Audax rides have a lot to offer, and in particular, new and interesting places to see and visit. I always like to find out a bit about such places, not just pass through or by.
Our tea stop at Mayfield was just such an interesting place, although in this instance it was a case of passing through, rather than exploring this lovely Sussex village.
Leaving the “Peckish” tea room, refreshed and with the grey sky now suggesting that the sun might shine through, we had a hallelujah moment. Louise recorded the event outside the church of St Dunstan. This old church was rebuilt in the 15th century to replace a much earlier church, which with most of the village, was destroyed by fire in 1389. Apparently St Dunstan worked at one time as a blacksmith. He was thus considered to be a fitting saint for the parish church of Mayfield during its heydays as an important manufacturing area for iron ware. This trade resulted in much wealth for the iron masters who have left some very fine houses in the village and surrounding countryside.
Leaving the village via the back lanes we immediately began a series of the climbs through the countryside to the not too distant village of Rotherfield. This village is the source of 2 rivers, the rivers Rother and Uck. A little further down stream, the River Rother defines the boundary between the counties of Sussex and Kent before entering the sea at the old cinque port of Rye. This area has a special interest to me. It was smuggling country!
In the 1300s a tax was imposed on the export of wool, a very valuable commodity. Taxes always result in evasion and over the years as the wool tax increased, so did smuggling!
In the early days the Customs were only collectors of tax but in 1698 a new type of customs men were introduced. Their job was not to collect tax but to prevent smuggling. In the 1960s I was a Preventive Officer based at Dover, working in a mobile crew whose territory included Rye and the coast around. We were known to seamen as the Black Gang.
In the early 1700s there was another infamous gang, the Mayfield Gang. This gang consisted of local sheep farmers and others who made well organised trips to the coast to deliver wool and bring back silk and brandy. The penalty if caught was hanging, so 20 to 30 armed men were used to deliver and collect the contraband. The Mayfield gang did however have a reputation for not using violence; and also applying their profits to the benefit of the local community, unlike many other such gangs: the Hawkhurst Gang in particular.
However benevolent the Mayfield Gang may have been, it ceased to operate in 1724 when their leader was captured and hung.
Back to the present. As we approached Rotherfield my old grey matter was churning away. Gradually more and more things began to register. Yes I had been here before, July 2004! We were following, but in reverse, part of the route of the 150k, Battle and Back Audax that I had ridden all those years before with Jeremy and Graham.
More scenic and less hilly lanes soon brought us to Eridge, reputed in times past to have been named after the ridge of the eagles. Of course, being an audax we had to climb to the top of the ridge!
We could have taken a much easier and shorter route to get to Groombridge, because we again came across NCN Route 21. This shorter route avoids the eagle heights. In fact we could have taken route 21 all the way back to Marden Park!
The NCN Route 21 through Sussex, together with other great cycle rides in the Ashdown Forest and around that county, can be seen at: http://www.eastsussex.gov.uk/leisureandtourism/countryside/cycling/guidesandmaps/ncn/ncr21.htm
This web page is well worth visiting if you are looking for some new rides, not too far from our usual haunts.
From Groombridge the audax route heads south, up and over the Ashdown Forest ridge, to Uckfield. And then returns with a longer and harder climb, up and over the ridge to Hartfield.
It is said that females are the stronger sex, and so it proved. Louise and Julia dragged poor Tom Barnes up all those long and steep climbs. Whilst we lesser mortals (too ashamed to say who!) headed straight from Groombridge to Hartfield and thence home to Edenbridge.
Tom Vaz and I stopped at Hartfield, at a brand new tea room, for cake and several well deserved cuppas. I think it was called the New Barn Tea Room, but is easy to find, being on the corner of Edenbridge Rd, the B2026.
So to finish. A hilly ride, but very interesting and enjoyable. I am sure that Anerley riders will in the future join Louise in many more Audax rides.