Greatest Cycling Climbs No.22 - Ditchling Beacon
Simon Warren has very kindly provided 100 hills any (road) cyclist worth their salt should attempt. I'm slowly working my way through the list and this next account details my ascent of another local-to-me summit, the well known Ditchling Beacon. I say well known because for the thousands of folks who participate in the London to Brighton bike ride held every June, the Beacon provides the last test before they reach their destination. I cannot claim to ride the Beacon regularly - no where near as often as the Steyning Bostal road, but it always presents a challenge. Even coming down it can be quite hairy. Of course it's windy, but on the descent about 3 turns in there's a bend on an adverse camber that nearly always catches me out. Something about going to fast and "thinking it will be fine." It usually involves an uncomfortably close encounter with the centre of the road and/or climbing traffic and me thinking "That was close".
The Beacon was always going to be the subject of this particular ride, but due to its location (and a dollop of local knowledge), I knew it would provide a stiff but not not impossible 'high point' during a reasonable run out. I began my ride with Swazy and headed East from home through Brighton and along the coast. The wind was against us all the way and I was happy to change direction by the time we reached Newhaven. From here we headed North towards the Sussex County town of Lewes. The route took us past Piddinghoe (where I sailed on the pond, sorry, lake, when I was at Secondary School) then Rodmell and on towards Lewes. The road was undulating and provided a nice test for the legs. You can sustain decent rolling speed here with the type of inclines that if you attack them you can ride over without changing gear (I'm hoping to put this tactic to good effect when I compete in my first triathlon in June). We got to Lewes without drama, climbed up to the prison cross-roads and continued to head North to Hamsey and Chailey. Not long afterwards we took a hanger left and began to trek back West - into Beacon territory. After a few clicks we joined 'Underhill Lane' which traverses the foot of the Downs, clearly visible on your left.
It wasn't long before we came to the junction that denoted we had arrived - well, at the Beacon at least! I decided to plump for the lowest gear and just sit and grind the pace out. I wasn't going to break any records but the plan was to keep it steady and ignore both of the false brows until I did eventually make it to the top. This proved to be a decent tactic. Whilst there are a couple of places where the incline stings alittle, in general the climb was pretty manageable. Simon comments in his book, be careful of the gutter and it was good good advice. I was keen to avoid the litter and general road detritus that had accumulated there, made slightly harder by the combination of ample tree cover and failing light. I continued upwards and fortunately there was little traffic. I've experienced some interesting overtaking moves by car drivers bored of hanging around me in first gear behind me. The tree cover broke and the view, as usual, was worth the slog to the top. We had been blessed with a fine evening ride. I'm not sure how far you can see from the top, but let's just put it in the 'commanding views' category. Certainly, you can see a good way into the Sussex interior.
My favourite part of climbing the Beacon though is the hack towards Brighton afterwards. We tanked it down to Carden Avenue with the wind with us, taking full advantage the descent gave our legs. Another comparatively minor climb later and we were nearly home. A fine ride made better by the taming of the beacon......until next time.
Words, thumbnail and slider Image - bikebritain Ltd
Additional detail - 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs by Simon Warren, Published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, 2010
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