Clarion on (and off) the Avenue Verte: 31 August to 8 September – Brexit-Breaking Bravado from Brighton to Bray

20 September 2017

On 31st August, Brighton & Hove Clarion returned to Dieppe. Though individual members have cycled from Dieppe more recently in events organised by others, this was the first such visit organised by our section since 23-25 April 2010, when no fewer than 14 members participated in a long weekend ride (for report click here and scroll down). This time, sadly, we could not muster such numbers, possibly because this was a more ambitious ride covering much more ground and hence taking longer – six days, to be precise (nine for Ivor).

Angela writes: We set off as four – myself (Angela D), Wendy Scott, Ivor Fried and Jim Grozier. We lost Wendy on the second day and Ivor two days later. Clarion members can be a little careless it seems. The day we arrived we tripped off to the Nordic baths – a 50 metre heated outdoor swimming pool where we splashed around happily until our return to the Egg hotel and dinner at le New Haven (sic).

Jim writes: We made good progress along the route of the old railway line; since our last visit, when the rails still ran alongside the path in some places, most of them have been completely removed, but occasionally one comes across one of the short lengths of track left as museum pieces to record the previous life of the route, along with a few old signals and the many charming little crossing-keepers’ houses, some derelict but some surviving as private houses. Angela assessed each one we came to as a possible future residence for when Brexit takes hold.

As the only member of the 2010 party to be participating this time around, I tried to remember how far we’d got last time, but it all looked very similar, and there were no convenient landmarks after the café at the start, where, as I recalled when reading the 2010 report, Angela C and I had actually sat out most of the previous ride. From that report, it seems the furthest anyone got was somewhere near Freulleville, with a round total (Dieppe-Dieppe) of 31 miles.

Angela: There are some ghostly railway stations en route – such as St Vaast d’Equiqueville – and on our return, I did wonder if our missing companions were to be found in the waiting room, patiently hanging on for their return train to Dieppe. The second night we stayed in a chambre d’hôte near Bures-en-Bray where we were met by a less than enchanted couple who told us dourly we weren’t supposed to arrive until five. So we set off on our travels again to Mesnières-en-Bray where, this being half past three or so, it was impossible to get lunch at the épicerie/restaurant, but we were provided with sandwiches and coffee.

Jim: The following day we stopped at the only eatery actually on the route – the old station at Neufchatel, now a lovely crêperie – for lunch. We also admired the old signal levers (or at least, I did). The off-road railway path ends at Forges-les-Eaux, our second overnight stop.

Angela: Forges-les-Eaux was a party town in its youth but now seems a little threadbare and bisected by an unpleasant car-filled high street. The hotel Continental where we stayed heavily promoted a nearby casino where apparently it was impossible to lose any money but there seemed few takers. A couple of doors down we found a nice little restaurant (la Source) with good French food. The two vegetarians were flexible with fish and omelettes.

The next day we left the trusted level going of the avenue verte and three of us set off towards the hills, but in separate directions – Ivor to somewhere he could camp and follow the call of the wild, and myself and Jim to do a circular around Forges-les-Eaux, to try out the more up and down bits and return to our rather anonymous chain hotel in the evening. We missed Ivor, and so did my bicycle as it was not used to having sweet little nothings directed at it, congratulating its sprockets or exclaiming over aluminium tubing, not issues that ever concerned its rider.

So we set off to the outer reaches of the map, IGN carte de randoneé 2110. Unfortunately this particular map caused me great existential anguish because the map area itself is very small and it has large white borders lacking in any information. I berated the map makers tirelessly for their insistence on trying to make a poor cyclist tip over into a white void. Great was my relief the next day when we passed over to IGN 2008 Forêt d’Eawy where the map extended right to the very edge.

On our circular trip we went south via la Ferté St Samson, which had a high defensive mound with a church and then an orientation table – a semi-circular guide, set into stone, of the surrounding countryside. There was also a very old half-timbered house in the village – ‘the house of Henri IV’ – but little else. Norman villages do not have shops or cafés or any provision for eating and drinking. Fortunately we had brought our own – a necessity at all times, we discovered, in Normandy.

