The Bridge

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The new Flanchford Bridge looking towards Woodhatch – June 2017

The prolonged heavy rainfall that resulted in severe flooding on the Somerset Levels during the winter of 2013-14 also wreaked havoc further afield here in East Surrey.  Part of the natural life cycle of a river is to flood and the River Mole is no exception as it passes through the local area between Sidlow and Brockham.  Over many years I’ve often viewed such flooding from my bike and on occasion had to cycle through it, as on Wonham Lane in Betchworth where the road runs along the riverside and is prone to flood at such times.  The road from Woodhatch to Leigh has long been the key to many of my local rides and as it too passes across the Mole, often breaks its banks after heavy rain turning the surrounding landscape into a shallow lake, complete with waterfowl instead of cows!

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The old Flanchford Bridge underwater somewhere!

Originally built in the 19th Century, Flanchford Bridge provides a critical transport link from the south of Reigate to Leigh, Brockham and Dorking, thus avoiding the busy A25 to the north.  As a result it is very popular with cyclists and at this time of the year finds hundreds if not thousands of cyclists passing over at weekends.  Constructed of attractive Victorian brickwork, the old single lane bridge consisted of just two small arches.  The adjacent banks are a popular location for fishing in the summer but in the winter the narrow bridge arches can cause the river flow to back-up and eventually flood over the road.  Furthermore, such conditions have taken their toll on the bridge structure until in January 2014 the downriver (west) side of the bridge finally collapsed!

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The old Flanchford Road bridge over the River Mole was substantially damaged by floods in 2014.  The downstream side was cordoned off by barriers and a weight and width limit imposed at each end. Same view as above & at top.

After initially closing the bridge for obvious safety reasons, the council placed some temporary barriers along the edge, installed a couple of fixed bollards at each end to restrict vehicle size and re-opened the bridge.  Notwithstanding, it was now clear that the bridge would need to be replaced and about a year later the road was closed for work to commence building a new bridge.  Unfortunately the closure coincided with my return to cycling after a knee replacement and has therefore seriously compromised my riding.  Although the bridge span is quite short, the projected construction time of 6-months was soon extended to nine months and only very recently was I able to cycle over the new bridge and beyond once again.

Aesthetically the new bridge is far from inspiring and is boring at best.  It is still one-way in order to reduce vehicle size and speed with a footpath along the western edge but significantly it is single span, which should stop blocking the upstream section of the river in future periods of high water flow.  However, I still expect the downstream river section will still flood during periods of high rainfall, it is after all a floodplain and that’s what rivers do – flood.  I now look forwards to enjoying this spectacle again on my bike from the comfort and safety of the new bridge.

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Lower Thames Ride

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Thames Barrier

Sometimes the obvious isn’t that, obvious! Born and bred a Londoner I infrequently cycle there, in fact because of the obvious issues of traffic and congestion I’ve tried to avoid it.  However, there’s no getting away from the fact that London is a very interesting city and all-the-better seen from a bike, even a ‘Boris bike’, which I have yet to experience.  But look beyond the obvious, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, the City etc., and a cycle ride can expand even the most familiar view of the city.

And so it was when we decided to take our bikes by car to Woolwich and undertake a circular ride around the River Thames, downstream of Tower Bridge; furthermore, there was a pleasant symmetry in that this ride plugged-the-gap of my Thames cycling experiences along the lower Thames estuary to Margate in 2010 and the upstream ride to Oxford in 2012. The result was a spectacular, interesting and very enjoyable ride.

 

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Upstream: Canary Wharf from the Thames Barrier

The starting point was at the Thames Barrier.  Operational since 1984, the Barrier was built in response to the threat of tidal floods overwhelming central London, which to-date has been a great success; such is the severity of this threat that I believe there is now a proposal to build an additional barrier further downstream to help assist the one at Woolwich.  Apart from the wonder of its engineering, it is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit in its own right.

London Route

The route, for details click HERE

Undertaken mostly along the banks of the River Thames, the 22-mile ride is flat throughout.  Given the history of the area much of the route passes through industrial areas, past and present, interspersed with magnificent stretches of London’s great history and river views at their very best.

