26 Newquay to Torquay Other

Maps 198 and 199 – A Battle to Hastings

Saltdean cliffs

It wasn’t supposed to be a particularly taxing day of cycling today, by design, and it was also the cricket T20 World Cup final, featuring England, in Melbourne, Australia. For both of these reasons, I was off to a fairly leisurely start today. I was further delayed by the discovery of a flat front tyre when I made to leave, so I fixed it overlooking Brighton promenade and the pier in warm, summer-like sunshine this Sunday morning. 


Brighton sea front in mid November is not supposed to look or feel like it did today. There were yachts out on the calm blue waters, and people everywhere strolling around in shorts and tee-shirts. September, possibly, on a good day. November, certainly not. These are worrying times for our climate and our world. But I can’t deny that for me, today, it was better cycling conditions than I could possibly have dreamed up. I back tracked along the sea front for a few minutes to take pictures, and then set off eastwards on the excellent promenade cycle track.

Brighton sea front

I didn’t get far. Just out of Brighton, up on the cliffs and opposite a pitch and putt golf course and cafe, my back tyre went flat. It is an occupational hazard, and I have generally had amazing luck on this whole adventure with my tyres; but it seems that when they come, they all come at once! Unamused, I at least could take advantage of the outdoor tables at the cafe, and the hot weather, and the dogs’ drinking bowl, to fix and change my inner tube. Or so I thought. This, remember, was the same back tyre that was fitted new in Marlborough on my last day of multiple punctures; so it was less than a month old and had never been removed. Which, I now discovered, was a fiendishly difficult job. Although nowhere near as hard as getting the tyre back on again!

Brighton upside down house

A couple of blokes sitting at a nearby table gave me sympathetic looks and, after watching me suffer for a few minutes, came over to help. It took all three of us; but we got it back over the rim. They described themselves as retired cyclists and were my saviours here. Without them I might still be trying and failing. It isn’t like I haven’t done this many, many times over the years. I’m not the most technically minded; but I can usually manage a puncture well enough. It was really frustrating. Worse, it was time consuming, and I entered the afternoon with only about five miles under my belt. I could still make Hastings; but only just in daylight now if I didn’t stop. The best laid plans…

Brighton Pier

Luckily, that was as bad as it got. After that, I had a very cool ride underneath the white chalk cliffs on the promenade bike track between Rottingdean and Saltdean, before returning to the main road through forgettable Peacehaven and down steeply to the ferry port of Newhaven. This was a section just to get through, really, and it was quite hilly as the road followed the cliff tops. None of these places, whose names I knew, were as I imagined them. Newhaven, which is arranged along a river rather than the open sea, looked like it might be OK when it is finished. But from here onwards, the ride just got better and better. I reached the beach proper at Seaford. It is mostly shingle all along the south coast; but from here you have great views east to the high chalk cliffs of Beachy Head, and west to the cliffs I had just crossed. I found a little food shack selling sweet and savoury crepes by the sea, so that was a quick and welcome lunch solution that I took advantage of in the warm sun. And ten minutes later I was off again.

Seaford beach

My route now took me inland and into the South Downs National Park. I don’t know this area; but from what I saw today, I must make an effort. It was glorious: a winning combination of high, rolling green hills and broad, well watered valleys containing the most beautiful half timbered villages and enticing pubs. I was particularly taken with charming Alfriston. The lanes were quiet and I saw more horse riders than cars. I was now in a race against the setting sun and was pleased to discover the next several miles took me on even smaller lanes across the flat expanse of Pevensey Levels, weaving my way through tall sedge grass either side of the road. The skies were huge and started to take on a pinkish tinge as I once again found the beach and rode along almost on the shingle itself, past countless beach huts and into the long residential streets of Bexhill-on-Sea. Here was another place I did not know. It was lovely, from what I saw. The suburbs were substantial and well heeled. The town centre and sea front contain the De La Warr Pavillion, a large Art Deco masterpiece, as well as imposing residential apartments. I don’t know what I thought it would be like. But somehow not this. I liked it.

Bexhill on Sea

I followed the cycle path signs over the cliff to Hastings. It was a journey of about 4 miles in fading light. I didn’t realise I would be cycling past beach huts along rubber matting laid over beach stones for much of the way. I needed my lights; but it was fun and a memorable way to finish map 199. Hastings and St Leonard’s, which are large and run into each other, seemed like somewhere worth coming back to. The promenade was fun and, once again, was well set up with cycling provision. As the twinkly lights came on, I saw a sign to the station and decided enough was enough. I had a cousin to find in London, two trains and a cycle away, so I took my end-of-the-map photo and brought my own personal battle of Hastings to a timely end. I think I can say that I won – just like England did this morning – but not without a struggle. Maybe that will make it all the more memorable. I have been impressed by England’s South Coast and it has filled in quite a big blank in my footprint of the country. It was overdue. I am sure this will not be the last time.

Hastings Promenade

One reply on “Maps 198 and 199 – A Battle to Hastings”

What is it about Brighton and tricky flats? I was similarly defeated by a very tough back tyre a few weeks ago when I was about half way through a poorly planned solo London to Brighton, and had to take the obstinate wheel back on the train to the bike shop. Well done Mark for another great traverse! Those shingly rubber mats as you approach St Leonard’s are a bit disorienting…the 1749 shipwreck of the Amsterdam was just to your right on Bulverhythe beach as you bumped along them…one for next time!,on%20Sunday%2026%20January%201749

Comments are closed.