'Where's the Brew Stop? The off-road cycle touring website'. About off- road cycle touring routes, cyclist’s cafes, off-road cycle touring, local group events and good photos. For cyclists who love off-road leisure cycling in Northern England
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Cycling touring articles by Pat Lloyd and other folk
A small Adventure by Michael Griffiths It was the time of year when the days are at their warmest and the evenings are at their longest and exploring the creeks of the north Kent coast should have kept me content.  But I was restless and wanted to do something different.  And then I read a walking magazine in which it described the South Downs Way at some length and identified it as an ideal beginner’s long distance footpath.  It also mentioned that it was a bridleway throughout its entire length.  Just what I needed. A week later I was getting out of the train at Winchester, the journey from Maidstone having taken just three hours and by 1 o’clock I was reveling in my feeling of freedom and adventure.  It took me some miles to realize that all the styles I came across had gates as well, for the horses of course.  Pity the North Downs Way can’t do the same. The countryside was a mix of dairy farmland interspersed with small woods.  While going through one coppice I startled a deer that was grazing in the bushes.  It must have been about 15 to 20 metres away when it heard me and took off like a rocket making a lot of noise as it crashed through the trees in front of me. By 5 o’clock I realized that I was not going to get to my Bed and Breakfast destination at Petersfield or anywhere near it.  I was thinking about this dilemma as I rode down a steep path that passed a blacksmith at the back of a farm.  Something inside me said ‘water’ so I turned back to the smithy and scrounged a refill of my two bottles from the tap in their yard.  Two hundred metres or so further on the track joined a ‘B’ road and a decision had to be made about what to do about over-nighting. A look at the map revealed a wood that turned out to be a small derelict pine forest that appeared impenetrable from the road due to overgrown verges.  This could be a suitable place.  I rode slowly past the trees and bushes that fronted the road until I found a small path leading through them into the interior woodland.  Once through the bushes the pines were well spaced apart and ran back some distance away from the road. A couple of trees were found about two metres apart with broken canopies letting in an acceptable amount of light.  Satisfied with my location the next step was to eat. My plan to build a tent out of 2 large bin bags failed spectacularly and in the end tiredness made the decision for me. I overlapped the two bags together on the ground to keep the damp out, put my sleeping bag on top of them and got into it fully dressed. I decided that it wasn’t going to rain during the night and therefore I wouldn’t need any cover!  As I lay on my back looking up at the tree trunks I had the feeling of being in a vast open air cathedral with the trunks looking like pillars as they held up their canopies over me.  It was getting dark quickly now and the last thing I remember was wondering if I would still be around in the morning! When I awoke it was light, and nothing had attacked or eaten me.  It was also quite cold and only 5 o’clock!  I snuggled down into my sleeping bag and dozed off again.  And woke up again at half past five.  I had to get up. I was beginning to feel like the Michelin man as I put on an extra jumper and my waterproof top to keep out the cold and damp.  After having breakfast and packing up it was sometime after six o’clock when I pushed the bike back through the bushes onto the road, and tried to focus on my map to pick up my route. The morning stayed cold and misty and in due course I reached Queen Elizabeth Country Park.  Feeling thirsty I drank the last of my water being pretty sure there would be a public toilet in the Park where I could refill my bottles.  When I arrived there was a wash tap but over it was a notice saying the water was not for drinking.   I had no choice but to go off into the Park not quite knowing where the next drop was coming from.  I followed a waymarked trail but only to realize it was actually leading me away from the direction that the compass said the South Downs Way should be going in.   After an hour of trying to find my route and getting colder and more tired by the minute, I decided to stop and eat.  This only produced a feeling of total lethargy!  Thus the bike was padlocked to a park bench and I went to sleep under a nearby tree. An hour later at around 11.00 am I woke and walked down the path to stretch my legs.  Round the corner was the park entrance with a fully detailed ‘you are here’ map adjacent to it.  Within minutes I worked out that I was around three miles from the South Downs Way, and was able to plot a bearing to take me back to it.  Using my compass I followed a route back through the woods and picked it up again just outside the park. Then the sun came out and I started to feel more cheerful. Looking on my Way map I noticed the picture of a tap further on.  When I got to its estimated position I rode along looking at the side of the road and in the hedges not quite knowing what to expect.  Then I found it.  Set back nearly a metre from the roadside was a concrete cairn on which was mounted a very smart large chromium tap.  ‘South Downs Way Water Point’ said the notice carved on the cairn.  I drank my fill and filled up both bottles.   After lunch I got a puncture in my back wheel. After removing the offending thorn I opened the box containing the new tube.  Except that the tube was not the same size as marked on the box.  It was half as ‘fat’ as it should have been.  There followed a swift chain of scientific deduction.  Tubes are made of rubber.   Rubber stretches.  I don’t have another tube.  