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The cycle track loops around the O2 Arena, with Canary Wharf behind on the north bank

Setting off anticlockwise from the Barrier, the industrial wasteland of Woolwich is now being rebuilt with expensive riverside apartments, before the track soon thereafter loops around the North Greenwich Arena – AKA the O2 Arena or in the year 2000 – the Millennium Dome.  Looming upwards above the river on the other (north) side of the river from here the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf can be seen.  As a teenager in the 1960s I knew the original London Docks as working docks and with astonishment watched their redevelopment in the 1980s and 1990s, subsequently remaining empty for years as a White Elephant.  Their eventual success was finally triggered by the provision of communications in the form of the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) and especially the opening of the Jubilee underground line extension; I wish I’d had the nerve to purchase a flat there when I worked at 1 London Bridge in 1986, as the real estate has now literally taken off big time, oh well!

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Zero degrees! The Meridian at Greenwich Observatory

Shortly after the Dome the riverside cycle-walking track runs into Greenwich, until recently a somewhat overlooked district of London.  Such is its history you could spend a whole day here, notably at the National Maritime Museum, the Greenwich Observatory and recently refurbished Cutty Sark ship, but this time we mostly confined stops to refreshments.  Thereafter, the route continues along riverside sections, with occasional diversions inland on local roads, latterly crossing some of London’s other docks on the southern bank around Surrey Quays and Rotherhithe.

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Cutty Sark at Greenwich, recently refurbished

Personally I can’t recommend a stop at the Angel pub in Rotherhithe enough for a bite to eat and refreshments.  Dating back to the middle-ages, the view from the current riverside premises is spectacular, especially looking upstream towards Tower Bridge, whilst just across the road are the remains of Richard III’s palace. The final stretch along the south bank runs into the redeveloped district of Butlers Wharf.  Today this consists of high-end restaurants, apartments and shops but is nonetheless interesting and attractive.

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The view of Tower Bridge from The Angel pub at Rotherhithe

At this point to route crosses the Thames via the iconic Tower Bridge.  The road across is not for the faint hearted and for those not familiar with the location, walking across is an equally good alternative, preferably on the western (upstream side) so as to afford amazing views upstream and into the City, Westminster and immediately in front – The Tower of London.  On the other side the ride now turns east to follow, as much as possible, the northern bank of the River Thames heading back downstream.

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The route crosses the River Thames by way of Tower Bridge. In the foreground is HMS Belfast and City Hall. On the north bank (centre) is The Tower of London. After crossing the bridge turn right (east) through St Katherine’s Docks – just left of / behind Tower Bridge.

Frankly without intimate, local knowledge, the route here is a bit of a lottery and towards the end involves some major roads and significant industrialisation – nonetheless, it remains interesting throughout.  Immediately east of Tower Bridge St Katherine’s Docks is worth a detour before heading off on the back roads into the ancient districts of Shadwell and Limehouse – in their day important but rough communities of the old London riverside.  Today they too have become expensive, and sought after residential areas, how times have changed!

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A paddle steamer just by Canary Wharf taking tourists from central London to Greenwich.

Shortly afterwards the route enters the labyrinthine scenery that pass through the towering offices of Canary Wharf, seen earlier from the south bank at the O2 Arena; at its best this ride is preferably undertaken at weekends when this section will be quieter and more pleasant, unlike during the week when it is full of business workers and traffic.  Emerging from Canary Wharf on the east side the route can be difficult to follow and may necessitate taking short sections along pavements in order to avoid heavy traffic but soon afterwards, the roads again quieten and cross a major area of industry before finally arriving at the Woolwich Ferry terminal.  Bikes are wheeled onto the free ferry and after a short crossing back to the south bank of the river, it’s time to navigate the final short stretch on the roads back to the start of the ride by the Thames Barrier.

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Back at the start, via the nearby Woolwich Ferry.

 

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Bluebell Ride

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Most of my local rides go west.  There are a number of reasons for this but mainly I try to ride out against the wind and, as far as possible, return with it on my back – as the wind here generally blows from the west I therefore naturally head west.  Notwithstanding, from time-to-time – mostly about mid-year – the wind turns and provides some good cycling opportunities to the east.  My standard route eastwards is a 30-mile loop out to Haxted Mill but a few years ago I discovered a very nice add-on just to the north which passes through beautiful quiet countryside around Crowhurst, before subsequently dropping down into Edenbridge, then on to Haxted Mill and home on the aforementioned standard route.

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The 37-mile route starts at St John’s Church Redhill (Earlswood) going clockwise.  For underlying details click HERE

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Elevation Profile in feet – clockwise from St John’s Church, Redhill

The route extension adds about 7-miles to the ride but importantly goes though some really beautiful and quite countryside lanes, which are great for cycling.  Despite being a short diversion there are some notable highlights along the way, with two in particular standing out.

The first is an unprepossessing stopping point along lower section of Gibbs Brook Lane that, on a sunny day is simply magic.  It is difficult to describe the exact qualities but in the foreground looking out west across farm fields the cereal crops sway in the breeze, just beyond sometimes an amateur model flying club are intriguingly flying their planes, while in the distance the wooded Greensand Ridge provides a beguiling background to the scene.  I live on the Greensand Ridge, a conspicuous geological feature parallel to the North Downs that runs across north Kent and Surrey.  Though not as high as the adjacent Downs, in my opinion the topography and associated scenery is far superior and, furthermore, produces some very attractive cycling; Churchill’s home at Chartwell is on the Greensand Ridge and I reckon he was a shrewd judge of such matters.

A few miles on is the next highlight – Staffhurst Wood.  A 50 hectare site of Special Scientific Interest, the area has been continuously wooded since Saxon times.  The antiquity of the woods is obvious even whilst cycling through on the country road but it’s necessary to stop and get off the bike in order to take a walk into the woods in order to really experience its full beauty.  On any day the quiet atmosphere is enjoyable but in early May when a carpet of bluebells covers the woodland floor it becomes truly spectacular.

Other Points of Interest:

  • On the outward section the ride passes by Outwood Mill, the highest post mill in Britain built in 1665, thus also marking the high-point of the cycle route.
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Outwood Mill

  • Immediately prior to entering Staffhurst Wood a short diversion down Caterfield Lane leads to the Royal Oak Pub, which makes an excellent stop for refreshment and lunch – lovely views and good grub!
  • Just past the halfway mark on the road east from Edenbridge is Haxted Watermill. With references dating back to 1361, the western half was built c1580 and the eastern part in 1794.
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Haxted Watermill

  • In the small somewhat unassuming village of Horne near Smallfield, along Bones Lane is a war memorial just by the side of the road. The memorial marks the location of RAF Horne a temporary airfield used by British, Canadian and Polish Spitfire pilots in support of the D-Day landings in 1944.
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Horne War Memorial

 

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Redhill to Brighton

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Who doesn’t like a day at the seaside and there’s nowhere more iconic location for that than Brighton.  I first cycled there in 1996 as a sponsored participant in the British Heart Foundation’s annual London to Brighton charity ride and collected about £700 for my efforts.  I repeated the ride again in 1996 and 1997, by which time I was running out of interest and also finding some of the other +40,000 other riders a little too enthusiastic for safety; it is a sobering thought that each year people were actually getting killed, usually as a result of reckless behaviour! Notwithstanding, it was a fun event and as I practically live on the route, from time-to-time I have occasionally still join the ride as it passes through my home patch each year.

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Living on the southern outskirts of London, just outside the M25 motorway below the North Downs hills, I rarely cycle northwards – it’s just too busy, built-up and hard work – preferring instead cycle rides that head East, West or South.  Having developed numerous circular routes of up to 60 miles from home and with greater fitness, it soon became necessary to look further afield and where better than Brighton?

