Taking advantage of my week of work staycation in July and the decent weather we were having I decided to cash in several brownie points accumulated this year and have a decent explore around East Sussex. I ended up with my longest ride of 2020, which was also my longest ever ride to date, this was a ride that consisted of 1 Abbey, 3 castles, 1 tower, 1 Observatory and a Mermaid (Street)!
There was no official plan for this trip, I only have a vague idea of where I was going and would be making it up on the fly. Coffee drunk, breakfast consumed, I set about filling my bidons and organising snacks and lunch for the trip, all loaded in my newest purchase a Carriadice Pendle saddlebag.
I set off heading out of Eastbourne towards Pevensey Castle, whose ruins stand on what was once a peninsula projecting from the Sussex coast. This naturally defensible site, first fortified by the Romans, was most famously the place where the Norman Conquest of England began when William the Conqueror landed there on 28 September 1066. He built temporary defences at Pevensey, probably within the Roman fort, and later a great medieval castle developed inside its walls.
After Pevensey followed the road to Wartling and Herstmonceux, with the first climb of the day, stopping to get a photo of the Observatory on the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle. When the Royal Observatory had been founded in 1675, Greenwich had been a village in open countryside, several miles outside London. With the growth of the capital, however, the area became urbanised and gradually deteriorated as an observational site. Smoke from factories and houses, along with mercury vapour street lighting, meant that by the end of the second world war, the only option was for the Admiralty, which in those days was responsible for the running of the Observatory, to re-locate it. After what is described as ‘extensive investigations’ Herstmonceux in Sussex, ten miles north of the resort of Eastbourne, was selected as its new home. Because of the importance of the establishment, and the fame of Greenwich, it was renamed the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Virtually all new observatories have been sited on mountain tops, where the ‘seeing’ qualities are excellent and the number of clear nights per year is far greater than at lower levels. By contrast, Herstmonceux is nearly at sea level and lies adjacent to marshland, the mists from which sometimes made observing a problem.
Herstmonceux Castle was one of the first large brick buildings in the country. The name is derived from the Saxon word ‘herste’ meaning ‘a clearing in the woods and by which name both the manor and the family which lived there was known. A marriage between the de Herst and the de Monceux families in the twelfth century gave us the present name of Herstmonceux. Originally constructed in 1441, the castle fell into decay and the interior was gutted in 1777. The ruins became a popular attraction until acquired by Colonel Lowther who began the reconstruction and renovation of the interior in 1911. The castle later passed into the hands of Sir Paul Latham who completed the restoration. Once purchased by the Admiralty, it became the home for the Observatory.
Continuing to climb up and onto the A269 and the fast downhill of Boreham Hill then climbing once again onto Standard Hill. I turned left onto the A271 Kitchenham Road, past the signs for Ashburnham Place and the Orangery heading downhill at last to Battle. Stopping at Mrs Burton’s Restaurant and Tearoom for a cup of black coffee and wholemeal toast smothered in marmalade, sitting outside in the glorious sunshine in front of Battle Abbey, where on October 14th 1066 the battle of Hastings (as it became known) was fought. The Benedictine abbey of Battle was founded and largely endowed by King William in about 1071. Dedicated to the Trinity, the Virgin and St Martin of Tours, it was established as a memorial to the dead of the battle and as atonement for the bloodshed of the Conquest. It was also a highly visible symbol of the piety, power and authority of the Norman rulers. Despite the unsuitable location on top of a narrow, waterless ridge and objections from the first monks, William insisted that the high altar of the abbey church be placed to mark where Harold had been killed. When the new church was consecrated in 1094 in the presence of William II (reigned 1087–1100) and the Archbishop of Canterbury, it was one of the richest religious houses in England.
As I munched on my toast I pondered on where to go next, I know I thought to myself, Bodiam Castle. Turning right off Battle’s main street onto Mount Street and straight on at Caldbec Hill, this would be the start of the serious climbing section of the trip (although there would be one horrendously long hill later on after Rye, that I was not looking forward to). Some of the local cyclists I had been talking to at the Tearooms in Battle called this area the Sussex Alps, whilst not as forbidding as the Yorkshire Dales hills from 2019’s Pub-2-Pub (Way of the Roses, Bridlington to Morecambe), these were short and steep and I ran out of gears and legs in several places. Crossing the A21 I wound my way through the quiet back roads, I crested another steep hill and looked down the valley towards my destination. Originally built in 1385, Bodiam Castle has spent centuries as one of the best-loved and best-known castles in England. The castle was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, who is known to have once been a knight of Edward III. With his knowledge of battles, he designed the castle with the intention of defending a possible invasion by the French, during The Hundred Years Wars.
