Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 2 (Mad Dogs and Englishmen)

Day 2 - East Grinstead to Newhaven (May 3rd, 2015)
52 miles +/-, 2728' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

The morning of Day 2 seemed to arrive very quickly, and a quick peak through the curtains revealed a misty, damp scene with intermittent downpours - there was the England I remembered. Since the route for today was a little longer, with hills in the mix, off-road sections, and potentially some bike n' hiking, we had no option but to head out into the rain.

Before tackling the weather on bicycle though, we needed some fuel, a breakfast of champions was in order, well a breakfast for 3 thrifty cyclists anyway. The Golden Arches glowed like a beacon through the mist, and breakfast muffins and hot coffee hit the spot.

Light drizzle was still in the air when we got back to the B&B, the forecast was for gradual clearing as the day went on though, there was a glimmer of hope we'd see the sun. We were all thankful at this point that we decided to pack heavier duty rain jackets, and helmet covers!. So panniers all loaded up again, rain covers installed, and off we set into the rain towards Forest Way. Forest way was the first of 2 rail trails we would travel along on Day 2; we were thankful for the tree lined trail providing some shelter from the rain, and for the only traffic being trail runners.

Forest Way ended after 10 miles at Groombridge. The route between here and the Cuckoo trail would take us over Dale and Vale on quiet country roads, and the odd interesting "Bridleway"  - which barely were suitable for horses let alone bikes, in fact with the rain a boat may of been more suitable along one section.

Steam railway at Eridge station
NCN route 21 - hmmm
Misty and damp on top of the hills

The further south we headed the drier the weather got, the storm had passed over!. The Cuckoo trail began in the town of Heathfield, and was at about 24 miles into our Day 2 ride. The Cuckoo trail is a beautiful rail trail, and one of the most popular trails in Southeast England. For us, it was a much welcomed break from all the rolling hills.

Artwork along the old rail bridges of the Cuckoo Trail

Beautiful lush woodland scenery along the Cuckoo Trail

The Avenue Verte route stays on the Cuckoo trail for about 10 miles, we longed for more of that trail when we reached the split between NCN 21 and NCN 2, especially as we feared more hills were between us and the coast. There was a nice surprise though at mile 38, the Arlington Tea Rooms greeted us like a big warm cozy duvet. We sipped on a much needed pot of tea and a devoured a cream tea (Scone with jam and cream). The sun even began to peak out, we all of a sudden had a surge of new energy.

Arlington Tea Gardens

The portion of the route from Arlington to the coast was glorious, the route stayed on quiet roads following NCN 2. The views of the South Downs were a little intimidating from a distance, but much to our pleasure NCN 2 followed the river valley through the Downs, and saved us from anymore big climbs.

Wonderful old Pack Horse bridge

Reaching the coast was our first major milestone of this adventure, the glimpse of the English Channel appeared at around mile 45 by the Seven Sisters Country Park. We crossed over the Cuckmere river, then the official route proceeded to take another off-road excursion, this time through a grass sheep field. By this point we were starting to wonder, if the route had been conceived one late night in a pub, under the influence of many adult beverages. After climbing slowly up the grassy field, we were once again back on a road, the official route took a right turn towards Seaford and Newhaven, but in front of us lay a big steep hill (only a mile detour). With new found enthusiasm again, we decided to tackle the hill on the off chance the view from the top would be worth it. Well the view from the top was more than worth it, and possibly THE standout moment of the whole trip. The view to the Seven Sisters Cliffs was unbelievable, and the sun appeared right then and there as if it was waiting for "us" to reach the coastline.

Seven Sisters

We made it to the coast

After the fun and fast descent down the hill we had taken a detour up, we were back on the official route and hugging the coast on a great separated bike lane through Seaford and then onto Newhaven, our departure point from England.

We arrived in Newhaven with a few hours to spare, so familiarized ourselves with the ferry terminal, then went on the hunt for dinner. Finding dinner in Newhaven is no easy task, about the only choices are one Italian restaurant, a Kebab shop, Pub or a Sainsbury's Petrol station. John aka The Kebab kid, opted for you guessed it, a Kebab, and soon became the envy of all the other cyclists awaiting departure. 

The Kebab Kid

Pete and myself opted for the safe bet, a Sainsbury's sandwich, after all kebabs and sharing a VERY small cabin do not always work out well. 

Checking in for the Ferry was super easy, and boarding was equally painless; you ride on, strap your bike up, and C'est Tout. Awaiting the crossing with us were a group of friendly cyclists riding for an MS charity, and a solo cyclist "Mike" riding from the UK to Croatia, check out his own Blog.

We had booked a cabin on the Ferry, thinking we'd get at least 4 hours sleep between Newhaven and Dieppe, that calculation was off by a country mile. We slogged down a Cider waiting for the ferry to depart port, then turned in for the night. My guess is we got 1.5-2 hrs sleep, before being unsuspectingly awoken by techno dance music being piped through the speakers - abruptly followed by a banging on the cabin door by a member of the crew, who we had named "Hong Kong Phooey".

Day 3 arrived VERY quickly. Link to DAY 3

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