Monday, November 10, 2008
CYCLING: Highwaymen and hijackers with hounds
I should go up onto the ridge from here, said a dog walker to Dan.
The wind is south westerly and blowing a goodun up on top, you'll find it easier this way...
What terrible advice, we decided, and went the other.
Our starting point, Alfriston, oozes snobbery, and we figured later (peddling with the wind at our backs along the ridge), the dog walker had been out to get us.
Her malice was aimed at making us un take up cycling, we thought. Get off the paths... embrace dog walking and very bad advice giving instead.
Dan has to write about the South Downs... so, whatever the weather, we agreed in a warm Counting House pub on Friday, to head out two mornings' later to cycle a stretch of the South Down's Way.
Whatever the weather?, Dan said.
Fair outlooks are for the weak, we are MEN, I replied, standing up to shut the door some smoker had left open.
My word, that breeze has a nip.
The Old Coach Road to Lewes from Alfriston, with it's chalky, horse-worn shingle and lengthy sections of exposed, almost desolate track, conjures up visions in the mind-wandering cyclist nothing short of musket wielding highwaymen. You can feel yourself tracing the steps of children's TV-informed history.
Dan was on the same thread, and we discussed whether today's coastal muggers and thieves, becapped and driven by blind addiction, will be remembered with similar romance.
He took pictures for the piece and as we paused we wondered at the misty morning squall hugging our route, and the bursts of cold sunlight keeping it at bay. Green became its own rainbow and as the wind blew heavy clouds, their shadows changed everything before our eyes.
It's Firle, I tell you. It is. This is the road. We have to go up there.
The French cycle a lot, as we know.
The English less so.
I decided (and then thought I'd test the theory on Neil) that this was because we built roads straight up hills, lazily, and our neighbours chose the steady meandering route, making the pursuit more accessible and popular.
Neil looked doubtful.
I have no idea if there's an ounce of anything other than horse shit in this, but if the road to Firle Beacon is to be used as a measure I may have a defence.
At the top and the wind blew us so bitterly in the direction of our car the sweat instantly turned us to shivers.
The ridge along this stretch of South Downs offers very little. Unless you like a view. For those tiny few it is a baron paradise, with unobscured sights of distant silver sea and Weald in 360 degree widescreen, surround sound, supervision. It's almost too much.
Dan, who has been away for a while, did not try to hide his feelings.
They were expressed with untamed exclamation.
Two disobedient, cow-curious dogs, a brief and mutually unsatisfactory bike exchange and reunion, the easiest hills we've ever cycled up (thanks to the south westerly) and a hilariously steep track back down into Alfriston (where, break-locked, we skidded helplessly and in borderline hysterics to the bottom), and we found ourselves in the pub with an hour to spare for the Harvey's and cheese and onion crisps.
The dog walker looked surprised to see us.
at 9:38 pm