[Many more photos in our Flickr group]
This is how most of us felt at the end of the ride (apologies to the stronger riders in our midst).
Twenty, yes T-W-E-N-T-Y, happy Clarion riders met at Three Bridges station, gathering from north and south. This was, of course, a record. Once the puncture was mended and the photo taken, it was off in clear, sunny weather along the Worth Way, our long April shadows accompanying us as we rode: now high above the railway cutting, now riding along the embankment of the rail bed itself.
Rowfant station still stands but Crawley Down station is no longer with us – 1960s Grange Road has obliterated that particular alighting point. Being very glad of Jim’s guidance, we made our way through the modern housing estate, back onto the Worth Way and then off again on a delightful little detour past mediaeval Gullege and then back over the Worth Way and up and down Imberhorne Lane. Here we crossed another defunct rail bed, this time, the East Grinstead to Kingscote line (aka a future extension of the Bluebell Line – track already laid to the south-west, mountains of 1960s rubbish still to be removed from the cutting to the north-east).
After climbing up for what seemed forever, at last it was time to swoop down to Kingscote station. The bad news was that the wonderful 1960s uniforms being worn by the volunteer station staff also meant that they were perpetuating 1960s attitudes: no more than five bikes allowed in the guard’s van. Doh! Rapid calculations were made as to who was likely to be able to cycle the 12 miles to Sheffield Park station without dropping completely dead. And then there were 15 – well no, one more intrepid Clarionette used charm (brute force / tears / pleading / bribery?) and was also allowed to part with £8.00 (+ 50p bike charge) for the honour of being steam-drawn those 12 miles. So then there were 14 happy Clarionettes on their way.
Or do I mean there were 14 hills? Is it really possible for roads to continually rise? Up Vowels Lane we climbed, the vowels mainly being A(rgh), O(w) and OU(ch). But once up, we found the views were spectacular across the High Weald and Shagswell Wood down to our left; all along knowing that the railway line had commandeered the flat valley bottom in 1882 for its own use. Unfortunately each time there was an exhilarating sweep down, it seemed to be followed by an agonising climb up.
Not “Very Flat”, Sussex!
By 2.30 the weary band of 14 reached Sheffield Park station and made a bee-line for the pub where curly sandwiches (circa “Brief Encounter”) and various delectable dishes were consumed. A later-than-usual start back at 3.30 with quite a few creaks and groans, but we were on the home straight. The joy of a bike is that you can get off and push up the hills. Just think how awful if would be if you had to push your Range Rover out of the “Bluebell Valley” to get up to Butterbox Lane. None of those difficulties for us. We just got off and pushed (well, some of us did, anyway).
As we passed twice more under the Bluebell Railway our shadows were still with us, but lengthening in the other direction under a still brightly shining sun. We paused to admire the sparkling waters of ancient Ludwell Spring near Horsted Keynes and then through the various farmsteads of Walstead to Lindfield.
John, Mark and Sean had peeled off before Chailey, Mick had hared off to put on evening dress for dinner, and then Jenny was away in a cloud of dust*, whilst the remaining 16 managed to cause a mini traffic jam in that pretty little village, and so before you could say, “Pump me tyres up, Sport”, we were back to Haywards Heath and four tired Londoners were being whisked off northward whilst 13 Sussexers (there must be an adjective!) cluttered up a busy train to their respective stations south.
Finally, please remove your helmets to pay your last respects to “The Intrepid Fox” at West Hoathly (offers in the region of £650K), the “The Witch Inn” at Lindfield and any other “dead pubs” that we might have passed.
Thanks to Jim for a delightful ride through what must be some of the most beautiful countryside in Sussex.
* Hardly! Sorry to desert everyone so abruptly, but I was very tired after doing a 55-mile overnight ride (for fun!) on Friday, and stopping and getting cold was making matters worse. So I decided to take the direct route down the main road to Haywards Heath to get to my car before I expired at the roadside.
For the trainspotters reading, the ‘cushy six’ were hauled from Kingscote to Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway by South Eastern & Chatham Railway No. 178, P-class 0-6-0T built in 1910. The other loco on duty was Brighton-built London Brighton & South Coast Railway Class E4 0-6-2T No. 473, “Birch Grove”. There was in fact plenty of room for all our bikes in the guard’s van!
TJ has also written up the ride, on this forum. Scroll down until you see Clarion. It’s reassuring too that other cyclists are also taking pictures of food!