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If you’re tired of the local trails and fancy seeing somewhere different, Friston Forest is the place for you. You’ll find plenty of space, trails for all levels of rider and experts on hand to offer advice and guidance to help you get the most out of your visit. Nick Marks finds out more...
Our companions for this excursion were seven children from Carlton Hill Primary School in Brighton. Bike For Life, with funding from Novas Scarman, organised the trip to enable children from disadvantaged backgrounds to be able to take part in an activity that would improve their health. With cycling one of the healthiest sports around, and mountainbiking one of the most exciting, a trip to Friston Forest was the natural choice.
Getting out there is the first hurdle, but it needn’t be a travel nightmare. If you want to take your bikes with you, and you have a car, then it’s just a question of loading them up and heading out along the coast road through Newhaven and Seaford. Take the first turning on the left immediately after you cross the River Cuckmere, then it’s first right into the car park, and the trails start there. But don’t worry if you haven’t got a car – just hop on the number 12 or 13 bus and it will take you straight there.
We turned up in a minibus, but without bikes, because for the morning we had enlisted the services of Simon and John at the Seven Sisters Cycle Company. They offer bike hire and expert advice for all levels of rider, from beginner to expert. They’ll come out with you as guides and take you around all the best spots, or just give you a map and some tips about which trails would suit your abilities best. We started out with a short skills test to make sure everybody could deal with the adventure ahead.
We all passed, so it was straight out into the woods for our first taste of mud. Even though there had been quite a lot of recent rain, the trails were still easily rideable. The mud over there isn’t as sticky as it is on the Downs, so on the rare occasions that the wide trails get churned up, you won’t get caught in a quagmire of glue.
After a bit of initial hesitation, the kids were soon ready to tear off into infinity (and beyond), along the lovely flat trails that lead through echoing woodland as far as you can see. Simon and John reminded the group that they had to stick together. As John explained, the forest is the size of 3,000 football pitches, and with numerous recent sightings of the local panther, it is definitely not the kind of place you want to get lost in.
For two thrilling hours we plugged up and down through the woods: along fire trails and rutted roads, up between the beech trees, or down steep, leafy runs, doing skids and trying to hang on to our trusty bikes. “This is brilliant!” said more than one beaming young rider as they flew down the tracks and back up the next hill.
The children rode themselves into the ground with sheer enthusiasm, and as we rode slowly up the hill back to the bike centre everybody (except Simon and John) was slack jawed with fatigue. Add to that the mud splattered on jackets, trousers and faces, and we looked like soldiers returning from a bike battle.
With a fond farewell we headed back to Brighton, and after devouring a couple of packets of biscuits en route the children were soon singing again. A fine morning out.
* Getting there: The trails start at the Seven Sisters Country Park, where you will also find the bike hire centre
* Difficulty: Trails are suitable for all levels of rider
* Your bike: In dry weather you could use a hybrid; otherwise a mountain bike is best
* Refreshments: Tea rooms on site or the Golden Galleon pub just over the bridge * Time: Ride until you drop!
* Maps: The bike hire centre have maps available