 

The obvious route is to follow the direction of the aforesaid London to Brighton charity ride but I rejected this because (a) it replicates much of my cycle route to Newhaven and other similar rides, and (b) it requires climbing the South Downs by way of the notoriously hard Ditchling Beacon – well why make life difficult?  Like the annual historic car rally and other similar events, there is a more direct route along and around the A23 but this is not particular pleasant being itself routinely very busy with traffic.  As a result I have instead developed a very enjoyable ride that takes a more westerly route and combines good scenery, quite roads and takes advantage of a natural gap though the South Downs.

Redhill to Brighton Route

Click for route details here

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The first 11 miles is familiar territory for me passing just east of Gatwick Airport via the villages of Leigh and Newdigate to Rusper, which surprisingly marks the highest point on the entire route.  In contrast to East Sussex the West Sussex section across the Weald though lumpy in parts is not as high as in the east and, as previously indicated, a break in the South Downs conveniently provides much easier cycling across this otherwise significant obstacle.  After Rusper it’s a well-earned coast downhill and around the eastern outskirts of Horsham, before crossing the bucolic countryside of the central Weald all the way to Partridge Green.  On a sunny day this really is a treat on a bike – gently rolling, open fields interspersed with woodland, dotted along the way with attractive Wealden style buildings, often encountering horse riders ambling along the lanes or sometimes even a coach and horses – truly England at its very best.

Though continuing through countryside and not unpleasant, the A 2135 south of Partridge Green is not particularly noteworthy and a little busier.  At the end it is necessary to carefully navigate a short left-hand dog-leg across the busy A283 before riding into Steyning. Situated on the lower slopes of the South Downs, Steyning is an attractive small country town, which in itself is interesting and provides many opportunities for a refreshment stop if required.

Just outside the town centre the ride turns to join the valley of the River Adur, which usefully cuts directly through the Downs.  Careful navigation is required to locate Maudlin Lane on the right, a small country road to Botolph and Coombes which are not signed.  Thereafter the road runs along the eastern foothills of the Down’s gap, with attractive views overlooking the river to the east and beyond to the Downs on the other side of the valley.  There are still some steep but thankfully very short hills, which are nonetheless much better than going over the top elsewhere; on a suitable bike it is also possible to take a track that runs along the riverbank but do not take the main A283 road which here is very busy with heavy and fast moving traffic.

At the end of this section it is necessary to carefully navigate another dog-leg across the very busy A27 Shoreham Bypass road, turning right then immediately thereafter left onto the Old Shoreham Road; thankfully with patience and the convenience of traffic lights this is not too difficult.  For motorists this road goes nowhere, apart from vehicle access to a few commercial buildings, for pedestrians and cyclists it’s a different matter. This is what’s left of the old, original coast road and just ahead is the magnificent Grade-II listed Shoreham Tollbridge crossing the River Adur.

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Shoreham Tollbridge opened in 1782 (South Downs in the background)

Opened in 1782, the bridge is built entirely of wood and can now only be used by pedestrians and cyclists but is well worth the detour to experience.  Apart from its antiquity, at this point the river is tidal and depending on the state of the tide, provides wonderful views along the river towards the sea. Immediately after crossing the bridge turn right onto a mostly paved track that runs along the eastern riverbank and into the coastal town of Shoreham; the provision of benches and tables along this section provides an attractive refreshment stop overlooking the river.

A short detour on the small backroads into Old Shoreham is very worthwhile.  Dating back to pre-Roman / Anglo Saxon times, the area has a very interesting character and some fascinating very old churches and other buildings; probably the best snack stop on the route is at Teddy’s Tearooms on East Street – the quality and size of the cake portions is without parallel in my experience!  Thereafter, it’s necessary to take the busy A259 coastal road all the way into Brighton but there are compensations, with frequent sea views on the right.  Initially the road passes Shoreham harbour itself is a busy, before eventually rolling into the western outskirts of Hove.

