Lockdown has shown me that if you’re forced to be stuck somewhere for a while there aren’t many better places to be than Lewes.
In this instance, I’m not referring to the many fine people I’ve met, the pleasing architecture and the awesome array of pubs, but to the physical geography of the place. When it comes to cycling, there are few places that offer such a variety of riding routes straight from your door, or so many possibilities for people of differing abilities and ambitions to enjoy the outdoors.
Good access to the ridge of the encircling Downs means that within a very short distance (though often up a steep climb) you can feel quite apart from the play of daily life. You can, if you want, quickly find solitude in this landscape and there is a calmness in its form that always helps me to relax. The recent switch in the weather from storm-lashed to frankly high-summer levels of warmth and light just serves to emphasize this. I can happily sit and watch shadows sweep across the landscape until I’m so absorbed I can’t even think of anything to think of – a sort of head-emptying that I’ve had a knack for long before not being mindful enough became another thing to get stressed about.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been trying to find ways for the family to get exercise, especially now one member seems actually to be hardwired into a Playstation. They’re not regular or overly keen cyclists and they don’t like riding in traffic. In lots of places this would be a problem, but not in Lewes. There will always be a few steep bits or maybe short sections on the road but it is generally possible to knit together a decent traffic-free ride, especially if food is used as a bribe.
There are so many ways out of town and each option quickly offers a differing perspective on the place and, dare I say it, on life generally. These are just a few of the legal ones:
Along the Ouse
Following the marvelous Egrets Way out of Lewes you can make your way down river to Rodmell and Southease with the possibility of either joining the South Downs Way if you’re feeling ambitious, looping back into Lewes or retracing your route back along the river. Take a look at www.egretsway.org.uk
Along the A27
The cycle lane in one direction gives access to the hills behind Beddingham and Firle (and on towards Eastbourne) or in the other towards Kingston ridge and many tracks that lead up towards Stanmer woods and Balmer.
Up to Blackcap
Head from near the prison, up the track past the side of the Nevill to the old race course or for the hardcore the steep bridleway climb from Offham. Blackcap is great destination in itself, but is also the gateway for any number of adventures along the South Downs Way towards Ditchling Beacon, or for the fit and adventurous up and down the many bostals either side of the ridge of the downs.
Over to Kingston
Up Juggs Road, just behind the Swan Inn and you’re away from traffic all the way to Kingston. From there you can ride (if fit enough) or push up the steep tracks out of Kingston and over into the sheltered valleys behind and tracks that lead to Balsdean Bottom and further on to Telscombe.
The western leg of the Egrets Way takes you from the Railway Land towards the rugby club to eventually bring you out near Swanborough. A very short section on the road takes you to the bridleway near Swanborough Manor, which leads (albeit very steeply) onto the South Downs Way.
The cycle lane leads all the way from Lewes to Ringmer which offers routes for peaceful and not too hilly pottering.
Buy a map. A map gives you a much better context for your adventures than trying to look at a small screen. It allows you to see and plot new routes easily. Ordnance Survey OL11 covers Brighton and Hove and OL25 does Eastbourne and Beachy Head.
Give it a go. Get out, get up, get tired out, empty your head, go home, have a pint, maybe, sleep soundly.
Maintain safe distances, ride within your physical and technical capabilities and always be respectful to other trail users (even if they are sometimes self-absorbed headphone wearers oblivious to your presence whilst you patiently ride behind them increasing the volume of your attempts to signal that you are there and then beginning to wonder whether “they” were right and you might be quite passive-aggressive after all).
If you want to see more ideas for local rides log on to Strava and join Cycleshack Riders https://www.strava.com/clubs/cycleshack-riders-512062