Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Shake-down ride to Brighton

My mum moved to Brighton from Hertfordshire some 7 months ago and I still hadn't seen her new apartment before this trip. The plan was to take three days over the 140 miles, staying with a friend in Brentwood the first night and camping the second.

But the nearer we got to departure, the more apprehensive I felt about the distance of the first leg and then the Downs after that. So I added an extra day, a shortish hop from home to Sudbury where we camped in a garden courtesy of Warm Showers host Paul, who was kind and helpful and welcoming.

Next day we set off in the rain for Brentwood, some 40 miles away, the trailer feeling like a deadweight on the climb out of the Stour Valley with traffic thundering past on the A131. A bit later I realised the trailer had punctured, which accounted for the dragging feeling.  We were on a rough lane at this point and 10 minutes after fixing the puncture (easy enough on the trailer), its other tyre went flat. Always seems to happen in the rain. 

I was dreading finding our way through Chelmsford on this Saturday afternoon but the ride through Admiral's Park on a metalled, traffic-free, waymarked path to Writtle was a joy. Terry lives right in the middle of Brentwood and it was nearly dark by the time we rolled in, tired and hungry, to a warm welcome, hot bath and large supper.

The Tilbury-Gravesend ferry is undoubtedly the best way to cross the Thames by bicycle for our purposes. Unfortunately it doesn't run on Sundays. Rather than take our chances with the free pickup service in operation on the QEII bridge at Dartford, I gratefully accepted Terry's kind offer of a lift to Eynsford in her capacious Berlingo. 

Eynsford, buzzing with cyclists, looked pretty in the morning sunshine as we faced a 10 mile ride to Oldbury Hill campsite. An easy day, I thought, quite wrongly as it turned out. The hills were steep and long going up, scary going down.

The campsite was good, adjacent to lovely woodland which was perfect for walking Raisin and we set off next morning for Crowborough campsite, deciding - in view of the hilly terrain - to add yet another day to the trip rather than push on to Brighton. The Camping and Caravanning Club lady at Oldbury said we didn't need to book as 'backpackers' are never turned away from Club sites but I rang and left a message anyway. 

Which was as well, because the site was too wet and slippery to take any tents. By the time I received this news it was raining and difficult to use the touch screen on my phone, but it appeared all the nearby sites were also closed. My support team at home found a bed and breakfast that would take me and the dog, south of Crowborough. 

Ah, Crowborough! Home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and knackered cyclists. As I was pushing up an endless hill into town, another cyclist, also on foot, overtook me saying "that's the trouble with Crowborough; the highest town in Sussex - it's a climb from every direction."

Anyway, by now extremely apprehensive about getting over the South Downs between us and Brighton, the next day was easier than expected. The only steep bits were in Lewes, after which a cycle path along the A27 took us all the way to Brighton pier. Mission accomplished.

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