The last ride: Sunday 4 September – Three Bridges circular

13 September 2011

[More photos on Flickr]

Angelika, Jim, Rob, Roger, Sue, Suzanne and Tessa met at Three Bridges. We had a staggered arrival, on trains from Brighton, Clapham Junction, Haywards Heath and Hove. A newspaper stand outside the station announced ‘Ex-Mayor in TV Auction’. At lunch Roger confessed he was tempted to add ‘No Bids Received’.

2. At the Start

The Worth Way is my kind of off-road, a smooth disused railway track. Trees protected us from a misty drizzle. At Rowfant Station (boarded up) we admired the quality of bricklaying in the bricked up door of the ticket office – it was seamless with the rest of the building – a touch of Surrealism, Rene Magritte maybe? I thought. The suburbs of Crawley Down followed, we rejoined the Worth Way, passed a 16th Century manor house [Gullege – Jim] with an interesting star-shaped chimney, too far away to really admire. Suzanne wondered if the advent of the railway so close to them had caused the owners of the manor house to protest in a 19th century version of NIMBYism.

7. Red Riding Hood

At East Grinstead station, the track ended and we headed towards our lunch stop in Lingfield on some delicious long downhill swoops. It started to rain properly as we neared The Star and during lunch we looked out on pouring rain. At lunch Jim asked us if we had noticed a road sign in the village saying ‘Free Will Counselling’, prompting Roger to confess what he nearly did at Three Bridges station. Lunch took a while to arrive, but when it did, was served altogether and was appreciated. No politics today, ‘Slimmers World’ and ‘Freecyle’ were among the subjects discussed. Jim took a photo of my empty plate for the report, another touch of Surrealism?

5. Empty Plate

We decided against visiting the church in Lingfield and headed off into Surrey where after Crowhurst we voted to take the off-road path Jim had discovered on his practice ride. It was not my kind of off-road – bumpy and fringed with massive stinging nettles, but Sue handed out dock leaves at the end.

6. Lingfield

After the Bentley half mile we passed through Blindley Heath and Smallfield, mostly on country lanes but with a short section of A22 in between.

Our tea stop was a very jolly café in Horley where a cup of tea cost only £1. We sat outside as the sun and wind had swept away the rain.

13. Warning - Do Not Drive Horse Drawn Carriages on this Footpath

Soon we were at Gatwick, passing through the delightful Riverside Garden Park, landscaped with ponds and semi-tropical plants – another surreal experience – noise from planes, motorway and trains surrounded the tranquillity, as well as the smell of aviation fuel. The route back to 3 Bridges ran through Gatwick’s concrete jungle, deserted office blocks and boarded up industrial units. We passed Gatwick’s original 1930’s terminal, ‘the Beehive’ and small roads all named after famous scientists and engineers. We stopped for Jim to fix a couple of fake ‘Route 21’ signs to posts, not to mislead, but to clarify the route for those who will follow in our footsteps.

19. Fixing the Notice

At Three Bridges station, all except Angelika took the Brighton train, tired out by a wonderful well-planned day.

Thank you again Jim!


The Next Ride: Sunday 4 September 2011 – Three Bridges circular

24 August 2011

Please be clear that while all are welcome to join us, we each take part in rides at our own risk.

Three Bridges – East Grinstead – Lingfield – Crowhurst – Blindley Heath – Smallfield – Horley – Gatwick – Three Bridges

(Please contact me if you are thinking of coming:

The last time we did this ride, in September 2008, Leon reported that it was ‘without doubt the most enjoyable that I have been on’. Everyone else, me included, thought it was a disaster – ankle-deep mud, a herd of scary-looking bullocks, and the leader (that’s me) losing his way! However, that was just Blindley Heath; the rest of it was OK. So I’ve changed the route slightly so we don’t actually go across the heath but round it, and it also has a different ending incorporating the four miles of NCN21 between Gatwick and Three Bridges, which I don’t think we’ve done before, plugging the gap in my ‘Route 21 Trilogy’, of which it therefore becomes Part 2½.

I hope no one has grown tired of the WORTH WAY yet. I certainly haven’t – it’s so flat, quiet, and dapply when the sun is out. If you are, just shut your eyes for the first 8 miles!

LUNCH will once again be at the Star at Lingfield. The menu is slightly more restricted than last time, and pricier, but they do have soup and other ‘starters’ that are affordable, and they have a big garden, though sadly now bereft of small furry animals. I will probably book a table, so let me know if you are coming.

