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  • Jamie Shannon

A wet and windy road. Cycling to Brighton

Leaving Nottingham and with my gear properly washed, I headed out into the pelting rain of northern England. In the end it took me another hour and a half to just get out of the city. As I was heading along the road to Melton Mowbray, the sun started to shine and life was again good. The road had a bicycle path alongside it and I cycled on knowing that Brighton would be reached within days. I was very happy.

As I came to Melton Mowbray, I decided I would take the B road that led directly south, skirting Leicester, and ending in Market Harborough. This was to be a hugely difficult, winding and hilly road. The weather turned much worse, and with the hail raining down on me, it became increasingly difficult to peddle on.

With everything in life though, it all changed within the hour and the sun came out and it was a completely different story. What a difference an hour makes!

Later in the afternoon though, the wind became unbearable and was actually pushing me off the road. Once or twice I had to really try hard to correct myself to avoid falling straight into the ditch on my left. With this I decided to stop outside a farm to take a breather as it was just too dangerous to carry on. About five minutes later, a car pulled up and the lady inside asked me what I was doing. I told her that I needed a rest and also asked them if it was at all possible to put my tent up on their land, a little out of the way for the night. They then told me that it wasn’t their land but then asked me if I would like to sleep in the horse stables. They said they were clean and that the horses had been moved out a couple of weeks before and so I said yes with no hesitation.

With my sleeping bag out and my bags sorted, I decided it was also a good time to fix a couple of things on my bike, and at this moment, the lady came down from the flat she rented above and asked if I was hungry. I said I had food with me but when I heard she was cooking a roast dinner, I didn’t need much more persuading. And so it was that I found myself watching television a while later and eating the most delicious roast you could imagine. If I was still only near Nottingham and things like this were happening, what would ie in store in the future, only the gods knew…

Out of Northampton and having visited the bank, nothing much of note really happened. I cycled along some really beautiful stretches of road towards Milton Keynes and as it grew darker, found a quiet spot to camp for the evening in a small wooded area at the side of the road.

Waking up the next morning, I tried to get on my way quite early as I absolutely had to be in Brighton by Saturday. Things were running tight and I still had many hundreds of km’s to go. As I was heading south towards west London, the villages became larger and the weather better. This was always a good thing of course but I also knew that in the future, the heat would become unbearable in countries like Spain, Italy and certainly Iran thus I needed some preparation.

Coming past High Wycombe, I found myself once again on a hugely busy duel carriageway that, at the beginning, didn’t seem so busy. As I cycled down the slip road however, it became apparent that this would be challenge just to get to the end in one piece. It was rush hour, cars were travelling at 70mph and there was not one break in the traffic all the way along. Huge trucks would come flying past which sent me wobbling off balance in their slip stream. It was just too dangerous to carry on and so I decided to just get off the road in order to push my bike into the trees and settled down not knowing how I was going to get off the damned thing.

After an hour and a half, I pushed my bike back onto the embankment, and seeing it was still too busy to cycle, opted to instead to push my bike alongside it until I reached the next junction and an opportunity to get back onto the smaller roads. What a sight I must have looked.

A little later, I found myself in the lovely town of Marlow. West London was indeed quite pretty I thought. I was told by some locals that there was a much smaller road that led to Maidenhead but which first involved cycling up an extremely steep hill at the beginning. Once again, halfway up on another hill, I found the best camping spot ever in the most unlikely of places. Surrounded by tall trees and quite out of the way, it was just perfect. I was extremely happy to have found such a gem and immediately began to put up my tent.

I thought today, Friday, would most likely see me get to Guildford but thought if that was the case, then maybe I could indeed make it to Brighton. It would be an extremely long and hard day but If I could make it, I could relax a little before my friends party and be able to watch the football game too in the morning. These were big motivators for me and so it was that I got going at 07:00 in the morning. Twelve hours later I would be in Brighton and I couldn’t believe that I had made it.

Out of Windsor, the road was still very forgiving and beautifully shaded by the surrounding trees. From Ascot I took the smaller B roads that led all the way to Woking. I was even taking more photographs by this time as I was entering places I had never been to before.

By the time I arrived in Guildford, my front derailleur had ceased to shift to the smallest chain ring thus I had to push the bicycle a few times up rather steep inclines. Of course I could have fixed it but I was just in no mood to do so.

A few hours later and upon reaching Horsham, I was delighted to realise that Brighton wasn’t so far away and I afforded myself a long break where I drank an ice cold, well deserved cider, albeit in some drizzle. I couldn’t believe I would actually be able to do this. This would be my longest day ever and I was determined to make it count.

From Horsham I took a smaller A road that led directly south which introduced me to yet more hills. By this time my legs were giving up. The smallest little inclines proved difficult to conquer. It was really getting quite ridiculous. There’s an equation for this though; no food equals no energy. It’s very, very simple. I just didn’t have the time or the energy to make something filling and so I was surviving the day on Nutella sandwiches and yet, I pushed on through the South Downs.

It was a little while later that a miraculous thing happened; every road I cycled on seemed to slope downwards. Bend after bend introduced decline after decline and this is what kept me going for the duration of the afternoon. I was in heaven.

I cycled on and on until finally I met with the duel carriageway that I knew led directly into Brighton but which was also where I took a Brighton signposted cycle path. Within the hour I was knocking on my friends door thoroughly exhausted but immensely happy that I had succeeded where I didn’t think I would. I had never cycled 150 km’s in one day before and couldn’t believe I had done it now. It just goes to show that if you have a goal in mind, you really can push yourself beyond your limits. It’s a great feeling.

I had a few days in Brighton to enjoy including a house party, re-acquainting myself with many people I had not seen in a while and getting some well-deserved rest at the same time. I also bought a new rear wheel as the one I had was quite bald and would not stand up well in the wet.

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