The Lanes – Bostal Road

In 2013 and 2014 I wrote a series of pieces about Sussex lanes for Nowhere Fast CC. The old NWFCC site has been replaced by a new Tumblr site and I’m not sure if these will be accessable anymore, so I’m archiving them here and adding some new photos. First up, Bostal Road in Steyning…

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Bostal is Sussex dialect for a narrow, winding track up a steep hill, specifically up the South Downs. All the ones I know climb the northern escarpment of the downs, are indeed steep and winding. Some like Wiston are deeply worn dirt tracks through woodland, others like Streat or Bo Peep are narrow tarmaced lanes to nowhere except a fantastic view. You ride up these just to come back down. There are others, like Ditchling, that have become holiday routes over the downs to the coast, tarmaced and wider, but still winding. Bostal Road, out of Steyning towards Sompting, is a fine example, tarmaced but rough, winding, narrow, steep, but I’m not interested in the climb itself here. This can be read about elsewhere due to its inclusion in SImon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs, and hence appears in many blogs and online videos. Despite the addictive nature of climbing hills that you remember in your legs, the reason I keep revisiting Bostal Road is the quarter mile section of Bostal Road across the top of the downs.

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As you crest the summit of the climb you are confronted by a vista of curves. The road follows the rim of Steyning Bowl, a deep hollow, or coombe, on your left, worn out of the side of the downs by millenia of erosion. A tree marks the apex of the bend, the South Downs Way tangentally veers away to the west at this marker. Sheep inhabit the upper reaches of the Bowl, grazing the old chalk grassland as they have for centuries. Cows occassionally roam the scarp-foot. Agricultural patterns are superimposed on the ancient form of the land. There’s a field that when ploughed has furrows that sketch out the contour lines from the map. A farm track, Soper’s Lane, swoops down and around the concave face of the bowl. It can be seen from afar, from the Adur Valley and Truleigh Hill beyond, like a giant parabolic line describing a cross section of downs. A lane itself worthy of a climb.

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On the western side of Bostal Road the curves are far less acute, the gentle rising and falling of downland, with the South Downs Way disappearing over a rise towards Chanctonbury Ring. Walkers and mountain bikers traverse the long distance downland bridleway between fields of crops. Colours and textures change through the year; naked, brown earth in winter, the vibrant hues of meadow and rape flowers in spring, lush and verdant in summer, harvested in autumn.

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From up here you can see all the way across the Sussex Low Weald as far as the North Downs in Surrey; to the east the distinctive shapes of Truleigh and Newtimber hills; to the south the straight edge where the English Channel meets the sky. I can see all the way home to Brighton beyond the chimney at Shoreham Harbour. Early in the morning the sun’s rays beaming in from low in the eastern sky are caught and intensified in the hollow, as if a massive natural radar dish. At the other end of the day, as the sun descends long shadows are cast even longer down the slopes, five metre trees become 100 metre giants.

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I’ve been up here in all weathers. Days when it’s so still and warm you can smell the heated tarmac, other days when the winds are so strong the gusts whistle through your spokes. If the wind is from the north or west it will push you around the ridge, if it’s from the south you’ll be cursing and ducking out of it, pushing hard to get around. I’ve sat here, resting on my top tube, watching cumulous cloud shadows scud across the weald and race up the ramps of the escarpment. I’ve been here in low cloud, rain running down my face, unable to see anything other than a few tens of metres in any direction. Actually, I’ve not been up in in snow. Last time I tried the road was closed, so I rode around to the bottom of Soper’s Lane, and gazed longingly at the ridge, trees silhouetted against the white sky, before turning around, defeated. Next time it snows I will be back with a ‘cross bike and ice tyres! However, I’ll be back here long before the next snows. In fact I’ve been up there twice this last week.

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First published by Nowhere Fast Cycle Club in June 2013

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