Saddle Sore – Reviews, Rides & Rablings – Cycling Blog

The South Downs Way

For those of you (assuming somebody is actually reading this rubbish) from Hampshire or Sussex you’ll probably be aware of the South Downs Way and have probably walked, run or cycled some part of it. If you’re from further afield you may not have heard of it: The SDW is a 100-mile National Trail that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne.

I caught the 12:08 train from Fratton, collecting Tim at Fareham en-route to Winchester for a 13:00 start.

The weather for the weekend was set good; 26°c, some cloud, no rain and little wind. I bit too hot for me to be doing this but I can’t really complain.

My new Mason BokehTi with Apidura bar and saddle pack was carrying me along while Tim was on a undersized Specialised something-or-rather MTB with an Alpkit bar pack and a small back pack.

Within 2 miles we were out of Winchester and on our first climb – a combined effort of ascension between Telegraph Hill and Cheesefoot Head. There started the relentless climbing and descending for the next 95 miles; SDW is like a 100-mile-long sine wave with gates. Tim got a puncture just after Cheesefoot Head and we started to wonder if we should have left more time for mechanicals.

I don’t know if it was because I was fresh but I think those early tracks were some of the most enjoyable, simple, smooth chalk paths.

Beacon Hill (13 miles) was the next point of note for us, from 261 metres up we could see the Spinnaker Tower at home. Shortly after we rolled to Exton and The Shoe Inn for refreshments – highly recommended.

View from Beacon Hill trig point

View from Beacon Hill trig point

For the next 23 miles we criss-crossed roads we regularly frequented on our Sunday rides, taking in Old Winchester Hill (18 miles).

I had couple of Cateye Omni 3 lights on the Apidura packs and hacked the little belt clips a bit so they wouldn’t fly off when off-road. Basically, I just use the Dremel to grind a notch either side of the clip that would locate a rubber o-ring. This did stop me losing the lights but didn’t stop the lens and 2 AAA batteries coming loose and flying off into a bush via my eye socket. Quite a shock but no lasting pain. Perhaps a little sticky tape next time.

At 271 metres, Butser Hill is the highest point on the SDW and provided the best downhill – a smooth uninterrupted descent into QE Country Park. Also, a mere 15 demoralising miles from home. QECP has a good café, water, and tool station. The tubeless tyres proved there worth as we climbed out of QECP when I was briefly sprayed with latex while a sizeable gash was sealed and we carried on without even needing to top up the air.

It was unnotable (not in a bad way, breathtaking views are a given) from QECP until just after Harting Down (32 miles) where we encountered the first sizeable get-off-and-push of the ride in the 19% climb that Strava labels as Knight’s Field Climb.

47 miles in and the sun was getting low, we needed to get to Storrington by 21:30 as that’s when The Moon stopped serving food, we were beginning to think we might not make it. Though only 10 miles left and only 1 major climb.

The top of Rackham Hill looking east

The top of Rackham Hill looking east

As we reached the top of the climb (Rackham Hill) it was 21:00 with 5 miles to go and 15 minutes ’til sunset (we didn’t have any lights that would make night riding practical). The descent into Storrington took us past our planned bivvy spot and think we both decided there and then that we weren’t going to be cycling back up there after dinner – it was 25% in places on loose chalk.

We arrived at the bar with 3 minutes to spare. One pint of beer, one pint of water, a Moon Burger and a trip to One Stop later and we were on our way to the nearest quiet field; head torch strapped to the Apidura accessory pack in lieu of a front light.

Lucky for us the sky was clear, the moon was waxing gibbous and 1 day (or night) away from full, it lit the field beautifully and we could settle down for the night without the need for attention attracting torch light.

Day 2 below the Strava and relive embeds.

Keep scrolling down for day 2…

We woke naturally on the Sunday about 05:45 and were on our way at 06:00. We tracked back to Storrington then headed east and re-joined the SDW at Washington. We had a little breakfast in the carpark, hoping we would find something more substantial along the path.

Of course we were greeted with a climb, up to Chanctonbury Ring (242 metres) but then a lovely long descent down to Botolphs and the river Adur, where if it wasn’t 07:15 on a Sunday we would have headed south to visit Mason Cycles. However, it was 07:15 on Sunday morning so we just kept going.

11 miles in (68 miles overall) we came across YHA Trueleigh Hill, they had a café but no one seemed to want to serve us so after 10 minutes of hanging around we stropped off without breakfast.

On day 1 I don’t think we met any other cyclists heading east and only few heading west, today we met a few and tagged along with a couple for a while. There was a cyclist (let’s call him Steve) who alerted us to the prospect of an ice cream van at the Ditchling Beacon car park (19 miles for the day, 76 miles overall). Our interest peaked and our expectations swelling we raced up the hill only to find the van was nowhere to be seen. We pushed Steve down the Beacon for ruining our morning and carried on. Five miles later we came across Housedean Farm campsite and at the reception shop they sold ice creams. Here we also met a solo cyclist from London who was riding similarly to us and had camped in Amberley – he had a Magnum and buggered off, I didn’t catch his name so let’s call him John.

We passed through Southease and over the Ouse to start a near 5-mile climb (with great views out to Newhaven) up to Firle Beacon – this was probably the hardest rideable climb for me.

It was then another lovely, long, downhill into Alfriston where we had an unplanned stop with a couple of door stop cheese and ham sandwiches. John was there filling up with water and reading the notice boards, he left before us. Re-joining the SDW from Alfriston is not obvious and if it weren’t for the Garmin we would have been bumbling around for some time.

On the hill out of Alfriston (the penultimate climb of note) I felt terrible, I don’t know if it was the pink lemonade, the iced coffee, the cheese and ham sandwich, the Polos (Spearmint) or the midday sun but I had to have a moment in a tiny bit of shade.

So just Willingdon Hill left, with its great views over Eastbourne. We saw John again and he raced of downhill. The approach to Eastbourne was fast and open, a pleasing end to two days hard but enjoyable riding.

I gained 70 Explorer Squares on VeloViewer too, and expanded my max square from 7×7 to 9×9. See more about Explorer Squares here.

There may be a 1 day assault of the SDW in the offing…

You can view and down the route (GPX) here, it’s from Winchester station to Eastbourne station and has the water tap/sources added at POIs.

See how I got on my only other major off-road outing on the Dorset Gravel Dash.

About author View all posts


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *