Alone on a hill
The man with the foolish grin
Is keeping perfectly still
Towards the Eastbourne end of the South Downs Way lies Windover Hill. The North side of the hill hides the Long Man of Wilmington standing tall above the Weald, but it’s the South side that contains the path climbing up from the village of Alfriston. The long, steep, chalky track follows the edge of this lump and curves South above a valley of farmland before rejoining the top of the South Downs and resuming its route to the sea.
It was about halfway up this track that I found myself alone on New Year’s Eve.
The battery on my phone had died, the inner tubes I had brought with me were in other people’s tyres and the tube-fixing patches I had were curling up like fortune telling fish from a Christmas cracker.
I sat there watching the fading light, pondering this perfect alignment of the cosmos then started running the 6 miles back to waiting friends and last place in the White Chalk Hills Ultra Cross.
“50 (ish) miles over varied terrain, on Cyclocross bikes, mostly off road and on the South Downs from Selmeston to Eastbourne via Beddingham and Firle and back again”
This being the 5th and final UCX saw a decent turn out for the foggy start that morning. Throughout the day riders met and merged around gates, forest tracks, at the tops of hills and invariably around punctured wheels.
At Birling Gap where the Chalk Hills meet the sea you can see thin dark layers of flint amongst the chalk exposed by the eroding coast. Future punctures in every single one of those black lines moving slowly to the surface. Patiently waiting in the giant slabs of downs cake for a 33mm tyre.
The present day layer of flint was doing its best to decimate our gang of friends but we progressed through farm tracks and fog and Friston forest. The pub in East Dean was another merging of riders for those that stopped. I had probably one more pint than I should have considering the long grassy climb to get out of East Dean but I was warm again. More punctures and pee stops on the downs above Birling Gap before swooping temporarily on to tarmac towards Beachy Head, then back off road for the return to Berwick.
Somewhere between Beachy head and Windover Hill on the way back there is a rutted, muddy downhill track with brambles on either side and troughs of doom in the middle you could fly an X-Wing down. It is the most ridiculous place ever to even attempt to ride a bike. It may well be my favourite bit of anything, anywhere to do just that.
We all giggle like idiots as we drop down the track towards the Long Man, then shimmy along beneath him. Simon holds the gate at the bottom of Windover Hill and I wait with him as the rest of our group continues up the track. His reward for holding the gate, a jammed rear mech which disintegrates as he tries to set off again. Between us we do our best to get him going by breaking the chain and attempting a single speed conversion but the gears keep jumping. Still, it’s coast-able, sort of and Simon turns back to Alfriston on his giant balance bike. I head off back up the hill hoping to God I catch the others before I get a puncture….
“Unsanctioned and irreverent, pointless even”
And that’s it, after the puncture I run back to base, eat, fix the bike and then ride back to Windover Hill to finish it in the dark. There’s no reason to do this, just ‘cos. The end of a great day. The perfect way to finish it, seeing in the New Year with friends.
Thank you Mark for organising this wonderful, crazy thing. It’s easily my favourite ride — challenging, stupid, fun. What more could anyone want from a bike ride or from anything else for that matter?