Hostels, Issue 9, Things to do

Experience dawn in the saddle

Cycling

Daniel Neilson takes to the South Downs for an early morning ride on his mountain bike.

It was a life-affirming start to the day, and the moon seemed to know it. I’d never seen a full moon quite so large; a glowing sphere hanging silent in the sky, as dawn begin its kaleidoscopic change to daylight. By the time the moon disappeared, we’d climbed out of YHA South Downs and onto the ridge of the ‘whale-backed Downs’, as Rudyard Kipling memorably described them. From the top of Itford Hill, we could see Lewes to the northeast, the English Channel to the south, and the vast Weald to the north. Photographers call this ‘the golden hour’, with the light at its richest and most fluid. We puffed up to Firle Beacon and along the South Downs Way bridleway. Not a cloud above us, and the temperature crisp enough to make gloves a necessity. Autumn and winter mornings always hold real joys for mountain biking, especially if the ground is frozen.

Our first stop was Alfriston. A quainter Sussex village you’d be hard pushed to find. We dropped down in search of bacon sandwiches but instead made do with a flask of tea and an energy bar. Warmed, we headed back under the Downs along the Old Coach Road, a winding byway that snakes across the land. At Firle, we struggled again up to the top and slid back into YHA South Downs for a coffee and full English. A relaxed 16 miles – and we were back by 9. The perfect morning.

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