Brighton & Hove sea front provides one of the easiest rides on a bicycle that anyone could manage. Starting from any point along it (I choose one of the piers), ride with the prevailing wind at your back to start with. The reason for that is that you will end the ride with it at your back! The idea is to ride to the near arm of Shoreham harbour and to Saltdean at the very far end of the under cliff path.
Starting at the Palace Pier with an westerly wind, one would ride east towards the Marina. This passage is marked by tourist pedestrians getting in and out of cars, buses etc.,, looking aimless and certainly not looking at their feet to see that they are wandering around in a bicycle lane. I’ve got a megaphone and one of these days I’m going to single-handledly patrol this stretch of the lane, keeping it clear for all. There are police available to patrol the bicycle lanes. They’ve been out in force over the last few days, when it was hot. There are three of them. They’re not real police of course. They’re those pretend police introduced by Tony Blair’s crowd, a bit like they introduced pretend governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that is a serious digression so I’ll stop there. These police community support officers are conspiscuous in patrolling the sexy part of the sea front when it is hot and seem to blend in to other surroundings at other times so that they can’t be seen at all.
Once you’re past the area immediately around the Palace Pier, the tourists thin out. The cycle lane, which is on the sea side pavement, ends around about Concorde 2. From there the road is much quieter. Just before the end of the road turn right into the car park and then around to the left there is a short tunnel sloping down into the marina car park. Ride along the road which points away from the tunnel, along to the roundabout and straight out the other side. Keep going to the far end of this road and beyond in the same direction (roughly due east), up a slope, over a lock, behind a building and then turn right. At the end of the fence turn 180 degrees upon yourself and back down to the foot of the cliffs.
You are now on the under cliff path. This is classic cycling territory. For many years it was ‘banned’ down here. Now the signage follows old practice and ‘allows’ cyclists. This path is hemmed in between short chalk cliffs and a short wall which neatly holds the sea back. On stormy days the spray is refreshing, on sunny days the quietitude overwhelming. Without cars or tourists, this is a place very special to Brightonians. There’s in danger of revealing the truth of this, the tourists are bound to a central zone by unimaginative ties. Something to do with coming from London.
The under cliff path rolls delightfully flat on and on. It runs past a cafe set up on the path itself, a little way before Rottingdean. Years ago this scene was set up by a couple of women who simply took over an abandoned cubby hole in the cliff. There are a number of these concrete structures along the path. A bohemian group gathered and celebrated the sunshine around this occasional effort, organised around the weather. Unfortunately someone burnt out the cubby hole but the fun was not stopped because the original two women who started the cafe came back with an ambulance, which they drove along the under cliff path from one end. At some point, when I was away from Brighton, the cubby hole cafe came back. Different people seem to run it now. It may even be in a slightly different place. No matter. The same old vibe persists. This is a locals cafe in the best place on the sea front, miles from everywhere.
The path rolls on, widens and comes to Rottingdean, rolls past it and out to Saltdean, where two distantly spaced delapidated benches afford a safe view of the sea. They’re oddly placed in summer but in winter well back from the crashing waves. Most of us take a moment at the far end, leaning on the end wall or lying on the end of the wall. The path ends where the cliff takes a slight turn out. Youths and the more adventurous of the rest of us climb out beyond the wall here. Apparently, further on the beach deepens again and there are some ‘caves’ in the chalk. You see them coming back, responsibly bring their empties.
Now it is time to face into the wind. The cliffs seems to produce wind tunnels and shadows in unpredictable order. Though destructive of moral courage this path the blessed edge of the land and sea beckons the happy cyclist backwards towards the marina, where it is possible to either retrace your route through the marina or, just before the marina, turn up a steep ramp cut into the cliffs and then along the top of the cliffs. Whichever choice you take, ride back to the Palace Pier, as we will always call it. The ramp is tough, very tough but then it is downhill back to the pier, with good views along the top of the cliff to start with.
From the Palace Pier, as we hope it will become known again, head west along the safest route. Officially you are supposed to be on the road or the cycle lane but everyone knows that once you get to Hove lawns, the promenade widens out. Outside of the weekend, when it is crammed and cycling would antisocial and unenjoyable, the wide part of the tarmac immediately behind the beach bannister is the place to ride. On tuesday, I rode along the cycle lane with Grant. We spied some of the pretend police officers riding on the sea front, where cycling is banned! Obviously, we had to have a word with them. Remind them that they were errant public servants. I caught up with them. They called themselves an anomaly and I wished them a nice ride, saying that I would enjoy it another day when they weren’t hogging it. Definitely they had got the right idea. It is the best place to ride.
When you get to the end of the tarmac on the beach side of Hove lawns, keep riding and you briefly reconnect with the cycle lane so unloved by the cycle police. It takes you around the back of the King Alfred. Beyond that, the official cycle lane follows the pavement by the road but when it is quiet, the smart money follows the pretend police officers and rides between the beach huts and the beach. At the end of the run, the path widens out again and finally comes to rest at the end of a private road where some rich and famous people live. Thus this spot is commonly referred to as Fat Boy Slim’s house.
Strangely, it never got called Paul McCartney’s house or Heather Mills’ house. Can’t think why. Oh, I just remembered. I like the local legend about why Paul McCartney moved to ‘Brighton’. The house is in Shoreham! The story goes that he is wandering around in the North Laine when someone actually bumps into him as he turns around and tells him to watch where’s he bloody well going. A most unusual piece of social etiquette in our peace loving boutique quarter. Mr McCartney was apparently impressed by being treated ‘normally’ that he moved here! Funny old world he lives in.
At Fat Boy Slim’s house (whether it is or not I do not know) turn right and then immediate left, into a darkened and grotty industrial lane which snakes after a couple of hundred yards left and then right. This is the other side of the landscape. The large trucks used to having this road to themselves will give you plenty of room if you own the lane. They are generally getting ready to turn into one of the entrances to the yards on your right. Cut off for a while from the sea view, you are served with a series of industrial landscapes instead. There are some regular features, such as the gravel tips. The seagulls who appear to live under the shadow of the constantly falling stone must have the roughest deal on the coast.
Take a ramp on your left to take yourself up on the pavement. Here you are again, riding in view of the sea, with a much quieter beach. Most of the people on these first few beaches will be surfers. Not long after Carat’s cafe appears, on the right, an excellent spot for a break, except at the weekend. I prefer to ride past the cafe and on to the near arm of Shoreham harbour, double back and then take refreshments there. After this cafe (whether you stop there or not), most of the ride is behind you, the way home is the way you’ve come and the wind will be at your back.