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South Downs, Saturday 11 May 2013

May 20, 2013

“Weekends are good we can walk the South Downs as a family”

Soft Verges


With the Isle of Wight next on our agenda, we’re boosted by the return of David and Richard, who’ve been out with lengthy lay-offs due to work, family commitments, and generally having better things to do.Image

We kick off at Dormansland, and manage a full three miles before stopping for a hearty breakfast at Casablanca in East Grinstead.  A big “Chapeau!” to the waitress who sprints across to Waitrose to get us some muffins.  As at many a gathering of thirty-something men these days, conversation dwells on which light entertainment figure of the 70s and 80s will be next to fall foul of Operation Yewtree.

As the morning’s heavy rain relents, we proceed South-west through the Heart of Middle England in the spring time – all pristine village greens with cricketers bowling their left-arm occasionals.    Spinning along the well-kept roads and passing hosts of bluebells on either side, I know exactly what NB meant about the flora and fauna abound in this land.

Things continue in a green and pleasant vein in Horsham, where some Morris Dancers are doing their stuff, and we discover a bridleway out of town.   In true biscuit tour fashion, progress is slow, and we fail to keep pace with a middle-aged jogger.   We also encounter two harmless-seeming old ladies, whose dogs appear to be called William and Dainty (reminding us of the famously unreliable mayor of Framley) and later reflect that they’re probably Wripple Vetivers keeping an eagle eye on our progress.

ImageAt Barns Green, adversity takes it first wicket, with David forced to retire by a combination of puncture and lower back pain.  Leaving him at Billingshurst to catch a train, the rest of us speculate that we can comfortably make it to Portsmouth to meet him in time for the cup final at 5:15.

Heading on to the South Downs, we stop for lunch at the Star in the Busy Little Market Town (possible points bonus there?) of Petsworth.  The waiter survives a Paxman-style grilling by Richard on the exact molecular composition of every ingredient in the burger, and successfully coaxes me into staying longer for banoffee pie.  [Richard has a different version of events and insists that the waiter was being rude to him when he pointed out that they didn’t serve hot chocolate].

The early afternoon’s stages are marred by steep hills, heavy downpours and a relentless headwind.  Having managed an impressive 50 miles, Richard decides to bow out on his half-century, leaving Nick and me to negotiate the remainder of the Downs unaccompanied.

It’s tough-going, especially up Tower Hill – the first true bastard climb of the weekend – and this being UKIP country, we suffer abuse from screeching harridans in Range-Rovers who don’t take kindly to cyclists.    We also struggle to find a sign to satisfy the WVs, eventually settling on a “Save the South Downs” poster.  (Plans to build a taxpayer-funded boarding school nearby are proving controversial, with the worrying views of Conservative councillor John Cherry getting him into a spot of bother.)Image

There’s a nice downhill stretch off the Downs towards the south coast, but the conditions and heavy mileage are starting to take their toll, especially on Nick, who’s slowly going a bit mad.   It doesn’t help that Portsmouth is a great big dump, and we have to ride along a busy A-road most of the way to the ferry.  Naturally, we also get confused and go to the wrong terminal, eventually re-uniting with David and Richard two and a half hours later than planned.

The crossing to the Isle of Wight Supremacy passes without mishap, and fortunately our B and B is just round the corner from Ryde Harbour.   Over dinner at the local Italian, concerns grow for Nick’s mental health – he’s muttering like Colonel Kurtz about the horrors of the South Downs.  I’m glad we’re not sharing a caravan tonight.

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