No 2 Pound Street does a very good line in toasties and I sat and stared down the hill while gathering myself for the second half.

    Either side of the 40 mile mark the two most challenging climbs of the route come in quick succession. First Whiteleaf, then Wardrobes. These must have eaten into my legs a fair bit, because at 50 miles I was struggling. I stopped and took on some white chocolate and peanut protein bar thing, had a 5-minute breather and decided to HTFU. Easier said than done.

    The next 10 miles was a struggle, but once I was past that soul destroying climb out of Berkhamsted up[ Gravel Path, I rallied. I finished well apart from not have the apres ride lunch that Verulam CC throw on. I was a day early for that. I tried not to be too disappointed that this was my slowest ride on this route. I’m still coming back from a long period of disruption to my training and I was riding my somewhat heavier gravel bike. Although I have to say, having an easy 38/42 gear allowed my to cruise up the steeper ramps in a slow and stately manner.

    And Sunday, did it rain? Hardly. There was a brief and minor bit of drizzle and by noon it was blue skies. I love the BBC, but not for their weather forecasts. It's almost like they don't want us to go outside and enjoy ourselves! Next time I see another of their gloomy forecasts before an event, I’ll take it with a pinch of salt. The main thing for me was to get my first 100km ride of the year done, so mission accomplished.

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    15/01/2024 Things can only get better

    Oh boy, this one is going to be hard to write. I haven’t written a post for a while because my year, that started really promisingly, became something of an annus horribilis. It became too painful to post about. Sorry.

    Coming off the back of a successful Rapha Festive 500 (riding 500km over 8 days), I had a good launchpad for cycling in 2023. I even took New Year’s Day off riding and only touched my bike to clean it. I built a base of endurance, then grew my power, all the while doing regular weights sessions. I even tried my hand at salsa and hit spring feeling, well pretty good.

    I enjoy a varied cycling life. Road and gravel events, a bit of touring plus I commute and also race. It feels almost too eccentric, too niche, too odd, but my preferred for of racing is time trials on a tandem in the vets category with +RichardM. This provides me with goals. I have always loved training, but I find it better to have a specific goal. This makes you focus your training and work on a particular kind of fitness. Time trials in my case. The first three races went well. A course record at the Welwyn Hilly 50km and a PB by almost a minute for 10 miles on the F11/10 course near Tring.

    Then the wheels started to come off. Three races were cancelled for various reasons. For the next two, either I was ill or my tandem partner Richard was injured (can’t remember which way round it was), so we missed those two. Then bad weather at another. By then it was June. And I got a call one morning - my mother-in-law who lives in Oregon was dying. We duly flew to the West Coast and got to spend a few days with her before she passed.


    Charlie - such a good boy

    Then soon after we returned, we had to put our dog, Charlie, down. I rode the South Downs Way solo and tried to forget. Then my aunt died. Then my wife’s aunt died. This was all very hard. I stayed with the training. Stayed in shape. Stayed sane. Come September we had a shot at fast 25-mile course. Could we pull out another PB and save our season? Clearly no, you can read the story above (Two left feet) about how I managed to bring two left shoes to the race and we recorded a DNS rather than a PB.

    Late September came and my father had a heart attack. It seemed "mild" at the time, but he developed pneumonia and then a bad UTI and got weaker and weaker. My mother is disabled, so we suddenly had two parents in need of 24hr care. (If you reach that stage with your folks, 24hr care is never enough. You will invariably need to do more to support that care).

    I caught a cold which lasted the whole of December. Probably brought on by stress. Then, on 1 January my dad died putting a full stop on a dreadful 6 months. He was 94, but we all wanted more. The world seemed to freeze for two weeks while my brother, sister and I arranged funeral and wake and supported our mum. Then there’s all the paperwork and probate afterwards. Bereavement sucks.


    My father, Barry

    Today I’m back at work. Today my cold came back and my lungs are sore (it turns out I have a chest infection). Today sucks. In between all this, I’ve been trying to plan my 2024. I do have a calendar of races and events lined up. I’d like to actually ride a few of them, too! I know that I now have to be patient and build my fitness and health up. It feels like a bit of a mountain, to be honest. I really don’t want to lose any more of my dear ones this year. It has been an extraordinary period. I hope to be posting again soon about cycling.

