In my books, there’s no better way to spend a sunny bank holiday weekend than bikepacking a well-curated gravel route with a group of friends, and that’s exactly what I did during the Early May bank holiday.
The South Downs Way (SDW) was the route of choice for this mini adventure. The SDW is a 160km footpath and Bridleway that runs from Winchester to Eastbourne in the south of England. The route is very undulating, and is mostly a mixture of grass and chalky terrain. Five of us took to the route including this year’s Ultra Distance Scholarship winners Carla, Zara and Andy, the creator of the scholarship Taylor, and myself who is one of the mentors this year.
As with many good adventures, this one began with a greasy breakfast at Wetherspoons on Saturday morning. After filling our tummies with hash browns and baked beans (fuel for champions!), we were soon making our way along this pristine and picturesque route.
The bike of choice for all 5 of us was a gravel bike. We found that our frames provided the right amount of space to pack in all our sleeping gear and food for 3 days. Not wanting to rely heavily on finding shops along the route, we carried all the food and snacks we would need for the trip except for dinners. For evening meals, we were banking on stopping at that finest of Great British establishments - The Pub!
The route provided equal amounts of challenge and reward. The rolling hills made you work for it, but also rewarded you with remarkable views and enjoyable descents straight after. I particularly loved the constant changes in landscape; one moment we would be climbing up a grassy hill with uninterrupted panoramic views, and the next we were winding our way through a tree-lined forest path enjoying the brief respite from the beaming sunshine. Surrounded by such beautiful views, you really couldn’t help but take it nice and steady to soak it all in.
Just as our legs were starting to ache and our stomachs grumble, we found a lovely pub called The Blue Bell where we stuffed ourselves with fish & chips and cider! It was past 8pm by the time we had cleared our plates and we were too full and tired to want to cycle much further. To our relief, another cyclist at the pub let us know of a campsite not too far where we could all crawl to if needed and rest our tired legs.
Day 2 began with a gentle roll to one of the lovely cycling cafes on the route. The Cadence Cycles container cafe was a haven of hot drinks, pasties, cakes, and the best porridge ever! It seemed like loads of other cyclists doing the SDW had the same idea as us, and so we gathered in this cycle-friendly space sharing stories about the routes we were taking. The route continued to deliver, taking in views of Brighton and the sea in the distance, and going through ditchling Beacon. With the weather getting wetter towards the end of the day, we were relieved to have a roof to sleep under at the South Downs Youth Hostel.
With only 30km to go on day 3, we were already feeling nostalgic about the trip when we set off for the final push towards Eastbourne. Descending into Eastbourne being greeted by the view of the Seven Sisters cliffs was the ideal end to a perfect weekend. It’s a great feeling when the route, company and weather all align perfectly to give you that escape which feels longer than the 3 days, but in a good way!