The Last Ride: Windmills and Bluebells, 3 May 2015

The circumstances were anything but propitious. It was a Bank Holiday weekend, and some members might have gone away. It was Election Week, and some would be out canvassing. And it was raining.

Helen and Angela, arriving at Hassocks Station in Helen’s van, later confessed that they had been convinced that no-one else would venture out for the ride, and were actually looking forward to having a coffee in the garden centre instead … but they were greeted by Julian, Kate, Richard, Roger, Suzanne and myself, who had all just got off the train from Brighton. Later, Rob and Delia arrived, making 10 riders in all – far exceeding anyone’s expectations.


L-R Kate, Richard, Rob, Jim, Angela, Suzanne, Helen, Roger, Julian. Otherwise engaged: Delia

Even given the numbers, there was much discussion of whether to go ahead, as the rain continued to belt down. Julian and I passed the time by admiring the new station with its lifts and “accessible” toilets, and discovered that we were both members of that elite fraternity of people familiar with the meaning of the acronym “CLASP”. It turned out later though, with the benefit of Wikipedia, that neither of us had got it quite right. It stands for Consortium of Local Authorities Special Programme, and was a design of modular building used for schools and other public buildings from the 1950s onwards. (Well, we got the “LA” bit right) … the link here was that the railways had also used this system, and in particular, the old Hassocks station, recently demolished, was a CLASP building (which had only been put up about 40 years earlier); other Southern Region stations to use this design were the old East Grinstead (post-Beeching) station, also recently rebuilt; and Forest Hill, Sunningdale and Virginia Water stations among many others. Julian’s connection with it was that he had once worked for a prestigious firm of architects which had used the same system in the design of York University and other campuses.[1]

But back to the ride … we put our faith in the weather forecast, which said the rain would clear some time after 11. Off we went, and indeed it was already clearing. Eastwards to lovely Underhill Lane, and then northwards up the confusingly named (but also lovely) Streat Lane. The bluebells were out in force, but the battery in my camera had died, so I did not get a chance to photograph them. We stopped to look at the 17th century Streat Place, which is definitely not made of modular concrete panels, and is rumoured to belong to Camilla somebody-or-other.

Streat Place

A simplified map of our ride might look a bit like three triangles joined together, or a figure of 8 with an extra loop. One apex was at the Plough, between Plumpton Green and Wivelsfield Green, where there is a monument to the Polish airmen based at RAF Chailey during the war.


Wikipedia tells us that Chailey was an example of another acronym, an ALG (Advanced Landing Ground) or “simple, temporary airfield” –  which I suppose is what you’d get if you dismantled a CLASP building and laid all the bits out end to end.


Soup stop: L-R Richard, Delia, Helen, Jim, Roger

Actually there were five “abstainers” who didn’t complete the second loop. I will spare their blushes by not naming them; but after Helen had offered round her flask of cucumber and onion soup (gratefully accepted by yours truly) five doughty riders – Helen, Delia, Roger, Suzanne and I – set off to Plumpton Green and the former Winning Post pub, which has had a Hassocks Station style makeover and is now two houses with an interesting drainage system.


The Former Winning Post: Who forgot the gully?

We turned off here along the concrete road (no doubt made of disarded CLASP modules in the 1960s), then back to the Plough along another lane which, with Honeypot Lane, had actually formed part of our April 5th Lewes ride (but in the opposite direction). When we got back the others had got fed up with waiting, so we set off to chase them.

After a little detour by the leaders (Delia and myself) which could be construed as a brave attempt to find “the real Wivelsfield”, but was actually just the result of a wrong turning, the Plumpton Five were reunited in an apparently beautifully-choreographed move (actually just pure coincidence) which saw us all converging on the junction of Green Road and South Road simultaneously – Delia and I from the west and Roger, Suzanne and Helen from the south. We reached our lunch stop at the Cock Inn, a nice old pub that has definitely never seen a prefabricated concrete module in its life. Helen achieved her ambition to be the first ride leader to enter the pub last. The early lunch brigade were all there already of course, and we sat down to a truly delicious meal, with no photographs because our food-photographing faction were not present.  Conversation at the table was to our usually high standard, with plate tectonics and Jung in the air where I was sitting, and a whiff of election talk from the far end of the table. There was also a discussion about some overprivileged member of the aristocracy who has apparently just had a baby.


The second triangle was completed by Hundred Acre Lane, a delightful lane with an odd name. I mean – Hundred Acre Wood I can understand, but for a road to have an area of 100 acres it would have to be about 100 km long, whereas in fact it is only two and a quarter … or maybe I am interpreting it too literally?

Then down Spatham Lane to Ditchling and along a muddy, bumpy path to Oldland Windmill. There had been much debate about the degree of muddiness of this path, based on previous experience, and Helen offered the group a choice, the consensus being to forge ahead. Rob left us at this point. The path turned out to be less muddy than feared and we came upon a splendid working mill with its sweeps turning and many visitors queueing to get up the stairs and generally “milling around”.


Oldland Mill

I was keen to see the innards of the mill, and made it to the Stone Floor (the middle floor, where the stones are) while Roger and Suzanne remained on the lower (Spout) floor where the flour comes out. The mill was built in 1703, but went into decline after closure in 1912, and after 1980 it was dismantled and almost completely rebuilt, with just a few of the original timbers being re-used. It was brought back into working order in 2008; all the hard work of a group of dedicated volunteers.

Spout Floor, Oldland Mill

The Spout Floor and Post

It is a post mill, like Jill on the Downs, but without the latter’s ability to move automatically into the wind, which I believe is done by means of a delightfully-named device called a Sussex Tailpole Fantackle. At Oldland, the mill has to be turned by hand, but of course it is fixed in position while open to the public at least.

We left down a mud-free lane taking us back to Hassocks and the train. Twenty-one miles of mercifully dry weather, industrial history and lovely lanes, and as always, wonderful company. Thanks to Helen – it was the third time she had led this ride, but a first for me – third time lucky!


[1] Wikipedia also says that the cynics’ interpretation of the acronym was “collection of loosely assembled steel parts”.


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