Best known for its open and rolling chalk hills, the South Downs actually become quite wooded at their western end, where they nudge up against the Hampshire/Sussex border, between Chichester and Petersfield. The main ridge is some way inland at this point, split from the coast by a hefty wedge of hilly ground that offers some top mtb’ing.
This ride describes a fairly tough 27-kilometre loop around this undulating pocket of land, starting north of Chichester and climbing and dropping numerous times as it works its way north to join the South Downs Way (SDW), close to Queen Elizabeth Country Park. The SDW then carries you east, tucking back into woodland at the foot of Harting Downs and climbing around the impressive Beacon Hill before turning southwards again and visiting a fine and nicely tucked-away pub. The return leg is a little easier than the outward one; following decent tracks over a couple of lowly downs and ending with a mad hedge-lined dash to
the finish.
This is the kind of ride that has too many short, sharp highlights to mention them all. But the wooded sections on the way out are absolutely terrific, with a tricky tree-lined dash opening your account very early on and another section — fast, furious and interestingly narrow — dropping you down from Oakham to the South Downs Way. This provides some enjoyable ups and downs as you follow it eastwards, but the favourite has to be the nadgery little woodland section beneath Tower Hill. The bumpy drop to Bramshott Bottom will make sure that there’s no sleeping on the job and there’s a sneaky section of singletrack between Pen Hill and Buriton Farm — you may need to look for it.
The toughest climb of the day is the one around Beacon Hill, but unless the chalky dirt is really wet, it shouldn’t pose too many problems.