Spithandle Lane, West Sussex.
On a late summers evening I’ve chased my shadow home along here. In the depths of winter I’ve entered one end of the lane in drizzle with a bunch of riders only to emerge from the other end, two and a half miles later, in snow and having lost one of our mini-peleton somewhere along the way. On another occasion I remember belting along here early on in a century ride on a day so cold that our gear cables froze and apart from the hardiest, one by one, riders peeled off home early, And that was in spring!
Running almost parallel to, and slightly north of the spring line, Spithandle Lane leads from near Ashhurst in the east to Wiston in the west, from the edge of the River Adur flood plain into the shadow of the downs. Or to Wiston Tea Rooms if you’re in need of tea and cake. About ten miles from home it is either near the beginning of a ride when legs are warmed up, or at the end of a ride, usually a long one, when legs are tired. It’s relatively flat, seeming to pivot in the middle somewhere like a seesaw. You gently roll up for a while before starting to roll back down again, no matter which way you are riding. It’s usually quiet but sometimes you’ll come face to face with a car, but much more likely is other cyclists, horse riders, dog walkers or possibly a tractor.
To the south lies Wiston House (1576) to the north Peppers (1611) and the lane runs through parts of Wiston and Pepper’s estates. Riding east to west you first pass Calcot Wood on the left, open fields to the right, before being plunged into darkness in Great and Little Pepper Woods. The branches of trees from each wood interlocking over the lane. As with many lanes that wend their way through woodland, the seasonal differences are pronounced. Under the thick verdant canopy it’s usually darker here at midday on a sunny summer’s day than twilight on a gloomy winter’s day. In winter zebra stripes of light below your wheels mirror the interwoven branches above your head. In summer pinpricks of light pierce the foliage dotting the road with spots of light tracking the sun as it moves across the sky hidden above, beams of light tracing across tarmac like slow moving searchlights. Looking up is like looking up at the stars in the night sky. In the autumnal setting sun colours are muted, desaturated in the fading light, but vibrant wedges of light cut through the trees, like golden torch beams.
You exit the woods around a sweeping s-bend that is gentle enough to be taken at pace. Further on there is an s-bend that always catches me out, forgetting how quickly it tightens and twists. Even if I’ve ridden it the week before I’ll still go piling into it way too fast. It’s worse from the west as you come to it along a long straight – slightly downhill section of road, picking pace up nicely.
There are more small woodlands to pass through; Pepper Furzefield Wood, South Copse, Spithandle Copse, Guesses Wood, Guessgate Wood, the landscape gradually opening out into hedge lined pasture. The familiar outline of Chanctonbury Ring appears up on the ridge of the South Downs away to the south. There is evidence that a route ran this was as far back as Roman times, but have people been travelling the way of Spithandle Lane as far back as the Iron Age?
This is the second 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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