Lewisham Cyclists Ride to the Seaside, Climb a Very Big Hill (or Two) but miss sharing some hunny with a bear of very little brain.
I had set aside the whole day for this ride. It’s neither the shortest, quickest, easiest nor the only way to Hastings, but it’s my favourite. So, I had booked a cheap return ticket for the 7.55 pm train back to London. 0ver 80 miles and more than 5000 feet of climbing, plus fish and chips on the beach to get done before that.
We met at Le Delice, breakfasted, and then had to sort out a few mechanicals even before we could set off. I had given my bike it’s spring service the previous day, replaced chain and cassette, wheels, new tyres, removed, cleaned and serviced the bottom bracket (amazed at how much water had got in there over the winter). It was all running smoothly on the repair stand, but I had neglected to complete the important final check, a ride around, as I had finished fairly late and was knackered.
So of course, there was a last niggling problem, which became apparent on the ride to the cafe, to be sorted now..a front mech that wouldn’t shift on to the big ring while riding. Schoolboy, (well schoolgirl) error: never neglect that last post service check ride around. A bike which works smoothly on the repair stand, may well not do so smoothly on a real road with a rider attached. Then another rider needed air in the tyres. Neither problem was serious, a quick limit screw adjustment and some nifty pump action. But added together, meant we left half an hour late!
Our delay meant Danny and Katharine were left standing around at a junction in West Wickham for longer than they expected. They tagged on to the back and now 11 of us were heading south. We picked up route 21 at various points to get us out of London. A little off road path here and there, then down Spot Hill to New Addington, where the route winds its way through the large housing estate before turning you out at the top of Layhams Rd and those familiar lanes leading to the first proper descent and ascent of the day. One which all our regular riders knew well, Beddlestead Lane.
It’s a rollercoaster going south and the climb up longer, but less steep and hard than riding it northwards. If you are lucky enough to get a clear road ahead, you can forget your brakes and let the steepness of the descent build enough speed giving the bike the power to get you up a fair bit of the climb ahead. The road is not in a great state, however, and, the bike does begin to rattle and vibrate to the point where your vision becomes blurred and your eyes stream with water.
At the junction with Clarks Lane, we stopped to regroup. Along with several other ride parties. No one passed me on the descent, but I have to admit, I lost count of the riders that passed me on the climb up! Lots of club riders out testing their limits on these very popular, well ridden lanes. I no longer feel the need to test my limits. I would probably not survive the testing, anyway.
I was a bit concerned that we seemed to be waiting a long time for Fiona. When she finally arrived, she announced she thought she should give up and go home. It was far too hard, she said. Which surprised me as she had done that hill before and coped pretty well. Then, it became apparent, she wasn’t able to engage her lowest gears! No wonder she felt like going home! Climbing Beddlestead without your bottom gear must be pure torture!
We had a quick look. It was a brand new bike, and new cables always stretch a bit, so all that was needed was a bit more tension. A few turns on the cable’s barrel adjuster and all her gears were back in action. We were off again!
Down Titsey Hill, which is still sorely in need of resurfacing, so another bone juddering descent. No braking needed though, at least on this occasion, the road was dry, it’s wide, two lanes so no danger of meeting an oncoming car, and we weren’t turning off half way down as we often do, to head along the Pilgrims Way. So all the way down and into Limpsfield.
Limpsfield is another of those pretty Surrey villages spoilt by too much traffic. We turned off up a winding, steepish lane which ends with an off the bike scramble up a few steep yards of very loose surfaced bridleway, which those of us on skinny wheels had to walk, although Maxine found them easy on her big tyres.
Then across the A25, over the golf course, which feels more like a village green and then down Pains Hill. The one downside of building a route out of quiet lanes to avoid the main roads is that the quality of the road surface often leaves a lot to be desired. There were some mighty potholes on Pains Hill and when the road evened out again, we realised we were missing a few people. Unusual for a descent. Then my phone rang. It seems in an attempt to avoid one of the many craters we had passed, one of our riders had ended up in a bush. No injuries, thank goodness. But I do wonder how many cyclists are injured as a result of the state of these roads.
Together again, we carried on heading south and soon we were passing through Edenbridge. Our original plan had been for a tea stop here, but, we were running late so decided to carry on and have a quick snack stop a few miles ahead.
I had rejigged this route to leave out the B2026 which, over the years, has become a very busy road. The motor traffic is fast and it’s pretty narrow, so the few miles from Edenbridge to Hartfield is not a pleasant ride. The alternative winds around it, through Hever and other pretty villages, joining it again just outside Hartfield.
We stopped outside the not quite open Kentish Horse in Markbeech. Time for a snack, drink, time to get the breath back after the last few miles which was a collection of short sharp climbs and descents. Some ramblers were also taking a break there. A couple of other riders also rode up, like us, heading to Ashdown Forest, , although that was to be the end of their journey, rather than merely the halfway point, as it was on ours.
Snacks and drinks done, we moved on, towards Hartfield and Winnie the Pooh country.
For a Bank Holiday, Hartfield was very quiet and almost empty. The lack of sun seemed to have dissuaded the usual masses who crowd its tiny, narrow pavements on their way to play Poohsticks in the hundred Acre Wood (it’s actually in Posingford Wood).
We were heading towards Kidds Hill, probably the toughest climb of the day, and sometimes known as The Wall. There are tougher, steeper and longer hills, but this hill is one of those that, when you begin the climb, it doesn’t feel too bad, or look too long through the tree lined road ahead. So you go for it, even up the steepish bit you hit early on. Then the road straightens up ahead of you, the trees thin out, and you see it’s full extent, stretching out and up and away into the distance and you curse the fact you worked so hard, so early on because you now doubt that you have the legs to finish it.
