secret south downs

Secret South Downs: Winchester

Secret South Downs: Winchester

Winchester is our backyard, so join us as we take you on a tour of all our favourite local haunts.

We will be jumping on and off the South Downs Way and weaving in and out of the woods as we go in search of the finest singletrack. You can look forward to a day sampling all best bits of riding around Winchester: all those bits of trail that only locals know about.

Secret South Downs: Amberley

Secret South Downs: Amberley

Houghton Woods above Amberley are well known for their trails, but there are other trail delights to sample before we get to them. We’ve got the scarp face of the Downs and Nore Hill as appetisers.

This, our most easterly ride, has everything you would expect of a South Downs Ride: Big skies, beech plantation and ancient monuments. It also has some real riding treats, whether you want sinuous or steep, you’ll find something here.

Secret South Downs: Butser Hill

Secret South Downs: Butser Hill

Butser Hill is the second highest point in both Hampshire and the South Downs. This means grand vistas in every direction from the top, stretching out across most of Hampshire on a good day. But don’t stare at them too long because you will want to concentrate on the way ahead.

This ride centres on the ridge of hills around Butser and the paths that radiate from it. It is an energetic day of ups and downs that is as technical as you would like to make it.

Head in the clouds, Feet of Clay

Head in the clouds, Feet of Clay

Sometimes you ride under a cloud less sky, sometimes under a blanket of white. Sometimes a ride takes place inside a cloud. This was to be one of those rides

Head up

One of the fundamental tenets of good trail riding is to keep your head up. It’s also a tenet of good navigation. The more you keep your head up, the further ahead you can see, the better you can prepare for what’s coming, the more in control you are when it arrives. The further along the trail you look for that difficult-to-spot right turn, the greater your chances of seeing it before you go past. The only problem with this approach is when you’re riding through low cloud and can only see a few yards in any direction. That is the situation we found ourselves in on this ride for a considerable time.

It’s made worse by the navigational black hole that plantation woodland offers. Even the beechwoods mean that, just because something is marked on the map as a significant track, doesn’t mean that is exists on the ground. More confusing is that the broad track in front of you may not appear at all. That’s why we took the scenic route off the ridge line. It definitely wasn’t that we missed the right turn. That’s not what happened at all. Having said that, the route we did take was lovely as was the scenery that we could see.

Clouded judgement

Clark and I found ourselves out in the South Downs near Cocking (no laughing at the back) on a Tuesday morning in April in the name of a ride recce. There was a window in our diaries, and we went for it regardless of whether there was a window in the weather. The forecast was for intermittent drizzle all day, so we prepared to get damp. Better yet, it had rained persistently for days before the ride, which can play havoc with trails in this part of the world. So, we were prepared to come back to the car filthy as well as wet.

What I hadn’t expected in the South Downs was for a goodly chunk of the day to be above the cloud base. However, it wasn’t actually raining so we decided to get on with the lesser of two evils.

The first track was a pretty unremarkable track, except the farmhouse with the canary yellow UPVC windows. It’s a relatively easy way to gain a fair bit of height and the price you pay for a downhill finish. As it levelled off we found ourselves surrounded by some brilliant archaeology in a landscape littered with cross dykes and round barrows reminding us that people have been living and working in this landscape for a very long time. The views out across the scarp face towards the Weald. Or, at least we should have.

Cocking: there's a view out there somewhere

Cocking: there’s a view out there somewhere

Instead of the archaeology and the vista we were treated to the atmospheric tendrils of cloud wrapping themselves around us, obscuring anything more than a few metres away. Instead, Clark had to content himself with my colourful descriptions of what he should be able to see. I can spin a pretty good yarn, but there are only so many synonyms for “massive” that I could think of whilst avoiding the potholes and quagmires that presented themselves. Oh, and keeping an eye out for that elusive right turn.

The lively discussion of the Bronze Age landscape might explain why it took longer than expected to arrive at that right turn.

Head down, eyes up

Gently downhill duplex in the summer can be a ticket to light-speed on a bike. In early April after the wettest winter in recent memory it was a little different. We still whipped along at a fair lick but found ourselves having to time manuals well so as not to lose front wheels in opaque puddles or piles of sodden leaves. Closing my eyes occasionally helped keep the grit out of them.

