You won’t find yourself here by accident, you seek this place out. Maybe when you set off from home you didn’t plan to come here but somewhere along the way you make a decision to ride up here. When I first started riding again a few years ago I saw an photo on Instagram that fascinated me. It was a view of the top of a local hill called Bo Peep Bostal by someone called Mark. The composition was simple, two banks of grass and a tarmac road, with a view of Sussex framed between them and the sky. However there was a strangeness to it, the way everything seemed to drop away from the picture plane. A foreground and a background but nothing between. I was intrigued. I needed to find this place. When I first met Mark in the real world a few weeks later we rode up this hill. This sums up the bicycle for me – happening upon new friends and searching out new places.
Bo Peep, like Streat and Firle bostals, is one of those that you ride up just to turn on your heels (cleats) and ride back down again. Unlike Steyning Bostal this lane stops when you reach the summit. Unless you’re on a cyclocross bike or MTB. It’s not a long climb, less than a mile, but like all bostals its path is the quickest feasible route up the sharp scarp edge. Once you’ve caught your breath and taken in the view you plummet back down to the weald the way you came. In many ways a pointless dead end. The best rides are always pointless. It’s not on the way to anywhere in particular, not a place between places. You ride up here to pause; to look, to listen, to think, maybe to chat about where to head next.
Crossing the A27 you head off past a ‘no through road’ sign along a lane that gently ripples like a wave lapping at the foot of South Downs. There’s a tell tale ‘v’ shaped nick in the top line of the downs but the climb itself is hidden from view. You can see the contrasting whiteness of the chalk pit below the green summit. Bo Peep Lane gives way to Bo Peep Bostal as you cross the path of Comp Lane as it skirts the shallow scoop of Pearson’s Wish. You enter a funnel of trees, as if burrowing into the chalk hillside, except you can feel the land rising. On those clear winter days when the sky is a washed out blue the sun will disappear from view and you won’t see it again until the top. You’ve plunged into the shadow of the downs. Nearer the middle of the year dappled light dances on the tarmac.
The surface is lumpy and potholed until the left hand bend where the road ramps up towards the hairpin bend at Horseshoe Woods. The tarmac is smoother around the switchback but gradually steepens. Exiting the hairpin the climb opens up in front of you curving along the contour. You’ll probably be out of the saddle now, levering around the crank arms as all the other sounds are drowned out by the sound of your own breathing. Clicking down a gear (if you’ve got any left) the gradient starts to bite a little more. On summer days sunlight and heat are reflected from the smooth, pale tarmac. These are the days when you can smell the temperature and the horizon is softened by haze.
One more corner to go, just near the top and you’ll probably catch a face full of wind. The colours up here seem desaturated, exposed and scorched by the weather all year round. I’ve turned this corner only to be stopped in my tracks by howling wind as a torrent of water cascading beneath my wheels. It had been sunny when I was at the start of Bo Peep Lane! There’s little more soul destroying that being forced to walk the last few metres as cold rain water pours over your shoes. The brightest colours I’ve seen up here are rainbow colours, once an actual rainbow, the other time a hang glider floating over me gently lifting on thermals as I ever so slightly less gracefully crested the hillside.
First published by Nowhere Fast Cycle Club in January 2014
Lovely photos. I can’t wait to explore more of the country on my bike. I think I might need a new one before planning a trip up Bo Peep though. I only have 3 gears on my current bike!