Have you ever done something simply just to give it a go? Well, that is what is happened to me the other day…
I had heard endless stories about the classic London to Brighton cycle ride and the horror of cycling up the famous Ditchling Beacon hill ( not that I had to worry about a small English mound after this French climb ) that when the boyfriend suggested if I would like to join him and a friend on a cycle ride to Brighton I simply had to accept.
I was curious to know if I could manage it? The cycle journey from London to Brighton is usually done to raise money for charity and people will plan and train for weeks to complete its lengthy 54 miles. Today there was to be no charity or training involved – we were going to do it as a fun day out!
It was a cloudless sunny morning when we cycled through the traffic of South London and out into the quieter reaches of the suburbs. As the sun warmed our backs the guys merrily shouted “BRIGHTON HERE WE COME!” and raised their bodies off their bike seats and pedalled off into the distance.
As I watched them zoom off in front of me I questioned my ability to keep up – also if I would be able to make the distance? I was very close to turning my bike around and heading back home, but I felt determination setting in and I pedalled faster hollering towards the guys to remind them that I was still on their tail.
After leaving the noise and chaos of London behind us we decided to have a few refreshing drinks at the Woodman pub in Banstead, a lovely country pub sitting illuminated in the sunshine. Luckily for me, it was here that we decided that the cycle ride would be a relaxing one with plenty of refreshment stops. With our thirst quenched, the undulating hills came and went and to our delight the roads became quiet of cars.
With a toilet stop needed we magically cycled upon the most delightful shop I have visited in ages. Fanny’s Farm shop sat hidden by overgrown hedges and trees. The shop was cluttered in decoration with union jack bunting hanging on every wall. Fanny was selling all sorts of eye-tempting treats. Shelves were full of mouth-watering jars of homemade chutney, jams, local honey and bundles of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was also the place where you could sit down to enjoy a fresh pot of hot tea with warm scones covered in fluffy cream and juicy strawberry jam which is something we couldn’t resist! We greedily indulged ourselves while the sunshine tempted us to relax some more in its rays.
While sipping on my delicious tea I queried the difficulty of the dreaded Ditchling Beacon hill. Our friend had cycled up it before and told me that it was very steep. He suggested that I might consider walking up the hill with the bike like most of the people who attempt it do? After the conversation I was worried and I even secretly considered finding where the closest train station was. The guys convinced me I would be fine…
Well rested and with a belly full of tea, we hit the tarmac again and cycled onwards. We took many twists and turns on many different roads. Some were bumpy farm roads, quiet and peaceful, and some were very busy roads with vehicles blowing you about as they passed by in a blur. After 40 miles of cycling I found I had become tired. At times we would pause and breathe in the scenery, but most of the time I found myself constantly thinking about that hill that got closer with every mile.
It wasn’t long before the dreaded Ditchling Beacon Hill soon appeared in front of me. At first it looked very small on the horizon and I wondered what all the fuss was about? But the closer we got to it the larger it got! My heart started to race as it suddenly loomed over me…I felt like an ant below it! The road wound its way tightly up its towering height. I stopped at the beginning of the climb in a trance as cars flew past me and up the hill showing off at their mighty power… How would I get over this monstrous piece of earth? This road has roughly the same gradient as Mont Ventoux. I suppose you could say I was nervous?
“GO UP IN YOUR LOWEST GEAR” shouted the guys as they passed me with ease and started to pedal themselves up, shifting their bikes from side to side in an elegant dance. I told myself I couldn’t let this hill stop me from getting to Brighton, so I dropped down into my lowest gear and slowly started to pedal up the slope which was covered by a tunnel of trees. My tired legs pumped like a machine keeping the wheels going round and round as the road continued to go up and up… and up!! Sweat started to form on my body, my breathing increased and I felt my only lung working hard to get oxygen!
I paused a few times to calm my breathing as the road got steeper. I continued to pant my way upwards clasping onto any light breeze that came my way to cool me down.
As I neared the top the trees gave way to glistening sunshine and an amazing view of vast green fields across the landscape of the South Downs. I finally rounded a corner I saw the road level and at the end the guys were cheering and applauding my efforts. I had done it! I had pedalled the entire mile uphill without walking once. I was feeling very proud of myself!
From the top of Ditchling Beacon I was rewarded with a stunning view of the coastline and the city of Brighton. I got my breath back on the summit and we watched the afternoon sun sink from the sky and change the colour of the landscape. Then excitedly we threw ourselves back onto our bike seats and free wheeled down hill towards the seagulls and the scent of salty air. Our bike wheels spun past grazing sheep and romantic pastures and before we knew it we found ourselves cycling into Brighton’s busy streets. Brighton Pier stood gloriously over the ocean as we reached the end and rested our weary bodies against the railing of the promenade…feeling as pleased as punch!
We returned to London on the train. I left Brighton feeling extremely proud of myself – I had managed to cycle a lengthy mileage while also conquering the very steep Ditchling Beacon Hill. It was hard to wipe the smile off my face. I can now happily say I have my own tale of cycling the classic London to Brighton ride.