I had a clear memory that there were a couple of slightly tricky junctions from a navigation point of view, you know the ones where two trails run off almost parallel where the map says there should only be one. So, I was keeping my wits about me for these choices approaching at speed, through the cloud and the spray of my front wheel.

Which is why I was more than a little surprised when the trail ended abruptly at a gate into a field. This was not right. This was definitely not where I had anticipated ending up. I thought we had gone a long the ridge for longer than anticipated. This gate confirmed that we were not where we were meant to be. The problem with missing your turning is that it can be hard to work out at what point you have deviated from the plan. A perusal of the map revealed that we had simply missed the turn and taken a path that ran parallel to our original plan. After a quick recalibration, a new route down was hatched that went through the gate ahead and joined up with the route as planned at the bottom.

Initially, I was disappointed. The descent to the combe floor was a grassy field. No fun in that. Still, make what you can of it. I kicked off and set off down the hill, very quickly picking up enough speed that washing out on the sopping grass became a realistic hazard. Stay loose, stay relaxed, trust your grip on the off-camber hillside. The problem with descents like this is that there’s very little calibrate your speed against. Ahead of me was a lynchet, it was approaching at warp speed, and the sharp break in slope meant that the crest was entirely blind. I had no idea what was on the downslope. Attack position. Commit.

It was relatively steep but nothing terrifying, granting plenty more speed. The bottom was a sharp enough trough that it needed a manual to get through smoothly. The horrible buzzing sound of rear wheel on mudguard confirmed that the rear suspension had absorbed considerable compression. Head up, look for the next one. Approaching even faster, this was much more fun than I was expecting. A few more lynchets between me and the bottom were despatched with increasing velocity before the reality of the rapidly approaching fence at the bottom of the hill made braking a priority. Clark appeared, grinning like a loon. For an accidental descent, this one was a keeper.

The archaeology is exciting, but can we do some riding now?

The archaeology is exciting, but can we do some riding now?

“So, are they barrows?” he asked

“No, these are lynchets” and proceeded to explain what lynchets are. To save you having to listen to me explain it as well: here’s a link.

The particular lynchets we were looking at turned out to be relics of a Bronze Age field system that, until recently was thought to be lost. This relic is a scheduled monument that, until recently, was thought to be the only remnant in the area. A LiDAR (follow the link) survey showed that the whole ridge here is covered in Bronze Age fields. We archaeologist are still very excited about it.

Clark was less impressed, so we rode on.

Going the wrong way

The difficulty in planning rides in this area (and to be fair most areas) is which way round to do it. If you’re riding a loop then, for every cracking descent, there’s going to be a climb. For every climb someone will tell you that you should be riding down it. The next climb was very much one of those. Maybe on a drier day it would have been rideable, but not today. I know why the ride is planned this way around, and this was something of an experiment. That didn’t change the fact that we were off and pushing up the kind of steep, sinuous woodland singletrack that people would bite your arm off to ride. We were definitely doing it the wrong way, and we seemed to be doing it the wrong way for quite some time. There has got to be a way of doing it the other way. This is one for the OS map, later.

On the up side, we seemed to have dropped out of the clouds. But it was still sweaty work, gaining considerable height ready for another descent. At the top there was a longish, straight tarmac transfer to our next point of interest, so time to get our heads down and make up for some lost time. It wasn’t quite a team time trial, but we weren’t hanging about. Straight past Goodwood racecourse and on to something that, for me at least, was far more impressive.

Trundling along

The Trundle, and Chalkpits Lane, in particular, holds a certain significance in the history of mountain biking in this area. Many of the bridleways that drop off this hill were within the reach of early mountain bikes and were something of a Mecca in the 90s. But that’s only the most recent episode in a long history of significance to this hilltop. As far back as the Neolithic, people were building things here. Many of them can still be seen. I get very excited about these things. I explained what a causewayed enclosure is, stating that the banks probably looked more impressive but they’re quite old.

I can see the sea from here. Normally

I can see the sea from here. Normally

Clark was impressed too: “are they old then?”

“About 5,000 years old.”

“Wow.”

This Neolithic site sits squarely in the middle of an Iron Age hillfort with an impressive bank round the outside. What makes for a strong defensive feature also makes for an excellent spot to have lunch. The view from here is spectacular. Given that it was all ensconced in cloud, Clark had to make do with my description. Again. It was a little bit “here’s what you could have won” I’m convinced I could just about pick out the spire of Chichester Cathedral, but there was no way I could see the sea. Shame really. And, it turns out, kind of chilly. Time to get on.

