Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day

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Route 10C: South Downs Way: Amberley to Ditchling Beacon

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Summary This route covers the South Downs Way from Amberley to Ditchling Beacon. Trains are used to avoid the need to retrace one's steps, the route starts from Amberley station, and returns to there from Hassocks station via Three Bridges. There is some great cycling on good tracks over open downland. Highlights include Chanctonbury Ring, Devil's Dyke, Jack and Jill Windmills and Ditchling beacon, the highest point on the SDW east of the A3.
Distance/time: 28 miles; whole day (including train travel)
3672 feet of ascent, 3537 feet of descent.
Start: Amberley Station Note that this is actually at Houghton Bridge, some way from the village of Amberley itself.
I suggest you load your bike in the car and drive to Amberley Station. There is a small car park which (at the time of writing - Feb 10) was free. Since you are going to use the train to return, I reckon that justifies you parking there. If there is no space, then there is an unofficial lay-by where you may park, a short distance to the west, on Houghton Lane where it is crossed by the SDW.
Finish: Hassocks Station
(NB You could also cycle back to Amberley on the roads under the north side of the South Downs, but this would make for quite a tiring day in my book,.


Suitable trains from Hassocks to Amberley changing at Three Bridges leave approximately every 90 minutes, ie not very frequently, so best to look up the exact times before you go and time your trip accordingly. Journey time about 1hr 15 minutes.

As stated above, I think it is most efficient to drive to the start at Amberley. You could get the train from Guildford to Amberley, changing at Redhill. Then return to Guildford from Hassocks changing at Gatwick Airport.

Yet another possibility is to cycle down from Ditchling beacon to Brighton station, from where there is a more frequent service to Amberley via Ford, although this does mean negotiating some busy roads into the city.

Check train websites for bike carriage constraints: since you are going against the flow of commuters, there should be no problems. The trains usually have one or two carriages with dedicated bike spaces: look for the bike logo. Always check for disruption due to engineering works, especially at weekends.
Conditions under the tyre: The Way itself is mainly a well defined but rough series of tracks, some pleasantly firm grass, other with a surface of loose stones, with many ups and downs. Great care is needed especially on down hill sections: don't be ashamed to get off and push. I have only done the route in summer and have found that it is then not too muddy: I suspect in winter that would not be the case. A mountain bike with a good range of gears is pretty well essential. All that said, once you're in the groove, it is possible to bowl along at a fair pace.

The Trail is shared with walkers and horse riders. Don't creep up quietly on a horse from behind. Give a friendly shout or ring your bell so the horse and rider know you're coming.
Reverse route: The prevailing direction for the wind and weather is from the West, so the route is best done west to east. If there is a strong easterly wind, there is merit in reversing the route.
Route variations:
You could shorten the ride by cycling down the Adur valley cycle track to Shoreham Station, or by cycling down from Devil's Dyke to Brighton Station. From both there are trains back to Amberley changing at Ford.
Route description: If you start from the aforementioned lay-by in Houghton Lane, you are right by the SDW: just follow the signs and cross the Arun on a bridge then right on the B2139 to High Tittern lane. From Amberley station make your way N on the B2139 shortly turning right on High Tittern which becomes a track. You are then on the SDW proper. Once on the Way, navigation is relatively straightforward. The SDW is signed by 'acorn' signs, but there are several other tracks crossing and joining, so if in doubt check your map and GPS carefully to ensure you are not heading off piste.

The route is divided into 'chunks' by A roads. Go over Rackham Hill and pass two roads going down to Storrington, before descending down to the A24.

Cross carefully and make your way up through a car park and rise steadily to Chanctonbury Ring, before swinging to the SW passing Steyning Bowl. Look out for a sharp left (East) turn which takes you on a good downhill to the Adur Valley. Cross the Adur on a bridge and reach the A283.

Carry on up Beeding Hill, then on a lane past the Youth Hostel to Truleigh Hill transmitters and thence on to Devil's Dyke. You will see the pub at Devil's Dyke in the distance: avoid the temptation to veer off left on the apparently direct path: this is a footpath, and hence not open to bikes: in particular it ends with a fence and styles which are difficult to negotiate. Rather, stay on the Way proper until you meet the road which leads to the pub (I'm assuming you will wish to make the short diversion for refreshment and to admire the views). Head back on the road: the SDW descends to Saddlecombe on the southern side of the Devil's Dyke bowl, but you could stay on the parallel road. Make your way through the hamlet of Saddlecombe, over West Hill and down to a bridge over the A23 to the small village of Pycombe.

Here take the lane past the church and down to the A273 and then on up past Pycombe Golf Course. A short diversion will bring you to the Jack and Jill Windmills: the fields by the car park here offer good views North. From here, its a fairly easy ride to Ditchling Beacon and the Ditchling Road. Descend this road (very steep - check your brakes) and follow the map through the suburbs to the B2116 to Hassocks station. To get to the south bound platform, carry on the B road under the railway bridge, then make a hairpin right to reach the station. Job done!
Refreshments: At the start, there is a pub next to Amberley Station, and (more appealing in my opinion) a tea room just a stone's throw away next to Houghton Bridge, with a pleasant terrace beside the river.

Otherwise you must wait till the Devils Dyke pub. This is a large chain pub, but none the worse for that. They do a range of food from bar snacks to a full meal or afternoon tea. There is also a pub, the Plough Inn, in Pycombe. Otherwise, unless you are prepared to make diversions off route, better carry some sandwiches.
Points of Interest The main attraction on this ride is the South Downs Way itself. The 160 kilometre long trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs.

The downs on this part of the trail are more open and farmed than those of route A, meaning that much of the ride is over relatively smooth grassland with wide views all round, to the sea to the South and to the North Downs to the North. Here are some representative high points (going west to east):

  • Rackham Hill (631ft)
  • Chanctonbury trig point (747ft)
  • Truleigh Hill transmitters (664ft)
  • Devil's Dyke Pub (655ft)
  • West Hill (676ft)
  • Ditchling Beacon (814ft)
Amberley Museum and Heritage Centre next to Amberley Station is a 36 acre open-air site dedicated to the industrial heritage of the south-east. The Museum contains a wide range of exhibits, from transport-based collections, such as the Southdown bus collection and the village garage, to industry-based collections, such as the Print Workshop and Wheelwrights. The Museum is also home to a number of resident craftspeople, who work to traditional methods.

At Chanctonbury Ring, the embankments of the Iron Age Hill fort were planted in the 18th century with beech trees to from a landmark visible for miles around, although many of the trees were damaged in the 1987 'hurricane'. Within the fort the remains of two Roman temples have been found, and in WW2 an anti aircraft battery was placed here.

Devils Dyke is actually a dry valley carved by ice age streams flowing over the frozen ground.

Jack and Jill Windmills are a prominent landmark above the village of Clayton. There has been a windmill at this site since the mid-eighteenth century and a second was added in the 1850s. They fell into disuse in 1906, and became a private residence in 1910. Jack has been a private residence ever since, but Jill was gifted to public ownership. in the 1980s it was restored, and is still managed, by the Jack and Jill Windmills Society. Jill is a working mill, and is occasionally open to the public.

At 248m (814ft) Ditchling Beacon is the second highest point on the South Downs Way, after Butser Hill 270m (900ft).

Finding your way Good maps are recommended for this ride ie OS Explorers: 121 (Arundel and Pulborough) and 122 (Brighton).