At the last minute I was foolishly persuaded to hit the South Downs Way on Tuesday with some friends who had already cycled from Winchester to Amberley the day before. I met up with them in the Sportsman Inn the night before in some trepidation, as I hadn’t exactly prepared for the trip and hadn’t been on my bike for some time. Still, we were only 50 miles from Eastbourne with 1938m of hills to climb on one of the hottest days of the year, so there was nothing to fear.
This was definitely a game of two halves: naturally I started out at a very jaunty pace, admiring the scenery and chatting away. By lunchtime however, a grimace had replaced the smile and I was hurting in strange places.
The scenery was truly awe-inspiring – the route lined with orchids, poppies and wild flower meadows that stretched to the horizon, with sheep, cattle and even some pigs enjoying some of the most spectacular views across the Downs. There were fields of ripening wheat and barley, spectacular drops down to villages below and a sense that the landscape had essentially remained the same for generations. It helped to fully appreciate why the South Downs is a National Park – despite being a home to 110,000 people, we passed 50 odd walkers and cyclists on one of the most beautiful days of the year.
I was not quite fit enough to fully enjoy the last part of the day – but we eventually saw the town of Eastbourne caught in the evening light and collapsed into the sea for a refreshing swim. I’m still walking like John Wayne, but the whole experience will be fondly remembered for many years.
I strongly urge anyone who hasn’t already done so to walk or bike some or all of the South Downs way – it’s on our doorstep and will make you appreciate our spectacular surroundings even more.