The drop from the Trundle is one of those old-school South Downs descents. It’s a wide-open field with a notional path down the middle. It’s steep enough that you can play the “how long do I stay off the brakes without riding into the fence at the bottom” game. It is, as always, over too soon. It took us back below cloud base though, so we began to warm through a little.

I found the black and white filter settings

I found the black and white filter settings

The South Downs is well catered for in pretty streams and rivers from the Itchen to the Adur, but this section of the Lavant is up there with the best of them. The draw to get moving and generate some heat was strong, but not as strong as the need to get some snaps of this pretty valley. Clark seemed happy to do the obligatory ride back the we he’d come for “one last shot”. I suspect he was being put off by my description of the “big climb of the day.”

The language of guides

I often joke that part of my leader’s training is how to lie about what lies ahead. “It’s contouring from here.” Means that there are several big climbs between us and the café. “It’s mostly downhill” neglects to mention the one really big climb. It is a joke really, I think it’s important to be honest with people.

The climb up the side of Kingley Vale is one to tell people about. It’s mostly not desperately steep. Nor is it particularly technical. It’s mostly not too boggy. Mostly is the important word, because it’s all of those things at one point or another. And it keeps going. And going. It gains over a hundred metres in little more than a kilometre. There’s a false flat at the summit too. It’s no horror show and a reasonably fit rider will have no problem getting up, but you’ll be glad to get to the top. Partly because the climb is over.

The top is just around the corner...

The top is just around the corner…

Partly because of the view: you can see miles to the east and west from the top. But you won’t take that in straight away, because your eye is drawn to the four massive burial mounds lined up along the ridge. When I say massive, I really mean it. Leaving the bikes behind, we climbed the nearest one and sat down for another bite to eat. While sitting there, Clark spotted something remarkable above us. A small patch of blue sky. The cloud was lifting! From being too cold on the Trundle we were now too warm and shedding layers.

Clark endured (or possibly enjoyed) discovering the difference between a bowl barrow and a bell barrow (the clue is very much in the name) whilst looking for buzzards.

It’s all downhill from here

Duly educated on prehistoric monuments, we remembered we were here for a bike ride. The traverse along the top of Bow Hill is normally not much to write home about. Normally. Today it was a touch slippery, a touch slidey and occasionally that kind of muddy where you have to put the power down to keep moving forward. I looked round to see Clark covered in mud from shoulder to knee. “I fell off.” Was all he would say.

The thing about a vaguely rubbish traverse to the top of a descent is the knowledge that, as a guide, your clients are all thinking “this had better be worth it.” I remember the descent past Goosehill Camp being a good-un on previous visits, but the dampness in the ground today had already taught me that all bets were off. Even I was thinking it had better be worth it.

It started innocuously enough, for long enough that I was concerned I had misremembered it. Not to fear though, it casually tips more and more downhill, introducing a tangle of small roots into the mix as it goes. In the summer it has those leaf-dappled shadows that make picking out roots impossible. The flat light of late winter was better for seeing them. Or, at least, seeing how slick they looked. It’s fun to see how much speed you can rack and whether there’s a good line through the roots.

The trail is a diagonal drop from the shoulder of the hill until, out of nowhere, there’s a right-left dogleg accompanied by a sudden narrowing of the trail. It’s quite easy to go straight on into the undergrowth here. In the damp, I was taking no chances. I’m not sure Clark agreed with me. Which is probably why he came around the left-hander trying desperately to clip back in.

Doing the left-right shoogle

Doing the left-right shoogle

Wandering lonely as a cloud

Now we were pointing for home, with only one big climb between us and the car. Thoughts naturally turned to food and the viability of vegan chilli (we both thought it would definitely work). On the map, it was a gentle fire road grind back up to the South Downs ridgeway. In reality, it was a lovely hollow way with old trees flanking both sides and obscuring the pine plantation beyond. Then…

“Clark. Get off your bike.”

“Why?”

Because that,” pointing, “is a field of wild daffodils.”

“That’s amazing.”

