Forest Row Bike Club

Ride Report

Awayday - Hellingly. July 6th

Friday's Weather Forecast. Deep depression in the Atlantic, moving towards the UK by Sunday. Expected strong winds, gusting gale force 7, SW, backing SSW. Heave rain.

That was the weather forecast for our awayday cycle ride, which would take us from Hellingly in a southerly direction to Birling Gap, over Beachy Head on through Eastbourne and out to Normans Bay before returning in a north westerly direction to Hailsham to pick up the Cuckoo Trail again.

Six of us, Kate, Andrew, John, Hilary, Tony and I, assembled at Hellingly where we were joined by Ron, Steve, Rob and Graham, who had opted to start at Heathfield and do an extra 13 miles, plus Mike, a friend of Rob, who had cycled up from Hailsham.

However, as we departed from Hellingly along the Cuckoo Trail, sheltered in the most part by trees, it was not that bad. And it wasn't raining either. It was pretty easy going until we crossed the A22 at Polegate and cycled into the very strong head wind. Luckily, as we started to climb over the Downs, the wind eased, due to a "vortex" created in the shelter of the lea of the hill. Whatever it was, it was most welcome.

A steady climb brought us to the top at Friston, a climb of some 90 metres overall, where we rested a while before the rapid decent to East Dean. That's a 16% hill dropping 60 metres. It was my intention to turn right at the bottom of the hill and gave instructions as such. However, descending with caution behind Hilary, I espied Graham, who had taken the turning before the intended one, waiting. That's OK I shouted to Hilary, join Graham. And so we did with most of the others. However, some speedsters, head down, flew past and had to make breath-taking breaking. It didn't help that as they past us, a car, partially obscuring their view of us, was overtaking them.

Through the village and straight into the headwind. Now extremely forceful in the open country to the welcome café at Birling Gap. A few minuets looking at the angry sea, being almost blown back off the cliff edge into the café, for a coffee stop.

On leaving the café, John said that he and Hilary would be leaving us and making their way back to Hellingly. Unfortunately, Hillary was suffering with her back and did not feel confident to complete the ride. I reminded John that he would probably have to push Hilary up that 16% hill, but John thought that a whip would be sufficient.

By now, it was drizzling and we put on our wet weather gear. Although only drizzle, with the strong wind it most unpleasant. And so we started our climb up to Beachy Head. It's not a hard climb, especially if the wind is behind you, but it is fairly long. This time the wind was coming in all directions and in some places it made for some interesting riding skills to stay on the road. I know I was blown into a hedge near the top after a short rest. One climbs 140 metres from Burling Gap to Beachy Head, over some 2.9 miles. It was at the top that Rob realised that he had a slow puncture and pumped it up to keep going.

From here it was a gentle decline with the wind on our backs before the steep twisting descent into Eastbourne, where we saw a party of cycling tourists pushing their loaded bikes in the opposite direction. On reaching the flattish road, we again assembled. But now, Tony was running out of time. He had to be home by 4 o'clock and so after some consultation with his map he set off on his own. My suggestion was to "make for Polegate and pick up the Cuckoo Trail". I understand that he made the deadline.

Rob's type was soft again and he decided to change the tube. It was a spanner job to get the wheel off and he appeared to have lost his spanner. Luckily his friend Mike had an adjustable and they suggested that we carry on to Pevensey Bay for lunch, where they would catch us up.

An so it was. We were now six. We cycled along the busy coast road, past the pier and out towards Pevensey, where we picked up the cycle way, which runs along the side of the beach. With the wind now coming over our right shoulders, we virtually freewheeled as far as the marina. From here it was easy going to Pevensey Bay, where we tucked into a fish and chip lunch, to be joined a little later by Rob and Mike.

Because of the strong winds I decided to leave out the loop through Normans Bay and make directly to Pevensey and pick up the back lanes to Hailsham. It was now raining and with the wind on our side most of the time it was not all that pleasant. Nevertheless, we reached Hailsham, where we left Rob and Mike, and joined the Cuckoo Trail once more. With the wind behind us we made good time to Hellingly and our car park. Ron, Steve and Graham still had to cycle to Heathfield where Ron and Steve were parked. Graham, who had cycled from East Grinstead, said that he intended to cycle back there as well. I wonder if he did, or did he cadge a lift from Ron?


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