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    04/10/2023 - Falling for the jerk

    When I’m asked why I like to ride my fixed-gear bike, I often reply “to make it harder.” Having one gear that is usually the wrong one, makes for a great challenge when you have to grind uphill or spin like hell going down the other side.

    I applied a similar logic to taking part in Dulwich Paragon’s classic end of season sportive, The Ride of the Falling Leaves. With getting on for 5,000ft of climbing and grades up to 22% and several technical descents, it is absolutely not a tandem-friendly course. However, that is what I/we decided to do “to make it harder.” Ride tandem.


    Former club chair Richard May with current chair Alec James

    RoTFL, as they like to call it, is one of my absolute favourite cycling events in the calendar. An homage to Il Lombardia (AKA The Ride of the Falling Leaves), Paragon stage it on the first Sunday of October. I’ve ridden RoTFL six times over the seven years before the pandemic. It starts with a ¾ lap of the Herne Hill Velodrome, has several challenging climbs, great scenery and good food - coffee and pastries at the start and lunch and a beer at the end – plus it has a great atmosphere.


    The ICC chain gang


    Yours truly and Fiona Garland trackside at Herne Hill

    Pre-Covid there were timing chips and the gold time band meant finishing in under 4 hours, which I achieved twice. Once I missed it by a single minute (that’s what you get for stopping to help a fallen comrade). My only real aim this year was to have fun. Fun being slogging up steep inclines on an unsuitable machine and watching the pilot – poor +RichardM – nervously picking his way on downhills with tricky blinds turns and dodgy surfaces.


    Sleepy looking sheep on a misty morning on the way out of London

    There were about six or so ICC riders out including +Alec +Wai +FionaGarland which was great to see. My riding plan is always the same for this. Take it strong and steady until the first climb at Woldingham at 16 miles, then really try and crack on from mile 20 to 40, where it’s fairly level. Then it starts to get attritional with Toys Hill and Sundridge Lane and several other ramps between you and the finish. Anerly Hill – the last climb of the day - has a longish 10% section which requires a strong push. By the time we reached Anerly, I was still feeling good and able to put out strong power numbers (for me). Richard had a near cramping up moment, but kept chugging away, too.


    Grinding up Toys Hill is anything but child's play


    Jerk chicken - the lunch of champions

    Back at Herne Hill, we were treated to a jerk chicken lunch and an IPA, which were included in the ticket price. By then the sun was out and it was very pleasant sitting on the steps of the Herne Hill building. It did take a while queuing for the food, but boy was it delicious.

    Here's the route if you fancy giving it a bash.

    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/37446218

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    28/09/2023 – Two left feet

    This season – and specifically time trial racing season – I can honestly say I’ve been in decent shape with good power numbers. I’ve even lost 8lbs. I race, or should I say test, on the back of a tandem with +RichardM captaining the machine. He has been in pretty decent nick, too this year. And he’s even lost about 8 or 9lbs. The season started well, with a PB in an early race on the F11/10 near Tring. It all boded very well indeed. Or did it?

    This season became something of an annualis horribilis after our first two 10 mile races. The next three were all cancelled by the organisers for various reasons. Then I was ill (but nothing serious), then Richard was injured (but nothing serious). Then we had some holidays, then I had to make an unscheduled trip to the US to visit a dying relative. And when you took account of all our other commitments, it seemed the season was over.

    No fear. There still was a race in our calendars. The Cambridge CC 25. This is the F2A/25 course where we set our PB last year. We felt we could improve on that and then with PBs at 10 and 25 miles, the season would have been quite reasonable.

    You may guess where this is going. The day before my wife and I spent a longer day than we’d planned with our sons in central London. Arriving back late I took good care to pack my race back and include everything I needed. Just one item missing cab be disastrous. Skinsuit – check, gels – check, computer – check, shoes – check, helmet – check, pedals - check. You get the idea.

    I planned the drive up to Cambourne to give us 2 hours before we set off at 11:02. I picked up Richard and the bike, the roads were clear, got a good parking space, signed in, set up the bike, got into the skin suit, started to put on my shoes for the warm up and…

    …Oh

    I had a left shoe and another left shoe. Two left shoes. It took a little while to sink in. Then it did.

    Bugger.

    How did this happen? I have two pairs of black Sidi shoes, one with MTB SPD cleats and one Look cleats. The uppers are identical and clearly was easily confused.