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils

He was right too. From a pleasant but unremarkable coppice, there emerged a carpet of yellow flowers. Impressing a South Downs rider with a carpet of woodland flowers is a challenge: April & May are usually wall-to-wall bluebells. This was a real treat, it was like bluebells, but yellow. It was probably going to be the best nature moment of the day, made better for being completely unexpected. So, we stopped and took a lot of photos that would probably fail to do the scene justice.

It was one of those sights that’s hard to tear yourself from and remember you’re here for a bike ride. So, with heavy hearts (and legs) we got on with the job of reaching the top of the hill.

On the ridgeline again for the first time since this morning, we found ourselves back in the cloud. Brilliant.

I’d planned a small detour on the final leg. I wanted to check out another trail: an extra descent in case clients are still wanting more. Clark was up for it so we peeled off the ridge ready to drop off the scarp face.

Then we stopped.

“Is that enough buzzards for you, Clark?”

“I think so.”

We counted twenty of them, emerging one after the other from the trees the cover the slope, silhouetted against the cloud. Planted to the spot, we watched them soar and climb before sliding off the thermal to wherever buzzards go. The daffodils had been good, but this was gobsmacking.

However, time was passing. Wake up: time to ride. The trail became a wide chalk track that pointed down. It was smooth enough to pick up significant speed. It felt slick enough that your wheels might disappear at any moment, and that you would slide a long way before stopping. Relax and everything will be fine. It was. We reached the junction, only about halfway down, grinning from a descent that had been adrenalin filled far beyond its technicality. What might the second half bring?

Luke, you’ve turned off your targeting computer

Turning the corner onto the second half of the drop, quick reactions stopped me from disappearing into the muddy ruts that suddenly bracketed the trail. Just. Something big had driven this way and carved two trenches that could grace the Death Star (if the Death Star was made of mud), and definitely swallow a bike. In between was a narrow ridge, with an even narrower groove down the middle. Coming off was not an option. The track was still pointing downwards, adding momentum to the equation. It was also meandering adding steering to the mix. Speaking of steering, the groove was the kind of slick mud where the bike goes exactly where it feels like, you just relax and accept it. On several occasions my front wheel was at forty-five degrees and the bike ploughed straight on regardless. Relax, it’ll be fine, a nudge of the hips now and then to keep the bike upright. Remember those mud-riding skills you’ve spent the winter honing. And don’t try dabbing, as the ground is about three feet lower where you want to put your foot.

It was a giggle. For a bit. It seemed to go on a very long time, and I was getting mentally tired from concentrating too hard. Then the track fired us out into a steeply-sloping field at warp speed. Here the wheel-ruts went in all directions and just pointing at the bottom was an option. We both breathed a sigh of relief at the bottom. We also saw the cause of the ruts. Four massive Scottish and Southern Electric off-road flat-bed trucks, there to replace electricity poles. That would explain it.

Not enough to want to do that descent again though.

All that was left was the short climb back to the car. What it lacked in length, it more than made up for in steepness. The chalk track was flat enough, but every pedal stroke was a battle to keep the front wheel down, turn the pedals over and stop the back wheel from spinning out too much. Push hard enough to turn the pedals and the back would spin and stall. There was a delicate balance to be struck in applying just enough power to get the wheels to turn without breaking traction. It’s a while since I’ve felt so pleased for cleaning a climb. That was the glow that took us to the car.

A very short conference resulted in us agreeing that this diversion wasn’t really worth it. That’s what a recce is for: to see if the trails are fun to ride. This one wasn’t, really.

The rest of the ride had been great though, in spite of the unseasonal mulch that had coated everything, including our bikes. Clark pronounced himself a happy man, though a tired one. It’s easy to take a ride for granted once you’ve done it a few times, but this one is a classic for a reason.

This might take a while to clean off

This might take a while to clean off

Now to plot doing it the other way round so we can descend that steep climb…

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Secret South Downs: Cocking

Secret South Downs: Cocking

This ride has absolutely everything you could ask for from a South Downs classic. We’ve got big skies, we’ve got open downland, we’ve got pretty villages and we’ve got chalk streams. We also have top-class singletrack for you to enjoy all woven around the scarp edge of the South Downs.

Note: this ride has moved from Saturday 21st April to Sunday 22nd April.

Secret South Downs: Cocking, Sunday 21st April

Secret South Downs: Cocking, Sunday 21st April

We’ve still got a few places on this Sunday’s ride from Cocking

The weather forecast is glorious for Sunday, the trails are drying out and I’m really excited about getting out to West Sussex.

