The Great Sussex Way Wine Route:
- Tinwood to Ashling Park – 14km, relatively flat route
- Ashling Park to Upperton, via the South Downs Way – 35km, more challenging with on and off-road cycling
- Upperton to Tinwood – 23.6km, with some steep climbes
Summer is calling; a light-hearted bike tour in the picturesque South Downs visiting some of the best English vineyards and tasting sparkling wines sounds irresistible – especially after sheltering at home for nearly a year and a half.
It took less than two hours on the train from Central London to Chichester, a town in West Sussex and one of the sunniest spots in the UK.
We were greeted at the station by Gail Gardner, managing director of Ashling Park Estate. Gail drove us around the ancient but well-maintained Roman city walls guarding central Chichester, before heading northwest into the fields.
Just a 10 minutes drive from the station and we parked next to Ashling Park’s charming, modern-design tasting room. Despite the modern look, the estate itself dates back to 1822, said Gardner.
The 50-acre estate in the hamlet of West Ashling was the starting point of our bike expedition of West Sussex vineyards today.
From the second-floor terrace, we enjoyed a stunning view of the estate’s vineyards, surrounded by 200-year-old oak trees.
The estate produces a range of sparkling wines and gin distilled from their own Pinot Noir grapes. Most recently, they’ve also started making still wines using the exceptionally ripe fruits from 2020, available only at the cellar door.
The family estate is open for tasting tours and with prior booking, lunch and early supper, we were told. The chic eco-lodges dotted in the vines that some of us would stay overnight are also available for booking.
Heading east on the bike
After a light lunch, we took a short stroll into the sun-bathed vineyards to pick up our very own E-bikes for a one-hour ride.
These pedal-assisted electric bicycles provided by Southern eBike Rentals make exploring the vast landscape of the South Downs much easier, especially if you’re not a regular cyclist.
With helmet, water ready and my fitness wristband set to outdoor cycling, I wiggled my way off the gravel path, away from the wine estate onto the paved paths of the countryside.
As we started to gain some speed, the cooling breeze reminds me that we are just a short distance away from the Atlantic ocean. The moderating sea breeze is also key for the local fizzes to achieve ripeness while retaining a crisp zing of acidity.
Although back in London I have an old-fashioned ladies bike with a basket and I enjoy the occasional bike touring during the pandemic, I’m far from a well-trained cyclist.
So my aim was to complete the 14km route with minimum electric boosts for some moderate exercise. Thankfully, these e-bikes come with several assist levels, and I can decide on how much effort I’d like to put into the ride.
On our way to the east, we travelled through the old forests of Kingley Vale, admired the views of wildflowers and golden wheat fields of West Stoke, passed by the chapels and cute red-brick houses of Lavant. After stopping briefly to take a photo in front of the magnificent Goodwood House, we finally reached the destination of the tour; Tinwood Estate.
In the end, I managed most of the ride without pedal assistance following the peloton, only cheated a little bit with small boosts when I was struggling up two rather long slopes.
My fitness wristband says I managed to burn 300kcal of calories during the pleasant hour-long bike tour with half of the journey counted as ‘fat burning’ and a quarter as ‘anaerobic’ exercise*.
*Individual results may vary.
The food and wine experience
Upon arrival, we were invited for a short tour into the neatly planted rows of Chardonnay vines by Art Tukker, owner of Tinwood Estate, accompanied by the family dogs Bubbles and Fizz.
These lands were once an iceberg lettuce farm, said the owner, who inherited the estate from his father and converted it to a vineyard.
Thanks to the free-draining stone and chalk soils, the estate makes its own quality sparkling range and has been providing a considerable proportion of its fruits to Ridgeview Wine Estate since 2006.
We were truly grateful when the first glass of ice-cold sparkling wine of the day, the Tinwood Blanc de Blancs, was poured into our glasses.
Basking under the sun outside the estate’s stylish tasting room, we indulged ourselves with scones with butter and jam, fresh strawberries, and delicate desserts.
There was also a selection of cheeses produced by the Goodwood Home Farm around the corner for us to try if we could stay a bit longer, we were told. Visitors can even stay the night in the estate’s three quiet lodges facing the vineyard – including a sauna housed in a wine barrel, two-person jacuzzis, huge beds draped in crisp linen and fridges filled with wine.
Wish we could stay longer, but dinner and more sparkling wines were waiting back at Ashling Park – which concluded our day of wine tour on two wheels.
For the mountain bikers
The cycle route from Ashling Park Estate to Tinwood Estate which we took was the easiest one of the three vineyard visit routes designed by The Great Sussex Way (TGSW), according to the marketing organisation of the Chichester District.
The short and flat ride ‘caters for cyclists of all abilities’, with country pubs, farm shops and B&Bs along the way for people to casually stop by. Both Ashling Park and Tinwood have accommodation, so wine lovers can enjoy their nights in the vineyards to the full.
For more experienced cyclists, there is also the 35km route from Ashling Park Estate to Upperton Estate of the northeast.
As TGSW puts it, this route is a ‘challenging classic combining road and off-road sections, staying almost completely away from busy roads and taking you deep into some of the most beautiful parts of West Sussex.’
For hard-core mountain bikers, the 23.6km route from Upperton Estate to Tinwood Estate poses serious challenges with steep climbs and 3 miles off-road sections, which could perhaps use a little help from the E-bikes.
You can now view and download GPS coordinates of all cycle routes and find out more about E-bike rentals, places to eat and stay on The Great Sussex Way website.