L-R Tessa, Sikka, Wilma, David, Richard, Peter, Wendy, Angela
On a crisp February morning, at the somewhat luxuriously late hour of 11am, eight cyclists stepped off the Bedford train at Hassocks and met with a ninth who had arrived by other, undisclosed, means. And so the Nine Riders set off on their grim pursuit of the One Ring, the Ring that … oh, hang on, that’s the wrong story! Angela D, David, Jim, Peter, Richard, Sikka, Tessa, Wendy and Wilma came just to enjoy a nice ride, beautiful scenery, stimulating conversation, and some well-earned refreshments at the end of the ride.
After dodging cars between Hassocks and Ditchling, Spatham Lane brought a welcome quiet and the chance to ride two abreast and natter. Then off-road on the farm track to Hayleigh Farm and beyond. The view across to the South Downs from this track is utterly breathtaking. We looked in vain for landmarks, but saw none except a curiously shaped wood on the scarp slope that takes the form of a giant letter V. Sikka explained that it is thought to stand either for Queen Victoria, or possibly for Victory. Unfortunately a photo was difficult to obtain because of the sun behind it, so I contented myself with a south-westerly view of a bare tree against the backdrop of the Downs.
Later we encountered a certain amount of mud. A certain amount is OK, but more than that can be unpleasant. It was for this reason that we eschewed the northbound track from Hayleigh Farm in favour of the easterly route to Streat Church; the former track was pronounced too “mushy” by our valiant leader – and thus another word enters the Clarion lexicon.
At the end of Streat Lane we turned east and made for the Plough at Plumpton, which we were supposed to speed past, but, Clarionettes being Clarionettes, we ended up having an impromptu coffee stop here. The Plough has featured on many rides, standing as it does at the confluence of five roads. (Interestingly, we learn from the internet that the present pub was built by the RAF in 1942, the original having been demolished to make way for Chailey airfield, half a mile away.)
We saw many other cyclists during the ride – some of the speedy Lycra set, and others going at a more leisurely pace. Most seemed in quite good humour, but one of the former group definitely wasn’t. As he approached us at speed in Chiltington Lane, he snarled “Get off the f___ing road!” OK, we were, perhaps, rather spread out laterally across the lane, but we would have let him pass anyway without such rudeness. His remark was for me a chilling echo of that uttered by a cyclist in London who, seconds later, hit and killed a pedestrian two years ago. I wondered how many cyclists there are out there who, untrained in road use, believe that they have some kind of monopoly of the road.
On to Cooksbridge, then a little detour along Hamsey Lane to avoid a section of the A275, crossing briefly into the Eastern Hemisphere at the Greenwich Meridian on the way.
Rejoining said road at Offham, we were able to ride along the pavement until we got to the turn-off into Offham Road, where it was safe to re-enter the carriageway. On the way, Peter, Wendy and I stopped to look at the old Offham Chalk Pit which used to send lime down tunnels under the road to barges waiting on the river Ouse.
And so at last to lunch, at the John Harvey Tavern in Lewes. The food was excellent, and we agreed that there was something to be said for having the lunch at the end of the ride rather than in the middle, when the thought of getting up and cycling another 10 miles can be rather daunting on a full stomach.
Conversations over lunch and on the ride covered such topics as future rides, the Easter Meet (Wendy and I may go for the “social rides” … anyone else up for that?) and possible future weekend rides. We have not done one of these since 2014; there was a suggestion of a return to Kent, or another re-run of the New Forest, or even another trip to France. But my favourite option would be a repeat of 2012’s Bath-Bristol weekend, augmented this time by the Two Tunnels Route, which opened a year after that last trip. What does everyone else think?
We raced to the station, with Tessa, Peter and me just catching the 16.22 train, and the others no doubt not far behind. Thanks to our joint leaders, Tessa and Sikka, for another most enjoyable Clarion ride.