The Last Ride: Sunday 22 January 2012 – The valley of the Ouse (Part One)

At the crack of dawn Anne, Joan, Mick, Roger, Sean, Suzanne, Tessa and TJ all clambered off a Southern Rail train at Seaford and were met by our leader for the day, Jim, as well as Rob who had valiantly brought his Moulton “pick-a-back” on his motor vehicle. To everyone’s disappointment Rob found that a tyre had split and so had to miss the morning part of the ride, suppliers of Moulton tyres being limited to two within the UK and therefore not easily accessible from Seaford on a Sunday morning.

1.At Seaford Station

The first part of our exhilarating ride took us all of 200 yards to Seaford’s magnificently restored … public conveniences with their bike-shaped bike stands outside. Then, our backs to the playful wind, we sailed through the town to the far east “cliff” end where we wheeled round, gritted our teeth and rode into the teeth of the wind (yes, a mouthful of gnashers!). Mercifully, after a whole 500 yards (Brighton and Hove Clarion does not deal in metres – let’s hope there is never an Easter Meet where it is decided that they are the legal measurements for the organisation) Jim suggested that we pay our £1.50 (£1.00 for senior citizens) to visit the Seaford Museum in the Martello Tower. UNMISSABLE. We were given a warm greeting by the lady on the cash desk and even a brief introductory talk and then down into the bowels of the tower to roam amongst the fascinating exhibits – all collected and curated by volunteers. The more adventurous braved the winds and explored the roof of the tower.

2.Sean gazes out to sea

There was just one minor problem with the visit. Jim had terrible trouble tearing us all away from the fascinating nooks and crannies, videos and paintings, artefacts and relics. But our visit to the museum solved at least one important mystery for us: there was a map which very clearly showed how, until about the sixteenth century, the River Ouse (feature of the day) flowed into Newhaven, veered east behind a shingle bank and debouched (word of the day) just under Seaford Head cliffs.

Emerging from the wonderful museum, teeth were once more gritted and we battled our way personfully along Seaford prom, having a quick look at the Buckle, a modern house with an old-looking tower but, the whole having been built in 1963, it is only the historical plaque on the gate that is really of any interest.

3.The Buckle

What did catch the imagination of all of us was our visit to the site of the Tide Mills half way between Seaford and Newhaven, built on the very shingle bank that had eventually blocked off the River Ouse. Now, on a bleak (this is January, after all), wind-swept stretch of shingle, we used the interesting notices dotted around to imagine the bustling life of the corn mills (1761 – c.1900), of Bishopstone Beach halt (1864–1942), of the station-master’s house, of Chailey Heritage Marine Hospital and nurses’ home (1924–1940) and, last but not least, the thousands of Canadian soldiers briefly billeted there before the disastrous failed raid on Dieppe on 19 August 1942.

5.Tide Mills

With all these ghosts around us, we set off back into the modern world of present-day Newhaven with its shed-like supermarkets, fast-food outlets and DIY emporia, but once over the swing bridge it was back into the quainter, if very modern, harbour development. By which time we were more than glad to see the Hope Inn at the end of the harbour road. Welcoming as ever, they had reserved the lovely upstairs conservatory (view of the Ouse “oblige”) for us and a tasty meal was soon on its way – even for Rob who had managed to get there by car.

8.He who would go to sea for amusement would go to hell for pleasure

A yatter-yatter-yatter hour later we said goodbye to Rob for the last time of the day and faced north, through the rather sad (but cycle-friendly) remains of the Newhaven town and out on the open road to follow the Ouse. First stop was Piddinghoe and – a first for many of us – a short detour behind the church to see the fast-runnning Ouse at close quarters.

11.By the river

Southease was the next village to benefit from a Clarion visit; those interested in engineering went off to admire the newly refurbished 1880 swing bridge; those too knackered to get that far visited the tiny but ancient church, most of which dates back to 966.

Iford brought us to another church, which looked a bit more modern. Wrong. Most of the present-day church had already been built by 1100. Inside there was a wealth of fascinating wall painting, stained glass and other church furniture that had us reaching for the guidebook.

And yet our history lessons were not quite over. A quiet little back road (past the Lewes Football Club and a Southern Water depot to be precise) brought us to Lewes Priory. OK, we had all seen it from the train. Did any of those of us who had not been there before have the slightest idea how extensive the remains are? They’re still huge – despite the “historically sensitive” Victorians having driven their railway right through the centre of the (admittedly already) ancient ruins of the massive Cluniac church.

18.Lewes Priory

Mick, Sean, Joan and TJ all made a dash for the 4.14. The remaining five had the pleasure of being “introduced” by Tessa to the Sussex Guild Shop and Gallery in Southover Grange gardens. It made me for one sorry that I was not ready to start my Christmas shopping.

A day of “must go back and look at that again”s. Many thanks to Jim for his guidance on a relatively short but extremely sweet day out.

Suzanne

Jim adds:
NB In answer to your question of about 10 hours ago, the website says the main river *and tributaries* are over 140 miles long in total, but it does not give a length for just the main river, not one I could see immediately anyway.

Incidentally in my extreme tiredness caused by lack of sleep (did it show?) I forgot my ”piece de resistance” – last weekend I discovered that the name Ouse is a “back formation” (I expect you know about those things) – in other words it has been given to the river from the name of a town it flows through, namely Lewes, as in “Aqua de Lewes” => “Aqua de l’Ouse” – and that before that it had a different name entirely. This sort of thing is apparently quite common, especially for river names – Arun is also a back formation (from Arundel, naturally), though Adur seems to be the “proper” name of that river. Source: Brewers’ Dictionary of Names.

[More photos on Flickr]

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