1066 UCX RECONNAISANCE

Words by Sam Winter

All Photographs by Kris Fowler (nicked off Facebook without permission)

After the success of our inaugural White Chalk Hills UCX ride and a growing momentum for all things Cyclocross, we have been chomping at the bit to create more rides, and with Sussex as our playground it was clear we needed to do something that tied in with the history of the county.

I couldn’t think much further than the Norman conquest of England so after a little refresh of my history and a lot of cross-referencing OS maps with goggle earth and discussions over beer we have almost nailed our pennons to the mast and have a route for 1066 UCX.

Kris and his GPS kindly agreed to come and ride parts of the route with me last week on what turned out to be a grey and overcast day – the sun only braking the cloud on a couple of occasions. That said it still made for a cracking day of riding.

The route starts with a sharp climb over the South Downs before dropping back down to sea level as you join the 1066 country walk along the Pevensey Marshes (as ridden by William II’Duke of Normandy back in September 1066). Soon reaching the Low Weald you start to climb again past the iconic HerstmonceuxCastle and weathered green domes of the once royal observatory.

The route cuts away from the route taken by the old Bastard and instead takes a course towards the High Weald thorough broken woodland, stream crossings, grassland and rolling road climbs passing through ‘Mad Jack’ country (ed. if ever there was a man that encapsulates VAINGLORIOUS | FUTILE it is John Fuller) and one of John Fuller’s vanity projects; the old observatory at Brightling (ed. John Fuller, with his patronage of the science and the arts and the follies dotted around this part of Sussex, would have been alright if it wasn’t for his vehement support of slavery and the slave trade). It is here we draw quick breath before a hair raising descent though muddy-logging roads in the pine filled forest around Woods corner then the final off road slog to spectacular views overlooking the Darwell Reservoir and a couple of other treats! From here you cut back towards the smooth black stuff and roll into Battle the site of Harold’s infamous demise.

On then, on a final homeward bound on a short off road bridle way, skirting Senlac Hill before beating a hasty retreat to the coast, passing through Catsfield, Hooe and Wartling before exiting the Weald and joining the Pevensey Marshes again with Eastbourne and a well-earned beer on the horizon.

Kris summed it up beautifully:

‘Subject to a few tweaks and adjustments it encompasses everything a ‘cross ride should – grassy marsh sections with great views of Herstmonceux castle and observatory, some technical rocky ups and downs in the woods, fast, refreshing road sections, a couple of stream crossings, some tricky to ride and muddy forest slogs and some great views to reward the climbing, all while revealing parts of Sussex that you never knew existed.’

What we have learnt is that I should have brought a long a couple more Marmalade sandwiches (the Graham Obree approach to nutrition) as the constant change of terrain is sapping. There were ‘a few tweaks and adjustments’  needed – this refers to a track that was out of bounds and a short section of woodland that was almost impassable – We both have the battle scars from all the brambles to show for it. That said these have since been ironed out and I have a bucket of Marmalade ready for the real thing. In short we have a truly refreshing route on our hands that shows off Sussex in a light seldom seen.

So with the battle-ground set we have a casual Norman Invasion ahead.

Link to the course http://bikeroutetoaster.com/Course.aspx?course=509374