Seven South Downs climbs you have to ride

The South Downs of Sussex offer up some enthralling landscapes, but to see the best, you'll need to climb

Every time I ride to Brighton, I kick myself for ever leaving - sailing between the heathy grassland either side of Ditchling Road (aided, in part, by a massive tailwind), every yard ridden feels like one yard closer to home.

Even if your experiences within the South Downs National Park and High Weald Area of Outstanding Beauty aren't rose tinted with memories of university life and late-teen freedom, it's hard to deny the appeal of this band of chalky riding terrain which spans the neck of Sussex.

The area is laden with testing climbs, as well as panoramic views that throw up a sea of patchwork fields and forests, laced together by the roads that any lycra clad cyclist's dreams are formed of. And if the metaphor isn't enough, the actual sea is never far away.

If you're keen to explore the area, and want to make sure you see the very best, our sister company UK Cycling Events hosts the Orro Sussex Downs Classic sportive on Saturday September 7. Or, if you're heading out alone, here are some of the climbs we recommend you tick off...

Ditchling Beacon

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The final climb of the annual London to Brighton ride, Ditchling Beacon is nothing like the little teaser at the end of the LondonSurrey 100.

The 1.5 kilometre stretch averages 8 per cent, and tops out at 11.2 - the Beacon represents a proper challenge for the most seasoned of riders.

The early slopes are fairly sedate, and then you'll round a corner to reveal the sort of ramp you really hope you saved some energy for.

The gradient doesn't really let up until you reach the car park at the top. From here the views across the South Downs stretch out for miles - then you've got a gradual upward slope along Ditchling Road to Brighton.

Kidds Hill, Forest Row

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You'll find Kidd's Hill over in East Sussex, over near Forest Row. The climb is colloquially called 'The Wall', and it shouldn't take too long to figure out why.

The ascent is 1.5km long, with an average of 9 per cent. 'The Wall' comes at the steepest stretch, and the max gradient is 13.2 per cent.

Priory Road

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A longer climb at 2.7km, Priory Road has a shallower average gradient, at 4 per cent. Like Ditchling Beacon and Kidd's Hill, it features on the Orro Sussex Downs  Classic sportive, erupting as riders turn their backs on Forest Row.

The KOM belongs to Jesse Yates, son of Sean Yates - in 5 minutes 39 seconds, whilst the QOM is held my Emily McLoughlin with 6-45.

The more gradual nature of the climb means that you can choose to smash it, or ride steady and enjoy the woodland views either side.

Devils Dyke

Photo by Andrew Hasson/Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

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Devil's Dyke is a popular beauty spot, and has status as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The deep v-shaped valley is especially popular among walkers -  but of course riding means you get to see a lot more.

The climb itself comes in two stages, over 4.2km. As a result, the average gradient is only 2 per cent - but that's largely because of the rollercoaster-esque nature of the fast dip in the middle.

The max gradient is 12.3 per cent. You'll have plenty of time to take in your surroundings - the men's KOM is 7-26, owned by Surrey local Elliott Porter, whilst the QOM goes to Sophie Coleman at 9-21.

Butts Brow

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This is not a climb to tackle straight after a lunch stop.

At 1km, Eastbourne's Butt's Brow averages a rather eye watering 13 per cent, peaking at 19 per cent in places.

It's worth noting that you won't be able to build this climb into a loop, since there's nothing but bridleways and footpaths at the other end, so it's an out-and-back sort of climb.

Bo Peep lane

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Like Butt's Brow, this is a road to nowhere, and the profile isn't dissimilar either. The climb between Selmeston and Alciston concludes with a car park - so you'll only ever be riding up it to ascend back down.

The average gradient over 2km stands at 7 per cent, with lower slopes as steep as 20 per cent.

The KOM/QOM titles are kept with the family - with siblings James and Jos Lowden holding the respective crowns.

Firle Beacon

Image: Brian Toward, Flikr Commons

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A few miles from Bow Peep lane is Firle Beacon. The climb looks down on Charleston Farmhouse - which literary buffs may recognise as a common destination for Virginia Woolf, who frequently made the six-mile journey from her home in Rodmell to visit her sister.

At 1.3km, this climb averages at 10 per cent - and it's a pretty steady grind all the way to the top.

Take some time to survey the views before heading back down - many years have passed since Woolf's Bloomsbury Group roamed here, but you can almost forget the hands of time have clicked on so far as you survey this vastly uninhabited wilderness.

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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.

Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor. 

Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.