So, why not join us for our season opener that features everything you could want from a South Downs ride. This one is an absolute classic: big skies, bigger views, ancient woodland and more archaeology than you can poke a stick at. The riding is good too, with a couple of absolutely cracking descents on a route that weaves its way through every terrain that the Downs have to offer.

 

In the trees
Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Hike a bike, South Downs Style: Classic Type 2 fun on Butser Hill

Hike a bike, South Downs Style: Classic Type 2 fun on Butser Hill

There is a theory that there are two types of fun. The first is something that is fun when you do it. Type 2 is something that is fun in hindsight, when you look back on it. Type 2 fun is almost never an enjoyable experience at the time. This is ride around Butser Hill had a lot of the latter.

Not fun now.

I am shouldering my bike for the third time today, trudging slowly up a climb, eyes fixed on the floor in front of me: classic hike a bike. The ground is steep and treacherous, it would be difficult enough to keep my footing if I didn’t have a bike on my shoulder. Where, I hear you ask, is this steep and demanding terrain? The Lakes? No. The Peak? No, Butser Hill in Hampshire. Yes, you read that right: Hampshire.

A quick Ride

One of the odd truths about this profession is that the pre-riding of routes is often dictated, not by my desire to ride, but by factors unrelated to riding, fitted in around my need to be places for other bits of work. This ride was on because I was due to have a meeting at Queen Elizabeth Country Park in the afternoon, so there was time to squeeze in a quick 27km riding beforehand. Perfect, for a ride that was scheduled to start for the Park.

It was a nice, bright, early March morning. The kind of morning where you start off in a jacket and then stop on the first climb of the day to take it off because you’re overheating. The kind where you reach the top of the first climb and hastily put it back on again to keep the wind out.

I can see the sea!

I can see the sea!

Actually, this morning I topped out the first climb and was treated to spectacular views out to sea and across the Downs towards the Hangers. On a warmer day I would have stopped to watch the buzzards soaring on the thermals. It was not a warmer day, so discretion kept stops to a minimum.

Snow fun when you have to hike

When I ride alone, I usually have waypoints, where I check in to make sure that, should anything go wrong, then people know where to find me. It’s all part of the safety protocols. It also means I have a pretty good idea of where I am compared to the schedule most of the time.

The first stop was due at the top of the first of three big descents for the day. On the traverse through the woods to get there, I encountered banks of snow left over from the Beast of the East that had dumped snow all over the south the week before. It was fun to plunge through the, slightly decayed, drifts.

The approach to the antennae at the top of the first drop was a different story. This had a large stream running down it that I hoped was meltwater from drifts on the summit, rather than the sheep pens up ahead. Cresting the top, I dropped the saddle and got ready to roll.

A little snow never bothered anyone...

A little snow never bothered anyone...

I know this descent relatively well, it’s a steep-ish sunken lane, loose flints and chalk all the way down. In the dry it’s a rocky rocket from top to bottom. In the wet, it’s frictionless. Today, I didn’t know what to expect. What I wasn’t expecting was a few hundred yards of deep snow piled up between the hedges on the roll in to the drop. I genuinely tried to ride it but gave up after twenty yards or so as the wheels just stuck in the snow. Pushing was even less effective. So, somewhat unexpectedly I shouldered the bike and began the first hike a bike of the day. I’ve never had to hike a bike on the flat. Every step plunged me up to my shin in snow. Suddenly the ¾ length tights seemed like a poor call as snow piled up behind the tongue of my boots. Even better was when the snow hid deep puddles of meltwater, only revealed as I plunged my foot in. Definitely Type 2 fun.

...that was no fun

Eventually, I got through and readied myself for the plunge off the scarp edge. A plunge of uncertain grip. With friends, I might have been tempted to stay off the brakes. On my own, speed was an unreliable friend, the kind that’s fun to be around but can get you into trouble quickly. Brakes are a more sensible friend in this circumstance. My approach turned out to be prudent when I encountered a stretch of gully that was filled with an off-camber snow bank. Foot out, yes. Flat out? Not so much. It was fun, in a slightly unsettling kind of way and nothing that couldn’t be cured by a lack of snow.

Ecclesiasticy

That’s not even a real word is it?

