Enjoy cycling in the South Downs just like the pros
The South Downs National Park is a popular year-round destination for cyclists with 750 miles of trails and bridleways, cycle-friendly places to stay and plenty of cycle hire options. Add to that fast and convenient access by train from London (cycles are transported free of charge all day at weekends and off-peak on weekdays), and it’s the perfect destination for two-wheel touring.
The Tour of Britain is set to take in parts of the national park for Stage Seven on Saturday 13 September when the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas will face the challenging climb to Ditchling Beacon before sprinting the fast descent towards Brighton.
The stage route takes in rolling hills and quaint villages, passing Petworth House, whose gardens were painted by Turner, before looping the eastern border of the national park. It re-enters to follow the famous white chalk cliffs of Beachy Head and Seven Sisters before heading inland through Rodmell – pure Virginia Woolf country. After visiting the market town of Lewes, riders will climb almost 500 feet (150m) in less than one mile to Ditchling Beacons for an exciting downhill stage finish.
Many bed and breakfasts throughout the South Downs are geared up for cyclists. They can be found on the Our Land website – www.our-land.co.uk – which highlights local businesses committed to sustaining and supporting the national park.
Take, for example, The Malthouse in Cocking, which offers secure cycle storage, washing and drying facilities and luggage transfers. The Malthouse is towards the western end of the South Downs, less than a mile from the South Downs Way.
Riverdale House, located close to the village of Alfriston, is at the eastern end of the South Downs. With secure cycle storage and drying facilities, this is another great lodging option for cyclists, complete with fabulous breakfast options (choose from traditional Full English, vegetarian options, porridge, home-made waffles, smoked salmon) – perfect fuel for an active day. Riverdale House can also organise luggage transfers and packed lunches if required.
Cycling tours and rentals
Whether you need to rent a bike or enjoy a guided ride with a qualified instructor, look no further than The Seven Sisters Cycle Company. From their base, you’re a stone throw’s away from dramatic coastline and a selection of great cycling trails.
If you’re considering cycling the entire South Downs Way, So Sussex can make the arrangements. They offer options to tackle the 100-mile route over one day, two days or three days, complete with overnight accommodation and luggage transfers.
Another local company offering experienced guides is Zig Zag Cycling. Their guided mountain bike rides are lead by experts who can plan routes to take in the most scenic and enjoyable locations.
Hassocks Community Cycle Hire can be found on the northern border of the national park. Direct trains from London Victoria Station reach Hassocks in just 50 minutes, with bikes available for pick-up right outside the station. The South Downs Way is 10 minutes ride, while Ditchling Beacon – one of the highlights for the Tour of Britain – is 30 minutes away.
As you’re watching the Tour of Britain live on ITV4, impress your friends with these fun facts about the stage which will be covered live on Saturday 13 September from 1pm to 4pm:
Beachy Head section:
- The Sussex heritage coast was designated in 1973, the first in the UK.
- Beachy Head Cliff rises 530 feet from the sea.
- The iconic site attracts 2 million visitors each year.
- ‘Beachy’ is from the French ‘Beau Chef’ meaning Beautiful headland.
- It has been a key landmark both for sailors in the Channel and pilots, especially during the War.
Ditchling Beacon section:
- Ditchling Beacon at 248m / 810 feet is the highest point on the chalk in Sussex.
- It is the site of a historic iron age hill fort and a beacon to warn of invasion.
- Dew ponds mark the route of a historic drove route between sheep markets at Lewes and Findon.
- It is an important nature reserve for rare downland wildflowers and butterflies.