Five of us set out from the Cross on Sunday 26th: Sam leading plus Michael, Russell, Paul and myself. I had dusted the cobwebs off my rarely used (about once a year) fat tyred bike as my regular one was in for repair, but more of that anon. Michael did his usual trick of blackmailing someone into taking our photo.
The weather forecast was not that good, with heavy rain predicted from lunchtime, so what had been billed as a long hilly ride to lunch at Horndean turned into a short direct ride, with further plans to be made over coffee. Sam was cock-a-hoop about his chiropractor pummelling his back into some sort of working order over the previous week, reversing a lifelong, but only now discovered, back deformity, so he kept doing pirouettes on the bike to show off. Everywhere was very wet, and the ford at Rowlands Castle still in fast spate, but we made good time, and were at Horndean by 10.15, despite a delay in starting.Russell consulted rain tracking sites over coffee which showed more than one bank of rain hurtling to drown us but not just yet. In fact where we were the sky was actually brightening, so with Sam still preoccupied with developing his Quasimodo-to-Margot Fonteyn story (film comes out shortly, might seem an unusual portrayal of Sam but makes complete sense in the context of his Inner Nureyev) I led briefly through Blendworth, which has become a favourite route for me, and down to Charlton. Then with my gears crashing and sounding like they were only used once a year we went up Chalton Down, across via Littlegreen to Compton for an early lunch, and Sam and Russell kindly mended my handlebars that were showing signs of going in a different direction to the bike.
I had decided to go directly back from there, worried about the rain on my hearing aids as I’d forgotten my hood. But Paul suggested going up through East Marden and back through Chilgrove, which didn’t sound that much further, and over lunch I had cleverly designed a Unique Sartorial Hearing Aid Protection System (known to scientists as USHAPS) which is too complex and sophisticated to explain to the lay person, but involved draping my scarf under my helmet, so we all went via Apple Down to the Petersfield road. Paul had actually meant to carry straight on down the main road to Lavant, but Russell (I think, or maybe it was Sam still doing pirouettes) had the idea of turning left at the White Horse. I thought he fancied a posh lunch, and I was wondering how our stylish elegance was going to go down, but we carried on past the pub towards West Dean, along roads I hadn’t been down before, which were charming but extremely muddy. I was delighted by now that I had ridden my fat tyred bike, as plainly I was more suited to the conditions than anyone else, but when I got to the top of the long hill towards Double Barn everyone fell about laughing.
With no mudguards on my front wheel my fat tyres had hoovered up most of Stapleash Down and plastered it over my face. I couldn’t quite believe how much mud the bloody thing had picked up, and the aim required to get it right on the old boat race was impressive, must have taken Saracen years of R&D to get that right. I spent a few minutes scraping a couple of cubic metres off my glasses at least, drank some very fertile water from my mud encrusted bottle and then we carried on to West Dean, where my bifocals required an excavator to get more mud off.
We didn’t actually get much rain (came on later), which was a shame in a way as it might have corrected the sudden increase in soil erosion between Chilgrove and West Dean. Apparently erosion is so bad Farmers Weekly think we only have 100 harvests left. Sadly I’ve just reduced that to 34, but on the bright side if anyone wants to set up a market garden I’d be pleased to supply them with the raw material.
And so we dissipated along the way leaving Michael on his own to dodge the rain back to Bognor. Not sure how far we went, I didn’t have a computer on the fat tyred bike, or if I did archeologists may rediscover it in years to come, but I suspect just short of 40 miles (64 kilometres).
Bob with pictures by Michael