East Meon is a pretty village. Many of the villages in the Meon Valley are, so I was expecting the chocolate box houses and clear chalk stream down the high street. What I was not expecting was the Romanesque tower underneath the spire. I really like Romanesque architecture in churches, there’s something about the simplicity and robustness of the style that speaks to me, so this was a real treat. Enough of a treat to stop for a quick snack.

Time to check in again: still ahead of schedule. Good, because the steepest climb of the ride was next on the agenda.

All Saints Church East Meon

All Saints Church East Meon

It’s a real sucker-punch of a climb this. It saves all the steepness for the end. It’s a climb to keep your powder dry for as long as you can. On a good day, it’s eminently cleanable. It didn’t take long to work out that this was not that day.

There’s a dog-leg in the path that approaches it, from there the gradient begins to deceptively ramp up before you hit the climb proper. Turning the second corner I was greeted by the sight of the sunken lane filled with snow. Completely filled to the top. I reckoned it was a good four to five feet deep in places. Not something that could be described as rideable, ever.

Fortunately, evasive action was easily sorted as lots of people appeared to have used the adjacent field as an escape route. So, I rolled along above the snow chute up the edge of the field. It was bumpy and a bit unfriendly but nowhere near as bad as attempting to wade through the snow. When it abated, I was able to get back through the hedge and attempt to remount.

Sadly, I was faced with the path ahead suddenly becoming a wall. I got on, and then got off again. Then remounted and made some progress before the front wheel lifted off the ground. Careful now, until the back spun out. It was a fairly small rock step that signalled it was time to accept that there would be some pushing involved. When the gradient slackened slightly I tried again, cursing the lack of gearing that my 1x10 set up allowed me. Specifically, the lack of low gears. It just about went. An odd technique of standing up in the pedals whilst trying to keep the front wheel down and meter the power to stop the back spinning out.

Doesn't look to bad from the top, does it?

On a good day, it’s a fun challenge. Today, I was glad to see the farm at the top, knowing that a level and partly tarmacked stretch lay ahead. I was genuinely pleased by how much I’d managed to ride. I was also more than a little concerned about how tired my legs felt, given that there was still another big climb ahead.

This is supposed to be the good bit!

The next descent was not one I’m particularly familiar, that’s the point of the ride after all. One reviewer described it as “fabulous in the dry but treacherous in the wet” so I was keen to see how it had held up to the wet winter and the recent snows.

It started with a gentle descent along the shoulder of Butser Hill. It was clarty, and a bit skitey, but the amount of wheel squirm was under control. I slithered down to the fork where my trail should bear right and drop into the combe. I was ready for some slippery helter-skelter action.

Rutted Horror Show

Rutted Horror Show

What I got was a horror show. The point where the trail peeled right and dropped over the edge bore a trio of large, deep, meandering, mucky ruts that dropped into a sea of exposed roots. Given the row of barbed wire either side of the trail, there was no margin for error and no runout. It was an accident waiting to happen, and I had no idea what was beyond the blind corner. Carrying speed through the section was not a sensible course of action.

I got off and pushed down it. It was like wading through cement. My boots turned into platforms. But I got down in one piece.

It calmed down after about twenty yards so I got back on. Got off again, cleaned my boots and tried again. I rolled on down and the trail straightened up so I could see where I was going. The three ruts became one gulley, about three feet deep with an eight-inch tyre width rut at the bottom. Everything bar the rut at the bottom was covered in a skein of sticky, slippery cement-like chalk clay mud. The saving grace was a thin shelf on the right-hand shoulder which looked rideable. Just. I rolled down cautiously. As I approached the next bend the shelf disappeared into the gulley. The bike and myself went in with it and stopped, dead as the bike wedged in the hole.

A while ago I wrote about a horror-show of a local descent. This knocked it out of the park. It’s steeper, the rut is deeper and everything was covered in that horrible chunder. Unrideable doesn’t get close. The gulley was deep enough that, on the bike in the bottom of it, the edge was about level with my waist. Which made climbing out a challenge. Some grunting and swearing saw me perched on one shoulder of the gulley, with the bike on the other.

This is the rideable bit!

This is the rideable bit!

That worked until the frame accumulated so much muck that the back wheel stopped turning and slid into the hole again. There was nothing for it but to perch on the edge with the bike over my shoulder, expecting at any moment to slide into the gulley in a painful heap. It was not the most impressive moment of my biking career.

