Despite the grey and dank weather, with rain and snow forecast for later in the day, ten hardy souls met at Hassocks station on Sunday morning for a second attempt at Mick and Anne’s ride that had been scheduled earlier for 10 February, which had been postponed due to heavy rain and strong winds. Mick, Anne, Jenny, Joyce, Amanda, David, Linda, Julian, Michael and Peter set off at 10.30am for refreshments at Woods Mill Nature Reserve about six miles away, just south of Henfield. After only a few minutes, unfortunately Joyce didn’t feel too well and decided to return to Brighton for an invigorating sauna; we hope she gets her full strength back for the next ride.
The route through Hurstpierpoint, Albourne and High Cross was straightforward, following good roads with only gentle hills, and after a debate between the ride leaders about where to go at the next junction, we headed south down Blackstone Lane and on to the picnic area at the nature reserve, where Anne provided welcome hot drinks and high energy snacks. As we had plenty of time to get to our lunch booking for 2pm at The Royal Oak in Poynings, we set off along the paved walk to explore part of the reserve, which we were told, offered all manner of Springtime nature: water shrews, snipe, green sandpipers, little egrets, barn owls, toads, wrens, bistorts, carp, great-crested newts and water rails. Some of us did spot a treecreeper (or it could have been a nuthatch?) running up the trunk of a distant silver birch; Julian pointed out a robin, and Mick found a white, lesser, pond spoon. Otherwise we had to content ourselves with a exhibition of habitats for beetles, slugs, frogs, hedgehogs and other endemic fauna.
Back-tracking along Horn Lane, we headed through Woodmancote and then turned south towards Fulking. Along the way we passed four llamas in a field, two Sheltand ponies and Anne said she saw a small ostrich, or it could have been an emu. As the Shepherd and Dog had been fully booked for Mothers Day, Mick and Anne had reserved a table at The Royal Oak at Poynings, where we arrived more than one hour early. Fortunately they could still takes us, but Anne and Peter had things other than food on their minds. Locking up her bike, Anne noticed something different about her equipment – her back pannier had disappeared! It had either fallen off at one of the various stops, or had been left behind at the picnic area at Woods Mill. What to do? Eventually Mick and Anne decided that after lunch they would cycle on to Hassocks station and lock their bikes up there, and Julian kindly offered to drive them back over the route to Woods Mill to see if it was still there. Meanwhile, Peter arrived ten minutes later with a big, beaming smile, pushing his bike back with a flat, rear tyre. This was a brand new bicycle he had just bought on the Internet and assembled that week for today’s ride. Unfortunately the inner tube could not be repaired and no-one had an similar spare, so he had to make a call to his back-up, support team who arrived from home within half an hour. The food at The Royal Oak proved to be excellent and reasonably-priced, with the lemon sole and fish pie specially recommended, and Harvey’s beer is always tasty and refreshing.
After lunch, we made a brief visit to look at Newtimber Place, a Sussex moated house, built of flint and brick with a roof of Horsham stone. The original house was probably built by Richard Bellingham’s son, who was Sheriff of Sussex in 1567. The fields and woods around the house were full of flowering snowdrops and other spring flowers. In the mean time, Jenny decided to cycle directly back through Upper Beeding to her home in Portslade. By now, the temperature was falling rapidly, and we decided to forego any refreshments at Washbrook Farm and head straight back to Hassocks station via the B2117 and Hurstpierpoint. Before taking Julian’s lift back to Woods Mill, Mick advised me to follow the road under the railway tunnel and approach the platform on the other Brighton-bound side. This proved to be excellent advice, as it enabled me to catch up with Linda and Michael and be on the platform five minutes before they arrived panting from their exertions of carrying their bikes through two flights of stairs under the railway line. We waved goodbye to Amanda who was waiting for her train back to London.
Many thanks to Anne and Mick for organizing this very pleasant ride.
[More photos on Flickr]