RIDGE, RIVER & WET WOODS
Splendid views from the ridge of the Downs to Blackcap then along the banks of the River Ouse
1.5 – 2.5 hrs
About the ride
Climbing the Downs from Falmer, you are rewarded by a ridge-top ride past Blackcap and Mount Harry, before you drop down the scarp to the banks of the River Ouse. Ending in the historic town of Lewes, there is plenty to enjoy before you head home.
The route crosses the chalk downlands and the River Ouse floodplain, providing you with wonderful views south along the coast, north across the Weald, and east across the River Ouse.
Starting & Finishing
Start: Falmer station (Lewes-to-Brighton line)
End: Lewes station (Lewes-to-Brighton line)
You can take bikes on trains except during peak hours. Normally only a few are allowed on any one train. At Falmer and Lewes the ride links with National Cycle Network route 90. There is parking at public car parks in Lewes including at the railway station.
Leaving Falmer you cycle on paved surfaces through Falmer village and down Ridge Road, which can be quite potholed. The climb through Shambledean and Faulkners Bottom and onto the South Downs Way is on gravel and chalk bridleways and beyond Mount Harry you descend on steep rutted chalk to the main A275 road at Offham. PLEASE BE CAREFUL CROSSING THE ROAD as cars travel fast here.
From Offham the route follows a chalk bridleway through the wet woods and out onto the River Ouse levee. In wet weather it can be quite slippery and muddy along the river before you reach Lewes and paved surfaces through the town.
The Living Coast Experience
The slow climb up onto the top of the South Downs from Falmer takes you past the highest lived in house on the South Downs. In one of the neighbouring barns there is also a micro brewery – Rectory Ales – run by the local vicar to raise funds for the church roof. This area of the South Downs saw running battles during the Battle of Lewes in 1264, and in more recent history these hills were used by the army as training grounds during WW2. The hard concrete surface descending the scarp slope at Plumpton Bostall was laid at this time as a tank trap.
The ridge you are cycling on with views across the Weald towards the High Weald and beyond that the North Downs is part of the Clayton to Offham Escarpment. This is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its woodland and chalk grassland. Here you can find many types or orchid including burnt tip orchids, fragrant orchids and frog orchids.
The route continues along the ridge to Black Cap and Mount Harry before dropping down the escarpment into Offham. A little further on is Offham Hill which is the site of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure. They were apparently used for a variety of functions (settlement, defence, ceremonial purposes). Causewayed enclosures are one of the few known Neolithic monument types and are considered to be nationally important.
Offham Village was a farming community for hundreds of years but it also produced lime and chalk from the quarry further up the hill. A funicular railway was built by William Jessop in the early 1800s to transport the lime and chalk from the quarry down the steep slope to the barges on the River Ouse. The tunnels and railway have Grade II listed status.
Offham Marshes is a SSSI of rare wet woodland fed by chalk springs, with chalk streams being a rare habitat. It supports a large number of amphibians (common toads, various newts and common frogs). It also supports the hairy dragonfly and many beetles, including the rare great silver beetle. Chalkpit cut is a shallow stream that was used to allow the barges to reach the loading wharf below the chalkpit
River Ouse is home to various birds, such as mallards, mute swans, grey herons and moorhens. During the summer months large shoals of Silver Mullet can be seen in the muddy shallows and on rare occasions seals have been seen as far upstream as Hamsey Weir. At the Lewes end of the ride the Pells area got its name from the ancient word for ‘pools’ and is now home to Pells Pool which is the oldest freshwater swimming pool in the country.
Lewes is a traditional market town and county town of East Sussex. Steeped in history local landmarks include Lewes Castle (built shortly after Norman invasion in 1066 and one of the earliest examples of medieval castles), Lewes Priory, Bull House ( home to Thomas Paine of Rights of Man fame ) and Anne of Cleves House, not to mention the annual bonfire celebrations commemorating the Lewes Martyrs. If you are in the area in November then throw yourself into the revelry with a pint of Harvey’s Best.
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