This trail is a BOAT. I’d love to see someone get a horse and carriage down it.

It did finish though.

At the bottom of the hill. That’s right, the fun descend bit was one long push/carry. The riding began when the trail flattened out. Such as it was. The trail was still marginally downhill. Actually, it was downhill enough that, occasionally, I didn’t have to pedal. Then I came round a corner to be faced with another steep quagmire. This time it was wide and deep so I just ploughed through. I went a goodly distance with my front wheel at forty-five degrees and the bike careering straight on regardless. I was quite relieved to get to the bottom of that and on a surfaced track.

Things, can only get, better

All that was left was to climb back up to where I started this descent into folly. Nae bother.

It started steep.

And then there was a tree across the path.

I moved the tree and remounted the bike after another exercise in boot cleaning to make the cleats engage.

I cursed my lack of gears, dumped the mech into its lowest setting and got on with the job of crawling my way back out of the combe.

It worked for a while.

Then another gulley opened up. I managed to stay out of it for long enough that I thought I might get away with it. When I attempted to go around a bramble bush the back wheel broke traction and slid sideways from under me.

One graceful dismount later, I was pushing again. Then I stopped and cleared the mud out of the rear triangle so the wheel would go around.

When the gradient receded, I took the opportunity to ride the bike again. And set, stoically, about winching my way to the summit. The only problem was that mud, reattaching itself to the bike, like an anchor. I got off and cleaned it and got back on again. And then got back on again. Something had to give. It turned out to be my legs. It’s not that the gradient was too steep, it was that I didn’t have the power in them to overcome the friction of the mud stuck in the frame.

There was nothing for it but to pick the bike up and…Oh my god! How much does this mud weigh? You can just do one! Seriously, this has stopped being funny. A sense of humour failure was very much on the cards.

I took a deep breath, muttered some words of encouragement and got on with the task of carrying the bike as far as it took to get to ground that was rideable. That turned out to be quite a long way. In fact, almost to the point where the treacherous descent of death from earlier had split from this trail.

Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.

The gradient eased slowly but surely. Brambles and hawthorns that could be rolled through on the way down were an irritation on the way back up. But I got there and emerged into the sunlight at the top of Butser hill. That had been horrible. But, and this is a big but, it would be cracking going down that ascent. It would be whooping good fun all the way down. In the dry.

Some lovely Downs

Last but by no means least

All that was between me and a hot brew was the descent of Butser Hill.

Some descents are sinuous, sweeping back and forth. Some descents are steep, requiring you to hang on. Some descents are rocky requiring skill and commitment.

Butser Hill is none of those things.

What Buster is, is a wide swathe of grass tilted to about forty-five degrees. It’s a wide-open plummet to the bottom. You can see everything that’s coming so it’s not stressful. And it’s fast. I was looking forward to it.

Being downland, the point at which ascent becomes descent isn’t necessarily clear. It ramps up (or should that be down) gradually, allowing you to pick up speed almost without noticing.

All of a sudden you realise you’re down about mach 3 and have just remembered the gate halfway down. With a little planning, and a friend willing to sacrifice their descent, you can send someone on ahead to open the gate and give everyone else a clean run at it. Even so, it’s not a wide gate and I’ve never had the nerve to stay off the brakes through the gap.

I was on my own and didn’t expect this. I arrived shortly after a runner who, very kindly, held the gate open for me allowing me to only slow down.

Then open the taps. The only obstacles are the rabbit holes. Stay off the brakes, keep the weight in the right place and make the jump to light speed.

By modern enduro standards, Buster is nothing special. Given that, it’s important to say I’ve never failed to enjoy the sheer, unbridled speed and calmness of that drop. Big grin every time.

And this time was no different. All that awfulness was left on the other side of the hill and replaced with the glow of a great ride. I rolled into the car park buzzing and just in time for a quick wash before my meeting.

Homework

That awful descent on the other side of Butser is clearly not a seasonal issue. It definitely wasn’t like that last time I rode it. Some sunshine is not going to cure the damage to that trail. So, I returned home and pondered the map.

There is a solution. There’s an answer. The clue is in this article.

If you want to see this ride when it’s in season with all the bad bits taken out, then why not join us in May as the Secret South Downs series heads to Butser Hill.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments