Jungle-biking on the Sooth Doons

Sorry about the irritating heading. I suppose it should read: Mountain-biking on the South Downs, which incidentally is the title of my forthcoming guidebook for Cicerone Press. Well, I say forthcoming when we’re actually looking at next May-ish. Anyway, the term ‘jungle-biking’ was coined by the lovely Andy Rayment – he of the Brighton-based bike shop dynasty. I like the irreverence of the term and the fact that it’s as accurate a description of what you’re actually getting up to on the Downs with a bicycle as ‘mountain-biking’. Especially when you’re steaming around the environs of Arundel – as I was today. The Sooth Doons thing is a side-effect of my having lived in Scotland these past four years. Comedy Scot’s accents have been a great way of depleting my already tiny reserves of Scottish friends, but I just can’t seem to stop it…

Any road, I’ve been down among the Downs in very sunny Sussex for the past couple of months, ostensibly researching routes for the guide, and I’ve had a fantastic time revisiting many favourite Downland coombes and  ridges and discovering a few new routes in the process. The late onset of summer and the glorious weather have dovetailed perfectly with my research trip and I can hardly get over how wonderfully beautiful these understated, green rolling hills are. Living in Glasgow, we’re in striking distance of some truly grand landscapes, which I thoroughly appreciate , but there is something special about the green hills of my former home. Oh, and the jungle-biking is absolutely fantastic in these parts. There are literally thousands of kilometres of bridleways and byways available for mountain-bikers to take advantage of – making for a seemingly inexhaustible range of possible routes.

Anyway, here’s some pics:

Many of the above pictures feature my old mate, Andy Dodd (as well as his fiancee, Jen) who has been accompanying me on a few of the ‘research’ rides. We’ve been riding together on the Downs for a good few years and it’s been great to have his enthusiasm and never-say-die attitude onboard.

I first started mountain-biking when I was about twenty, nearly a quarter-century ago (eek!), my first MTB was a Muddy Fox Courier and on that rather untrustworthy steed I really got to know the eastern Downs like the back of my hand. It was the start of a life-long love both for jungle-biking and the flint-studded chalk bridleways and ‘whale-backed, bow-headed’ Downs. Many years later, I’m riding my slightly battered six year-old Stumpjumper (just fitted with disco brakes!) and my love of the Downs is just as strong as it ever was.

If you chance on this post and you happen to have some good images of mountain-biking on the South Downs that you might like to see published in a guide by the UK’s leading outdoor pursuits guidebook publisher, then let me know here at writesofway. Can’t pay you for them, but any images used will be credited and you can enjoy seeing them in print!


9 responses

  1. Lovely post, Pete. Always a joy to see images of those rolling, and yes, understated, hills. I’m interested in your juxtaposition of the grand, Scottish mountains with the gentle, undulating Downs. In ‘The Wild Places,’ Robert Macfarlane begins with the desire to journey to the most remote regions of Scotland in search of the wild. By the end of the book he’s come to see that the wild can occur in far more prosaic places. In fact Essex becomes his destination of choice! But your return to the Downs reminded me of the book because we all have landscapes that appeal and speak to us in different ways. And that it’s not always in synch with the vastness of its vistas. Your deep relationship with those green hills is an obvious one; it’s reflected in the comfortable and intimate style of your writing. Thoroughly enjoyable. May the long summer last on those green remembered hils…

    • Wow! I should get you to write my posts for me – your comments are always much more insightful and interesting than the posts themselves!

      I think you’ve got it exactly right about the connections we make with particular places and we often form a profound attachment to the ‘green remembered hills’ of home.

      I’m not sure about Bobby Macfarlane, having read ‘Mountains of the Mind’ and a few interviews. I think I was horrified at the thought of him writing a biog of W G Sebald. However, that’s a very good point about ‘wild places’ not necessarily being in far-flung remote corners. I should give his ‘The Wild Places’ book a read.

      • I wish that I had a profound attachment to the ‘green remembered hills of home’, coming from Suffolk it is difficult to become attached to the landscape there, unless you like ploughed fields. Villages are pretty though…………

      • I’m a bit of a fan of Macfarlane’s work. I liked his elegant approach to landscape in Mountains of the Mind very much. He also did a great series of essays for the Guardian some years ago that dealt with various other writers’ sense of place. I shamelessly confess to looking forward to the Sebald book; the coupling of two wanderers has possibility. But we’ll see…

  2. I think that the south Downs are the only hill range that I would need to get a map out to locate. I assume they are down south, but where are the north downs, as I beleive that these are not up north?! looks a little like a chalky version of the white peak without the drystone walls. Mountain biking looks far too exciting to me. Although have fancied getting one to lug a trailer load of coal into a remote bothy to spend a week pottering around in the wilds.

    • Come on James, I know you’re from Norfolk, it’s not that far away! The South Downs are a fine range of hills and make for excellent walking and montain-biking country. Though I think you might find the place a bit busy at times.

      Mountain-biking is definitely far too exciting and as a result I’ve broken a few bones over the years. I like the MTB as bothy coal mule scenario though – you may be onto something there.

      • Splutter, from Suffolk Pete not Norfolk, they are pretty much different countries let along counties! I did actually have to google the south downs yesterday as all I knew was that they are somewhere near Brighton. I am now fully informed.

  3. Oops, sorry James; I realise you East Anglians have a fierce inter-county rivalry. I’ve enjoyed some fine walks in the fair county of Suffolk – Lowestoft to Dunwich along the coast is an all time favourite in my personal Pantheon and the lovely reed marshes between Walberswick and Westleton are a marvel. I know there’s a lot of pig farms, arable land and the odd nuclear power station, but I think Suffolk has a few of those ‘wild places’ tucked away. It’s a fascinating area as well – to an outsider, perhaps – have you ever read W G Sebald’s ‘The Rings of Saturn’? It’s something of a melancholy masterpiece that captures a certain sense of place and dips into some obscure, but very interesting historical links to the area. Blah.

    • Here here to the Suffolk coast! I believe we explored those reed marshes together, Pete. It is precisely the type of ‘wild place’ that both Macfarlane and the sorely missed Roger Deakin believed existed, often under our noses, away from the conventionally wild and vast expanses.

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