James here! Whilst my legs are still sore from riding the South Downs Way earlier this month, I thought I would write a blog on my experience; Riding the South Downs (and ups) Way in two days. Winchester to Eastbourne.
I took the train from Milton Keynes Central to Euston. Rode from Euston to Waterloo and got the train from Waterloo to Winchester. All very simple except South Western who operates the train line and seemingly is forever in the news about the poor quality of service managed to mix up the stations of destination and departure. You aren’t able to book a train on the South Western line so it’s worth thinking about when trains may or may not be busy with people wanting to take bikes.
Stats for Day 1 South Downs Way.
Distance: 59.81 Miles
Average speed: 10.9mph
Items lost: Flip flops
From the minimal research I did into the ride I knew there would be regular water points along the route which was very welcome with the average temperature being 27 Celsius. On paper, I knew how much climbing there would be but off-road climbing and on-road climbing numbers are quite different. There were nice(ish) climbs that had very consistent gradients with relatively smooth surfaces and there were some more unpleasant climbs where it felt you could get no rhythm at all.
The South Downs route itself is relatively well signposted. After one climb I managed to take completely the wrong turning going down a reasonably steep descent which took me a while to rectify. I soon learnt that if you don’t see a sign for a while telling you, you aren’t going in the right direction then stop. As hard as that is when you’re hurtling down a hill!
I found a room using Airbnb in the town of Arundel that was very pleasant. Not overly geared towards cyclists doing the South Downs Way but very friendly and accommodating. I found some food at a nice Italian restaurant in town and had a pint of Brewdog at the pub next door so was well fuelled for the next day.
Stats for Day 2 South Downs Way
Distance: 64.13 miles
Average speed: 8mph
Trains Missed: 1
Day 2 started with an idyllic first couple of miles through Arundel Park past Hiorne Tower which was designed by Francis Hiorne in 1789. In true small world fashion, Francis Hiorne also designed St Marys and St Giles church in Stony Stratford 10 years previously.
After the initial couple of miles, I was met with a brutal climb out of Amberley which was unbelievably steep. On cresting the climb, I caught my wheel in a rut and was unceremoniously dumped to the ground. In doing so I managed to damage my rear derailleur which caused minor panic as to how I would get back until I discovered a bike shop at the bottom of the hill. Off I trundled to see if they would lend me the very specialist tool (hammer) I needed to try and get my bike back to a state where it could be pedalled. They were forthcoming (thank you South Downs Bikes).
More of the same on Day 2. Up then down, then along the top a bit. The climbs on the second half were longer and steadier by comparison to the short sharp ones at the beginning of the day. I was desperate to be able to see Eastbourne when on top of the Downs to have something to aim for but it did not appear until a couple of miles out, which finally came as a great relief.
Coming into Eastbourne because of my mechanical issues I was racing to get the train that I had booked onto back to London. Annoyingly I just missed it but it did allow me to experience the fine delicacies of Eastbourne (Subway)! Again this was a train where bikes couldn't be booked on, which does create a slight sense of angst but no issues this time and on arriving into London I had to hot foot it from Victoria to Euston to catch the connecting train to Milton Keynes which I did. Result.
All in all a great trip. Harder than the numbers portray but amazing scenery. Maybe next time I will do it in one day or maybe a very relaxed 3. The option is mine.
In the meantime, I've got some other bike-packing trips planned which I'm looking forward to sharing with you in due course.