Fourteen riders braved the cold, damp and early start to slog uphill for 6 miles from the White Lion to Firle Beacon – an amazing turnout for what looked like a miserable start to the day. The soft ground made it harder than normal, but the wind was light. The sun popped it’s head out occasionally and the thick mists were being dispersed by the strong breezes – the weather was doing its best to keep us cozy, but there were still cold feet and fingers to cope with. After plenty of stops (and a small route extension by some of the faster riders) we finally reached the top by the twin aerials near Firle Beacon, with it’s amazing views over the river Ouse from Lewes to Newhaven. We could now look forward to the 3.5 mile undulating route along the South Downs Way with a steep and fun decent towards Southease. The chalky road on Itford Hill was quite grippy, having been washed clean by heavy rains (again), and the all-weather surface on the bridge over the A26 kept a firm hold of our tyres. After a total of nine and a half miles (in 2 hours) we rode into the Courtyard Café at Southease YHA to make fun of each other’s mud splattered backsides.
We had an hour of warming up with teas, coffees, breakfast rolls and banter before we got back on our bikes for what was supposed to be an gentle ride home along the river banks. The first field was full of sheep who had torn up the soft grass & mud surface of the path, so we rode through sloppy mud for 0.7 miles. The next field was much better, then we popped out onto the C7 for 0.4 miles (there’s no access on the river banks on this part) before re-joining the off-road route through Piddinghoe (more very soft and muddy ground) and onto the cycle network in Newhaven. We chose the seafront route for our final leg past Tide Mills and the Sailing Club (another good place to stop for refreshments) and back to the White Lion. The return route took an hour and 20 minutes to cover the 7.5 miles.