Today's bicycle ride is sandwiched between four windmills, over to the East of the Hassocks. If you want to see them in detail, really you need to walk, but this is a good way to catch some rather picturesque glimpses of all four. It's fifteen miles, so a little shorter than last time, and includes a short stretch of walking if, like me, you get nervous on off-road tracks.
This first section goes through Hassocks/Keymer, straight across Ditchling and then up Spatham Lane to Blackbrook Wood. Hassocks/Keymer is nothing special to look at. It's a great place to live for people who like to mix it up between a quiet life and the bright lights of Brighton etc., but it's not photogenic.
Then, as you come out of Hassocks you pass this beautiful garden on the South side. I would definitely like to have a play with a sunken garden.
I have brought you along this way, not because it's the most direct route, but in order to show you the difference between the fake half-timbered house we saw in the last ride, and the real mackoy in Ditchling.
Ditchling is a very picturesque village, with a good sprinkling of historic buildings, great gardens and half-decent pubs. It also has a number of art galleries and antique stores for people who both like and can afford that type of thing.
Frustratingly though, the main road from Burgess Hill to Ditchling Beacon, and the main road from Hassocks to Lewes, both go through the village.
As a result the village is a heady cross between a museum and a car-park.
It is rather nice to explore by bike, but the second I got off to take these photos I nearly got mown down.
Coming out of Ditchling I turned up Spatham Lane. Take a look at the quality of that road. It is quite unreal. Whilst the rest of Sussex is gradually falling into one large pot-hole, Spatham Lane has been resurfaced not once but twice in the last year. We couldn't believe our eyes when we saw the signs for the new resurfacing going back up or we would have protested.Whoever lives up here has one heck of a lot of influence. It makes for a very smooth ride though!
The whole of this ride is characterised by interesting verges, pretty well throughout the year. Many of them are trimmed back too much by the farmers and by the county council, but where they have been left they provide great nature corridors. Spatham Lane in particular is home to a number of rare species, and in late spring is a good place to hear nightingales whilst waiting for the level crossing.
It's also the best place to see bluebells, in May, in Blackbrook Woods. I stole this photo from an album I took earlier in the year.
This section is mainly on much smaller roads, often just with passing places from time to time.
They do not invite attention, but writing this blog seems to make me feel more free to take my camera and poke it through those gates to show you what lies beyond.
There is an ancient route between Ditchling and East Chiltington which has fallen into abeyance, but is partially useable by cyclists
I decided to follow the bridle-way between Streat and Plumpton to see if it was reasonable.
The answer is definitely no unless you have an off-roader.
This is Streat "high-street" after you've passed the houses: a heady mix of gravel, ditches and steep gradients. I got off to walk!
Rather more impressive is the other end of the bridle way where it comes out by Plumpton race track giving a fantastic view of the races for free.
Plumpton Green is a great place to include in your bike-rides. It has a station on the main London-Lewes link so it's a quick way into the countryside for Londoners, but then combines the facilities (ie pubs) you would expect to see next to the race-course with the very relaxed pace of living you would not expect to associate with the home of Led Zeppelin.
Plumpton also has this rather superb Victorian flint church. It has been surprisingly hot so I stopped here to try to get some water only to find that the tap was broken.
This cycle ride is dominated by views out and over to the Downs. I love these fields of wheat and oak standards. Oaks have been described as the Wealden weed with good reason!
The lack of water in Plumpton meant that I needed a detour to find another church and another source of water, so I took the road to East Chiltington church, only to find that this is the first church I have come across where there really is no tap. Instead there is a water butt for watering the graves. Great for sustainable drainage but not for sustainable cycling.
East Chiltington is like a countryside that was already disappearing when I was a child. They still have a red telephone-box (though I didn't check to see whether there is still a phone in it.) A union jack was flying from one of the gardens (naturally hidden behind high hedge-rows), and the only facilities were a pub, a church and a stone monument to the fallen dead.
Sadly the area round here also has a number of admonitions to vote UKIP which brings me out in a sudden case of tourettes.
Our thick wealden clay means that we are saved from too much high intensity agriculture, and do still get these rather idyllic pastures. English law means that bulls cannot be put in fields with footpaths unless they are with cows (when they instantaneously decide that life is more about the cows than chasing hikers), so it's pretty safe to walk across such fields as long as you are careful about dogs.
By this time I was getting rather desperate for some water so I stopped off at Westmeston parish council to ask for some, only to be confronted by this rather nice bit of Cyberpunk sculpture.
I also found what must surely be the most relaxing place for kids to have a residential holiday, at the Acorns Nursery School. Thankfully, they did have water, and kindly filled up my water bottle too.
It is along here that you can spot one of the downs best kept secrets - wine growing.
I understand that it is really rather good, but it is also expensive, so I shall pass.
You can also spot one of our prettiest invaders.
This is Himalayan Balsam. It is utterly gorgeous, but spreads ruthlessly wherever there is damp ground to be had. Sit next to it in the early autumn and you will hear a curious popping sound as all the seed capsules fire off, as they dry out.
I'll leave you with a view towards Hassocks as I turn home across the fields, of the windmill on Lodge Hill.