Cycling Surrey and Sussex

From London to Brighton

We asked top blogger Alastair Humphreys to join us on a cycling break and share with you his route and top tips.  Think living in London just means smoggy cycling and angry taxi drivers? Alistair shows us how quick it can be to leave the city behind and head out through the countryside of Surrey and West Sussex towards the sea at Brighton. 

The route
The route is the well know Wandle Trail, which can be easily found online in more detail. From the Thames at Wandsworth in London head out towards Croydon. From there follow signs to Coulsdon, on to Reigate, skirt round the west of Gatwick to avoid traffic and planes and aim for Crawley.

Then follow the Downs and Weald cycle route on the signposted National Route 20.

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Miles covered: 65 miles

Difficulty level: Moderate

Trail must-do: Visit the Bolney Wine Estate

Many of us dream of adventure. And adventure is easier to find than we might realise - it can be as simple as cycling from London to the sea at Brighton. If you have never done it before, then it counts as an adventure. 

Cycling to the sea is a manageable and satisfying adventure wherever you live in Britain. If you are daunted by cycling in heavy traffic, then hop on a train out of the city and begin riding when you reach the countryside.

If you’re not one for sleeping in a tent, then pick a handy hotel along the way and break up your journey that way. It doesn’t matter, what matters is getting out there on the adventure.

As much as I’d urge you to follow your nose and instincts, and to enjoy the detours and moments of being “lost” as unique parts of the adventure, you may feel more comfortable on a marked trail for your first adventure to the sea.

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From London there is a lovely trail heading south towards the Sussex coast. Beginning on the banks of the Thames, where it’s joined by the River Wandle, you’ll follow the pleasant, well signposted, mainly traffic-free Wandle Trail that follows the river out of the worst of London’s crowded roads.

You will be surprised by how green and peaceful the adventure is already. It’s a gentle start – with plenty of cafes and pubs along the way for pit stops to refuel. Once you’re south of the M25 - London feels far away by now - you’ll follow your nose south through Surrey’s meandering leafy roads. 

The Surrey Hills are the London cyclist’s mecca, so you’ll share the roads with many other friendly cyclists. It’s up to you where you choose to pause and rest for the evening.

The next day, heading out from Crawley, in West Sussex, you can join the Downs and Weald cycle route that passes through the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can ride through the Forestry Commission’s Tilgate Forest on well-maintained trails. It’s beautiful and peaceful, though very different, in all four seasons of the year. If you are quiet and observant you may spot deer amongst the trees too.

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Pause for refreshment in one of the picture perfect villages en route – often with a cricket pitch on the village green and Harveys ale in the pubs. The Bolney wine estate has a good café and offers tours of the vineyard if you feel the need for a longer rest and a different type of refreshment.

If you are feeling strong and fancy a challenge then you may want to tackle Ditchling Beacon: one of the fiercest road climbs south of London. There are plenty of more gentle routes if you prefer, though Ditchling does make for a satisfying final obstacle before your triumphant downhill swoop to the pretty shingle beaches of the south coast, and a bracing swim in the waves. All that’s left after that is to dry off and hunt down a quintessentially British seaside ice cream. 

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