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From the South Downs to North London

Saturday – Rule 5 Bikes Summer Send Off

Meet up with friends at Freedom Bikes, sign on and collect brevet card…and a pen, as usual I’ve forgotten to bring one. There’s a lot of dithering in the street after the pre-ride briefing inside the shop (didn’t listen, sorry Paul, assume it was the usual “Don’t be a dick, off you go”) so head off with Claire, Vic, Magda, Iain and Jay. Through Kemp Town to the lung busting stupid climb up the back of the hospital to the aerials by the race course. Commute territory so ping along out front to Wilson Avenue but catch the lights at the top on Warren Road. Look behind and there’s a swarm of riders. Hop a curb and down the step onto the bridleway towards Castle Hill. Turn down the cyclepath to Falmer, glance behind and now only three others with me. Oh, Garmin says off-route. I’ve read the course entirely back to front, clockwise rather than anticlockwise, nor did I bother checking the order of controls on the brevet card. We can get back on course by Housedean Farm where the A27 path and South Downs Way overlap briefly. Just me, Claire and one other now as Jay goes to find the answer for one of the controls. I’ll cheat and copy someone’s card in the pub later, or maybe ride back this way on the return leg to do the full route just not in the right order.

The South Downs Way to Black Cap, the first gate held open so can clear the steps and into the field for the steep grassy climb, another gate, my turn to hold it open, hop roots through the copse, another gate, long climb to the chalk road junction, look back and below, a line of black dots, riders, on the track we’ve just climbed, hounds to our hares. Gate tag as we hold more open for one another. Down the scarp slope of Black Cap. Not been down this way for years, the last time it had rained and the we chalk was terrifying. Drag the rear brake all the way down, slaloming lumps of flint and bigger clumps of cow poo whilst avoiding the water carved ruts. Claire holds the gate open at the bottom, out into the shadow of the Downs. We chat as we spin along under trees that will soon turn, the ceiling of leaves above will change hue and fall to carpet the road below our wheels. The weather has altered recently, feeling cooler, jackets or gilets and arm warmers needed in the mornings. The tarmac crumbles to gravel as we join the old coach road that runs parallel to the bottom of the downs past stables and farmyards, slowing for horse riders. Streat Church gravel to the concrete track. We stop for coffee and cake at Velusso and wave to Vic and Magda passing, shortly followed by some Brighton Mitres, then the next batch of riders all stop and join us; Iain, Dave, Chris, Tom, Rich, Bryan, many others. Lots of hellos and chats, order another coffee.

We head up to Oldlands Windmill in a small group but then on through Hassocks and Hurstpierpont as a duo again as there seems to be group faff occurring behind. Catch up with the Mitres, who stopped at Proper for coffee, including Alex, Martin and Elaine. Settle into this group for a good few miles. A bridleway I don’t know between Sayers Common and Twineham Lane, Bob Lane, Frylands Lane to a favourite bridleway that pops you out by the Big House and church at Shermanbury Grange. The avenue of tall straight trees to the gatehouse. Hack it along the Downslink to Steyning. Say goodbye to Claire as she peels off for home to get ready for the Torino-Nice Rally, “Good luck, have fun!”

Sopers Lane and down Steyning Bostal to get the brevet card stamped (scribbled on) by Paul at the timed control at The White Horse. A pint and some lunch. Everyone else turns up in little groups at irregular intervals. Start chatting and miss the Mitres heading off. Caught between groups, could wait for someone else to leave but most of these look like they’re going to be a while, full pints on tables, plate of food arriving. Decide to head back alone and adjust the official route, take out a bit of tarmac, add a bit of stupid, I’ve got all afternoon after all. Might bump into some others along the way.

Bramber Bostal to Truleigh Hill and follow the South Downs Way to Saddlescombe. Ride the road round to Pyecombe where the line on the Garmin indicates a lane I’ve never been up. It soon turns to farm track before narrowing to singletrack bridleway along the side of a hill. Where am I? Where does this go? Wolstonbury Hill. New to me – I think, I have no recollection of having been here before, maybe I have but not recently. A slightly different viewpoint to many recognisable hills around me. That feeling of knowing exactly where I am whilst simultaneously not having a clue. Jack and Jill windmills and the (empty) dew pond. Less than thirty minutes to make it to Woodingdean for the second timed control. Going to be tight. Scrap the idea of riding the bit I missed earlier. Anyway I added Bramber Bostal, that more than makes up for it. Ditching Beacon, turn onto tarmac, click down some cogs, push hard. Singletrack or fire roads through Stammer Park? There’s no time for either, scream down Coldean Lane, past the Uni, hit the bottom of the cyclepath with seven minutes to spare, stand on the pedals, rear wheel slips in the gravel, sit down again, push hard, back out of the saddle, forty five seconds, not gonna make it. Thirty seven seconds late but brevet validated and a cold can of beer thrown to me. Sit on the verge and get my breath back. Downhill to the finish now.

Pizza and more beer. Lots more talk and laughter. Stay out too late.

Sunday – The Ride Journal’s North London Dirt II

5am alarm. Far too early after yesterday’s shenanigans. 6.08am train to London Bridge, fortunately the coffee kiosk is open. Tall buildings, blue sky, red buses. Get lost in the back streets but find my way to the sign on at Rapha in Spitalfields. Say hi to the Ride Journal bros. and friends. A pastry and more coffee. Half eight and we’re off, riding with Dean, Sam and Matt, zigzagging through the quiet streets, down alleyways, bouncing kerbs, Olympic Park, actual parks. Sunday league goalposts and corner flags. Squeezing between cemeteries and railway lines, snagging on brambles, fizzing on stinging nettles. Traffic lights and cyclepaths. Urban wilderness, tower blocks peak out above tree lines. Nattering and laughing. Skids and giggles. How we rode bikes when we was kids. Probably a bit too fast given yesterday, think (know) I’m going to regret this later. Suburban single track along rivers and under pylons. Concrete bridges and graffiti. Into Essex and out of Hainhault Forest. Essex, much maligned by cliche and reputation, always seems serene and bucolic whenever I’ve been here. However there was that one audax where I passed through Clacton-on-Sea on a Saturday evening…

On my own now, drifted off the back into Sunday cafe spin pace. Cricket greens and village pubs. Quiet lanes, big fields, larger sky.  Have I been here before? A sign for Toot Hill, been there on rides to and from Cambridge. El from Bristol is stamping brevet cards in a pub car park. Cold can of fizzy pop, sit in the shade, have a chat. Yesterday has caught up with me. Could probably do with a nap but it’s not far back to London now. From the ridge the tall silver buildings of the city poke into the sky on the horizon. Drop sharply from the ridge and under the M25 and over the M11. Into Epping Forest, lost on the single-track, definitely not on the proper route, clipping roots and shimmying round trees, spliff smoking dog walkers sitting on fallen tree trunks. Tottenham Marshes and canal paths. Suburbia hardens into the city. Hackney Carnival blocks the route so smash it down Kingsland Road, drop a shoulder and wiggle the arse between a bus and breakdown truck. Back to the starting point. Hand brevet card over in exchange for a cold beer.


A fantastic weekend of hanging out with friends, proper chats with people only ever spoken to on the internet socials, and meeting new people. Riding bikes for the hell of it, messing about and having fun. Absolutely shattered by Sunday evening! Thanks to Paul and Rich for organising and route plotting the Summer Send Off, and to the Philip and Andrew of the Ride Journal for North London Dirt II.

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