PICNICS. On a couple of rides recently some of us have sat in a pub garden hiding picnic food on our laps. I do not think we should be so coy about this. Owing to the English tradition of not sharing tables with strangers, non-paying customers do not actually take up space that could be occupied by paying customers; so the pub are not losing out as long as some of us buy food (and I definitely will, as I am hopeless at picnics). So bring food if you want to!

After lunch we may have another look at the fourteenth-century St Peter & Paul’s Church at Lingfield, though probably without a guided tour this time around; then there is Crowhurst (Surrey) and the BENTLEY MILE, a straight tree-lined avenue (actually only half a mile long) which originally led to Ardenrun, the country estate of ‘Babe’ Wolf Barnato, a famous and extremely rich 1920s socialite who was also a works Bentley driver and winner of many sportscar and Le Mans races. Ardenrun was razed to the ground overnight by fire, following a ‘magnificent party’.

The Red Barn is a possible alternative lunch venue, but probably even pricier (it’s probably where all the toffs go after they have raced their Bentleys), so I am inclined to stick to the Star.

After skirting round Blindley Heath we make for Smallfield, then pick up Route 21 near Horley and follow it, through the now-familiar RIVERSIDE GARDEN PARK, to Gatwick (with a possible tea stop in Horley en route). Then comes the new bit. OK it’s not all up to the standard of the garden park, but some of it is interesting – including the BEEHIVE, the airport’s original 1936 terminal building, now used as offices. It is in the centre of a new industrial/office complex known as CITY PLACE, which I found quite eerily quiet on the practice ride and will no doubt be more so on a Sunday.

Finally to Three Bridges via a maze of on-pavement and off-road cycle paths, and there will, I am afraid, be further ceremonial erections of Clarion NCN21 signs to replace the ones Sustrans didn’t quite get round to installing. (Thanks to which my journey from Gatwick to Three Bridges on the practice was 8 miles long instead of 4!) We can also amuse ourselves by counting the number of roads in that area that are named after famous scientists and engineers, of which there seem to be many.

Length: 27 miles (23 miles if returning from Gatwick).
Duration: about 6 hours including lunch and tea stops.
Terrain: Mostly country lanes; three off-road sections of which one (Worth Way) is Sustrans standard and the other two can be avoided if wet.

Meet at Three Bridges Station (by the bike racks) at 10:50 am. Suitable trains are: 10:00 or 10:15 from Brighton; 9:51 from Hove; 9:22 from Lewes; 10:02 from London Victoria; 10:14 from London Bridge.

Jim (mobile 07742 963239)

The Next Ride: Sunday 7 August 2011 – Three Bridges to Eridge

27 July 2011

Please be clear that while all are welcome to join us we each take part in rides at our own risk.

(Part II of the Route 21 Trilogy)

This ride has something in common with Ian McEwan’s Atonement. That does not mean that someone will be accused of a crime of which they are entirely innocent, nor that there will be guest appearances by Keira Knightley and James McAvoy. No, the parallel with Atonement is in the fact that the ride, like the novel, has multiple endings. But more of that later (at the end, in fact).

We start out along the familiar Worth Way, and will get a glimpse of the frontage of Gullege, the old house which we saw the back of the last time we came this way (on the Bluebell Line ride, in March). Ian tells me that Pevsner had this to say about it:

A beautiful Jacobean house … (The) front is stone-faced, smooth, with three equal gables and mullioned windows. The other sides show their timber-framing. Good chimneystacks, one of star-shape, the others square, set diagonally.

However, when we reach East Grinstead, after a brief detour to look at the brand new Victorian railway station on the Bluebell Line, we just keep going – through East Grinstead’s High Street with its many old buildings, including the 400-year-old Sackville College, and onto the continuation of Route 21, known here as the Forest Way.

The Forest Way is a cycle route that is also, apparently, a Country Park – and very nice it is too, and dead flat of course as it is the continuation of the old railway line from East Grinstead to Groombridge (or Ashurst Junction to be precise). After a couple of miles we come to the ruins of Brambletye House. Pevsner again (via Ian):

The impressive ruin of the house which Sir Henry Compton built in 1631. Still entirely Elizabeto-Jacobean in style … The symmetrical front of the house is still easily recognised with its central porch, canted bays l. and r. and towers at the angles. These are of four storeys, and one has still got its ogee cap.

