BROMPTON GOES WILD ... IN SUSSEX AND KENT
…. and takes Mark Jacobson up and down and all-around, in Kent and East Sussex.
I had started from Burgess Hill rail station, and found my way to the Southdown Farm camp site. This lies to the north of the South Downs, only a few miles from Ditchling Hill, so that was my first place of call once the tent had been erected and my load shed. This climb has a reputation, especially among those attempting one of the many London-Brighton ride events, where it comes close to the end of the ride. I paced myself and the un-laden Brompton barely struggled. What a view from the summit! Sea to south, plains and hills to north, downs east and west. I basked in the view and the compliments from some drivers who had seen me cycle the whole way up, one even saying that I made it look easy!
Moving on early next morning took me by means of byways and busy ways to Seaford for refreshments, and Beachy Head. Thirty years ago I had to stand at the cliff edge to spy the lighthouse far below; now I could stand back and see it some distance away. The cliff has fallen in several times during the intervening period, receding quite alarmingly. Apparently it recedes at about 30-40 cm per year, usually as several small falls, but occasionally a large fall occurs. One such happened in January 1999, when the spoil almost reached the lighthouse! This fall was estimated at 50 feet for about 150-200 yards across the top. The chalk downland behind the Seven Sisters (those chalk cliffs best seen from the sea) is unique and now being preserved, maintained largely by sheep. Chalk grassland is very susceptible to invasion by coarser species, which would destroy this nationally rare habitat and associated wildlife.
More ups than downs
The way I had come was certainly hilly, and this continued as I rode inland, finally reaching the Ashdown Forest and the ancient site of the Roman Road. There is an information board regarding the exposed section of original Roman road to explain the site, so it is worth spending time investigating this. Modern roads are not really much different in structure, only in materials.
Having camped overnight at Crowborough, I proceeded next morning through East Sussex towards Kent. Mayfield is a large village which lies at the eastern end of the A272 (about which a whole book has been written – the road, not the village. See ‘A272: An Ode to a Road’ by Pieter Boogaart). The church itself is very fine, but I took more interest in the village sign at the roadside not far away. I leave you to read the information attached to that when you visit Mayfield. (This is a British Cycle Quest clue.)
Lamberhurst, in Kent came next: here there is a small section of forged iron railings. These were made in Lamberhurst for a London Cathedral, where they stood for more than 200 years. On being removed, this small section was returned to Lamberhurst as a memorial to the earlier work: a quaint piece of history.
On the flat …. well
After a few more hills, the South Downs and Weald were left behind and I had a nearly flat road to East Farley. Here there is a fine old stone arched bridge across the River Medway. Continuing, some main road usage followed as I headed westwards to Ivy Hatch, once more encountering downs, this time the North Downs. I searched for a lunch venue, only to accidentally discover a fabulous pub on the green in West Peckham, called the Swan on the Green. As this is at the end of a short cul-de-sac, I had to retrace my way a bit before resuming my very hilly way to Ivy Hatch, from where I descended to the Oldbury Hill camp site. Tent erected and bags unloaded, I rushed off to Lullingstone Castle for the final visit of the day, about 15 miles of lanes before gaining the entrance gate off the main A225 south of Eynsford. The gates were locked! Being nearly rush hour, the A225 was getting very busy, so I rushed downhill amongst the flood of cars back to Otford and Kemsing to regain my sanity at the camp site.
It is flat between the Downs and on the Marsh?
Leaving Oldbury Hill next morning, my SE England visit nearly came to an abrupt end: I had to cross the A25 to climb back to Ivy Hatch. Having waited for a clear road, I set off from my side to reach the centre right-turn lane, only to have a vehicle come dashing up behind at speed from a clear road. Fortunately the alert driver had brakes.
Having passed Ivy Hatch the road descended for many a mile to Hadlow. From there it was flat all the way to Staplehurst, built on a hill, but providing refreshments, then continuing flat until my approach to Biddenden where I was due to meet the Maids, another tale for your investigation. (More BCQ)
Lunch over I set off for Sandhurst, where I did go astray in the woods, and had to retrace some miles, and Bodiam, where my next camp site was. This proved very unusual: a set of large fields on a farm, with seasonal pitches as in France, tents or vans with awnings, gazebos, etc., each surrounded by fences of windbreaks. As open fires are allowed, there were many random hollows from the many fires. Being just out of season, I could find a distant isolated pitch to enjoy my one night's stay, far from the facilities, but also far from noisy campers.
East Sussex hills were endured again next day as I rode in thick mist to Battle. Finding a café open early gave me my first call, the second being at the Abbey. Here the legend of 1066 began: the battle between 'Willy the C' and Harold. Traffic through the town was incredibly fast and furious, most unlike the usual sedately steady drivers found in East Sussex.
Next my route followed lanes through more of the South Downs hills to Guestling and a good fast run to Rye, for my last East Sussex visit. Refreshments came first, and why not? Then the sights, starting with the Landgate, a medieval structure required for those early days when the perfidious French could sail into Rye for nefarious purposes. No doubt this also came into use during those days of smuggling.
To cross the Romney Marshes is to hope the wind is in your favour. I re-entered Kent by means of the Military Road which runs alongside the Military Canal, this narrow stretch of water being designed to hold Napoleon at bay should he manage to cross the English Channel as well as for movement of supplies. At Appledore I turned towards Hythe, searching for a lunch venue. Thankful to find a garage shop at Brenzett roundabout for picnic purchases, what should I then find at Ivychurch but a 'pub of the year', and a little further on at Newchurch a restaurant open for lunches. However, I just picnicked on my shop purchases in the church grounds.
Cycling on towards Hythe I came across a cycle-touring couple from Germany, and we rode together for a while. Hythe is noted for the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, that narrow gauge mainly steam-driven 18” service. Many years ago two of us managed to put our cycles aboard this train (they only just fitted into the van!) for a ride to Dungeness. The journey is well worth making, the track taking one along the edge of this shingle land with its unique vegetation. Dungeness has a fish and chip café, several lighthouses, one of which is accessible as a museum, giving fine views from the top, and the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station.
Riding through Sandgate and Folkestone to my camp site below the chalk cliffs was a nightmare! The A259 is narrow, potholed and very busy with devil-may-care drivers. I had started on the cycle route but lost this at an unsigned T-junction. It was a relief to finally reach my destination, with its view of the Shakespeare Cliffs, for a few days' rest prior to cresting the high North Downs for my Fell Club meet not too far away.
Despite having cycled these two counties over many years, the route of this visit took me along lanes not previously cycled, and I was glad to rediscover the joys of the many varied lanes that avoid most of the heavy traffic associated with the South East of England.
The British Cycle Quest encourages people to cycle tour in places they might not normally go. Details are at www.ctc.org.uk/british-cycle-quest
OS 1: 50000 sheets 188, 189, 198 cover this tour.
Southdown Way Camping and Caravan Site http://www.southdown-caravancamping.org.uk
Oldbury Hill Camping and Caravanning Club site http://www.southdown-caravancamping.org.uk/contact.htm
Park Farm Camping, Bodiam http://www.parkfarmcamping.co.uk/index.htm
Folkestone Camping and Caravanning Club Site http://www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/campsites/uk/kent/folkestone/folkestone
PUBLISHED MARCH 2016