Thursday, 21 Mar 2019

The South Downs

The South Downs

Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

The South Downs are a chain of chalk hills that rise just east of Winchester and plough into the sea like the bow of a big white ship at Beachy Head near Eastbourne. Long and relatively thin, they lie south of the Low Weald, so this South Downs 100 has a bit of Low Weald in it, and the Low Weald 100 will include a bit of the South Downs. You start in Billingshurst, which just to confuse things is in the Low Weald, but I chose this because riding towards the South Downs from the north is the best way to get a feel for them. They are an impressive sight, looking like a solid wall topped by undulating, round, green hills covered with short-cropped grassland.

The South Downs - photo 1

The South Downs

The road south from Billingshurst is the Romans’ Stane Street. It ran from London to Chichester straight over the North and South Downs, which long before the Romans came were one single dome of chalk. Erosion has now revealed the underlying clays of the High and Low Weald. The route goes right at Pulborough, then climbs Duncton Down, which is impressive. The climb drags at first towards a steep wooded slope, then climbs it after a sharp right hairpin. It’s steep and you’re in among trees until a clearance on your right. It’s worth stopping for a moment here, not just to get your breath back but for the view across the River Rother to Petworth Park.

The South Downs - photo 2

The South Downs

The next section runs east just below the tops of the Downs on their south side. Then it heads south past Goodwood Racecourse and through Goodwood Park. When Britain hosted the world road-cycling championships for a second time, they were held here. It was in 1982 and Giuseppe Saronni of Italy won the men’s pro title and Britain’s Mandy Jones won the women’s. The difference between the two sides of the South Downs can be seen when the route climbs over them from the south. It’s a much longer and shallower ascent than any northern one. Just to emphasise the difference, you ride down a sharp descent that ends halfway up the north side of Harting Hill. Then you almost do a double back to climb the top half of Tower Hill. This is becoming a good workout. From Finchdean, again on the south side, there’s a long climb almost to the top of Butser Hill. At 271 metres this is the highest point of the South Downs.

The South Downs - photo 3

The South Downs

There is an annual running race up and down Butser Hill, and it’s a great hang-gliding venue. The famous hang-gliding scene in Only Fools and Horses was filmed here. You leave the hills for a while at Langrish to explore the River Rother and the lovely villages in its valley. The route then ambles eastwards, dipping into the lower hills either side of the Rother, before following the River Arun north back to Billingshurst.  Follow the A29 south to Pulborough, turn right onto the A283 and go straight on after Fittleworth where the A283 goes right. Turn left onto the A285 and climb Duncton Down. Take the first right after the top and go through East Dean to Charlton, where you turn left. Take the first right after Goodwood Racecourse, then turn right onto the A286 and left onto the B2141 to climb Harting Hill. Turn left on the descent and climb Tower Hill to West Marden.

The South Downs - photo 4

The South Downs

Turn right and follow this road to Finchdean, where you turn left to Chalton. Turn left, go over the A3, then go right then left then right again to climb Butser Hill. Descend to East Meon, turn right to Langrish and right onto the A272 to Petersfield. Go through Petersfield and pick up the B2146 going south-east. Carry straight on in South Harting and follow this road to the A272, where you turn right. Turn right onto the A286 in Midhurst.  Carry straight on where the A286 goes sharp left, turn left in Bepton, left onto the A286 at Cocking and right off it to Heyshott, Hoyle and Selham. Cross the A272 to go through Lodsworth and Lickfold, then turn right and go through Lurgashall, and turn right on the A283 and first left off it. Follow this road through Kirdford, and there turn right to cross the A272 and go left at the fork into Flexham Park. Follow this road to the steep downhill in a cutting, where you turn right. Join the A272 going right, and turn left just after crossing the River Arun. Do a loop north then east and turn right onto the A29 back to Billingshurst.

The South Downs - photo 5

The South Downs

The South Downs. Start and Finish: Billingshurst.

The South Downs. Getting There: Billingshurst is on the A29, 15 miles south of Dorking. It has a rail link with Horsham and then other south-east and London stations.

The South Downs. Bike Shop: Southwater Cycles in the Loxwood area of town.

The South Downs. Cafe: Burdfields Country Market on the High Street.

The South Downs. Local Delicacy: Truffles (I kid you not, they have been found here but are very rare, and you need a dog or a pig to find them).

The South Downs - photo 6

The South Downs

 

 

 

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