Surrey Hills Ride: The Tough One
A 7am start deterred some of you (as I thought it might) and after a flurry of texts on a beautiful Easter Saturday morning, just as I was about to leave, from people who had overslept or were otherwise unable to make it, just three of us left the cafe to head through fairly quiet South London streets.
We soon realised we had a slight tailwind, which lifted my spirits enormously…I had completed 100 miles since midnight on Thursday night/Friday morning, including a night ride from London to Bognor, and had been a little worried about leading this ride so soon after that. But the tail wind on the outward leg was good news…it’s slightly uphill most of the way to the beginning of the proper Surrey Hills bit and the tail wind meant those first twenty miles or so were easy, rather than an unpleasant grind on busy roads which wears you out even before you hit Box Hill for the first ascent.
We flew down the main roads…expertly guided through Croydon by Trevor, as he knew a much better way than the one I usually take. Then, once the traffic lights decided to run in our favour, we blasted down the A23 to Purley and then Coulsdon, turning off here to head up the Chipstead Valley. The tail wind pushed us along so we hardly felt the gradual rise in gradient. At one point, I think it was here, someone said “Is this the first hill?”
“Not really” I replied, “but you can count it as one if you want”. The unanimous decision was yes, it was a hill!
Over the Tadworth roundabout and then through Walton on the Hill, where I turned off one road too early which necessitated a short lurch down a few yards of rough track to join the road again. Luckily, everyone seemed to enjoy this unexpected short detour.
Then under the M25 near Headley and off up some tiny lanes to pick up Lodge Bottom Rd and the long, lovely glide down Headley Lane.
The next up was Box Hill, and our first ascent of it that day. I stayed at the back, pedalling up slowly, passed by not too many people, but only because it was still early, about 9am, and there weren’t many riders on the hill yet.
At the top, we took a quick break, a cup of tea, and I finished my muesli which I had brought with me, not having had the time to finish it before I left home. I also bought a piece of the tea hut’s treacle tart which I adore, as it reminds me of my grandmother’s from years back. That went in my bag for later.
The view from the hilltop was stunning that morning…we stopped briefly to take a picture.
Then, off and down through the village, on to the main road and, even though it’s a fairly busy main road, on to one of my favourite descents. Pebble Hill. It was only about 30 hours since I had descended it on Friday morning at about 3am, in the company of about 80 other riders on the Friday Night Ride to the Coast. Not possible then, in the dark and with other riders all around to really go for it. But, now, at the front of our group, with a clear view, it was possible to leave the brakes be and enjoy the blast of a fast descent.
Care is needed at the bottom of the hill as there is a level crossing here. Over the roundabout and once again, we were on quiet country lanes. We headed on to Brockham, everyone’s mental image of an English village, pretty green with pub and church close by, old cottages dotted around the edge. Then off into a bit of flat farmland for a couple of miles before heading back down to the wonderfully named Spook Hill, crossing the A24 at the roundabout, heading up towards Dorking, then turning off again into quiet lanes approaching the climb up Coldharbour Lane. It’s fairly long, steady and plays a bit of a trick, making you think it’s finished with you before coming back with a bit more. Lots of riders here, most of them going down, only a couple ascending with us (well, past me!) Through Coldharbour itself, a small hamlet with a good pub.
Then up to Leith Hill.
The day was so glorious, and the slight tailwind still mostly in our favour, so the climbs were not too taxing. I stopped at the turn off for Friday St and gave my usual warning about the state of the surface, to take care, not too much sharp front brake, etc etc. We all enjoyed the descent, fast but safe and tok a few minutes to take in the calm and peace of this lovely little hamlet, almost lost in time in this ancient wooded valley.
A steep but short climb out of Friday St, through Abinger Hammer, the name also a reminder of times long gone and the iron smelting that went on in these hills hundreds of years ago, and then down to Holmbury St Mary. Up the hill again, past the Space science Centre and down Radnor St to Peaslake bus shelter where off roaders congregate with a smattering of roadies to consume mid ride snacks, often purchased at Peaslake’s
welcoming village shop, an institution amongst cyclists, surely, by now, with its hot mugs of tea, coffee and freshly baked cheese straws.
We took the Ewhurst Rd out of Peaslake, then after a few miles turned again and headed back north up Pitch Hill…the woods through which we rode carpeted with bluebells and echoing with the whirring wheels of mountain bikers, tackling the trails that criss cross the woodlands.
Then we had to cross the A25, to access White Down. It has a little foothill which you climb first from where you can view what you are are just about to encounter. It’s not excessively steep, 18% at the mosts, but it seems so long and it has a cheeky little kick up right at the end which can hit you when you have nothing left if you have given it your all further down. I ground up slowly.
At the top, Gill and I waited, drank some water and chatted about the ascent. Trevor was nowhere to be seen, but we knew he couldn’t be far ahead and sure enough we saw him a little way down the other side as we rode on.
Then on to Ranmore Common, so pretty in spring, a rolling ride to our last big descent, the drop into Westhumble. It has a sharp right bend at the top, but then it’s just a teeth clattering, tearing dive down off the hills, which is great fun.
Then on to our second ascent of Box Hill of the day. Much busier now, and a huge queue at the tea hut. We stopped for a bit, before heading off for what is largely a downhill run back to SE London. The roads were busier, but the A23 on the way back is easier to negotiate in this direction as it’s just a straight run in to Croydon. It’s practically all downhill back in to London and includes again the beautiful sweep of the Chipstead Valley, which we had come up on the way out. Eventually, the roads became busier, the atmosphere of calm tranquility which had characterised the ride began to fade and we were in Coulsdon, then in no time at all, Croydon. Again Trevor led us across the tram lines of doom through the town, and also through a secret alleyway in Sydenham on to the Waterlink Way for the last leg into Ladywell. In fact, he also led Gill in the right direction home to avoid her doing extra miles to our startpoint in Ladywell… her route to Bexleyheath was on his way home. Good teamwork.
Thanks to my riding mates of the day, who helped make this one of the best Surrey hills rides I have done.
If you missed this one, there will be a summer edition in a few weeks time. Keep your eyes on our rides calendar.