Downs Link Mission (Part 1) Guildford to Shoreham-by-Sea

Last year I set myself a little challenge, I wanted to ride the Downs Link path taking photographs on the way. I hatched a plan to finish work early one week day during the summer, spend the late afternoon / early evening riding the route down to Shoreham-by-Sea. Then ride back the following morning. In order to allow me to travel light I booked an air b-n-b down on the coast and packed everything I needed into two small panniers. My bike of choice for this trip was my trusty commuting bike a Volagi cyclocross frame with handy rear rack mounts. This kept my back free and meant I could ride with my chest camera bag swung around the back.

The 1st part of my mission was to actually get to Guildford. My work is based in Camberley (Surrey) so having made my excuses at the office I felt like a big kid sneaking out early to go and have an adventure. 3:20pm I made it to Blackwater station where I was to get the train to Guildford. From here it should be a simple ride up to St Martha’s hill to the start of the Downs Link.

Blackwater station 3:20pm all going to plan so far :-)

Blackwater station 3:20pm all going to plan so far 🙂 – iPhone 6

Getting to the right place took a little longer than expected, the roads around the suburbs of Guildford turning out to be a bit of a rabbit warren, but by 4.20pm I had made it to the Church of St.Martha-on-the-hill. This is not officially the start of the Downs Link path, but it is a great photo opportunity and a very distinctive landmark.

St. Marthas on the hill. 58.7km to go

St. Marthas on the hill. 58.7km to go – Nikon D500

A quick snack and I was ready to go. The 1st part of the trail is perhaps the only section of the route for which my choice of bike was somewhat unsuitable. A short sandy descent from the church led me to the actual start of the Downs Link, where the trail down from the hill turned into a flint strewn sandy gully.

When planning the ride I had decided to make a detour via a folly I knew about, entertaining dreams of it being a photographic gem. Chinthurst hill folly was built in the 1930s and is a simple round tower on top of a hill for which the inside cannot be accessed. Unfortunately the detour is a significant challenge with a bike, almost completely un-ride-able and in places too steep to push. On reaching the top it appears summer may not be the best time to visit the folly, the striking views were obscured by the leafy trees surrounding the folly. My photographic mojo was a bit lacking when I took the picture below, but I think it might be well worth a return in winter.

Chinthurst Folly

Chinthurst Folly – Nikon D500

Detour completed and I just had to drop down to Bramley and join the disused railway line that the Downs Link follows for the majority of it’s route. 1st stop Bramley and Wonersh, there’s something a bit surreal about riding through a station in the exact place where the tracks would have been. I managed to suppress the urge to make platform announcements as I paused to take a photograph.

Bramley and Wonersh station (disused)

Bramley and Wonersh station (disused) – iPhone 6

The path gets a bit dull at this point. Straight and flat with limited views, my solution was to put some effort into making up lost time from my detour. With a nice wide path I had no problem pushing the speed up and made some good progress. Swiftly making it to Rudgewick where the only hill on the route (apart from St Martha’s) takes you over the now closed railway tunnel. If I had not been on a reasonably tight schedule it would have been nice to visit some more of the sights en route. The West Sussex council website carries a great pdf guide that mentions a few pubs and other points of interest. There is even a visitors centre at West Grinstead in an old railway carriage but this is only open when volunteers are available.
I did manage one pub visit on the ride, desperate for some food I decided to pop in to the “Cat and Canary” pub in Henfield. I felt like the whole pub was watching me as I asked whether they served food, unfortunately the answer was no and my dreams of pie and chips with a beer would have to go on hold.

Typical path view until Rudgewich

Typical path view until Rudgewich – iPhone 6

Long stretches of the path have a similar feel to the picture above until you reach Rudgewich, and then only after passing West Grinstead do things start to open up to provide some of the usual vistas associated with the South Downs. One thing that stood out to me was the number of people using the path, families walking their dogs, mates out for a bike ride and even runners getting some miles in. People actually covering the route as part of a long distance journey were few and far between, I only encountered one other on a bike doing the same as me.

Downs Link Bikers - Nikon D500

Downs Link Bikers – Nikon D500

After Henfield my luck seemed to turn, on an empty stomach I pressed on and managed to pick up my 1st puncture, carefully repaired, within 2 miles I managed another. Taking the time to refuel I consumed the last of my trail food and took the opportunity to capture some of the local wildlife. A distant fox was a little too far away to make a good image and swiftly moved out of sight, the closer bunnies were a bit more accommodating.

Downs Link Bunnies - Nikon D500

Downs Link Bunnies – Nikon D500

With the light starting to get magical I had to get going, I still needed to get some dinner and didn’t relish the prospect of a petrol station pasty after all the hard miles I had put in. As I rolled in to the outskirts of Shoreham-by-Sea I couldn’t resists the chance to capture a little egret fishing for his supper.

Downs Link Little Egret

Downs Link Little Egret

Rather more successful than me he was managing to pick off about a fish a minute and was making me feel very hungry. The last bit of the link follows the estuary of the River Adur and makes a nice change of scenery. A bit of building work in the town itself forced me rudely out on to the roads and the welcoming site of a still open fish and chip shop. Even better still this particular establishment had tables outside (so I could watch my bike whilst eating) and a fridge full of beers that tasted fantastic!

Downs Link Fish Supper - iPhone 6

A well deserved fish supper – iPhone 6

The only thing left to do was to find my B&B and enjoy the sunset. A good nights sleep was going to be important as I had to reverse the whole route the following morning.

Shoreham Sunset - Nikon D500

Shoreham Sunset – Nikon D500




Ended up using the View Ranger app