To mark a decade of National Park status, I rode the entire 164km route of the South Downs

Before lockdown, Vern Pitt rode the entire route from one end to the other to mark 10 years of the South Downs National Park

(Andy Jones)

(Image credit: Andy Jones)

"The South Downs are a critical green lung for the South-East, providing millions of people with unparalleled access to open countryside in a way that has incalculable benefits for their health, well-being and their appreciation of why the natural environment matters," said Poul Christensen, the acting chairman of Natural England, when the Downs were awarded National Park status in 2009.

If you’ve ever cycled around the Downs, you’ll know it’s virtually impossible to disagree with this sentiment. The National Park was established the following year, 10 years ago now, though the bureaucracy behind the park was only fully operational from 2011. Covering 627 square miles, it has hosted top-level races and holds in its palm the enduring off-road challenge of the South Downs Way. While the Downs are best known for the climbs, it’s a varied terrain that changes as you travel along it from exposed hilltop traverses to wooded lanes and arteries through open farmland.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.