A London to Brighton Cycle Adventure - 3 days
Updated: Mar 13
I don't need to go into what a year 2020 was, it affected us all in different ways, but in September I found myself craving the open road (cycle path in this case) and planned a 3-day round trip down to the south coast and back.
I was suitably impressed with my previous National Cycle Network adventure back in March of 2020, that I decided to plan another trip on these excellent trails, this time it was numbers 2, 21, 22 & 223.
Having packed the bike up the night before, all that was left to do was say my goodbye’s to the family, grab the bike and go. The first part of the cycle route was purely my own, taking me away from Sutton train station, over the M25 and on to East Grinstead on bridal paths and quiet country lanes. I arrived at East Grinstead around midday, planning to grab something to eat for lunch and also for my evening meal. The latter was in the form of a Wayfayrer meal purchased from a Millets camping store that I'd pre-arranged to collect the day before. I don’t really like leaving my bike unattended with all its bags, lights and other paraphernalia so a convenient Costa Coffee next to the start of the Bluebell Railway provided suitable outside lunchtime eating.
I picked up NCN route 21, otherwise known as The Forest Trail, just outside the town and headed due south for what would be the remainder of the day. For the main, this trail is a disused railway, its tracks having long since been removed, turning it into a superb dedicated cycle path. The surface was made up of finely crushed stone, a little worn in places but generally in good repair. It made for fast off-road riding and easy navigation through farmers fields and autumnal woodland. The route flits on and off of the old rail line south of Eridge Green until it starts again in earnest as the Cuckoo Trail at Heathfield.
Horam Manor Country Park campsite was good. Its main custom would appear to be caravans – making my tarp set up, nestled in between them look quite comical – but the ground was flat and it had excellent toilet and wash facilities.
After a delicious chicken curry Wayfayrer meal followed by sticky toffee pudding, the pub beckoned. Lakeside Horum (pub) was closed due to Covid so a five minute walk brought me to the May Garland Inn. I’d noted the relatively low 3.7 star Google rating this pub had whilst planning my trip but I actually quite liked the place. It had good service, a cheery bar lady and they had no problem with me charging up my various electronic gadgets whilst enjoying a pint or two. I'd recommend it.
I like to get going early in the morning (although it takes me an age to pack up…) and stop for breakfast / brunch slightly later. So after gobbling down a trail bar first thing I was happy to push on a few miles before considering something more hearty. The remainder of the old rail line quickly ushered me onwards, quickly arriving at the coast and the aptly named seaside town of Seaford. Contrary to the traditional London to Brighton route, this particular trail and the one I’d use at Shoreham-by-sea conveniently use the natural gaps in the South Downs making crossing this small but not insignificant hill range somewhat easier.
I joined the eastern part of NCN route 2 at Seaford, the same route I’d ridden the western part of back in March. Most of this section is tarmac, starting with the aptly named “Seaford exercise path”, so again progress was good. And little did I know that delaying breakfast on this occasion was saving up for a real treat. As I hit the very western end of Brighton I came across The Whitecliffs Café, a chic establishment selling every delectable morsel you could wish for, be that a savory snack or chocolatey pudding.
After munching my way through a full English breakfast pasty and saving half my chocolate brownie for later, I joined the sea wall cycle way which passes along the base of the towering chalk cliffs for an easy ride into Brighton. I say it was an easy ride, and it would be normally if it wasn't for the niggling pain I had in my left knee... Brighton’s best explored on foot so I passed through reasonably quickly via the dedicated cycle way taking me out towards Shoreham's shore side industrial area and power station.
My coast route turned north at Shoreham-by-sea, away from NCN 2, over the South Downs and onto NCN 223 – The Downs Link. I’ve cycled this trail a number of times before, the last was in the Summer of 2019 with my family on a two-day cycle adventure. It’s another great cycle path, formerly a rail line from Guildford to Shoreham-by-sea with miles of traffic free, reasonably flat terrain. A final push up over the South Downs to Steyning, saw me arrive - somewhat later than I had planned - at Blacklands Farm Campsite, just north of Henfield.
A request to campsite owners – please put more tables and seats around your sites for the likes of us that can’t carry them around with us! Sitting and cooking your dinner on a muddy field just isn’t that pleasant. However, I’m pleased to say that Blackland’s has picnic benches dotted around, so I bagged one to use for my shelter and to sort my gear. Heaven! Dinner was a treat, a deliciously creamy fish pie at the Wheatsheaf pub a short walk up the road.
I’ve always taken slightly longer than most to get my kit packed up in the morning. I like to have everything neatly folded and stowed away, whether that’s my rucksack for a weekend hiking or my dry bags for a canoeing trip, it just takes time! Also my knee hadn’t got any better and I was in two minds whether to push on. As ever, optimism prevailed and I was back on the bike and heading out to pick up the Downs Link trail once again. My “breakfast later” mindset really paid off this time as, not ten minutes later, the smell of bacon wafted across the road just as I was set to re-join NCN 223.