This tube, being rubber, will therefore stretch to do the job. It did. In due course the afternoon started drawing to a close and I realized that as I approached Amberley in Sussex I would not be to far from Arundel Youth Hostel.  I pulled of the Way and followed a road till I found a phone box. However my plans were short lived since the hostel was full.  I looked at my watch, it was six o’clock.  I drank the last of my water.  Life was now very simple: no water and no bed.  I rode slowly back down the road towards the South Downs Way keeping my eyes open for a source of water.  I passed a small community centre that was being renovated.  They usually have wash room facilities.  I went inside to find a solitary builder working on the inside of the roof.  In a loud voice I apologized for interrupting his labours and asked if I could fill my bottles.  ‘Bin cut off mate’ came the reply.  ‘Kitchen’s bin gutted’  Clearly my disappointment showed because he added ‘There’s a bottle with some water left in it that I used to make my tea.  I won’t use it any more tonight, you’re welcome to what’s left.’ It seemed churlish to refuse but I was looking for a larger quantity.  Nevertheless I went into the shell that was to be the new kitchen I saw to my relief a five litre camping container about half full.  The bottles were duly filled and I drank the rest. Outside I reflected on my chances of finding a Bed and Breakfast establishment.  The day had been very hot and it looked as though it could be a warm dry night.  I would risk it and sleep out again.  In half an hour I was back on the South Downs Way. I stopped on the top of a small ridge overlooking the Sussex Weald.  Absolute quiet, warm air, evening smells and superb views.  What more could I want.  Having leant the bike against a fence I explored a line of bushes and a small copse looking for a suitable place to unroll my sleeping bag.  The copse was far too overgrown to allow any entry, so I looked at the bushes in a field further on.  They were about a hundred metres from the path.  Ideal.  There was a way into their base through their perimeter undergrowth.  Fine.  They were on the steep side of the ridge so the angle of the ground under them was about 1-in-5.  Impossible.  Nevertheless I crawled under them to find that there was room for me to stand up satisfactorily, provided I didn’t first slide down to the bottom of the ridge on the loose earth.   Balancing carefully, I looked around me.  A little way away was a bush with an almost flat shelf of earth built up against the bottom of the trunk.  By lying down with my feet against the bottom of the bush I would be sleeping slightly uphill.  This would have to do.  Back on the path I got out my food, propped myself up against the fence and ate gazing out over the view of the Weald.  In due course I dragged the bike and kit under the bushes I slid into my tilting sleeping bag, and lay gazing up at the bushes as dusk fell.  The last thing I remember was listening to a pair of owls above me making more noise than a disco. I awoke, shivering.  It was half past five.  It was light and therefore time to get up.  Unlike the previous day, by the time I had eaten and packed up it was starting to get warm.  To-day was going to be a long, hard, hot day if I was going to get to Eastbourne by nightfall. Soon after nine I had drunk all my water and it was getting hotter.  The route had a succession of steep mile long drops immediately followed by steep climbs of the same length.  At times my energy levels seemed to have disappeared out of my toes.  On occasions during the morning I was passed by high speed mountain bikers poised like ballet dancers on bikes as thin as razor blades.  But even they had to walk up some of the climbs.  Considering the load I was carrying I felt I was doing well just to keep going. Around mid-day I found a tap and almost had a bath under it.  On top of the downs I passed Brighton, Telscombe and Lewes and the sun grew hotter all the time.  There was no cover until eventually I saw a pair of small trees, one on each side of a dewpond.  A ewe with her two lambs stood in the shade under one, and I did the same under the other.  And we stared at each other, wordless, while I eat the last of my food. At the end of a particularly fine dash on sheep clipped grass I came across the usual gate except this one had a cow leaning against it.  Just inside the field were perhaps twenty more of her companions.  Being a townie I am cautious when confronted with livestock whatever its size.  Plucking up courage I pushed the gate gently open.  It hesitated and then stood back allowing it to open sufficiently for me to enter the field.  By now the rest of the cows had turned round and were watching me as only cows can.  As I passed the last one I risked a look behind me to find that none were following me, except the one that had been leaning against the gate, and even that one eventually stopped.  Then I realized that it had no udders…… As the afternoon drew to an end the journey became a war of attrition.  The track was hard baked chalk with patches of large flintstones covering it.  What I didn’t bounce on, I slid on.  The ups and downs were getting steeper and I was getting more and more tired.  Eventually I got to Alfriston and took half an hour to find the way out of it.  It is a small and busy place, and South Downs Way signage is non-existent.  As I got closer to Eastbourne more and more tracks appeared and South Downs Way routing became vague and almost contradictory at times.  Using my compass I found a track that eventually brought me out at Eastbourne YHA.  As I rode past the entrance to the hostel I braked hard to avoid riding straight onto the main road and under the wheels of the traffic. Then the significance of the road dawned on me.  The South Downs Way had come to an end.  I’d done it.  From Hampshire to Sussex, 104 miles off road in two and a half days.   Michael Griffiths