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On reaching the end of Hove Lawns swing right off the main road and onto the cycle path that now runs all the way to Brighton Pier; if the main road is too busy it is possible to join the cycle path further west.  Given the nature of Brighton it is no surprise that this cycle path is very busy and care needs to be taken with other users and pedestrians, who share the space with cyclists. The dominant features along the front at Brighton & Hove are of course the beach / sea to the right and to the left the attractive architecture.  The Regency buildings, crescents and squares that dominate this section of the ride are truly magnificent and worth stopping to view.  Unfortunately despite today’s strict planning controls, over time numerous modern buildings have also appeared, some of which are a complete eyesore – I presume these were bomb damaged sites left after WWII and subsequently redeveloped in an era when planning was less strict?

The main stretch of Brighton promenade starts at the now derelict West Pier.  For years much pressure was brought to bear upon the authorities to rebuild this Regency pier but without success.  Notwithstanding, located at the landward end of the pier stands the 531ft British Airways i360 tower opened in 2016.  This imposing structure with its 21st century viewing pod that runs up and down the tower now dominates the area and despite my original scepticism, on a clear day provides a magnificent view of Brighton and the coast beyond and is also quite fun to ride.  As a result the i360 has already become a very popular attraction and is sure to increase visitors to this part of Brighton in the future.

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Finally, the ride naturally finishes in front of the still standing and very popular Brighton Palace Pier (image at the top of the page).   An alternative and interesting route for the last quarter mile is along the beach itself.  Bikes can be taken down large Victorian ramps to a walkway that runs along the beach edge but will need to be  wheeled along the boardwalk rather than riding – it is nonetheless very pleasant and provides many eating and drinking venues, as well as some very active night clubs should you arrive after midnight! If the weather is good a swim in the sea is obligatory to freshen up + an ice cream nearby afterwards.

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Before heading back either cycling or by rail from the beautiful Victorian station, the town itself is also well worth a visit.  Most famous are The Lanes and the Royal Pavilion but the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is a spectacular building that epitomises the very best architecture from the Victorian era.  Alternatively a spin along Madeira Drive to the east of the Palace Pier and perhaps on to Brighton Marina is also worthwhile.  All-in-all this is a very enjoyable 41-mile ride which could easily be extended to start from within London if necessary.  Notwithstanding, on this occasion it is about the destination and not (so such) the journey. Brighton is a truly exciting end for a bike ride – just make sure there’s enough time and energy left to enjoy it.

 

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Life on a bike-7: Speed

Soon after learning to ride a bike, speed probably becomes the next objective.  We’re all speed junkies, especially in our youth.  We may have already experienced speed in a car, train or plane but on a bike the experience is more visceral and somehow seems more real.  As a child the extra velocity achieved just rolling down a modest incline is thrilling and will soon lead to more daring exploits in order to achieve greater speed.

Speed can be achieved under the power of the cyclist’s strength alone or by taking advantage of favourable terrain to achieve even greater speeds.  In the former case speed might be measured over a distance, on the road in time trials or on the track, where very high speeds can only be sustained for a short period of time.  Road racing probably provides the most dramatic spectacle as riders literally plunge from the top of mountains, often on narrow, bendy and sometimes slippery roads, at speeds in excess of 65mph.  On the flat the peloton can still travel at 30mph but, with over 160 riders in close formation as in the Tour de France, there is the strong possibility of multiple crashes as riders balance the benefit gained from drafting, with the threat posed other riders just inches away.

Ultimate cycling speed will normally be achieved on a smooth surface but off-road speed provides another type of thrill.  With bumps, roots, rocks and mud along the way, at speed coming off is almost guaranteed, at which point colliding with the aforementioned obstacles inevitably results in injury. However, the appeal therein is pitting bike skills against the natural terrain and obstacles whilst travelling fast.

For the serious speed junkie and racers, speed is taken as an occupational hazard but it is not to be underestimated. Where there is speed, there is risk and danger that can sometimes lead to serious accidents, even death.

For the less adventurous, who doesn’t enjoy speeding along an open road on a warm summer’s day?  It provides an intoxicating feeling that brings cycling to life and makes life all the better for it.

