Distance so far: 375 miles, Eastbourne to Plymouth
I can’t remember the last time I was visiting my home country as a tourist, and it certainly lends for a different perspective on things, for better or worse. Setting out from Eastbourne in full summer mode, having packed light, it was a bit nippy to say the least. Heading up the steep inclines of Beachy Head and beyond, I was limited to 20 yards’ visibility for the entirety of the afternoon, so thick were the clouds rolling in from the Channel. Welcome to summer in England, I thought!
From the offset the ride has been a challenging reminder of how long it takes to get to the level of fitness where you just wake up in the morning and getting back on the saddle for the nth day on the run doesn’t seem such an unattractive prospect. Oh, go on then, I’ll just have another cup of coffee…
The South Downs Way might not be everyone’s idea of extreme, but it is far from flat and, at pace, as well as fully loaded, it has one or two technical moments too. And when the sun comes out it boasts some of Britain’s loveliest countryside and quaintest villages. There were deer, foxes, buzzards, and one of the most beautiful campsites I’ve found in a long time, looking out over the mist-covered villages from high above in the early morning. It was, as a passing dog-walker put it, ‘textbook stuff’, and I realised that being a tourist in England wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
One nice thing about riding around the UK is that you’re never far from anything. There are no mass wildernesses where you have to carry several days’ worth of water and live off pot noodles in order to survive. There are no deserts where you won’t see a soul for hundreds of miles. Indeed, even the smallest of villages seems to have a reasonable enough pub lunch or early evening meal on offer, and if you plan carefully you can eat way more than necessary. And if anyone should ever challenge me about the English being cold and distant again, I have evidence to the contrary: having opted for a shower at the end of a long day in the saddle I chose to pay for a campsite rather than camp wild as per normal, and within about 10 minutes of my arrival two different people had brought me an ice cold beer and come to chat!
The shower didn’t really pay off, however, as within about a mile the next morning I had already had my first mud bath of the day. I was having fun, though, when I foolishly decided that the ‘puddle’ wouldn’t be that deep… I ground to a halt and was up to my knees in slushy brown gunk before I could do anything about it other than laugh!
Later on things were to get more difficult, and I had to learn the hard way, in searing heat, that my bike setup is not ideal for removing wheels and fixing punctures in a hurry… Still, I was having immense fun as I decided to pull the wheelie that led to the puncture! 3-inch tyres may have grip to boot, but they do not make you invincible.
The same afternoon my sugar level dropped and I got totally and utterly disoriented and found myself well and truly lost in the middle of a forest I couldn’t locate on the trusty OS Map. It was my fault, of course, not the map’s. It wasn’t a fun experience, in all honesty, but without it this bike ride wouldn’t be the same, it wouldn’t be mine and it wouldn’t have that same level of excitement, challenge, fun and reward.
Check out photos here!
Next stage: through Dartmoor, Exmoor and to Bristol...