Jim: We proceeded northwards on a series of tiny roads which eventually fizzled out into a farm track, before delivering us into a sort of living museum based around a collection of farm buildings constructed in the local style, which features timbered walls in geometrical patterns. This place was confusingly known as Bray (just about everything around there ends in Bray!) To add to the surreal atmosphere there was also a large fishing competition going on, but the cafe was – of course – fermé. We ended the day’s ride with a repetition of the final stretch of Avenue Verte at Serqueux, where the route crosses a still-operational railway line.

Angela: This initial ride gave us confidence to continue on the return by a route that ignored the avenue verte and went by little roads. Jim was game for my enterprising use of these little white lanes; even to the point where we ended up in a swamp at St Aubin-le-Cauf – flat to be sure, but with water lapping at our ankles. I directed us onto a very pretty ancient stone bridge, too narrow to wheel the bikes across and with a very full river underneath where even my recklessness was deterred – very fortunately as it was entirely the wrong direction. Jim stoically navigated us out of the watery morass.

Jim: The previous day we had chosen a route which took us to the west of the Avenue, through the Bois de l’Epinay and then a third and final pass through Serqueux, savouring our last chance for a roadside coffee at a very characterful small French bar full of locals drinking goodness knows what. Then more quiet lanes, hedged with the local crop – corn – which looked ripe and tempting, but we refrained, as we were not sure if it was animal feed, or whether our bags might be searched at Dieppe (they weren’t – the whole sea crossing business remains remarkably civilised, with only a passport check, no X-ray machines or body searches). At Neuville-Ferrières we briefly rejoined the Avenue Verte to Neufchatel, only to find that even the wonderful crêperie (“open all year” according to the guide book) was nevertheless closed on Mondays.

Angela: Even here, in a small town of 8,436 people (thanks Wikipedia) there appeared to be only one bar open, with a lugubrious middle-aged male proprietor and an even older and sadder single customer sitting at the bar. Our last night was spent back in le Bas Bray, the same chambre d’hôte as we’d stayed at previously, but with an even less congenial welcome. The owners seemed inclined to view guests as something of a nuisance but unfortunately necessary as income generators to keep up their grand farm.

Our route was north west, traversing the river valleys. Most of the trip went well; no mention of the four letter “h” word even though Jim did enquire rather plaintively, when I suggested a possible route, that the brown lines did look rather close together? I replied that I thought he had his long distance glasses on, not his reading ones. He agreed it all looked rather blurry and kindly refrained from saying anything when a few hours later I caught up with him on the summit, where he was patiently studying the river below and I was heaving and puffing in a manner similar to Hannibal’s elephants crossing the alps, but with considerable less visual appeal.

Jim: The pass took us up the west side of the Béthune valley and crossed over into the neighbouring valley. This valley eventually joins the Varenne valley at St Germain d’Étables, where the river broadens into a network of lakes. Finally to St Aubin-le-Cauf and the aforementioned swamp, and back onto the Avenue Verte for the ride back to Dieppe.

Angela: This being about four o’clock, all the restaurants in Dieppe had stopped serving lunch, but we persevered and eventually found somewhere we could collapse into until it was time for the boat to leave at six. On the quayside, fortunately not raining, and contrary to the normal custom, we were left stranded with our bikes, while motorbikes, lorries, motorhomes and cars rumbled past belting out lots of toxic pollution. No matter; we caught the 21.35 that was running late at Newhaven and congratulated ourselves on an excellent trip.

Total mileage for Angela and Jim: 114 in 5 days (Dieppe to Forges and back)

Ivor writes: I initially headed down to Gournay en Bray and then went slightly wrong at St Germer de Fly, where I ended up doing a few kilometres towards Beauvais.  This is the beginning of the alternative Avenue Verte route to Paris, as can be seen in the Sustrans route guide. Having realised my mistake, I navigated to the nearest campsite: Camping Belle Etoile at Le Coudray Saint Gemer (quite a long steep climb).

The next day I navigated to Amécourt, where I rejoined the route but ended up going a few k along it in the wrong direction (!) – After turning around, I retraced my route and headed to Gisors.  I then went about 6k further along the route to reach the campsite at Dangu. The section of the route after Gisors is old railway track.  I continued down this greenway to Bray-et-Lû.  This is the point where the Avenue Verte leaves the greenway, but I stayed on it and headed through Gasny and Giverny ending up in Vernon, where I spent the night.

