Green fields and blue skies on the South Downs Way

Trail condition

24th November 2015

This week I got the chance to get out on the South Downs Way on my mountain bike. It’s at times like these that I think how lucky I am to be able to go walking or cycling in the South Downs and be getting paid for it! What I was actually doing was testing some route descriptions for a new circular mountain bike ride we are due to publish shortly. I actually went out on Friday. It was a little wet but after 3 weeks of rain the ground conditions were less than idea.

So thought I’d take this opportunity to give a sort of trail condition report. I rode on hard flinty tracks, open grass downland, arable headlands and hedged lanes. Most of the ridgetop farm tracks are fine to walk and ride, however at this time of year you will encounter the occasional puddle which extends across the whole track and necessitates either being brave and wading through or trying to skirt around any higher edges. Puddles of this size are not common but along the trail there are some. The open grasslands again drain quite well and provide good walking or riding, but although are rarely mudding the thin waterlogged soil can become slippery. I found myself sliding sideways on the bike a number of times. Headland paths can be a bit muddy and sticky, but everything I crossed last week was quite passable.

In summary, expect puddles, most of which you can skirt around, expect the trail to be a little slippery and allow a little extra time. Whether walking or riding if conditions are wet or slippery you will travel a little slower. Wear good waterproof boots (walking pole can help in wet or slippery conditions). If cycling get some good knobbly tires on and consider waterproof overshoes to keep your feet warm and eye protection is advisable.

I did get wet and I did get muddy, but I really enjoyed following the ribbon of the trail over the hills. It reminds me what I’m working for and what I’m trying to improve and protect.

The poem below is one from Lizzie Ballagher’ series that she wrote when walking the trail and it’s one of the poems that I never published in the blog. However it is one of my favourites so here it is.



Untangle the knot;

Let ribbons unroll, uncurl at our feet:

Not the burning yellow ribbon wrapped around

A tree for some returning sweetheart;

Not the crimson ribbon of garlands at Christmastime,

Or broken hearts, or silken Valentines;

Not the black & lilac ribbons rustling

Their sibilance of sadness, sorrow & sighs.


Unravel the bow;

Let ribbons whirl, swirl at our feet:
The silver ribbons of roads to ride on

To places we have loved to be & longed to see;

The azure ribbon of skies to fly in, where jet-streams

Vanish behind us in little clouds of vapour dreams;

The turquoise ribbon of salty sea-lanes to sail on,

Waves frothing with kittiwakes & herring gulls.


Untangle the knot; unravel the bow.

Send us along the straggling, way-worn ribbons

Of trail-way & pathway over distant downland

Where we shall walk together, side by side;

Where the dappled, dusty ribbon of every road,

Of every track we pass & every street,

Is the rhythm of our feet, our feet, our feet.

And—no—don’t roll out any red carpet. Not for us.


© Lizzie Ballagher

If you likes Lizzies poems, you can read more of her work on her own blog at

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