Lewisham Cyclists Seaside Ride to Eastbourne
Le Delice was empty at 8.30am and I began to wonder if anyone was going to join me at all, surprised that on such a lovely summer’s day no one fancied the idea of a ride to the seaside.
Then Steve arrived, followed by Meaghan and then a flurry of bikes and riders appeared outside the cafe and in just five minutes there were 17 of us!
We headed off through Ladywell Fields and Catford, through Bellingham,Beckenham via the park, picked up another rider on South Eden Park Rd and headed out following our Hastings route out of London.
In future I will revert back to heading up Layhams Rd, I think. Going down Spot Hill is quite enjoyable but trying to follow NCN 21 through the estate at New Addington always defeats me. I have done it six times now and still took one wrong turn! It didn’t delay us as I knew straight away, but it’s unnecessarily twisty and turny and from now on it will be the main road through, or Layhams.
Our usual route would involve the delicious Beddlestead Lane, which combines a rocketing descent with a sharp dip at the nadir, then a long climb back up. However, it’s a gravelly, rough hurtle down at the best of times. My fear was that the previous day’s torrential rain may have churned out even more debris on to the lane, rendering it’s danger count unacceptable. So we headed straight along Sheepbarn Lane to Saltbox Hill.
As we climbed that hill, I was reminded of the reason that I stopped using it on my Kent rides. Incomprehensibly to me, given its narrow lane nature and extremely steep gradient, it has become a bit of a rat run for some motor traffic. And climbing steep hills on a bike is not made easier by doing it alongside cars which are grinding impatiently along in their lower gears, obviously itching to accelerate and pass you, as soon as you surrender half an inch of road space. And there were a lot of them, passing us. So many that I was unable to access my right turn off the hill on to Oaklands Lane, which would have enabled us to miss the main road into Biggin Hill.
So we regrouped at the top and I decided to head down the main road anyway, rather than turn around. Past the airfield and into the town. Sometimes main roads aren’t as bad as you anticipate. When they are wide enough and the traffic can pass giving a rider plenty of room, the usually better surface and clear visibility means you can feel safer than you do on some country lanes where some drivers feel compelled to take unacceptable risks passing riders close and fast on bends when they can’t be sure what’s ahead. This stretch of the A233 was not too busy at this time and is very wide and well surfaced. I decided to stick on it all the way to Westerham. We had plenty of lovely country lane riding to look forward to.
It’s a pretty good descent off Westerham Hill too. Everyone seemed to enjoy that. We stopped at the newish Cycle cafe, the Drop Bar, in Westerham before heading out of town on Goodley Stock Rd.
The plan was to avoid the B2026 as much as possible. It is narrow, fairly winding, and busy. It is not a pleasant ride, in my opinion, and although it adds miles to avoid it, and would deliver us to Hartfield pretty quickly, the lanes around it are pretty and quiet and the villages and buildings they pass through interesting and attractive.
So avoid it we did. Turning right at the end of Goodley Stock and heading through tree shaded lanes to Limpsfield Chart and then turning south down Pains Hill. These next few miles are fairly easy on the legs, crossing as they do the flatter parts of Kent that spread south for a while off the slopes of the North Downs. We sailed quickly through the outskirts of Edenbridge and then off again on to quiet roads around Hever, stopping outside the Kentish Horse for a break as we had done on our Hastings ride. Oddly, we were later this time, which surprised me, although we had stopped in Westerham, as I felt we were a bit faster than then, and had not come up Beddlestead. But my detour out of Westerham had added a few miles and one of our number was having a few problems with his bike. This was slowing him down and causing slightly longer waits at junctions now and again. Its the little stops along the way that add up to quite significant amounts of time on a longer ride.
As we arrived in Markbeech, a wedding party was being delivered to, either the pretty church in Markbeech, or the Kentish Horse itself, (or maybe both!) by an old London Routemaster bus. We made an odd gathering outside the pub. We cyclists, some in old shorts and tshirts, a few in neater Lycra, all of us slightly sweaty and some of us a little dishevelled by our exertions. And the wedding guests, men in smart suits and ties, the women in brightly coloured dresses, satins, linens and silks, hair brushed and styled, immaculate makeup, no trace of a shiny nose or moist brow. No one seemed to mind, though, and we were soon on our bikes and off towards Cowden station.
I chose this route out of Markbeech because it has a sweet little descent, which, though very short, is steep enough to deliver you enough momentum to get you up the hill immediately following with almost no effort. Always very rewarding!
Then, winding up and down the rolling farmland and woods, through Cowden itself. Here, our back marker informed me that Ash (our rider with the dodgy bike) had finally decided to get a train at Cowden and take his bike home to get it the TLC it obviously needed. Be warned, folks. If you have any concerns about the roadworthiness of your bike, don’t choose an 80 mile ride to test it out on. Pop down to the shops on it, maybe. If something feels wrong, it probably is, and if you can’t find out what it is, take it to someone who can.