Then lunch at Forest Row; the Chequers Inn Hotel has a good range of reasonably priced dishes, and does not require pre-booking; so in fact we can, if we choose, decide to go somewhere else, such as the café next door which will also be open. And if anyone wants to bring a picnic lunch, they can probably eat outside the pub, or stop off at one of the Forest Way’s many picnic tables and arrange a rendezvous after lunch.

On the short trip between the cycle path and the lunch stop we will actually cross the River Medway. Luckily it is not as wide here as it is at Rochester, and doesn’t even get a mention on the plaque that records the history of Forest Row Bridge. But the Medway it is, and in fact we will cycle along its valley for some 6 miles before it turns abruptly north just before Groombridge.

The last 2 miles we will be on a country lane, and I am afraid there is some “undulation” here, but it will soon be over. At Eridge Station we wave goodbye to Route 21, which now points to Rotherfield and other places we will meet in the third part of the Trilogy. The Spa Valley Railway will be running trains into Eridge (but not steam trains I’m afraid as it is a Diesel Gala Weekend). We might get a cup of tea there.

We then come to the aforementioned choice of endings:

(Normal: 22 miles) Return by train from Eridge (via East Croydon).
(For Enthusiasts: 34 miles) Train to Uckfield, then cycle from Uckfield to Glynde (following the route of the second half of the Berwick-Glynde ride we did in April), then train to Brighton.
(Strictly for Addicts: 40 miles) Cycle back to Three Bridges the way you came.
(Strictly for Beginners: 8 miles) Return home by train from East Grinstead (via East Croydon).

Start at Three Bridges Station at 10:40 am (assemble by the cycle racks).
Suggested trains: 9:45 or 10:00 from Brighton; 9.54 from Hove (change at Gatwick); 9:27 from London Victoria; 9:42 from London Bridge.
Duration: The basic 22-mile version will take about 5 hours including lunch.
Return trains from Eridge (option 1) 15:49; (option 2) 16:00; from Glynde 17:53, 18:53.
This is a non-circular ride. Car people can park at Three Bridges but will need to take option 1, 3 or 4.
My mobile: 07742-963239.


The last ride: Sunday 20 March 2011 – Three Bridges to Haywards Heath via Worth Way and Bluebell Line

22 March 2011

[Many more photos in our Flickr group]

This is how most of us felt at the end of the ride (apologies to the stronger riders in our midst).

Twenty, yes T-W-E-N-T-Y, happy Clarion riders met at Three Bridges station, gathering from north and south. This was, of course, a record. Once the puncture was mended and the photo taken, it was off in clear, sunny weather along the Worth Way, our long April shadows accompanying us as we rode: now high above the railway cutting, now riding along the embankment of the rail bed itself.

The start at Three Bridges

Rowfant station still stands but Crawley Down station is no longer with us – 1960s Grange Road has obliterated that particular alighting point. Being very glad of Jim’s guidance, we made our way through the modern housing estate, back onto the Worth Way and then off again on a delightful little detour past mediaeval Gullege and then back over the Worth Way and up and down Imberhorne Lane. Here we crossed another defunct rail bed, this time, the East Grinstead to Kingscote line (aka a future extension of the Bluebell Line – track already laid to the south-west, mountains of 1960s rubbish still to be removed from the cutting to the north-east).

Rubbish dump

After climbing up for what seemed forever, at last it was time to swoop down to Kingscote station. The bad news was that the wonderful 1960s uniforms being worn by the volunteer station staff also meant that they were perpetuating 1960s attitudes: no more than five bikes allowed in the guard’s van. Doh! Rapid calculations were made as to who was likely to be able to cycle the 12 miles to Sheffield Park station without dropping completely dead. And then there were 15 – well no, one more intrepid Clarionette used charm (brute force / tears / pleading / bribery?) and was also allowed to part with £8.00 (+ 50p bike charge) for the honour of being steam-drawn those 12 miles. So then there were 14 happy Clarionettes on their way.

Tessa detrains

Or do I mean there were 14 hills? Is it really possible for roads to continually rise? Up Vowels Lane we climbed, the vowels mainly being A(rgh), O(w) and OU(ch). But once up, we found the views were spectacular across the High Weald and Shagswell Wood down to our left; all along knowing that the railway line had commandeered the flat valley bottom in 1882 for its own use. Unfortunately each time there was an exhilarating sweep down, it seemed to be followed by an agonising climb up.

Not “Very Flat”, Sussex!

