ESCAPE FROM THE CITY
Enjoy spectacular views as you climb steadily up to Devil’s Dyke before returning down to the coast
1.5 – 2.5 hrs
About the ride
You’re not going to get to the top of the Downs without tackling some hills, but this route avoids any overly steep stretches. Slow and steady effort will reward you with far-reaching views along The Living Coast, including across the River Adur Estuary as you enjoy a wonderful, almost effortless descent.
The route takes you up and along the chalky hills of the Downs, passing several nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, including Devil’s Dyke. These rare habitats can be especially rewarding on a sunny spring or summers day when the butterflies and wildflowers are out.
Starting & Finishing
Start: Brighton or Hove railway stations
End: Shoreham-By-Sea railway station (Brighton-to-Portsmouth line)
You can take bikes on trains except during peak hours. Normally only a few are allowed on any one train. There is parking on the street in the area around Hove Park.
The ride links with National Cycle Network routes 2, 20, 90 and 82.
Suggestion for a looped ride
Combine with It’s a Breeze to start and finish in either Brighton or Shoreham.
If you want to escape the city, avoid very steep hills and stick to relatively firm surfaces, this route up to Devil’s Dyke and along the Downs is a good one.
From the top of Hangleton you follow a bridleway up and over a bridge across the A27. This joins up with Devil’s Dyke Road. You don’t need to cycle on this road here as there’s a cycle path running alongside it. But be careful of traffic on the corner by Devils Dyke Farm where it can be tricky to cross the road.
There will be the odd muddy patch in wet conditions along the South Downs Way between Devils Dyke and Truleigh Hill, but most of this stretch is on firm chalk and gravel. From Truleigh Hill it’s a tarmac surface down Mill Hill all the way to Shoreham-By-Sea. Traffic does increase as you reach The Old Shoreham Road.
The Living Coast Experience
From Brighton station this route takes you down North Street which passes the Royal Pavilion Garden, home to some of Brighton’s most spectacular Elm trees, a small number in the city’s 17,000-strong National Elm Collection.
Brighton was originally a fishing village called Brighthelmstone. It became a popular seaside destination from the 18th century when bathing in the sea for health reasons was promoted by a local doctor. The Prince Regent (later King George IV), who built the domed Royal Pavilion palace, was one of these bathers. As you pedal along the seafront, you’ll see the beaches are still hugely popular with locals and visitors. In the winter, keep an eye out for murmurations of thousands of starlings over both piers, which were built in Victorian times.
You head away from the sea up Grand Avenue in Hove, climbing slowly to Hove Park. At the southern end of the park is The Goldstone – a large stone in the centre of a ring of 9 smaller stones. According to one local myth, the devil threw the stone here when he was excavating Devil’s Dyke. Another story holds that it was a sacred stone of the druids. Look out too for the Fingermaze, an art installation of a giant’s fingerprint in the grass, and for one of the city’s many bee and butterfly banks planted with wildflowers
As you climb through Hove, you pass West Blatchington windmill. Built in the 1820s at the heart of a farming community, it is grade II listed and was once painted by John Constable. Having crossed the A27, you follow the Dyke Trail, this is close to the old route of the Dyke Railway branch line that ran from 1887 to 1938. This line carried fodder and coal to local farms near Devil’s Dyke and returned to Brighton with hay. Brighton & Hove Golf Course and Benfield Valley Nature Reserve to the west are both known for their rare chalk grassland and dew ponds.
Devil’s Dyke was a settlement site in the Stone Age and ‘Dyke’ is a Saxon word for a fence or entrenchment built from earth, stone or wood. This high point was also the site for an Iron-age hillfort, and you can still see remnants of ramparts and round barrows. It is also home to the awe-inspiring and best-known example of a dry chalk valley. The 100m deep V-shaped valley has been referred to as the ‘grandest view in the world’. There are many myths and local stories about how the valley was formed.
Pedalling west along the escarpment from Devil’s Dyke you traverse the Beeding Hill to Newtimber Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is one of the best stretches of unimproved chalk grassland in The Living Coast Biosphere and home to a diverse range of wildlife, including a nationally important collection of harvestmen (daddy longlegs). You can also see rich areas of flowering plants such as the frog orchid, round-headed rampion and red star thistle.
Reaching Truleigh Hill you are at one of the high spots on the South Downs. During the Second World War it was used for radar defences.
Descending from the Downs, you pass through Mill Hill, a local nature reserve on rare chalk grassland. The site is an important haven for indigenous flowers and insects. Today, only 3% of heritage chalk grassland remains in Sussex which is why it’s so important to protect it. The south- and west-facing downs attract at least 33 species of butterfly (including Chalkhill Blue and Adonis Blue) and this is one of the best areas in Sussex to spot them. There are also fantastic views across the Adur Valley. The Adur Estuary is another Site of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI) and an RSPB reserve. It is the only local example of a saltmarsh habitat with extensive mudflats where you can see many wading birds in the winter.
Below Mill Hill are the long-abandoned Shoreham Cement Works. The large chalk quarry exposes sequences from Lower Lewes chalk to Upper Seaford chalk, both of which are 50m thick.
Old Shoreham dates back to pre-Roman times, but the town and port of Shoreham-By-Sea was established by the Norman conquerors towards the end of the 11th century.
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