Looking over to the South Downs I could see they were shrouded in mist, and the rain was starting as I put my bike on the roof carrier. It was time for a rethink.
Eventually I found myself parking in the small Surrey Village of Holmbury St Mary at about 14:00. HSt.M is nestled in one of the dips in the Surrey Hills AoONB, South West of Dorking, and found by negotiating windy country lanes. There is not much there; a village green, a church, an inn, a village hall, and some rather secluded houses.
It feels like it must be 5 or 6 years since I had ventured up in to this area. And I was relying on my memory for the route – it has many paths and a number of man-made trails – and it is easy to get lost. It is also an important place in the history of my off-road cycling, as the location of my first, and hopefully only, face plant at speed, 8 years ago. Flying over handlebars is not recommended!
The tracks in this area of the North Downs are distinctly different from the South Downs (some 30 miles to the South). The ground is quite sandy and the land often wooded. It is , mmm whats the word? “up and down” with little chance of rest while on the move.
The story of the ride is climb, descend, climb, single track wiggles, descend, climb….. cup of tea at Leith Hill Tower, decent, climb, single track, fire road….
It is really great riding country and there is a multitude of paths with turns to throw your mental compass haywire, hills where you don’t expect them and places that look the same but aren’t, just to get you totally lost.
Being buoyed up by last weekends rides I decided I would head east of Brighton to an area I haven’t cycled for a while. After some deliberations I parked on the outskirts of the small village of Firle. From there I rode up the Firle Bostal and then along the South Downs Way to Firle Beacon . A generally smooth but steepish ascent of about 185m to get the blood pumping round my body nicely. The wind blew any remaining cobwebs away and chilled me to the core.
From the beacon I kept it simple and followed the SDW towards Alfriston before peeling off down and through Winton, back to almost sea level.
My original intention was to then head back along the foot of the Downs but I realised that was not at all ambitious. So I crossed the River Cuckmere and proceeded to climb back to the top of the downs between Wilmington and Windover Hill’s. Then, you guessed it, it was back down again, this time towards Jevington before riding up back round Folkington Hill.
Normally when I am out in this area I am going point to point and not a loop – and normally I am riding west. This meant I had to climb up from the river on a path that had only been a wide grin downhill breeze before. I was concerned that the initial climb in a tree-lined, rutted and bumpy path from Milton would defeat me – I just had that feeling
from going down it numerous times over the years it that it would be a right **** of a climb. But hey no – plodding along I made it – not sure if it is a renewed confidence or that 650b with big tyres and stans-no-tubes just climb better than 26″ wheels.
Coming back round Folkington it was paths new to me (or long forgotten). I passed the Long-man of Wilmington carved in the hillside and was soon back following to toe of the Downs all the way back to Firle.
The paths were all ride-able – albeit there were some deep muddy sections churned by horses or tractors, and deep ruts just wide enough to cycle along without crashing the pedals on the sides.
Just over 18 miles, 690ish m of ascent – all at snails pace – got to work on raising my cadence next!
Smitten by Big Yellow Taxi at 12
Twisted by Court and Spark at 16
Confused and drenched by Hissing of the Summer Lawns at 18
Forgotten until 31
Revisited at 57.
It was a hot summer in Croydon, England, 1998 – I was office bound after 18 months on site. The lunchtime escape was a dash to the outside – on August 18th I made it to Beano’s for a rummage through the secondhand record racks. Beano’s had a massive reputation but I rarely found records in a condition I wanted. Anyway that day I hit lucky – a careful user must have had a bad day and sold some great condition original pressings by Joni, the Grateful Dead and Pentangle. I remember the look of Abdul as I returned to the office with my purchases – I am sure he thought I was mad!
That day I picked up four Joni albums – all early US Copies. As well as the lovely sound quality I was struck by the finish of the covers – a cut well above normal and a pleasure to hold and look at – especially the texture, embossing and colour on Court and Spark – how pathetic it made my old pre-recorded cassette look.
Anyway back to the now. One of the highlight re-issues last year was Joni’s Hejira. Apparently it was cut from original master tapes by Chris Bellman. The U.S. Issue is pressed at RTI and sounds excellent. To save me making a fool of myself reviewing it I direct you to Michael Fremer’s review on analogplanet.com [www.analogplanet.com/content/joni-mitchells%C2%A0hejira%C2%A0-reissued-aaa-180g-vinyl] – where he briefly compares the re-issue against the original pressing – normally I find his judgement on such comparisons spot-on (i.e. I can realate what he finds with my own findings in comparision sessions) . For me the only niggle you could have over Hejira, is the sleeve doesn’t replicate the originals embossed title – unless you, perhaps rightly, argue that it should have been spread over 3 or 4 sides due to the length of the album giving sub-optimal (long) playing times over two sides.
