Today’s ride was to Amberley via the off-road route known as the ‘Khyber Pass’. Well, that was what the leader and rides organiser Jeff had in mind, but Sam Bob and Paul had other ideas-NO OFFROAD as they had skinny tyres. They were to later regret that, however they were in the majority and the leader aims to please.
A few back streets navigated gave an almost traffic free ride to Edgecumbe’s for their superb coffee &sustenance and we were off by 10.30 to Arundel. We avoided the busy A27 roundabout by using the river path then up Parson’s hill to the Catholic Cathedral (more attractive inside) then down to the A284 for the climb to Whiteways. A bank holiday combined with lockdown staycation gave us a horrid ride with fast traffic passing too close for comfort. A choice had to be made whether to go outside the edge raised cat eyes and risk getting hit by a Maserati or inside and risk falling off the tarmac. I did a bit of both and came up last relieved I had made it. A fast descent on the Houghton Hill running with recent rain and overtaking traffic was just as unnerving as the uphill but with less effort. As we arrived at the Bridge Inn 30 mins before opening, tried the café across the busy road only to be told (very nicely and apologetically) they were full, so back across the busy road to the pub by which time it was near noon.
The pub garden was pleasant, but I had had enough of bank holiday traffic and I headed to Amberley Station and Bob agreed to lead back. Bob takes up the story …
Long ride to Amberley, episode 2.
Jeff had guided us to his choice of lunch destination in The Bridge Inn at Amberley despite being miffed that we became revolting over his planned route over the Khyber, but as a result of taking the quicker road route we were early at 11.30. He thought we might go to the cafe instead, but they were fully booked. He had found out that the garden tables at the Bridge were not bookable, but first-come-first-served. Well we were certainly first come, and the very friendly staff let us sit at a table and took our order, even though they couldn’t serve us till 12. At this point Jeff cheerfully announced he wasn’t staying for lunch but catching the 11.59. We pointed out that he could catch the 12.59, and that we were noted in the county as being Jolly Nice People, but despite agreeing with this he was adamant and scarpered. This placed me in a Conundrum of Principle. I had agreed with Jeff that I would lead the ride back so he could catch the train, but not that I would lead the ride over lunchtime, as I assumed our Official Leader would shoulder that responsibility. So under the terms of my contract I resolutely refused to offer any guidance over lunch, leaving Sam and Paul all at sea, and in consequence they chose silly things like ham and cheese baguettes, whereas I chose the Grown Up option of a prawn baguette and got covered from head to toe in pink sauce. I was satisfied that I had Made My Point, as I pushed a snorkel up through the pink tide to snatch a breath and dug a channel to take the rose coloured condiment down to the river which is now six inches deeper with a suspiciously blushing hue. This didn’t stop our Learned and Philosophical Discourse over lunch: even before Jeff skedaddled we had an argument about being Woke (Paul and I proud, Sam sniping and Jeff being tactful, possibly so he could make his getaway unimpeded), but Paul came up with a joke about knowing a transvestite who had a Wigan address (wig-and-a-dress; yes it was just as bad live), and we concluded our deliberations by discussing the route back. We had thought of returning along the bottom of the Downs past Bignor and going up Duncton, but this was revised to going further west to return up Cocking, which gave us a longer ride and a choice of tea stops; Graffham or the Post Office at Cocking, or even possibly Bignor where they do very nice ice cream.
Setting off back up to Houghton we were passed by Chris going the other way so he turned round to join us, just in time to hear a not very interesting tale about Galsworthy’s house at Bury (apparently built by the family of my work colleague, after someone burnt down the thatched cottage that had previously stood there by throwing a fag out of an upstairs window. Ooops.) Passing Bignor Villa the gates were still firmly shut, so we clearly weren’t going to be offered any Roman ice cream. Chris was only intending to ride with us a short way before turning back to go home, and he in fact left us at Sutton before we went down the steep hill as he sensibly thought climbing back up would be a Bad Plan, but it was nice to see him briefly.
We meanwhile continued to Barlavington, where we noted heavy looking rainclouds in the offing. We turned right at the hill, went down to the turning towards Seaford College, and started to get wet. We waited under a tree at the college for a bit,
but it seemed to be getting worse, and fairly tipped down as we tried for Graffham. We chose to stop there as at least they do have the covered veranda, and partook of tea and coffee with temperatures having plunged to 4 degrees, Paul in his shorts shivering like a …. thing that shivers. We contented ourselves with the thought that however bad the conditions, we were better off than Geraint Thomas after his crash in the Tour de Provence. But we viewed the obvious torrential rain over both Duncton and Cocking with a mixture of trepidation and heroic determination, steeling ourselves for the ordeal ahead, grimly resolved to face the onslaught with true British Grit.
“We’re going outside and we may be some time” we said to a lady drinking her tea.
But on we went, and I took us down the road directly opposite the shop as I wanted to see the VR postbox again. I’ve mentioned before that I have a postcard sent to my great aunt in 1912 that was probably posted there, but it really is a most interesting box. It was made by Smith and Hawkes of Birmingham, which dates it to before 1881, but the firm introduced a Number 2 (small) Improved design in 1861, with a door pull and the crown and cipher at the top. This box has no door pull, and the crown and cipher lower down than usual, leaving me to wonder whether it is one of the earliest rural wall boxes, thus possibly dated between 1858 and 1861.
Due to the weather Sam wanted to avoid the cart track that laughably gets called a road between Heyshott and Cocking, so we joined the Midhurst road further up and toiled up Cocking Hill. We were actually very lucky, it had more or less stopped raining, but they must have had a terrific downpour just before we arrived; Cocking hill was a river, and loads of debris had been washed part way down. At the top the fields surrounding were covered in what Sam called snow, but I think was hailstones that were thick enough to turn the land pretty white.
So the Heroic Trio, having battled freezing temperatures, monsoon like rain and Arctic snow/hail sped down the hill and split up at Lavant. 47 miles.