Starting in the Ouse Valley Gorham’s Lane is essentially a dead end, you’re unlikely to ride up it unless you live in the tiny village of Telscombe hiding in a scooped out hollow in the downs or are looking for the Youth Hostel. For me it’s one of the nice ways to and from work. In fact, it’s in the middle of many pleasant ways to or home from work depending which bike I’m riding.
Out of the saddle you climb away from the main valley road before the gradient quickly eases along the edge of Southease Hill. The soft and subtle curve of the hill is covered in wheat and other crops in summer, muddy and brown in winter. It also home to many pheasants which will try and kill you by running across your path as you race down towards Southease if you’re coming the other way. To the north the lane is lined by hawthorne trees beyond which downland drops sharply into Cricketing Bottom. On the other side of the coombe you can see where the South Down’s Way descends into the valley. That’s another way home, on the appropriate bike, the SDW into Cricketing Bottom, through the dairy farm and up the chalk path diagonally across the side of the coombe that delivers you to a gate beside the highest point of the lane. On the road you gradually climb until a gentle curving dip leads to the same gate. Here choices unfold based on weather, time, tyres, mood and inclination.
On the road bike I’ll take the rollercoaster ride in and out of Telscombe village. If I’m feeling brave I won’t touch the brakes and carry as much momentum into the short punchy climb out the other side of the village to the cattle grid that marks the boundary with Telscombe Tye. However I’ve come across gravel, horse riders, dog walkers and Range Rovers on that just-blind-enough bend in the bottom. Over the cattle grid and the tarmac quickly breaks and turns to rubble and dirt. I can see the sea from here. If it’s dry I’ll ride straight across the Tye and pop out on a cliff overlooking the English Channel. If it’s not dry I’ll take the farm track and concrete road into Telscombe Cliffs but it means an extra climb up to the cliff top. And traffic.
Nestled back down in the village, almost dug into the hillside, sits St Lawrence Church. Built of flint, like much of Sussex across the Downs, and with a history spanning the Medieval ages to now, the church contains a clue to the naming of this Lane. In the graveyard the tallest and most prominent gravestone belongs to Ambrose Gorham “benefactor of church and village”. A racehorse owner who lived at stud farm at the turn on the twentieth century his horse Shannon Lass won the 1902 Grand National and he invested the winnings in the village and paid for the murals painted in the church. He owned much of the land on and around Telscombe Tye and when he died he left it to the Brighton Corporation on condition that it set up a trust to preserve the village and land ‘with its present rural characteristics in order that the public and especially the inhabitants of Telscombe, Piddinghoe and Brighton may have recourse thereto for quiet and peaceful recreation and meditation’. It seems I have this man to thank for the peaceful middle of my commute.
On a bike with fatter tyres I can do the same but there are other ways to keep me on the hillsides for longer. From the gate on the bend I can follow the double track along the fence higher onto the Tye. It’s not marked on the map as a bridleway or any kind of public right of way but the farmer is yet to tell me to stop. The gates at the top are locked so I have to lift my bike over and climb after it. To the south there’s a bridleway that leads round into Saltdean and the undercliff path, but if I’ve got time to waste I’ll climb over the other gate and disappear into Hidden Valley (not the name given on the map). It’s a good place to sit and think, I’ve rarely seen anyone up here. From the top of the gate I can watch the downs slowly falling away in soft steps towards the Ouse, Mount Caburn and Beddingham Hill standing proud beyond, like a gateposts to the flatlands around Ripe. I’ve ridden over here on an autumn morning when mist settled in the waterlogged valley, the chalk hills rising like islands from a white fluffy sea. Whenever the sun is low, glancing off the hillsides, shadows accentuating the ripples of the downsland, there’s few places I’d rather be.
Information about Ambrose Gorham sourced from:
Parish records of St Lawrence Church, Telscombe.
Telscombe: The village time forgot – Tim Ridgway. The Argus, 8 Sep 2012.
Photograph Album of Telscombe compiled by Ambrose Gorham, The National Archives. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/rd/9ae465c7-8e98-4cc7-960a-8d62222e758c