South Downs Way, Jubilee Bank Holiday 2002

Click on any image to see it in its full glory. You can click on the grid references to see a map of where the photo was taken, if I've remembered them correctly.

It was on a blazing hot Saturday morning that five intrepid explorers, Rachel, Duncan, Mark, Carole and Chris, converged on Winchester railway station for the start of a four-day trip along the South Downs Way.

The first challenge was to make our way out of Winchester. We were thwarted at every turn by a one-way system which seemed custom-designed to give a tour of the sights. However, after a close encounter with the cathedral precincts, we were on our way, across the M3 and on to the downs.


Our first stop, almost three miles from Winchester, was for a bite of brunch and some minor bike tweaks. Mark's panniers were having teething trouble, but we were happy to sit in the sun and look at the view to the accompaniment of the kickin' bass from the Homelands music festival going on over the hill.

A little further on we encountered our first muddy patch, bizarrely alongside a field full of Llamas who seemed unconcerned by our presence.

After this came a stretch on the road through the rolling Hampshire countryside. We made a lunch stop in Exton, meeting another group of cyclists of the skinny-tyred variety. Before long we came to the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and a hyowge grassy descent to the visitor centre, where it would have been churlish not to stop for an ice cream in the afternoon sun.


Soon after the long greasy climb out of the forest came the first puncture of the trip. It took the combined ingenuity of the whole group to figure out how to remove the tubeless tyre from Carole's back wheel, only to discover it already had a tube in it. It was quickly replaced and we were off, in amongst some very hot runners who were taking part in a relay race all along the South Downs Way.


A chalky downhill took us on to Harting Downs which formed a natural sun trap, giving us the perfect excuse to rest for a few minutes.

By this time we were starting to get weary, but the last few miles of the day were on dry rolling doubletrack. The evening sun, gentle breeze and beautiful countryside made for a mountain biker's idyll.


The final descent into Cocking really blew away the cobwebs.


Our first night's accommodation: the Moonlight Cottage B&B in Cocking. We were made to feel very welcome - the owners even took our washing in. We spent the evening in the pub just across the road, and discovered that almost everything in the village, including our B&B, the pub and the post office had all changed hands recently. We never did get to the bottom of the mystery of why.


The B&B was on the corner of Church Lane which, as the signpost rightly points out, doesn't go to the church.


The following morning took us through wooded glades and open fields as the terrain started to get more hilly.


More and more often we found ourselves losing all our height in a flurry of squealing brakes and bouncing suspension, only to have to gain it all again on the other side of a valley.

The sun continued to shine on us as we clambered back up on to the downs after a lunch stop at a particularly camp pub in Amberley - much more Jubilee than World Cup. They did let us carry our bikes through the bar into the back garden, so they get full marks for bike-friendliness. The climb rewarded us with magnificent views across the Adur valley, able to make out Brighton in the distance.


By the time we arrived at the summit of Truleigh Hill we were getting tired and sunburnt but the end of the day's ride was within sight.


The pub at the top of the Devil's Dyke provided a welcome opportunity for refreshment as the sun started to disappear behind clouds. We sat and watched a cricket match going on far below in Fulking.


Our night's accommodation was in Manor Farm, a B&B in Poynings with a particularly soft furry cat, who can just be seen on the bonnet of the car in the photo.


The following morning our first major task was to make it to the top of Ditchling Beacon. The weather had cooled down quite a lot, so we didn't actually stop at the ice cream van!


We thought the third day was going to be easier than the first two, but the terrain had a lot of climbs and descents to throw at us. This one's an action shot of the farm track which took us very quickly down towards Rodmell for our lunch stop. The speck in the distance is Duncan.


Lunch in Rodmell was definitely time for a rest. Having crossed the River Ouse we climbed us on to Firle Beacon where preparations for the Jubilee firework display were in full swing. The firework people promised us we wouldn't be able to see anything from Alfriston where we were staying that night, but later on we were able to make out the light in the sky from the beacons being lit along the downs, and the flashes of the fireworks from all the surrounding villages.


The following morning we set off on the final leg of the journey to Eastbourne. It was only short, about 10 miles, but sadly we'd come to the end of the excellent weather we'd been enjoying so far. It rained, but at least it justified the waterproofs we'd been lugging along with us all the way.


Nearly there, but there's always time for a quick individual pursuit race around an impromptu velodrome somewhere in the drizzle near Beachy Head.


And there we are at Beachy Head: 110 miles, 11000 feet of climbing, and only three punctures. Just time for a celebratory hot chocolate and bath bun before zooming down the road into Eastbourne to catch the train home.

Chris Jones, 5 June 2002