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Three Peaks of the South Downs

Katy Rodda guides us on a loop of classic South Downs climbs

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Londoners have been visiting Brighton for around two centuries now, and the coastal city welcomes thousands upon thousands of visitors from the capital every year. The London to Brighton Bike Ride may be especially familiar to some, but there’s more to explore around the South Downs.

This circular road ride into the South Downs National Park brings together two other good climbs to go with Ditchling Beacon: Steyning Bostall and Devil’s Dyke. There’s also the option of a bonus climb, Streat Bostall, which is near Ditchling Beacon.

The route include urban streets, quiet lanes and a few miles on slightly busier (category A or B) roads. These are fairly wide and are well-used by cyclists in Sussex. There is also an off-road option for part of the route back into Brighton, for gravel/CX or hybrid bikes that can cope with non-technical off-road trails.

You can also do the ride in two sections, as there is a route back into Brighton from Devil’s Dyke, at just over the halfway mark.

THE ROUTE

DISTANCE: 69km (43 miles)

ASCENT: 610m (excluding the additional climb of Streat Bostall).

SUITABLE FOR: Gravel/cyclocross, light hybrid, touring and road bikes (with a decent spread of low gears).

BIKE HIRE: You can hire reasonable hybrid bikes from Cycle Brighton, based just by Hove station (cycle-brighton.com); the seafront is signed from Hove station. Brighton Bike Share bikes are not recommended for this route, unless you are after a really masochistic challenge…

NEAREST STATIONS: Brighton (regular services to London mainline stations), or Hove.

ROUTE GUIDE

BRIGHTON

From Brighton station head via the North Laine onto the seafront, and then ride west past Hove Lagoon (windsurfing and Fat Boy Slim’s café) onto Basin Road South. This is the back of the Shoreham Port industries. You need to pass over the road marking saying ‘No cars and motorbikes’, before turning right towards the lock just a couple of yards before Gate 10.

SHOREHAM PORT

The locks are in regular use by commercial and leisure shipping, and you might face a short wait depending on river traffic. Now you’re officially in Southwick, which becomes Shoreham-by-Sea over the next mile or so. Our route on the NCN2 goes through the northern part of Shoreham, but nearer the Adur is a pretty old town with cafes, bike shops, and a shared foot/cycle bridge to Shoreham Beach. If you decide that the hills aren’t for you, keep going on the NCN2 to Worthing. The route crosses the start of the Downs link, which runs mainly off-road on an old railway line to Guildford. Cross the old toll bridge over the Adur (now foot/cycle only). Pass the corner of Shoreham Airport beneath the towering Lancing College Chapel, before the signalled crossing of the A27 into Coombes Lane. You cross the cable access point from Rampion offshore wind farm and the South Downs Way (SDW); if you join it to the right, it will take you to the Downs link again. Coombes Lane becomes Botolphs Lane, and you’re pretty much at the foot of Steyning Bostall.

STEYNING BOSTALL

A Bostal, or Bostall, is the rather modest Sussex dialect for ‘a small road leading up a hill’. There are two options up Steyning Bostal. The eastern option (east-west on the map) sees an initial climb followed by a flat section, a pretty steep middle section, then an easier final third before the top. The other route, to the west, is more brutal, kicking up hard without any real chance for recovery. The two routes join up about halfway up the hill. Either way, you’re up and over in less than ten minutes, half that if you’re a young racer. Now you’re turning round to head back via Steyning village and on to Bramber, Beeding and Fulking. At Poynings, wiggle upwards on a small, broken-surfaced lane, which saves time grinding up the main road. Watch out on the right turns here, first onto Saddlescombe Road and then the turnoff towards Devil’s Dyke —the largest dry valley of its kind in Europe.

DEVIL’S DYKE

You can return to Brighton from here; go back to Saddlescombe, go straight on and soon join NCN82. Otherwise enjoy a cracking downhill from the Dyke. You pass Rushfields Garden Centre and turn off at the Ginger Fox. Watch out for horses on New Way Lane. At the end of this tiny road, you may be able to see the Jack and Jill windmills above Clayton. Enjoy the ride along Underhill Road. If you want to do Streat Bostall but do not plan to use the SDW to get back to Ditchling Road, head straight across the bottom of Ditchling Bostall here.

DITCHLING BOSTALL

Ditchling Bostall is probably easier than you expect and it helps to understand it a little. The ascent is clearly stepped, until the road builders got bored halfway up and just dug the road straight up the hill. But the sharper bends on the lower reaches are unusually on a very mild incline; just hit that bottom gear and stick with it. There’s a car park at the top where you often find an ice cream van. You have options at this popular SDW crossing point. (1) continue along Ditchling Road to Stanmer Park, and back to Brighton, (2) return down Ditchling Bostall and head east to Streat Bostall, or (3) hang a left onto the SDW and head for Streat Bostall.

STREAT BOSTALL

Streat Bostall isn’t as long as Ditchling, but it is very steep, and the surface is not maintained. You’ll be fine on a hybrid or ‘gravel’ bike, as long as your gears don’t let you down. Then return to Ditchling Road along the SDW or head back down to Underhill Road. To enter Stanmer Park, you can either go about a mile along Ditchling Road and turn sharp left into the woods (hybrids/gravel bikes only), or go about two miles further until you reach the Lodge Cottages car park. Technically you’re now on a bridleway until joining Lewes Road to Brighton.

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