This is less about a single lane than a network of lanes that transport you from the chalk downland hills to the clay lands of the weald, quiet narrow lanes bookended between the A23 and A281 and bisected by the A272. There are many of them, running north-south or east-west, no diagonals – Foxhole, Cross Colwood, Colwood, Twineham, Wineham, Longhouse, Picts and Bob Lanes, Bolney Chapel Road, and Kent Street – all interconnected and, one way or another, leading to Warninglid. In the middle holding this mesh together is Spronketts Lane.
Of all the lanes in Sussex I’ve ridden these more than any other, first on weekend rambles but then regularly four, five, six times a week as a commute. Twenty-six miles north followed by twenty-six miles south. Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Maybe not deepest winter, not when it would be dark all the way in both directions. One week I rode them all five working days but then I was too tired to ride at the weekend. I know these lanes in the dark, the cold, the rain, but most fondly when the sun is near the horizon at either end of the day and shadows are long.
Pulling kit on listening to ‘Farming Today’ before leaving the house as the pips announce the start of Today. Closing the front door behind me the moon still hanging over the city, I’d climb slowly from the sea to the top of Devil’s Dyke in the dark or under that deep intense blue of early morning. From up here the whole of Sussex spread below me like a crumpled map. Jupiter or Venus still visible whilst the stars recede into the brightening blueness. The moon fades towards the horizon. Half asleep I’d wonder why Venus was over there only to realise it was a plane. The horizon was where I was aiming and I would see the weather that would be my company for the next hour or so. Some days I could see all the way to the North Downs but others only as far as the sloping edge of the South Downs mere metres away.
Swooping off the downs I’d hit these lanes in the half light of breaking day awaiting the first shadows. The hum of tyres and gentle drivechain whirr would be accompanied by the dawn chorus, birds flitting in and out of my light beam, maybe feeding on insects attracted by the light. I could switch that light off and navigate these roads by memory. I knew every inclination, every bend, which lines to take to avoid that pothole or that manhole cover. I knew where the ice would lay in winter, where rainwater would run off the fields or out of the woods, the corners where gravel would pile up. I could ride almost without thinking allowing my mind to wander, to find it’s own thoughts.
The further north I got the lighter it got, sunlight starting to catch tips of bare winter branches, then scanning down trunks until duplicate shapes in shadow form seep across the ground. Rabbits would suddenly appear from hedges and a little further north from here I would regularly see deer, frozen like statues in fields before bounding into woodland with a clatter of hooves on tarmac. Some mornings, light would hang in the mist and drape across my path like net curtains caught on the tree branches. As the days got longer and the trees fuller, sections of these lanes would be dowsed in a thick green light pinpricked by shafts of flickering bright white light. When the days got shorter and cooler again the greens would be replaced by shades of brown and gold above my head and below my wheels.
In the mornings I’d ride whichever lanes were the shortest way north. However in the evening I’d use the lanes more as a long cut home, never knowingly the most direct route, a dawdle that aimed ultimately southwards but mostly likely wove east and west first. The flat angular corners of Bob Lane, or the twisting turning rollercoaster ride that is Cross Colwood Lane. The fast flowing downhill curves of Longhouse Lane and Kent Street became firm favourites. One day belting along Longhouse Lane I swerved to avoid what I’m sure was a grass snake, by the time I’d stopped to look back whatever it was had gone. I could ride such a variation of lanes to and from work that I needn’t ride the same route all week. Sometimes I wouldn’t retrace my tracks for two or three weeks if I rode home the really long way on stretching summer evenings, further west the other side of the A281 or even across the A24.
To the north these lanes cut through small woods or lined by shaws, thin strips of woodland between the lane and the fields beyond. Trees casting shadows opposite ways to that morning, ever changing patterns of light on the road. As you travel south the landscape opens up and flattens, more obviously arable, and the shadow trees less tangled. The dark silhouettes of the South Downs visible in the distance. Many an evening I would chase the setting sun across the weald and over those chalk hills, to where I could see it dropping behind the sea beyond the city. Time to flick on the front light again for the freewheel back home.
This is the sixth in a series of Glimpses of the numerous English lanes that our kind member Gavin Peacock is good enough to share. If you know these lanes that Gav mentions, maybe you’ll bump into him sometime (or already have). You’ll also find him over on Twitter – @themanfromicon
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