Slabs of slate grey; powder puffs of fluffy white; sulphurous yellow; clear blue; lowering leaden … these were just some of the skies seen by Fred, new member Jane (see below), leader Jim, Joyce, Roger, Sean and Suzanne, who set off from Three Bridges station once Suzanne’s puncture (2nd one in as many trips up Queen’s Road, Brighton) had been ably mended by Roger and Jim.
On to the familiar but ever attractive Worth Way in sun, only for the clouds to scud over and to pelt the happy band of cyclists with rain for a good half hour. Nothing daunted, the Magnificent Seven pressed on, reaching East Grinstead just as the sun began to shine again. A quick detour reassured Fred and Jim that the Bluebell Line had, indeed, reached East Grinstead. The “prefab” booking office was a bit of a disappointment and it certainly had nothing of the “brand-new Victorian station” about it, but at least the ancient (well, at least very old) connection of lines has at last been made.
After briefly stopping to admire Sackville College (which, just to confuse us all, is not a college but an almshouse) we followed our leader on to the Forest Way, which took us down a gradient to Forest Row as gentle as the one along the Worth Way that had taken us up to East Grinstead.
Tummies were empty by now, and perhaps some of us were a little concerned that, as it was already past 1pm, the target hostelry, The Chequers Inn Hotel in Forest Row, might be a little busy. We need have had no such anxiety – the place was deserted and we readily found a large table to accommodate us all comfortably. Food was ordered. Food arrived. Or at least, six meals arrived. Jim had put a Jim Jinx on the automated system connecting till and kitchen. Fred and Joyce had enjoyed their soup. No ravioli for Jim. Suzanne and Roger had munched their BLTs. No ravioli for Jim. Jane and Sean had savoured their lasagne. Still no ravioli for Jim. It eventually came after various apologies and was reported to be as good as the other meals had been. However, not to be idle while waiting, Jim put on his Brighton Clarion treasurer’s hat and gave a fine display of extracting a subs payment from Jane. A more deft demonstration of parting a woman and her money has not been seen for many a year.
At Forest Row Joyce decided that the 12-mile ride back to Three Bridges was her preferred way of returning to Brighton, so regretfully the remaining six waved good-bye to her and continued on the remarkably busy Forest Way. Once we had picked Jim out of the nettles into which he had fallen (when you wait a long time for your ravioli, does your beer goes straight to your head?) we made good time along the lovely shady former railway line, crossing the River Medway (yes, the Medway) a couple of times as it wound its youthful way across the Kent countryside towards Rochester. The threatened last hill into Eridge was perfectly walkable, as all self-respecting hills should be. Jim, Roger and Suzanne decided to catch a train back to Uckfield, and from there cycle to Lewes and then en-train again to Brighton; Fred, Jane and Sean decided on the all-train-borne option of Eridge – Hurst Green – East Croydon – Home Station.
Whether we had done 24 miles or 33 miles, it was a well-planned and enjoyable ride. Thanks Jim.
Joyce adds: I was sorry to leave the band, it felt almost like deserting. But all Jim’s wonderfully thought out options didn’t quite meet my needs. I had planned to get back to Brighton in time for a sauna and to see “The Big Picture” at beloved DofY (a great film – see it if you can). I didn’t want to do 34 miles and definitely not 40 ! and the option of 22 + East Croydon would have taken too long. In the event I sped back through East Grindstead to the Worth Way, although, despite it being straight through, I nevertheless managed to find myself at a different exit – Still, finding Three Bridges was easy and I got there at 4pm, in time for my evening programme, having done 25 miles. Thanks Jim for the options, the ride, the pub and thanks to all for the company.
Fred adds: the journey back from Eridge on the train, with changes at Hurst Green and East Croydon, demonstrated how badly cycles are catered for. On every train, every doorway was full of bikes (not only Clarion bikes, which shows there is some demand for bike travel); on one train the stroppy guard reminded us over the tannoy that there was only provision for 2 bikes per train, but at least he didn’t throw us off! Ironically, if buses carried bikes, I could have got the 29 all the way to Brighton!
[More photos on Flickr]