The next section goes from there to Le Petit Andely and I spent the night a short distance further on at Le Val Saint Martin. The route climbs steeply from there to Le Thuit and then descends to run parallel to the Seine.   I crossed the Seine at the locks at Amfreville and headed to Pont de L’Arche.  Rather than stop there, I headed on to Rouen (the weather forecast for the next day was not good and I wanted to get to Rouen ASAP).  The route runs through suburban streets, some more major roads and forestry roads (no motor vehicles).  The initial forest section is a steep climb!   The route emerges from the last forest section in a suburb of Rouen.  A local advised me not to hang around in the forest area after dark (I got there at around dusk).
The forest route emerges in Rouen directly by a cluster of hotels: Campanile, Ibis and Novotel (a rather more upmarket one).  Anyone doing this route should consider booking one of these in advance.

Ivor’s total mileage: 243 in 9 days (including riding from Brighton to Newhaven and back!)

It would be nice if we could do another Avenue Verte ride some time, possibly varying the format to attract more people. For instance, it would be possible to do a series of one day rides based around Neufchatel, or travel to Serqueux by boat and train, so that the total duration could be flexible, to cater for participants’ prior commitments. As Ivor points out, “Vernon is only a short train ride from Rouen and Dieppe.  The trains carry bikes: very similar set-up to Southern: special section with space for two bikes stacked against each other. Vernon could be a good end point for anyone wanting to shorten the route.” He adds: “If you want to follow the Avenue Verte into Paris, you can take the train from Paris to Vernon and rejoin the route there, or simply take to train back up to Rouen and Dieppe.  There didn’t seem to be any issue with bikes on the Vernon to Rouen / Dieppe stretches, but it’d probably be a good idea to check which services from St. Lazare carry bikes.” Gournay and Gisors also have rail links to Rouen.


A mini Clarion ride out of the blue: Sunday 10th September 2017

20 September 2017

Red Admiral

Entirely by chance Joyce, Leon, Sikka, Tessa and Marilyn joined in friendship. Unbeknown to each other two groups paths were about to cross. Joyce and Leon planned to have lunch in Bramber at the Bridge Inn, getting a train at Brighton and starting the short journey up the Downslink to Bramber. At the same time Sikka and Tessa had planned to do a recce for a future ride from Hassocks to Shoreham via Henfield and Bramber, meeting Marilyn at the lunch stop.

Now let’s go back to where it all came together. Leon and Joyce unexpectedly met Sikka and Tessa on the concourse of Brighton station; greetings and hurried explanations were voiced and our individual plans were discussed and as Bramber was to be our lunch stop we agreed to meet there to have lunch together. Two odd coincidences now manifested themselves. Leon imagined or dreamed that the Bramber Bridge Inn had reopened after being closed for refurbishment, it is still boarded up. Tessa made a phone call from Hassocks to make a booking, unfortunately she called The Bridge Inn Shoreham who took the booking.

Meanwhile Joyce and Leon were now cycling the Downslink northbound. Sikka and Tessa were cycling through Hurstpierpoint, Albourne and Henfield to join the Downslink southbound, meanwhile Marilyn had cycled from Shoreham to Bramber and was waiting for Sikka and Tessa in the Castle Inn Hotel in Bramber. When Joyce and Leon arrived at the ‘closed’ Bridge Inn, they decided to go back 100m to try the Castle Inn Hotel where we bumped into Marilyn who had been on the phone to Sikka to instruct the location of the lunch venue. About an hour passed before Sikka and Tessa arrived to tell of their adventures en-route. Now there were five Clarion riders all together in one place and enjoying a very nice meal in a rather pleasant location.

After lunch we all set off together for the ride back to Shoreham, but only 500m on the little group split with Sikka, Tessa and Marilyn choosing to cross the very busy A273 while Joyce and Leon preferred the new section of the Downslink that follows the river Adur on the west bank as it goes under the A273, a much safer option. We didn’t see the others again until the Old Toll Bridge but they seemed to want to finish the ride ASAP due to the weather closing in rapidly due to gale force crosswinds from the southwest. It was so nice to meet up unexpectedly and enjoy our day together. Thanks to coincidence/chance without leader or backstop or proper organisation.

Boots Leon.

The Last Ride: Sunday 17 September 2017 – CLARION TO CRABTREE; ‘There Will Be Hills!’