Soon we were on a gradual descent which took us on a short stretch of B2026 into Hartfield. It reminded us why we had taken the detour to avoid it. Fast, close passing cars. But it wasn’t for long, less than a mile, then we were in Hartfield, Winnie the Pooh country.
It was here I dropped the bombshell. I was abandoning the lunch stop in Maresfield. For various reasons, we seemed to have lost a fair bit of time along the way. No one was excessively slow, it was merely the little stops and waits plus our cafe stop. It had all added up and with a lunch stop, which can sometimes run to well over an hour by the time a large bunch like we were, gets fed, we were looking at reaching Eastbourne beyond 7! So I gave people the chance to stock up on food at the shop in Hartfield, we all topped up our energy levels for the Ashdown forest climb and then we were off again. I have learned my lesson though. For an 80+ mile ride we should really leave at 8am to include a good social lunch stop on our rides, if we want to finish at a reasonable time and ride at a friendly, social pace. Apologies again to everyone who was looking forward to that Maresfield pub stop.
On the Hastings ride, a few weeks ago, we had taken the Kidds Hill route up…The Wall as it is known. This time, we took the easier climb. Steve seemed a little disappointed! He had had to walk the very last bit before and wanted the chance to put that right. Another time, Steve!
No one had to walk this slightly gentler climb on this ride. It’s still a long haul, but doesn’t quite have the gradient of Kidds Hill. But the ride at the top, along the aptly named High St, is still a fine one and the views as good. Four counties can be seen from the viewpoint apparently. We could name three, Kent Surrey, Sussex. We couldn’t name the fourth though.
The descent off Ashdown Forest is long, wide straight and clear. We descended the full length this time, rather than turning off towards Fairwarp three quarters of the way down as we did in the way to Hastings. This meant we had a few miles of busier road, including a trawl through Uckfield town centre, but the upside is that you miss quite a few steep little climbs. Once through Uckfield, we were able to turn off on quiet lanes again via Pale House Common. The next ten miles or so was a fairly complex collection of country lanes involving quite a few turns in order to provide a pleasant route through pretty villages and avoid the A22. I had forgotten just how pretty these lanes and villages are, Chiddingly and Muddles Green. Chiddingly was playing host to a huge biker convention in a nearby field. Some amazing two wheeled motors on show.
We crossed the A22 at Golden Cross and rode through Chalvington, crossing the railway at Berwick after waiting a while at the level crossing there. Now we were on the way through the South Downs, heading towards Alfriston. We turned off the Alfriston road just before the village and took the lower lane that follows the river through the South Downs, flatter than the high road which climbs up to a high point beyond Alfriston, called High and Over. It’s a great view from up there, but, sadly, it’s become a very busy road being the main route to Alfriston and Seaford from the north and it’s narrowness makes it an intimidating ride. The lower road doesn’t have those panoramic views, but the surrounding South Downs scenery is still pretty dramatic and it’s a gentler rolling ride.
In order to avoid the main road at Cuckmere, we turned off on the little no through road to West Dean and then followed a good off road track through Friston Forest, which alternates through shady woodland and sunny wild flower meadows. A couple of our riders, who didn’t fancy this longer off road option, headed down to the main road, after arranging to meet us at the Birling Gap tearoom.
Back on the off road track we took a final short steep climb up a rough,forgotten lane and then we were back on a proper country road which led us back to the main road for a few steep downhill yards before the turn off to Birling Gap and Beachy Head.
At Birling Gap, we met up with our two companions who had chosen the busy A road route…much quicker than our off road diversion. They had already finished their tea, but were happy to wait a little for us to enjoy ours, before heading off on the last leg of our journey.
This rolling, rising and falling road that traces its way along the tops of those famous white cliffs is one of my favourite rides in the south east.
Skylarks hover beside you, singing loudly as they climb up higher and higher, the chalk grassland is full of wild flowers that almost sparkle through the green blades like purple and pink jewels, the sky seems to surround you completely on a clear sunny day and every so often as you reach the top of one rise after another, a view of the sea opens out before you.
As you crest Beachy Head itself, Eastbourne comes into view, a neat, attractive town laid out tidily below you, almost gleaming on this sunny day.
Then, the last right turn delivers you on to the descent to the seafront, a great way to finish the ride and enter the town, with its bending glide down to the sea.
Some of us headed straight to the station, the rest of us found the nearest fish and chip shop and a few of us took our feast down to the beach, where in spite of a few seagulls, we enjoyed our meal in the sun, sitting on the pebble beach.
After that, there was time for a couple of drinks in the pub before the remaining six of us rode along the seafront as the sun set and the pier lights began to sparkle. We finally turned our backs on the sea and headed for the station and our train back to South London.
Thanks everyone for great company on this ride. Our last seaside ride this summer will most likely be in late August or early September and will head to the Shipwrights Arms at Faversham Creek for dinner before heading back later in the evening from Faversham station. details, as ever, on our website or Facebook group.