Forest Row Bike Club
Rottingdean Awayday: 8 January
Why listen to the weather forecast and then ignore it? Well that’s what I did, along with Ron, Martha, Steve, Zoë and Christa. The runes didn’t look good as we huddled outside Future Cycles, but being stout sort of coves, we decided to press on anyway. Ron thoughtfully brought his van to transport any twit or Martha who had forgotten to arrive by car, helpfully strapped her bike on to his rack, kindly offered to lead the way to Rottingdean, and then absent-mindedly forgot to take the right road. So it was that we all arrived at the allotted car park before him. Tee hee! (Try not to gloat).
The windscreen wipers were well in action by the time we arrived, and then having decided we definitely weren’t going to pay the thirty bob to use the car park, Ron and I drove up the hill back out of town and parked in a side street. Once ready, we zoomed down the hill back towards the meeting point. A brief stop at the public loo reminded us how cold it was when we had trouble locating our appropriate apparatus. Ron said he’d given up looking, but had begun to go anyway! That over with, Resourceful Ron invented a way of warming us up quickly by recalling that he hadn’t locked his van. I hadn’t realised that hill was so steep. A second descent, and we screeched to a halt beside the others who were already wet and bedraggled and muttering ‘Where’ve you ****** well been?’. So, a good start then.
I for one was intrigued when we immediately rolled down a slipway onto the promenade pathway, with the windswept pebbly beach before us. It became apparent that we were going to have a flat ride along the base of the cliffs all the way to Brighton and beyond. Well, almost.
We had to dodge quite a few stones that had been blown up along the complete length of the path, and even some huge chunks of chalk that had given up hanging onto the sheer cliff face. I almost began to wish I’d worn my helmet. Structural works forced us to climb away from the beach up a very steep path that apparently had been in the middle of resurfacing the last time the club had come this way. Well not now. It was as smooth as my chatting-up technique, and we glid slowly up onto the cliff top where we joined another cycle path and were treated to a seagull’s eye view of Brighton Marina and a gaggle of tousled people in some running event plodding through the wind and rain.
Soon we were rolling along the prom at Brighton, where I was pleased to note that it has really been smartened up since my heyday when it was rather shabby, and along the front at Hove with its fine period frontages which have also had a recent extensive spring clean. ‘This can’t last’, I thought, and of course it didn’t. Ron, having become bored staying at one level for more than five minutes, herded us round a corner at Portslade and up through the suburb of Hangleton, through the ozone layer, and on to a magnificent pathway which used to be the site of the Brighton and Dyke Railway line, initially carting fodder up to the many small farms which used to be around Devil’s Dyke in the late 1800’s. And if it was as bleak then as it was on our trip, then by God they must have needed it. Still, we were able to make out some spectacular views through the haze, and once past the golf course which surely couldn’t have had any players that day, the Dyke came into sight. Legend has it that the dyke, a great cleft in the chalk hills, is named after the Devil because he is supposed to have created it to drain away all the water from the hills and so kill off all the God-fearing farming folk around. Nice chap, huh?
The staff in the pub on top of the Dyke were a whole lot more welcoming than that, and we were soon seated by a radiator with hot coffee and feasting on our quickly-served meals. Christ declined to eat her mountain of chips, and kindly offered them around. We all politely refused, due to the excesses of Christmas, then Martha ate them anyway. I noticed Steve had a large tear in his eye, and thought he’d regretted not eating any of the chips, but he explained, no, he was just casting his mind back to the time when, as a young dashing chap, he used to drive his first car to this very building on Saturday nights when it was a disco, and the place to come and smooch. Ron sat wondering what it must be like to have been young once.
Well, eventually we were kicked back out into the weather, which after sitting in wet clothes, was even icier, and we descended the South Downs trying to keep our dentures in place, and retraced our way along the seafront. I heard Zoë remark that they’d seen a heron earlier on, wading in the surf looking for his lunch. Apparently they are equally happy in fresh or salt water when they are hungry. You learn something every day.
Before we knew it, Rottingdean appeared, and after a swift climb up the slipway, Ron stopped for us to regroup at a spot which looked conveniently innocent, until it dawned on us that he was glued to the window of a ladies’ lingerie shop which sported some stunning posters of their wares, and the information that certain garments were available in sizes up to 48H. Levering Ron’s eyeballs of off the window with a large piece of wood, it was time for us to split up towards our various cars and get the heaters going.
Out of town, back in the side road, Ron was still sulking, and Martha and I were saying our goodbyes, when I noticed a huge palm tree growing in an adjacent garden. ‘Crikey!’, I observed, ‘that’s a surprise’, to which Martha retorted that they can survive there because it is much warmer on the south coast. I was still wondering at that as I tried to wedge my eskimo feet into the vents of my car heater on the way home.
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