[More photos on Flickr]
When I read the words “Climping beach” in Roger’s very comprehensive ride description, I immediately packed my swimming trunks and towel. Although there was no scheduled stop here – and Roger later pointed out that we could not make any unscheduled ones because of the need to get to the pub on time – I thought that, the Clarion being the Clarion, well, there might be a spontaneous democratic uprising in favour of going in for a dip. There wasn’t, but the towel later proved extremely useful, as you will find out.
A light rain was falling when we (Anne, Joyce, Mick, Richard, Roger, Suzanne and myself) assembled at Barnham station – and, having checked the weather forecast, we were all dressed appropriately, Joyce resplendent in her dazzling “yellows”, and Anne equally resplendent in her “purples”. One disadvantage of this was the fact that the only working camera – Mick’s phone – was underneath three layers of clothing. My own camera having flat batteries, the first half of the ride was something of a photographic desert – though this was the only sense in which it resembled a desert at all.
Roger had done some extensive and very impressive research (including liberal use of Google Earth) for this ride, which was full of contrasts and surprises – and water, unfortunately. Thankfully, some of the water had bridges over it – including Lidsey Rife, which is apparently an area of floodplain that has been designated a “Biodiversity Opportunity Area”, although the map shows it as a waterway. The track which took us across the Rife was a particularly pleasant one, which had apparently been recently upgraded from a footpath. It eventually transformed itself into Hoe Lane, and propelled us onward through Flansham and Middleton (or Myddleton) to the coast and the promised walk on the beach. Sally had told me we would probably see terns here, and indeed, we did see birds that fitted her description; they seemed to hang motionless in the air, but I did not see them dive as I gather they are supposed to. Perhaps they were young ones that had not learnt that part yet.
We took a brief detour to look at the Baliffscourt Hotel. This is a collection of interesting mediaeval-looking buildings just off Climping Street, but Roger had not been able to find any historical background on the internet. And no pictures either – sorry!* Then it was on across the fields to Brookpits Lane and Littlehampton, and, more to the point, the welcoming dryness of the Arun View Hotel where we had superb food and service. After the usual lunchtime conversations ranging from the recent cycling tour of the Loire Valley by Joyce, Anne, Mick, John and Jo to next year’s Clarion weekend ride (Bath & Bristol, anyone?) Suzanne proposed a motion that we stay in the pub until it stopped raining – but clearly it wasn’t going to, and in fact when we came out of the pub it was a lot heavier than when we went in. This was serious stuff now – wind and rain conspiring together to lash and sting your face, and “waterproof” garments showing their limitations to the full. After Lyminster, a very nice lane took us to Poling, and next came a traditional Extreme Sport beloved of Clarionettes, known as “crossing the A27”. We all made it – this time – and proceeded to Warningcamp and Arundel. I had by now bought new batteries for my camera, and so was able to catch a misty view of Arundel Castle.
Once in Arundel, it turned out that Roger had, very impressively, lined up not only a “first choice tea stop” but also a “second choice tea stop” – both, alas, closed. So we had tea, coffee and cakes at Partners Café. By now we were seriously wet, and this was where the aforementioned towel finally came into its own. Always know where your towel is, said Douglas Adams – preferably, in our case, in your pannier, and inside something waterproof!
After the “one serious hill” that Roger had warned us about, we had a sort of Man From Uncle moment. In that 60s TV series, the characters would go into what appeared to be an innocuous shop and out the back door into a modern spy centre. (Or something like that – it was a long time ago!) Here, we slipped through a hedge in a modern housing estate and emerged, straight into the 1950s – a funny little lane with an old-fashioned signpost. This was Tortington Lane, which led us into Ford Road, over the railway, and eventually into Maypole Lane, at the end of which a second Extreme Sport was awaiting us – a popular pastime known as “Crossing the Railway”. (Without the benefit of bridges, subways, level crossings and all that paraphernalia, that is). When Joyce, the last over, emerged into Lake Lane she assured us there had been no trains in sight, whereupon a green blur rushed past at about 120mph. Phew! A narrow escape, that one.
Shortly after this, Mick discovered he had a puncture. As he and Anne had come by car, the rest of us pressed on for the final mile, Anne to fetch their car and rescue Mick, the other five for Barnham station and a final round with the towel. 23 miles, 100 gallons of rain, 7 happy wet cyclists and only one puncture. Thanks Roger! Let’s do this one again soon and hope fine weather will make a wonderful ride into a superb one.
* There is a photo of ” Bailiffscourt, by Amyas Phillips, 1935″ on p 62 of the Sussex volume of The Buildings of England. Ian Nairn gives it an unusually long write-up which begins “What on earth can a topographer committed to a C20 style of architecture, yet committed also to recording the memorable without fear or favour say about Bailiffscourt? It was originally the house of the bailiff of the abbey of Séez in Normandy and from this the CHAPEL remains; a late 13 century building… All the rest dates from 1935, built by Lord Moyne and his architect Amyas Phillips, and it poses a moral problem which is not at all simple”. But he goes on to say that it’s ” a lovely house”. In the general intro to West Sussex he calls it “the astonishing mirage of Bailiffscourt, immaculately C15 in its honey-coloured stoned , surrounded by genuinely transplanted buildings. Dornford Yates, if you like; but done with panache and sensitivity”.