So if you find yourself liking Hejira or remembering JM be aware that is the 5th title reissued by Asylum/Reprise on 180gm in recent years and all have been remastered from original master tapes and pressed at RTI (US copies). They are:
Ladies of the Canyon – re-issued late 2009 (Chris Bellman “cut”)
Blue – re-issued early 2007 (Kevin Gray “cut”)
Court and Spark – re-issued late 2009 (Chris Bellman “cut”)
Hissing of the Summer Lawns – re-issued late 2009 (Chris Bellman “cut”)
I direct you to analogplanet.com again for comparitive reviews. Hopefully the catalogue delve will go deeper and maybe we will get Urge For Going on vinyl – apparently it was to be on Blue but there were last minute changes.
As well as all 5 sounding really good, the covers have replicated the originals – albeit in heavier card. Alas my photographic skills do not do them justice but what the ****.
These can still be found “new” normally at very reasonable price (there will always be a chancer on e-bay)
For the record (no pun intended) there have been other “audiophile” versions over the years:
But if you are really lucky the gold standard vinyl versions of Blue and Court and Spark are the Classic Records Clarity Vinyl 45rpm test readings that are extremely rare – I was able to listen to these at a friends a while back and they are stunning.
Coincident and complimentary to listening I have found recent articles in Uncut and Michelle Mercer’s book Will You Take Me As I Am very interesting and informative. They have made me pay more attention to the lyrics, the sublime and unique musicality and have opened a window into they mystery behind some of the songs. Putting into words feelings and questions that I have been unable to verbalise.
Joni Mitchell = exquisite music, exquisite and soul bearing lyrics, great recordings, great sonics and quality – almost impossible to better – on a pedestal with very best. But unbearable and winsome to some!
I have been meaning to write about some of the recent Joni Mitchell vinyl re-issues for a while and it is still in draft. Anyway looking on the web I found this video from 1966 of the Urge For Going – an amazing song and lovely performance.
Still feeling OK with no after effects after yesterdays ride I took the opportunity to pedal the bridleways of the South Downs again late this morning.
Yesterdays ride was fairly short with an undulating vertical profile. Today I wanted to get a longer ride under my belt that would provide a gentle challenge. So I chose to head out for Chanctonbury Ring from Shoreham-by-Sea. The ride started at sea level and from there it is basically a gradual climb for over 6 miles up to a height of around 220m. The paths are mostly chalky and in good condition but there are some heavily rutted sections holding water and gloop to keep to wary.
Once at Chanctonbury I made my way down to Cissbury Ring – a long flat chalky descent – and then one clockwise circuit round the outside of Cissbury. I like the circuit as it is made up of a number climbs and descents on ground that can catch you out if you are not careful – only one of the climbs can be called steep – but they are good training and it is always nice to ride.
From Cissbury it was back to Lancing Ring where I chose a downhill path I don’t ever recall taking. It took me down to the top of Lancing Manor. From there I just had to go and say hello to the sea and pedal a few easy blacktop miles back to Shoreham.
As with yesterday I recorded the ride with two different GPS systems and lo and behold I am seeing the same sort of differences – one tags the ride shorter by 0.4 mile while it adds 0ver 30% to the ascent – weird. So the ride was somewhere between 21.15 miles and 21.55 miles with an ascent of between 447m and 604m. I am pretty pleased but the tiredness is starting to hit!
Well it is 3 months since I last rode off-road – it’s crazy how times passes so quickly – and what a stunning blue sky to welcome me back!
The view above is from where I parked at the Jack & Jill Windmill car park – looking west. What the photo does not give is a feel for is the strong cold SW wind – it almost blew the bike off the roof rack as I was undoing the clamp.
No heroic ride today, just one to get my legs working, check out my body repair and try and work out the bronchial wheeze and cough that has been plaguing me for months.
So it was east first, sort of wind assisted when it wasn’t trying to blow me sideways and off – over to Ditching Beacon on the SDW, then off down to the edges of Stanmer Park. Coming back I picked a route with a few small climbs and descents. At times the wind was so noisy and chilly it was hard to just think, and then down in the valleys, bathed in sun, it was soul warming.
Statistics: Last wet ride out my Heart Rate Monitor gave up the ghost (it drowned) so today I was trialing an new GPS based speedo that also captured HR. To see how it fared I also ran MapMyRide on my phone.
One recorded me cycling 8.17 miles and climbing 367m – the other had me riding 8.47 miles and climbing 250m – oh well – it was fantastic to be out again! Maybe out tomorrow as well – fingers crossed.