XXTEN/COLLECTIVERIDERBLOG – SOUTHDOWNSWAY
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
A week ago we got the whole CØLLECTIVE together to test ourselves, as Summer draws to a close in #sweetsussex we took on the mighty South Downs Way – here Pip describes how we got on…
At this time of year I’d normally be concentrating on the National 12-hour and 24-hour TT Champs – after a couple broken bones and the chaos of Covid I decided very early on not to race and to have a year of just riding for fun – which brought me to this adventure. I had always wanted to ride the South Down’s Way in a Day but it’s always been tricky to squeeze it in amongst racing. It’s a pretty big challenge for me as I’m strong, I can ride fast and I have a pretty good mental toughness, but I am definitely not the most natural off-road rider – in a way it was a bigger challenge than riding the 12 or 24 Hour TT. I’ve also always struggled to find a bike that really fits – bikes are mostly designed for midsized men so smaller men and women often find that frame design is a bit of an afterthought. Small frames often have compromised slack head angles and this affects the steering. That’s all changed for me now – my new ÆIGHTMANUFACTØRY ØNE is a very special bespoke steel gravel bike. Custom built for me by Glen, who actually chopped up his own frame to use as a base (making it completely sustainable) with adjusted head angles, geometry and hand built 650B wheels to give me confidence I need and no toe overlap! Watch out for more on this special build in Glens tech Blog (to follow).
“Today Glen, Pip, Bryony and Sean are riding 160 kilometres along the entire South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne. It’s going to be one long, long day. Climbing 3,631 metres, the route includes some of the highest hills in the South of England and no less than five “Marilyns”. The fearless cyclists will traverse the entire length of Hampshire and both Sussexes (that’s West Sussex and East Sussex, not Harry and Meg) and will cross five rivers, as they make their way past countless windmills and hop between sheep from one Iron Age hill fort to another.”
It started like most TT mornings with an early morning 3 am alarm call, I’ve had worse ones, but it’s worth it to get started on time – it was going to be a long day either way! We all piled into a car and the support van and blasted down the M3 to the start at Winchester, under the watchful gaze of King Alfred. The four of us (Bryony, Cameron, Glen and me) were joined on the bike by Sean, and we were totally spoilt to have Sheila piloting the van whilst Charlie snapped away. It was expected to be a dry day with the chance of light showers, temperature to stay below 20 degrees – but there was a warning for strong crosswinds cutting in from the coast that could reach Gale Force 8. We started to ride just after 7am.
The first section was lovely a mixture of quite roads, smooth wooded trails and gravel roads to the first climb Beacon Hill. We rolled along chatting and I spent the first hour getting used to my new bike, only finished at 10pm the night before! We rode on to the beautiful Old Winchester Hill Nature Reserve and met the van for our first stop.
“At Old Winchester Hill; 27 Km done and 133 Km to go. At an elevation of 197 metres, Old Winchester Hill was an Iron Age hill fort and there are traces of Bronze Age barrows (which must have been pretty useless as they pre-dated the invention of the wheel). The area is well known for the occasional exploding sheep as the slopes are still littered with mortar shells left over from WW2. Provided our intrepid gang sticks to the path and doesn’t get showered in globs of mutton, they’ll now make their way towards Petersfield and the awesome Butser Hill… the highest point on the route and, at 270 metres, our first Marilyn.” The next section, featured lots more grassy slopes and was one of my favourites, wending our way to Queen Elizabeth Country Park and towards the West Sussex border. We were making good time and moral was high.