20 September 2017

Saturday evening we had enormous hailstorms thundering down on our house & turning our garden white, but Sunday dawned calmly, with a hint of sunshine. Once outside & having whizzed downhill on the bike, I realised it was almost winter, instead of mid-Sept. & nearly went back for warmer clothes. I warmed up on the hill to the station & bumped into 3 friends. 2 were Joyce & Leon who were at the ticket machines, but they weren’t coming with us as Leon said the A272 was too busy & they were circling the Cuckoo Trail- Berwick to Polegate. The other was a local Labour friend who was going on a walking trip from Haywards Heath. When we met him again at H.H. Station he took the group photo for us then rejoined his group of around 20 Sunday walkers. Before we boarded the train at Brighton. Angela D. & Prudence arrived & tried to buy their tickets but a long queue had formed as machine had broken down & it looked as if catching the train would be impossible. Mick & I got on as we were meeting Tessa at H.H. since she’d been child-minding in London. It was a new Thameslink open train & possible to walk the whole length, so I went looking for my local Labour Party friend & found Angela & Prudence were on board instead!

As there was only 5 of us we made rapid progress out of the town & into the woods & undulating lanes. I remember Bulls Lane, where we saw no bulls, & Picts Lane, where we saw no pigs! [or Picts]. Arrived at The Crabtree around 12.30 & sat in the bar as most tables were booked. Prudence sat in the garden so I joined her for my cauliflower & Parmesan soup. Mick, Angela & Tessa had lamb roast, but he had ordered a child’s portion & ate Angela’s full portion, soon to be remedied by the pub topping up Angela’s to adult size. The food being so good – Michelin starred indeed – that puddings were ordered too – Mick shared his choc tart with passion fruit ice-cream & Tessa had crème brulee rocky road. Then we explored the garden, the views & had fun on the garden swings hanging from a huge ancient tree.

Back on the bikes we sailed down Mill Lane which turned into a bumpy bridleway overhung with trees but still with super views & somewhat undulating. Mick had promised us a big hill but we were not there yet. We had to manoeuvre the bikes over 2 locked gates, which was annoying on a bridleway – too high for horses to jump over! When we finally emerged from the woods to a narrow road & a couple of houses, there was a sign warning of shotguns being used on intruders which wasn’t very welcoming & Angela dared to ask a woman in the garden why the gates had been locked, but didn’t wait till “my brother” was summoned to explain! There were so many huge houses with loud aggressive, barking guard dogs & every time we passed them my heart lurched & blood pressure rose. Angela & I took the hills more gently – walking pace-due to our asthma – Angela’s exacerbated by an infection, though she always overtook me on the downhill & tried to teach me the proper way to use bike brakes, not cling on to them like grim death, but to gently squeeze. We heard a woodpecker among the many birds in the woods. We passed a typical Wield Hammer Pond – vestige of the iron industry of the past. We talked to passers-by, walkers, natives, runners & cyclists. We enjoyed the extensive views.

Finally we reached the promised hill, walked up it – not Mick of course – & arrived in Warninglid & then Cuckfield. Passing a sign to Borde Hill Gardens, Mick asked us if we’d like to take an extra mile or two to view the estate & maybe take tea & cake in the charming cafe there. Some hadn’t been before & the rest loved it so we agreed & enjoyed. We took tea[s] & teacakes in the pretty garden & again the staff were welcoming & food was excellent & extra teacakes were provided which we all shared.
We had 10 minutes before our trains arrived which was just right & arrived home by 5.30. We’d had a jolly good ride & exercise & plenty of time to chat in glorious surroundings. Although Mick hadn’t had time to re-recce the ride we’d done years ago, we easily sailed around the lanes & up & down the undulations. I scarcely remembered any of it from previous ride & previous recce, but did remember the pub, the views, gourmet grub, glorious woods & ancient trees & ways & my favourite route around Borde Hill. Everyone agreed we’d had a grand day & thanked Mick for leading us there & back again.


The Last Ride: Sunday 3 September 2017. Polegate circular

11 September 2017

As I drove from Saltdean with my bike to meet the other riders coming to Polegate on the train from Brighton, the temperature gauge in my car was registering 18.5 degrees celsius and I wondered if this would be the last ride before autumnal weather sets in that we could ride in summer gear. As it turned out, we did encounter a little bit of rain towards the end of the ride, but it certainly was not a cold day.

Sunday 3 September 2017: Polegate circular via Herstmonceux

At the Polegate Station car park I met David and Chris who were, like me, unloading their bikes, and we approached the coffee shop by the station to wait for the train to arrive from from Brighton. Seven other riders joined us – Prudence, Julian, Sikka, Tessa, Joyce, Leon and Sean.

It is not very far from Polegate that we were able to get onto the Cuckoo Trail where we cycled through a wood and where the leaves from the trees are just beginning to fall and the colours of the foliage are beginning to take on their autumn hue. After passing Rickney Farm we were on the Pevensey Levels, easy riding on the flat and lovely views across the Levels. Through Flowers Green and Chapel Row we arrived at the Lime Cross Nursery for lunch where we were able to sit outside due to the warm weather. There we met Brighton and Hove CTC, many of whom looked very professional in their CTC shirts, and it was really nice to chat to them.

Sunday 3 September 2017: Polegate circular via Herstmonceux

Towards the end of our lunch break, the sky had clouded over and spots of rain were coming down and so we had to abandon the ‘summery look’ and put on our rain jackets, but it wasn’t very long before the rain stopped and we were able to take them off. We cycled through Herstmonceaux, which is such a pretty little place, and then onto another section of the Cuckoo Trail towards Hailsham and back to Polegate. Some of us stopped for tea at the Old Loom tea rooms whilst Tessa, Sikka, Sean decided to go straight back to Polegate.

Sunday 3 September 2017: Polegate circular via Herstmonceux

Thank you very much to Julian for leading the ride and none of us got lost this time!


The Last Ride. Tessa’s Report

7 August 2017

Sunday 6 August 2017: Streat, Plumpton Green, Wivelsfield and Oldland Mill

Oldland Mill

Oldland Mill

Angela D, Corinne, Jim, Joyce, Julian, Leon, Prudence. Sean, Sikka, Tessa and Wendy travelled by train to Hassocks. Two new recruits on electric bikes were prevented from joining the ride, one of the bikes had a dodgy pedal that could not be fixed without specialist tools, and the bike was brand new!

Helen and Angela C met us in the car park. There was a mishap here too, Helen, our leader getting temporarily stuck in the station lift.

Lodge Lane, looking north, with Oldland Mill in the distance

Lodge Lane, looking north with Oldland Mill in the distance

In the centre of Hassocks we turned right to join Underhill Lane that runs along the shadow of the Downs up to West Meston. A short stretch of main road followed until the turning for Streat. Lovely downhill swoops followed by gentle uphill to Streat Place.

Cat herding in Streat Lane

Cat herding in Streat Lane

We took the road to Plumpton Green stopping for a refreshment break at the Plough Inn alongside the memorial for the fallen WW2 Polish airmen.

Emblem on Polish war memorial

Emblem on the Polish war memorial

Helen lengthened the ride to Wivelsfield by taking us into Plumpton Green village where we turned onto a broken concrete farm track by the old Rising Sun pub now a posh house with the same name.

We regained the road, passing the Plough Inn again as we headed for the Cock Inn in Wivelsfield. A buzzard and an open top Rolls Royce were spotted en route..

We divided into three groups, two out in the garden and one inside for lunch in this well liked pub that has excellent food, reasonably priced.

After lunch we headed out into sunshine, which during the morning had been hit and miss, quite cold when there was cloud cover.

We set off down 100 Acre Lane fringed by ripening wheat and cornfields, into a headwind. The headwind seemed to follow us which ever direction we took. Spatham Lane brought us to Ditchling turning into East End Lane where we wove through the backstreets to Boddington Lane.

Here we divided into those who were prepared to embrace a muddy offroad track and those who preferred a longer ride on tarmac. The offroaders arrived at Oldland Windmill first, with almost clean feet! We all sat in the sun drinking tea and eating homemade cake. Sikka used all her strength to move the windmill a fraction so the sails tilted to catch more wind.

Tea and cake at the mill

At the mill

We made a dash for the station down a concrete road called Grand Avenue and were well in time for our train. But no sign of Helen? To say goodbye and thank you for a really lovely day out.


