This is my third attempt at this ride and in my head it had built up such fear and loathing that it was a real temptation just to stay in bed on the 27th February. My previous two attempts were failures for a couple of reasons, neither of them particularly due to any valid excuse – the first time in February 2014 we turned up late to the start, funny since one of the first rules of this cycling discipline is timekeeping, it’s all the more embarrassing since I live just round the corner from the start. To be fair to us that day it was blowing a gale and we did prevaricate over one coffee too many that morning. The second attempt in February 2015 it snowed, my lack of fitness at that time let me down and I eventually called it a day on the second run through Battle, whilst my two companions continued and managed to finish just as it was getting dark. There’s an excellent account of that day drafted here.
I won’t go into detail about ‘Mad Jack Fuller’, or the route as the link I provided above does much to introduce you to our local eccentric and I do encourage you to click through and read the blog post. As usual with these events all details and entry can be found via the AUK website, including downloads of the route sheet and a GPX file version of the route itself for you to upload to your device. It’s nice to rely solely on the route sheet, but I must admit it is good to have a GPS device as back up. On this day we managed to cover most of the route from memory and a little help from the instructions.
Officially the route is 125km with 2450m of climbing, so it promises to be a big day out and does not disappoint. As with most riding in the High Weald of Sussex the climbing is covered by relentlessly going up and down short sharp hills between ridges and valleys, until eventually you go pop and you long for it to be over. I know the lanes of the first 2/3rds of the ride well, these are my local loops between Hailsham in the east to Battle slightly further west, then Battle to Burwash in the north, the lanes that take you across the A21 (the A21 is both a mental and physical barrier for me as it is rare that I venture that far east from my home) are not so familiar.
Mad Jack’s is the 2nd calendar event for me under the Grimpeur Du Sud award and I was pleased that I did manage to pry myself from under the sheets and get outside. The weather was settled, sunny even, but it was chilly so whatever the route was going to throw at us was given that extra kick because of the cold, still, at least it wasn’t raining. The mileage and the climbing are daunting prospects in February but I felt good and was in fine company so it was a matter of getting on with it, leaving behind those previous two attempts and overcoming that trepidation that had built up in my mind.
The tour of Mad Jack’s country is a pleasure on any day and, of course, Jack Fuller himself was the subject of much of the conversation as we cycled on through Brightling. The route and the brevet card encourage you to consider your surroundings, the history, the geography and help you to understand that little bit more about what’s around you and where you fit in this world – I won’t continue this philosophical line, but to close the thought it’s a happy place to be in. We stopped briefly and paid our respects with a quick visit to Jack Fuller’s peculiar and ostentatious pyramid mausoleum at Brightling church and took great pleasure in trying to fathom just what that guy was all about – none of us had an answer of course.
We made good time through the first and second control at Skarlett’s Café in Battle, and settled for something to eat and some coffee before contemplating the third and final loop out towards Fairlight and back and then the last skip across the Weald to Hailsham. The lanes on the Fairlight loop were mostly new to me – this area of deep dark Sussex with its shady past and home to the infamous 18th century Hawkshurst gang. The route swings up to Sedlescombe past the vineyard from Battle, then on through Cackle Street, Brede; then heading south to Guestling and Fairlight, tackling Battery Hill from the north, a direction I have never done before – all lanes and locations that I intend to visit again, when it’s warmer.
I loved this ride, I love the fact that it meets the same point three times, I love the hills and this area of Sussex, the view of the South Downs in the distance from Brightling and the view of the sea at Fairlight and I really enjoyed finding new lanes to play on. It’s challenging; challenging for the climbing, the distance, the cold, and sometimes the snow but it has something that is indefinably Sussex.
I’ve laid Mad Jack to rest and I’ve got myself a lovely new bidon.
Mad Jack’s details: £6.00 ( £7.50 when paying via PayPal).
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