It’s that doubt that does the real damage. Your brain starts to think about whether or not you can do it, probably beginning little subconscious calculations about what you’ve climbed before, how much energy and oxygen is available in your blood. Clever stuff like our brains do all time. However the legs of most ordinary riders feel that slight hesitation in the brain as it gets to work and those legs are only too happy to say to the brain, “Ok, brain, that’s fine. Don’t worry about trying to work it out. We’ve had enough, we’re stopping now.” Unless you adopt the Jens Voight technique, tell your legs to shut up and just keep going. Which sometimes works even for us lesser mortals on the comparatively small hills we ride in this country.
Near the top of Kidd’s Hill there is one more extra steep bit left, which caused some riders to get off and have a rest before tackling the second half, and one or two to get off and walk. The rest of us made it riding all the way, some of us ( me, mostly) very, very slowly).
At the top, the views, as you ride along what’s appropriately named on this occasion, High St, are pretty spectacular, even on a cloudy day such as we had. The whole of the Ashdown Forest, heathland and trees, stretching northwards to a line of hills that must be the North Downs on the horizon.
A bit of flat riding along the top of the Heath gives you more of these views as you ride along, then the road begins to dip down, a long, long descent, never eye wateringly steep, but enough length and gradient combined to give us, what I suspect, might be the fastest descent of the ride. I only use the routing option on my Satmap, to save power, and in that mode it doesn’t record maximum and average speeds, so I may be wrong,though. Anyone on the ride know?
Stewart left us here to try and get to Buxted quicker, where his fiancé, Dagna, had been waiting for us for, shall we say, a while!
I had warned folks to look out for the left turn to Fairwarp at the bottom of the descent. Two or three folks were ahead of me and shot past it anyway. I marked the turn for the rest and eventually we all regrouped for the next stage of our journey, some very pretty, quiet country lanes but with a run of leg achingly steep, short ups and downs for about 4 miles. The moans and groans were becoming increasingly audible!
We met up with Stewart and Dagna, sitting outside the White Hart waiting. Some of the group began to stack their bikes as if it was the lunch stop. I was sympathetic…we had worked really hard to get to this point, but The White Hart in Buxted, while a pleasant enough pub, sits right on a very busy A road. My planned lunch stop was only a couple of miles further on, in a much prettier setting. Trevor had very helpfully rung them and they were doing food of some kind all day, so the majority voted with me and on we went, turning out of busy Buxted on to more tiny lanes, more short, steep up and downs.
The lanes here tend to follow the little valleys of small rivers and streams, down to the water, over the water by ford or tiny bridge then straight back up to the village or hamlet which grew up maybe a thousand years ago or more, because of its proximity to that water source. We were riding through this area’s long history. Fascinating. But damn hard work!
Then we were heading up a last steep little climb from Tickerage Stream to Blackboys and our (rather later than planned) lunch stop. A very friendly and helpful staff got us all fed and watered but it was still nearly 4 by the time we left and we had about 30 miles to do. The easiest 30 of the ride though, so I had no real fear I would miss my fish and chips on the beach.
Still a couple more of those little steep climbs, but, after Blackboys, the ups got less steep and the downs longer.
After a couple of more miles, I saw a familiar figure riding towards us. Anil, who I knew from rides with Newham Cyclists, had driven down to Hastings, parked, and ridden up to meet us. After a night “socialising” he wasn’t able to make our early start. It was good to see him after all this time and I hope not too long before we ride together again. So now there were 13 of us
Past Cowbeech, the ups seemed to disappear altogether and soon, the numbers of trees began to decrease, the road flattened out and the sky seemed to open up above us and we were on the Pevensey Levels, oaks and beeches replaced by roadside banks of wispy, waving reeds behind which the marshy fields stretched for miles, populated only by sheep and tiny lambs.
One of the things I love about this ride are the contrasts in your surroundings as you pedal on. From city, through urban sprawl, to the North Downs Hills, descending on to the flatter Kentish Weald, fields of cows sheep, horses, even the odd llama or two, pretty villages, medieval churches, bluebell woodlands, then the Ashdown Forest, trees and wild heathland with panoramic views, the little streams, fords and bridges of Sussex, then the lonely, empty marshlands, big skies, herons surging upwards from the reeds, disturbed by the hum of freewheels, the clicking of gears.
And finally, the coast. Shingle beach at Norman’s Bay, then to Cooden Beach. The cycle path runs parallel to the rail track here. And it runs, apart from a short stretch in Bexhill, right next to the sea. The seafront was wide and almost empty. The damp, dull weather had obviously dissuaded many from heading to the seaside for the bank holiday. But it left us with a clear and enjoyable ride alongside the sea to our destination.
Four left us at St Leonard’s to get an earlier train back. Nine of us spent an hour in Hastings. I got my fish and chips (yay!) and wandered down to the beach with Anil and Trish, to eat them, surrounded by an increasingly menacing bunch of herring gulls that inched closer and closer as I munched my meal.
Then it was time to head up to the station, only a couple of minutes from the beach. Bob, Steve, Fiona and Maxine seemed to have acquired a table stuffed with bottles of beer and wine while we were on the beach and had decided to stay for a bit longer. So, only five of us headed up to the station where Trish and Anil packed their bikes on to Anil’s car and headed home that way. Stewart, Dagna and myself boarded the train which took us back to East Croydon and then on another train home via a very welcome hot chocolate courtesy of a kind kiosk keeper on the platform still open at 10pm but happy to serve us.