The Last Ride. Angela’s Report

27 July 2017

Sunday 23 July 2017 Lewes to Berwick

Sunday 23 July 2017 – Lewes to Berwick

The Glynde wind turbine seen across fields from the Ringmer cycle route

Jim Grozier chose the best of the sunshine for this wonderful ride through undulating Sussex lanes. Tessa, Angela C, Chris, Dave, Prudence and Angela D accompanied him. We started at Lewes and cycled through back streets via Cliffe to Ringmer. We saw the sad graves of two supposed duellers of unknown origin – more information here.

Sunday 23 July 2017 – Lewes to Berwick

An impromptu sculpture by the side of the lane

We went past the imposing gates of Bentley Wildfowl Trust and carried on through the delightful little lanes. Some cars were very courteous to cyclists but others passed far too near – cycling UK is running a  campaign on this issue. Our rural lanes could be places of tranquillity and offer safe routes for cyclists, walkers and horse riders if cars and motorised transport were banned to all except residents and deliveries.

En route there was a discussion of Worthing bypass, high traffic levels and pollution.

We lunched in East Hoathly at the King’s Head, ducking out of the arriving rain. We saw the decree authorising the execution of Charles I on the wall and asked ourselves if we would have signed it? Tessa told us a little about her fascinating family history which has been told in a book The Last Mazurka by her brother, Andrew Tarnowski. This kept us suitably occupied as some of us had a long wait for our lunch.

Sunday 23 July 2017 – Lewes to Berwick

A semi-posed group photo outside the pub. Note that Chris is hiding behind Tessa …

Sunday 23 July 2017 – Lewes to Berwick

… but moments later, Chris has moved in closer, so that Tessa appears to have stolen, not just his wallet, but also his right arm …

Rain could not spoil our enjoyment of the return journey to Berwick station, via Vert Wood; Jim timed our arrival at Berwick station perfectly as we only has to wait a few minutes for the train.

Angela Devas

The Last Ride: Sunday 9 July 2017 Woods Mill – Bramber – Shoreham

11 July 2017

Our group of six cyclists at Hassocks station. Start of ride 9th July 2017

Present on the ride were leader Leon, Joyce, Wendy David Sikka and Richard. A well prepared and clearly experienced Leon led us for about an hour and a half from Hassocks station over gently undulating roads in brilliant sunshine via pretty Sussex villages like Albourne and Hurstpierpoint to our lunch stop at Woods Mill Nature Reserve.

Paintings on building at Woodsmill.

A leisurely picnic in the shade of ancient oaks was followed by a short stroll to the nearby mill lake, sadly now lacking water movement and covered in algae but still a lovely tranquil spot with damsel flies in profusion. It was time to follow the butterflies, including slightly elusive but gorgeous Red Admirals, so some of lost ourselves in that blissful and innocent activity for a while.

Refreshed, we set off again towards Bramber. Sikka and David left us for a while to investigate a possible future ride (watch the Clarion site). Cars, and sweating young men hunched over the handlebars, shot past in both directions from time to time. The author wishes them no ill but fancies we enjoyed our ride somewhat more.

Woods Mill Clarion ride Sunday 9th July

Outside Bramber Castle entrance we regrouped and availed ourselves of David’s knowledge of a newer and alternative route to the Adur on a pristine cycleway, flanked by fields in which the grass grew tall. Soon the wide river came into view, which we crossed, and passing through the ancient Salts parishes of yesteryear found ourselves on the eastern bank on the old railway track. Back then through the northern suburbs of Shoreham, where David took his leave, and beneath the railway bridge at Southwick to Shoreham Lock.

Glancing idly down at the collection of Sunday boaters waiting for the lock gates – all amateur maritime life is to be observed there – the party unanimously decided that a swim was irresistible. The water temperature was perfect for cooling off after twenty miles or so of midsummer cycling and a certain stoniness of beach did not discourage us. The author learned that Lycra cycling shorts and tiny pebbles are unfortunately inseparable, and that this does not increase saddle comfort. No matter. Suitably cooled we headed off to take tea in a suburban garden in Hove. Apple and blackberry cake, muesli bars and fresh strawberries were thoughtfully provided by Wendy and Sikka.

Paintings on building at Woodsmill.

The author hopes that our predecessors of 1893 are looking down on us benevolently and feeling that our summer idylls are not so impossibly different from theirs. Thanks again to Leon, without whom…


EXTRA! a video from Leon: