THE VANITY OF VANITIES: UCX UP THE RING

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The usual White Chalk Hills UCX caveats apply.

Jo Burt writes:

We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

100 has become the default number for Hard, 100 miles on the road, 100 kilometres off-road, both a nice easy round number to remember and brag, a shorthand to impress, A Century represents something, which is why this edition of White Chalk Hills UCX is longer at 120km. Glorious.

The ride starts at the statue of St Cuthmann in Steyning, a man who knew something about futility as he spent a while carrying his mother about in a wheelbarrow. From here it’s not long before the ride strikes uphill. This will be the theme of the day with about 2,100 metres of climbing all in, if that sort of thing tickles your statistics.

Elevation Profile

Elevation Profile

You’re going to be taken up the ring twice; Cissbury and Chanctonbury, hill forts designed to be easy to defend and hard to attack, circles of trees, curious remarkable places clouded with history, myth, witchcraft and black dogs. But if you think being taken up the ring is going to hurt then you’d be wrong, they’re just climbs. It’s the bostals that are going to break you. Steep paths up the sharp face of the Downs that take the shortest quickest way to the top for pragmatic reasons – to drive sheep, farm machinery and at times tanks and artillery onto the hill. There’s half a dozen or so of them to surmount.

The route heads west of Steyning initially to breach both rings before looping back on itself to strike out east all the way across to Lewes which is where the bostals come into play, after which you turn into the wind for the long haul back to the pub that’s half a day and a few hundred metres from where you began. It’s a long flat sideways chewed sausage figure-of-eight ride, forced into that shape because of the lie of the land, the Downs being a 100 mile thin band of hills protecting Sussex from the sea, despite the Devil’s best attempts. Characterised by sloping gently to the south but with an acute north facing escarpment you’ll experience both styles of climb and descent, frequently, continually, over grass, chalk, flint, dirt, concrete and tarmac. Effort will be repaid several times over though with resounding stretches of quiet, vast expanses of sky the size of a skylark, and shady secret ways through the trees with dark secret pasts. Recover your energies by pausing in one of the many pubs that rest along the way, drink in the spirit of the hills that are trying to steal yours with a beer brewed in the shadow of the Downs; Truleigh Gold and Devil’s Dyke, hills and ales both, or a pull of Harveys that’s Sussex in a pint. As a rule these stops are always followed by an ascent of penance, or if you’ve had two pints, shame.

Photo Credit: Jo Burt

Photo Credit: Jo Burt

We choose to do these things not because they are worthwhile, but because they are futile, because that goal will serve to sap and waste the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are foolish to accept, one we would rather leave till later, and one which we intend to lose.

Poster image of Chanctonbury Ring courtesy of Gavin Peacock

Poster Design by Lois May-Miller