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Redhill to Newhaven

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I first undertook this ride in May 2009 on the first day on my way to Paris, since then I have ridden it often each year and refined the route a little.  The ride crosses the attractive Wealden countryside of Sussex before reaching the interesting county town of Lewes and thence along the valley of the River Ouse past the South Downs and eventually into the coastal port town of Newhaven.  For those attempting the now popular London to Paris ride via the Avenue Verte south of Dieppe, I believe this this to be the best and most practical route to the Newhaven ferry once past the M25; the alternative NCR 21 is much less direct, includes some off-road stretches and frequently suffers poor surface conditions that will require an MTB.

The first 13-miles of this route to Turners Hill is on roads I use for shorter day rides, ending at the top of the aforementioned eponymous and somewhat steep hill, with a convenient bench on the green on which to take a rest.  At this point the route has now entered the Wealden geology that constitutes the central part of the ride, which is typically hilly and wooded and forms an altogether attractive ride.  Along the way are Wakehurst Arboretum, Ardingly and Lindfield all of which provide pleasant and useful stopping points if there’s time.

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Click for route details here

 

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Not too hilly

After the Weald, the section between Wivelsfield Green and the South Downs becomes more rolling in character and in my opinion, is perhaps the most attractive part of the ride; the view ahead towards the now looming South Downs is beautiful but stop, turn round and look back on reaching the junction with the B2116 for a real treat of what England’s best countryside looks like.  After crossing through the South Downs by way of the Offham gap on the A275, the road enters the county town of East Sussex, Lewes.  If you have the time and have not visited Lewes before it is very interesting and well worth a look.

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Bonfire night in Lewes

Thereafter, after a short winding section that passes the county prison, it is preferable to take the Kingston – Piddinghoe Road that runs along the western edge of the River Ouse and finally into Newhaven; the alternative A26 which runs along the eastern side of the river is much busier with traffic, including lorries going to the port and is far less suitable for cyclists.  The small villages strung out along this final section to Newhaven are all very pleasant and worth brief detours to see.  Though somewhat hilly, a deviation right will take you into the quintessential Downs’ hamlet of Telescombe, a real beauty that is worth the effort to see.

As a working port, in truth the centre of Newhaven is industrial and somewhat run down but take Fort Road the short 1-mile further down to Newhaven Fort and eventually the outer harbour and an alternative, more pleasant part of the town is discovered.  On a good day from here the view towards Seaford and the white chalk cliffs beyond is very attractive but also the Fort itself is worth a visit.

If you’re not going on from here, perhaps to France, there is a regular train service back to London from Newhaven station located immediately adjacent to the ferry terminal.  All-in-all this is a very enjoyable 41-mile ride from Redhill or South London, with some beautiful scenery along the way and, if warm enough, it can be worth a dip in the sea to finish.

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Journey’s end at Newhaven beach

 

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My tents

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My current tents in use, left to right: Hilleberg Nallo 3GT, Vango Banshee 300 & Vango Tigris 400

My first tent was inherited from my Dad who, together with a collection of lightweight camping equipment purchased it in 1939, had a planned to go cycle touring in Europe.  Timing is everything in life and unfortunately shortly thereafter WWII put a stop to that plan, however, about 27-years later I was to become the new owner of his camping gear which I then used often until about 1972.  As it was originally intended for cycle touring the tent had one important feature – it was lightweight – which in 1939 meant proofed cotton.  The bell tent style was a single skin, with a central two-piece bamboo pole and no groundsheet but in 1939 was nevertheless considered state-of-the-art.  I never used it for cycle touring myself but I hitchhiked all over the UK and Europe with it in the late 1960s and early 1970s and had a lot of fun.

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In about 1974 I purchased my own tent, the now famous Vango Force-10 (above) which is still popular today and at that time was being made in Scotland where I was living.  It was initially used for climbing and walking trips and thereafter during motoring holidays around the UK and Europe.  It was and is still regarded as an outstanding 2-person ridge tent, which has an inner and outer tent made of proofed cotton and a plastic groundsheet. Used on many challenging occasions I can testify to its robust nature but it was really still too bulky to be used for cycle touring.  I still have this tent but have not used it for many years and doubt that I ever will again but I just can’t bear to part with it as it holds many happy memories – maybe good for the garden and grandchildren one day?