The early birds at lunch

By 2.30 the weary band of 14 reached Sheffield Park station and made a bee-line for the pub where curly sandwiches (circa “Brief Encounter”) and various delectable dishes were consumed. A later-than-usual start back at 3.30 with quite a few creaks and groans, but we were on the home straight. The joy of a bike is that you can get off and push up the hills. Just think how awful if would be if you had to push your Range Rover out of the “Bluebell Valley” to get up to Butterbox Lane. None of those difficulties for us. We just got off and pushed (well, some of us did, anyway).

Leaving Sheffield Park station

As we passed twice more under the Bluebell Railway our shadows were still with us, but lengthening in the other direction under a still brightly shining sun. We paused to admire the sparkling waters of ancient Ludwell Spring near Horsted Keynes and then through the various farmsteads of Walstead to Lindfield.

Ludwell spring

John, Mark and Sean had peeled off before Chailey, Mick had hared off to put on evening dress for dinner, and then Jenny was away in a cloud of dust*, whilst the remaining 16 managed to cause a mini traffic jam in that pretty little village, and so before you could say, “Pump me tyres up, Sport”, we were back to Haywards Heath and four tired Londoners were being whisked off northward whilst 13 Sussexers (there must be an adjective!) cluttered up a busy train to their respective stations south.

Finally, please remove your helmets to pay your last respects to “The Intrepid Fox” at West Hoathly (offers in the region of £650K), the “The Witch Inn” at Lindfield and any other “dead pubs” that we might have passed.

Thanks to Jim for a delightful ride through what must be some of the most beautiful countryside in Sussex.


* Hardly! Sorry to desert everyone so abruptly, but I was very tired after doing a 55-mile overnight ride (for fun!) on Friday, and stopping and getting cold was making matters worse. So I decided to take the direct route down the main road to Haywards Heath to get to my car before I expired at the roadside.



For the trainspotters reading, the ‘cushy six’ were hauled from Kingscote to Sheffield Park on the Bluebell Railway by South Eastern & Chatham Railway No. 178, P-class 0-6-0T built in 1910. The other loco on duty was Brighton-built London Brighton & South Coast Railway Class E4 0-6-2T No. 473, “Birch Grove”. There was in fact plenty of room for all our bikes in the guard’s van!

Our loco No. 178


TJ has also written up the ride, on this forum. Scroll down until you see Clarion. It’s reassuring too that other cyclists are also taking pictures of food!

The next ride: 20 March 2011 – Bluebell railway

8 March 2011

Please be clear that while all are welcome to join us we each take part in rides at our own risk.

Sunday 20 March 2011
Three Bridges – Kingscote – Bluebell Railway – Sheffield Park – Haywards Heath

This is a repeat of a ride we did in September 2007, with a different ending. We once again encounter National Cycle Route 21, in the guise of the Worth Way, and follow it most of the way from Three Bridges to East Grinstead, then strike out southwards to Kingscote, where the Bluebell line starts.

Since the lunch at Horsted Keynes last time was … well, a bit basic, I have now developed an alternative route which involves staying on the train to Sheffield Park and using the proper restaurant there – prices are reasonable and there is a fairly good choice, with veggie options. We may well want to look round the engine shed and the shop at Sheffield Park too.

The single fare from Kingscote to Sheffield Park is £8.00 plus 50p bike fare (they have a proper guard’s van!). This is somewhat more than we paid three years ago, but then the Bluebell are currently trying to raise £2m to move a huge mass of household refuse that was dumped in the cutting in the 1970s, so that they can link up to the National Rail network at East Grinstead (where they have already built a Bluebell station next to the Network Rail one) so the money is going to a good cause!

The route out of Sheffield Park station involves about a mile of the A275, which is rather too busy for our liking, but we will have to put up with it. We then strike out north-westwards on quieter lanes, and reach Haywards Heath via Lindfield. We will make two crossings of the River Ouse (thankfully, by bridges!) and see it from the train – it is narrower here than where we crossed it at Isfield on the Lewes ride last year, of course.

Total ride length is about 19 miles. There are some hills but no serious ones.

Suggested trains:

From Brighton: 10.00 or 10.14

From Preston Park: 10.03

From Hove: 09.54 (change at Burgess Hill)

From London Bridge: 9.42

From London Victoria: 9.47

or meet at Three Bridges station at 10.45.

A return ticket from Brighton to Three Bridges will cover the return journey from Haywards Heath; if travelling from London you will need to get a return to Haywards Heath.

Return trains to Brighton at 8, 31, 38 and 41 minutes past each hour, to Hove at 11 minutes past, London at 1, 10, 31 and 39 minutes past.