Taking advantage of the facilities at Castle View cafe, I topped up my bottles and then had a short wander up the car park to view the Castle and its impressive moat. It was crunch time, it was too early for lunch and I needed to consider the route I would be taking to get to Rye. I decided that I would just follow the lanes and turn randomly at each junction I came to, as long as I was travelling in the general direction I would be fine. I passed through one hidden sleepy little village after another, eventually picking up the A268 at Peasmarsh, passing through Bowlers Town I headed to Rye, thankfully it would be mostly downhill as I was now starting the get hungry and the thought of the food I had in my saddlebag was getting to me.
Pausing to take a picture at the walled gated entrance to the town of Rye, which is considered one of the finest of the Cinque Ports, which is an association of ports on the SE coast of England, originally consisting of Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich, which from late Anglo-Saxon times provided ships for the king’s service in return for the profits of justice in their courts.
I headed up the High Street to Ypres Tower, in 1430 the tower became the property of John de Iprys; which lead to the name Ypres Tower. In the 16th century, it was used as a prison and courthouse. The tower was damaged during air raids in World War 2 and has been repaired and restored since then. I had planned to have my lunch in the shadow of the tower but there were too many people wandering around. I turned my bike around back to High Street, pausing once more at the bottom of Mermaid Street I took another picture and then continued to the harbour carpark. Quickly unpacking my lunch from the saddlebag I stuffed my face with homemade chunky beef chilli and rice, wonderfully still hot thanks to my trusty Stanley food pot, cherry tomatoes, carrot stick and mini babybel cheese.
The long-distance National Cycle Route 2 passes through Rye and I would be following it back to Eastbourne, leaving Rye following the cycle route on the A259 I shortly turned left at the aptly named Sea Road towards Winchelsea Beach. Joining Pett Level Road I soon encountered traffic issues, due to the road being extremely narrow and daytrippers had flocked to the seaside in their droves, there were cars parked everywhere from Winchelsea Beach to Pett Level Beach. It was traffic chaos! due to the parked vehicles sometimes on both sides of the road, there was only room left for single file traffic, and for every vehicle leaving there was two wanting the empty parking space, I had a few close calls with vehicles trying to overtake me, or coming headlong towards me.
Thankfully the traffic issues eased as I moved slightly inland after Pett Level Beach, Although I was not looking forward to the next bit of the ride, ahead of me was Battery Hill, which is as my Myrtle would call a forever hill! It wasn’t long before I was off my bike and pushing slowly up, and up, and up, the day was getting hotter and I was almost out of water. Finally, I got to the top and could re-mount, I knew that the NCN2 went through Hastings Country Park, I turned left at the first sign, thinking I was on the right path, unfortunately, I soon came to a dead-end and had to turn around and head back to the road, I soon saw the cycle route marker not far from my wrong turn.
Coming out of Hastings Country Park I was rewarded with a long descent down to Hastings Old Town and the pleasure beach, stopping at one of the snack shops I topped up my water bottles. Hastings has a shared cycle path and promenade that runs from the Old Town down to St Leonards, although I stuck to the A259 as whilst the cycle lane is segregated the promenade was extremely crowded with pedestrians and cyclists.
I left the A259 at St Leonards to continue on the NCN2 path that runs next to the sea to Bexhill, heading up Galley Hill I paused at the viewpoint to look down over Bexhill town, which was where British motorsport was born, there is a small museum near the clock tower that is dedicated to this. Bexhill is also home to the stunning art deco De La Warr Pavilion. Following West Parade I pass the Sovereign Light Cafe, made famous by the band Keane.
Turning left after Cooden Beach Hotel onto Herbrand Walk and shortly passed Normans Bay where the Normans landed in 1066. skirting around Sovereign Harbour and onto the start of Eastbourne’s beachfront at Langney Point. I stop at a little ice cream hut next to the Sovereign Treatment Works ( known locally as ‘Poo Palace’) which was built in the style of a redoubt style fort, treating myself to a cold bottle of diet cola (other fizzy drinks was available) and an ice lolly before the final push home.
Zipping up Royal Parade past the pier, the bandstand and the 5 star Grand Hotel ( the only 5-star hotel by the sea in Sussex, often referred to as ‘ a palace by the sea’) I was surprised by how much energy I had left, my legs felt fresh full of vigour, mmm should I push on and try for 100 miles, no this would mean having to loop around and past home. I climbed King Edwards Parade towards Holywell, turned right into Meads, following the road round I head up the final climb on Paradise Drive. passing The Royal Eastbourne Golf Club after another 5 minutes I pulled up outside the rear of my house.