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In the following decade and by now a father of two children, we owned and used a very large 5-person French frame tent for family holidays.  Made of treated heavy cotton supported by aluminium poles, this tent was very heavy and awkward to transport even by car, to say nothing of being cumbersome and difficult to erect.  In recent years we used it for camping based cycle holidays in France, during which it still proved its worth in some substantial thunderstorms.  However, recognising that it had become too much hard work and was unlikely to be used again, it was finally sold it on eBay in 2015 – I’m pleased to say that it was bought by a young family for their holidays.

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Like so much of modern life, changes in camping equipment have been driven by increased wealth, leisure time and perhaps most of all, new materials and design.  And so in 2008 the aforementioned frame tent was replaced by another Vango, this time a 4-berth Tigris 400 tunnel tent made of ultra-lightweight synthetic materials; the tent fabric itself is very thin but is exceptionally strong, watertight and light.  Likewise the tent poles are made of fibreglass, which though long are light and strong.  Notwithstanding, this tent is still much too large and heavy for cycle touring but we have often used it like the frame tent for longer stay, camping-based cycle trips during which it has also fared well in some large storms.

Despite all the aforementioned camping and cycling trips, it was only in 2010 that I eventually purchased my first tent specifically for cycle touring – a Vango of course!  The Banshee 300 is described as a compact entry level tent, which though factually correct in my opinion does not do it justice.  Using modern, lightweight materials the design of this 3-person tent is clever and was quite an eye opener for me.  It has since been the foundation of most of my cycle camping trips until recently and has always performed very well.

Weighing in at just 2.75kg I have found it to be an ideal one-man and pretty good 2-person tent for cycle touring; though probably a bit too cosy for three + luggage.  Panniers and helmets can be stowed in the front space between the outer and inner tent, using a zipped flap to access the otherwise dead space.  Clothes and sleeping gear are of course kept dry in the inner tent and I store a Trangia and related cooking and drinking bits and pieces along one side, where a useful space has been cleverly created between the inner and outer tents. Being small space is inevitably limited in the Banshee 300 but it is still comfortable, though good organisation is essential to make the best of the situation.  The main drawback of this small tent is its 107cm height but you get used to it.  It is easy and quick to erect, stands up well to the worst of wet and windy weather, whilst drying out rapidly thereafter.  Currently retailing at about £120 it’s an outstanding cycle touring tent for the money but when I purchased it in a winter sale for £50 it was a steal!

img_2444-mediumOver more than five years I have successfully used the Vango Banshee 300 in the UK and Europe for cycle touring and still love it but looking for a bit more room and storage space I recently purchased what is considered by many to be the Rolls Royce of lightweight tents – The Hilleberg Nallo 3GT.  This ultra-light tunnel tent provides more than twice the floor space of the Banshee but, depending on configuration, only weighs between 2.60kg and 3.10kg. The inner sleeping tent is about the same size as the Banshee but then there’s an enormous inner lobby in which to store luggage and if necessary shelter from bad weather in comfort; I have seen solo cycle tourists store their bike in the lobby overnight.

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Because of knee problems I have not been able to use the Hilleberg for touring yet but last year we used it a few times as a camping base for walking and cycling trips and found it to be excellent.  There is one slight disappointment in that it can be very prone to condensation but by experimenting with the numerous weatherproof vent-flaps this can be controlled.  At 105cm it is no higher than the Banshee but because of the tunnel design there’s more of it in which to move around.  Made in Sweden the attention to detail and quality is excellent but it comes at a price – more than 8-times that of the Banshee!

Fortunately my wife and I still both enjoy camping and I have little doubt that our present collection will last us out.  I particularly find the combination of a tent and cycling to be an exciting experience, being totally self-contained and independent.  I have been fortunate to travel the world, stay in some of the best hotels and eat at some of the best restaurants but for me cycle-camping beats them all; arriving under you own steam, pitch on your chosen space – if you’re lucky with a good view – knock-up some food and then drift off to sleep in the best bed there is!

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Independence: transport, accommodation, bed, clothing & food!

 

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