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Photo by Josephine Flohr,
Elephant at Camp, Namibia

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  • 2 Post By mark manley

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Old 18 Sep 2020
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Location: Wessex, UK
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Cycling the North and South Downs Way in England

I have just got back from a five day ride of the North Downs Way and South Downs Way which are off road trails in southern England following the course of parallel chalk escarpments left after the last ice age, I have done the SDW twice before but never the NDW, parts of which are footpath not bridleway so cannot be cycled on unlike the SDW which can be cycled for it's whole length of around 100 miles.
I spent a day and a half on the NDW but found as other reports had said that its close proximity to main roads including the M25 motorway made it a noisy and unpleasant place to be, it is also a lot harder work on a fully laden bike in that the path goes up and down the face of the escarpment rather than along the top as it does on the SDW which only goes down where there is a river valley. I did find a great place to camp the first night with views across the Surrey countryside which is surprisingly undeveloped for an area so close to London, there were several places with great views across the landscape such as Box Hill which is a popular meeting place for motorcyclists on a Sunday.
At the end of the second day I was fed up with the sound of motor vehicles and could not find a place to camp so when I spotted a sign saying station 2 miles I got on a train south to near the start of the SDW where I knew I would find peace and quiet and somewhere to pitch my tent.
I started off on the SDW in the picturesque village of Alfriston and after reaching the top of the ridge was greeted by panoramic views in all directions from the English Channel in the south right across the area known as the Weald which is the flatlands between the North and South downs, apart from the views there is little up there apart from grass and some sheep grazing and very few people. It was sunny and unseasonally warm, had it not been for a gentle breeze it would have been too hot, plenty of factor 50 was the order of the day.
After a good day in the saddle I stopped at a place called Black Cap which is one of the highest points on the South Downs again with great views and a clump of trees which I guess is where it derives its name from, as it got dark I found a sheltered spot among some bushes to camp for the night out of the wind.
The following day was as good as the last with seemingly endless views and not many people, I met a few cyclist but none on multi day rides and there were a few hikers walking the whole length of the trail which takes 5 to 8 days, apart from some farm buildings there are virtually no houses or businesses up there so water must be topped up in the valleys, there are a few taps along the way for travellers and I carried four water bottles so around 3 litres which I would say is a minimum to be self sufficient if you are camping.
That afternoon I came to a basic campsite I had used before, it is a farmer's field with a tap but only £5 a night with a pub just up the road where I had a well earned pint. The wind got up in the night leading a bad night's sleep and I woke not feeling particularly rested and rather sore after around 100 miles of off road in the last few days so I decided to give the final few miles a miss and get the train home so I cycled to the nearest station.
This is where I should be saying and here are a few photos of my trip but I had a new to me camera I had been given and had not tried it before leaving home and there is a problem with it, my photos are crap but here are a couple to give you a flavour of where I went, yes the last one is a sign along the way but it was too early in the day to follow it.
Overall it was a great ride on what could be the last periods of good weather this year, I now have to spend some time cleaning and packing away my kit which will probably take longer than getting it out in the first place.

This is also posted up on ADVRIDER

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