“As they made their way steadily east, our intrepid crew passed close to Uppark, with a close-up view of the spectacularly ruined Vandalian Tower and some quaint views of South Harting. Uppark was once the ancestral home of the dissolute Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh who, in his youth, took Horatio Nelson’s future paramour, Lady Hamilton, as his 16 year old mistress before abandoning her when she became pregnant. Later, at the venerable old age of 71, Old Sir Harry married the aptly-named Mary Ann Bullock, his 21-year old dairy maid, and unusually for the times, lived to see his 92nd birthday. By the time they pedalled past Vandalian Tower, our crew had ridden nearly 50 Km and still has 110 Km to go…”
Around Harting beacon was when the winds picked up and the struggle became real! Registering 42 MPH gusts, I was being blown from one rut to another (which I really didn’t like). I was defiantly finding the wind hard to handle I think being only 5’3 and having a slow natural cadence didn’t help, I wanted to brace the bike against the opposite leg when the gusts came (like on the road) but off-road this didn’t work and several times I found myself stuck in the wrong rut. At one point I was heading down a grassy hill as a gust hit me so hard that I ended up facing in the wrong direction – the wind (now behind me) made it impossible to turn the bike around! Glen, Bryony, and Sean were being supportive, but it must have looked funny. I definitely wanted the wind to just f**k off. Bryony was inspiring me – she just kept rolling on into the wind, never complaining. We battled on through Cocking, Heyshott Down and Graffham down, meeting the van and re supplying.
“They crossed the Arun and are now wending their merry way towards sinister Chanctonbury Ring, another prehistoric hillfort and the site of a Roman temple. The Ring is rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of Julius Caesar and his entire Roman army. Legend says that, if you run round the summit seven times, the devil will pop up and offer you a bowl of soup in return for your soul. It is also on this very spot that the fiendish Aleister “The Beast” Crowley claimed to have used “magick” to turn one of his acolytes into… a camel. Provided that no-one stops for a bowl of diabolical soup, there are now “only” 69 Km to go before fish and chips at Eastbourne…”
Reaching this point brought mixed emotions – I knew what lay ahead of me now as I had previously ridded the remaining trails, but also when we last rode back home from this point it had taken us all day! Still as we passed the Pig farm we still had the sun on our backs and we found a little more shelter – I found myself getting back in to a rhythm. Crossing the Adur always feels like riding into home soil. This is where the really punchy climbs start! And it starts with the brutal Beeding Hill and its clean white ruts – we were now 100km and almost 8 hours in to our ride.
“North of Brighton lies the Devil’s Dyke, with its overflowing car parks and distant sea views, and then the village of Clayton, famous for its pair of picturesque windmills. One is called “Jack and the other is called Jill. From Clayton, it is now east to crest the summit of the mighty Ditchling Beacon, which, at 248 metres, is the second highest point on the South Downs. From here, the route turns south towards the coast and although we’d like to say that it’s all downhill from here, we can’t – as Ditchling Beacon is only the third of five Marilyns on the route and there’s still 43 Km to go…”
“The riders have just left Firle Beacon, our fourth Marilyn and, at 217 metres, the fourth highest point of the route. It’s now only 25 km to Eastbourne. Soon, our weary little flock will cross the River Cuckmore, where it gently winds through genteel Alfriston on its way to Seven Sisters and the sea. Then it’s on to the final Marilyn at Wilmington Hill, passing under the nose of the famous Long Man. Once thought to be 12,000 years old and carved in chalk, it is now believed to have been laid out in the late Middle Ages and the original outline has been reinforced with whitened breeze blocks. From Wilmington, it’s a short hop for Whittington & Co to get to Willingdon, famous for inspiring George Orwell’s classic “Animal Farm” but, provided the troupe doesn’t get attacked by angry pigs, they’ll be tucking into their much-deserved fish and chips after another five or six kilometres…”
Only one last cobble climb to go but it was still 1.5 km and 8% up Butts lane, where we all had to dig deep – upon reaching the top though we could see the sea and across to the town of Eastbourne, just as the sun was setting at 8pm – the climbing was over and it was a view I will never forget. We’d done it!
My biggest 100 miler to date and I could not have done it without the support from fellow #aeightbikeco riders Bryony, Cam and Glen – it was brilliant to have Sean riding with us to – our amazing support crew, Shelia and Charlie – And special thanks to Clare for helping get us all home! Proper team effort! We got a snap just before dark, put on some warm clothes, packed up and headed into Eastbourne for a well deserved late dinner.
PIPJENKINS Pip races road locally and TT at National level. In the last two years she’s developed from a background in Triathlon to one of the best riders in her club (SDW), currently holding all female club records with the exception of the 24 hours and has collected more than 15 Open TT wins along the way. She races all distances including 12-hour (PB 268.7 miles) and receives personal support from Geoff Roberts Frames.