    There wasn’t enough time to drive home and get the other shoe. I’d driven up in a pair of Crocs. At the least I could ride in one road shoe and one Croc. Richard didn’t like that idea at all. I looked for a local bike shop. None were open on a Sunday. I asked around. Nobody would lend me a shoe.

    Regretfully we sidled up to the sign in sheet and wrote “DNS” next to our names. We drove back with steam coming out of our ears. Accepting we’d missed an opportunity and started planning the 2024 season and what races and rides we were going to prioritise. It helped, but only a bit. When I got home, I took my frustration out by rattling around the Fixie Loop. That helped more.

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    30/08/23 Game of stones

    What is the oldest road in the country? Well, it’s The Ridgeway and it’s still in use. This ancient droveway is reckoned to be more than 5,000 years old. Originally it ran from Dorset to Norfolk and was known as The Chalk Way. These days there is an 87-mile National Trail you can enjoy between Ivinghoe Beacon and Avebury. In fact, the Ridgeway trail is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

    Previously, I’ve ridden some of the eastern part of the route and also some of the western leg when I took on the King Alfred’s Way. My recollection of the latter was as one of the best parts of that ride and wanted to revisit it. I grabbed a 100km route from a Trail Breaks event that starts in Chilton, goes out to Avebury and returns to Chilton. The RideWithGPS route shows it as 83% unpaved, so this would be a proper day out.


    There are plenty of great viewing points to take in

    I rode it with +RichardM and within ½ mile we’re climbing a super gravel trail. Within 3 miles we’ve both clipped the sides of those grooves you can get on trails and “enjoyed” a soft landing, plus a few swear words from me, before proceeding. This was going to be a bit more technical than I remembered.

    The weather was half decent, a brief shower later on, maybe, but otherwise the forecast looked good. I was aiming to reach my planned lunch stop by 12 or soon after. This was at the Red Lion pub opposite the standing stones in Avebury. The stones are something else. Unlike Stonehenge, you can go right up to them and not only is there a circle of stones – the Avebury henge - there is also a mile-long avenue of stones.



    An arial view of the stone circle and the avenue (these are professional photos - not mine)

    Lunch at 12 was a fantasy - in the sun, outside the pub, gazing out at the sheep and stones as we ate. Reality was not getting there until after 2pm, a 30-minute wait for food, then a shower that became a downpour that didn’t want to stop.


    Not quite the idyllic al fresco lunch I'd hoped for

    I didn’t want to charge through this ride, I wanted to enjoy it at a reasonable pace. That turned out to be so much slower than I’d imagined. Next time I do one of these rides I’ll have to remember that and lose my well-established optimism bias.

    Given the ongoing downpour (and Richard’s lack of rainwear), we made the sensible decision to return to Chilton by road. We went via Marlborough and Great Shefford. This made it a ride of two distinct flavours, the first part shared with livestock and full of stunning vistas, Iron Age forts and the Uffington White Horse and the second leg (somewhat faster) on tarmac taking in many pretty villages and it was all still pretty darn pretty. Even opting for Plan B, we still ended up with 68 miles and some very tired legs.




    Typical Ridgeway riding (before the downpour)

    Of course, you can explore this part of the Ridgeway any time, but there is Trail Break event coming up soon – The Ridgeway 100: Century to the Stones – on 9 September 2023 if you fancy doing this with support and food stops and so on. Plus you get a medal!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXIV7qVr­gjs

    Here's the event route:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/39819342

    And here's the full trail:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/35323551

    And this is a route that emulates the Great Chalk Way:
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41558612

  • in Forums
    Avatar for Shannonball

    31/07/2023 - Southern comfort

    I wanted to get away from it all and take on a gravel bike challenge. Just me and the countryside. Me and no worries. Me and the bike. Maybe I should have been more careful about what I wished for. I had the South Downs Way in mind. 100 miles of walking and cycling trail that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne. Those 100 off-road miles have more than 12,000 feet of climbing, it’s not for the faint hearted.

    I took the train to Winchester and set out just after 9am. A mile outside the town you hit the trail, an innocuously looking flat section starts you off. It’s rarely flat again and there’s barely any tarmac until you reach Eastbourne. As I begin, I pass a chap walking his dog and it all seems quite mellow.


    The deceptively flat beginning

    I’m committed to pacing myself and enjoying the famous views atop the Downs. I know there’s a lot of climbing, so I’ve packed as light I can bear to. I have strong tendency to overpack, so this is against my better nature. Not long into the ride it starts. Up and down, up and down. It’s slow going. Aside from the obvious physical effort, climbing on rough and rocky slopes covered in large pebbles takes real mental focus. So much for switching off for a couple of days.


    This is a light as I could bear to pack for an overnighter

    You are quickly and almost constantly rewarded with gorgeous views. Travelling eastwards, these are inland to the left, and out towards the sea to the right. Inland you have the Surrey hills and even North Downs, while seawards the hills drop away to the English Channels and many coastal towns.

    I had lunch at the café in Queen Elizabeth Country Park, just after descending Butser Hill. There are a few little MTB obstacle courses in the park that looked fun. I was very tempted to have a play on my gravel bike, but my pace so far was pretty slow, so I chose to press on.


    The chalk escarpment that follows the ridges of the Downs

    Did I say I was going slow? I certainly was. I had planned to split the ride 60/40 miles between the two days and stay at a hotel in Bramber, near Steyning (60/40 was more like 70/50 when you add in getting to and from the train stations). It took quite a while getting to Bramber. I staggered into the hotel reception at about 7.30pm having walked out of my front door at 7am. This was big day at the office, as they say.

    When I say hotel, I mean it was a pub inn, The Castle Inn and I got myself refuelled, downed a pint and put myself to bed. It’s decent value there. £77 for bed and breakfast and I noshed my way through £27 of food and drink at dinner. I took a stroll around Bramber after breakfast and it is quite a sweet historic village with its own Norman Castle - hence the Castle Inn – and several interesting old buildings.


    Cherry Tree Cottage, Bramber

    Day Two did not warm me up gently. Not in the slightest. The first 6 miles features 1,200ft of elevation gain. I have no shame in saying several of the climbs were too hard or simply impossible to ride up. When they get up towards 20% and are full of loose stones, there is no traction to be had. My frugal packing was irrelevant, the rear wheel span and I did some hike-a-bike. On the first of these on the second day, while I was on foot an e-MTB rider rode screaming past me. It seemed so incredibly unfair. I hated him and I was at the same time deeply jealous.


    This guy is not even breathing hard

    I saw a few other e-bike riders, including a septuagenarian that I got chatting with near the ice-cream van stationed at Ditchling Beacon. He’d been a lifelong cyclist and using an e-bike was the only way he could now work with his knees issues and keep cycling. I got some good intel about local roads, his home town, Brighton, and the frustrating building project he was escaping for a few hours on the bike.

    I pressed on towards Lewes. I couldn’t really locate a good lunch spot, so I planned to pick up some food at the service station on the A27 near the University of Sussex campus. I found a decent looking baguette strapped to my handlebars I ploughed on to a fabulous viewing spot at Swanborough Hill. The town of Lewes was before me to the left and way over to the right the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head. It was quite warm my now and quite a vista to kick back and soak up.



    Baguette on bars courtesy of Restrap, er, straps

    From here I made it to the village of Southease and then had a bad moment. A truly awful stomach pain and feeling of physical weakness. It was bad enough that I checked the train times back to London. There should be a train in 30 mins, but owing to industrial action, the next was in 3 hours. I couldn’t wait around that long, may as well see if I can make some progress.

    I had 15 miles to go and gritted my teeth and pedalled on, but in just a couple of hundred metres I came to a youth hostel with a cafe. Sanctuary! I had a rest and a chat with a couple of the clientele - another cyclist and a runner - and made a new plan. The YHA was on the A26 and terra firma or rather terra tarmac. I logged on to the wi-fi and drew a new route on road to Eastbourne. I limped my way to Seaford on the A26 and then to Eastbourne on the A259 over the Seven Sisters. More climbing, but at least it was on smooth roads. I made it and parked myself on the next train completely drained.


    As far as views are concerned, the South Downs Way just keeps giving

    The South Downs Way is a magnificent route which is both beautiful and brutal. If you’re after a challenge that is almost completely off road, this is a good one to try. If you have a mountain bike, I’d use that. I rode a gravel bike with 45mm tyres, which coped well, but there no harm in having bigger rubber and suspension on a route like this one. Two days felt about right, but I know some take it on in one day. Kudos to them. And it’s also a great multi-day walking route, if you fancy a change from cycling.

    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/36731884

Actions