London to Brighton - July 2021
This ride was one of our best. Full of all the things that make these adventures such fun, and none of the bad things.
We soaked up the party atmosphere on the South Bank before the safety briefing, then 50 of us rolled out towards the south coast on the stroke of midnight. First timers wondering what they’d let themselves in for, old-timers full of anticipation of the adventure to come. Normally we’d have quite a few more riders, but we were limited to a maximum of 50 due to the social distancing requirements at our half way stop. Road bikes, touring bikes, hybrids, an e-bike and a fair few Bromptons were all there. No tandems, fixies, recumbents, or BMX bikes this time. Although we’ve had them all in the past.
Clapham and Tooting were as lively as always, and before long we were climbing the atmospheric Farthing Down for a re-group and to admire the brilliant views back over London. The cows could be heard but not seen. Then we were freewheeling off the North Downs with Gatwick glowing eerily in the distance. And before we knew it we’d arrived at our half way stop at the scout hut in Burstow where the very kind volunteers had got up in the middle of the night to serve us sandwiches, cake and tea and coffee. The weather was so mild, quite a few of us sat outside for an hour or so enjoying the company and the sheer originality of an overnight bike ride. Max, the scout leader, told us the funds raised on the night are being used by the scouts to install new cycle racks at the hall to encourage the children to cycle to their activities. How appropriate is that!
Suitably refreshed we set off for the second half, with an entirely new route for 2021 taking in some superb country lanes, regrouping from time to time for a little break and to allow the slower riders to catch up. The countryside was beginning to come alive with the sounds of nature rising from its slumber. Dawn broke over the rolling misty fields and all of a sudden there were cyclists stopping everywhere to capture the moment on their phones and cameras so they could share the experience with their nearest and dearest. It was an awe inspiring moment making you realise just how stunning the Sussex countryside is, especially when you have it to yourself. ‘Normal’ people still being in bed.
And then we were there. The iconic Ditchling Beacon. The stuff of legends. Off we went. On our own, or in ones and twos encouraging each other as we ascended the legendary hill. Upwards, then up some more. Would it ever end? “Look out for the horses sign as that’s when you’re almost there” the old timers advised.
Phew, made it! The Beacon is one of those climbs that pays back with amazing views down to the sea and back over the sleeping Weald. The only disappointment this year was that there were no kites circling above us, calling each other as we pedalled our way up. No ice cream van at the top this year either, just a bunch of triumphant cyclists congratulating each other and encouraging those pushing up the final few meters.
And that was it. A swoop down to the pier - trying to trigger the speed camera on the descent - for photos, and then a gentle mile or so to the Wetherspoons at the Marina, arriving as they flung the doors open at 8.00am, where well earned breakfasts were devoured in the sunshine. Some stayed to ‘rehydrate’, others made their way directly to the station for the journey home. And a few hardy souls ate their breakfasts before turning their bikes around to start pedalling back to London.
A brilliant night and a wonderful adventure. Old friends reunited, new friends made. Fabulous memories.
Big thanks to our ride leader Adrian, the waymarkers, and the Tail End Charlies - although on this occasion their services were not needed as there was not a single mechanical or puncture to attend to.
Definitely a night to remember, summed up in the words of Ashwani, who was riding with us for the first time:
"Absolutely loved it. Very well organized and paced. Will be joining for more in the coming months".
Photo credits: Jenny Hung, Titus Halliwell, Ross Chestney