Sausage butty and coffee consumed, and a brief chat with a couple of riders that belonged to a Dorking MTB club, left me fueled and raring to hit the trail. The route was once again easy – a straight cycle path with a few interesting villages and cafés en-route if you’re in need of a mid ride snack. I’d collected sloe berries at the end of August (perhaps a little too early) during a family camp, but if your looking for a good crop then this route has bushes full of them! (I’ve just made three lip smacking batches of sloe gin, but more on that at another time…)
I turned off NCN 223 at Shamley Green and stopped for lunch. My knee was in a bad way at this point – I tore one of my knee ligaments a few years ago and it took four months to heal – so I made the disappointing decision to call out the calvary (my wife with the car) a few miles further down the route. I’m ever the optimist and probably would have ridden all the way home only to find myself booked into the osteopath and cycling well and truly off the cards for the next few months if I'd continued. I met my wife in Shere, just outside Guildford at around 2pm, packed up the bike and headed home.
I guess I was slightly disappointed with the outcome of the day but ultimately wholly satisfied with the overall trip. It had certainly reset the stress-o’meter and combined a number of previously ridden cycle ways into an awesome 3 day adventure. It’s definitely one I’ll do again, perhaps with friends as I now know the route works well. Easy riding along great paths, with good campsites and plenty of excellent places to stop and eat. Perfect!
150miles (240km), 3000m total ascent - approx.
The route starts and finishes at Sutton Station, SM1 1DE, which has plenty of great rail connections.
Day 1 – 51 miles (85km), 1250m ascent - Sutton, Coulsdon, Bletchingley, East Grinstead, Eridge Green, Rotherfield, Mayfield, Heathfield, Horam.
Day 2 – 52 miles (89km) 850m ascent – Horam, Hailsham, Polegate, Seaford, Newhaven, Brighton, Shoreham-by-sea, Steyning, Henfield.
Day 3 – 47 miles (82km), 950m ascent – Henfield, Horsham, Cranleigh, Gomshall, Dorking, Epsom, Ewell, Sutton
Day 1 – Horam Manor Country Park, Horam, Healthfield, East-Sussex – TN21 0YD https://horammanorcountrypark.com/
Day 2 – Blacklands Farm, Wheatsheaf Road (B2116), Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9AT https://www.blacklandsfarm.co.uk/
May Garland Inn, Horam, Heathfield, East Sussex, N21 0LJ. https://maygarlandinn.co.uk/
The Whitecliffs café, Marine Drive Saltdean, Brighton BN2 8SQ
The Wheatsheaf, Wheatsheaf road, Woodmancote, Henfield, West Sussex, BN5 9BD. https://www.thewheatsheafhenfield.co.uk/
Cat and Canary Pub breakfast café. Upper Station Rd, Henfield BN5 9PJ. (I couldn’t find a website for this establishment, but it's literally to the left of the pub at the back of the open seating area.)
Specialized CrossTrail “Adventure Bike” running Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 35c tyres
Self made bikepacking bags (using Sea to Summit dry bags) – 15ltr bar bag, 2 x 8ltr rear bags. Waist pack.
Sleeping: Tarp, Bug bivi, sleeping bag, inflatable mattress and pillow
Cycling clothes: Helmet, gloves, glasses, cycling shoes, padded cycling shorts, zip off trousers, wool t-shirt, short sleeve shirt, windproof smock.
Spare clothes: Down gilet, zip off trouser legs, socks, underwear, waterproof jacket
Wash kit and first aid items
Collapsible seat and sit mat
Stove, pot, gas, food
Head torch, multitool
GoPro, GPS, battery, cables
Bike lock, lights, 2 x 1ltr water bottles
Bike tools, innertube, pump
Any good Gravel, Hybrid or Mountain bike would be suitable for these routes, something with a reasonably wide tyre with some off-road grip. I wouldn’t personally take a road bike as the terrain is really not suitable.
After I’d booked my camping arrangements for Horam, I stumbled across the “Runt in a Tun” pub in Maynards Green, a few miles up the road from Horam. It had good reviews and also offered camping in a field at the back. There's just something about rolling out of the pub and straight into your tent... Unfortunately, a non-refundable booking fee at Horam Manor campsite kept me to my original plans, but if I did this route again I’d definitely give this place a go. Runt in a Tun - Hailsham Road, Maynards Green, Heathfield, East Sussex, TN21 0DJ. http://www.runtintun.co.uk/16334.html
The attachment below is a .gpx file of the entire route without detours for overnight stops. Please feel free to download and modify to suit your own adventure accordingly.