Two Counties Ride
The forecast was pretty bad. Gale force winds with gusts up to 50mph, storm Desmond moving though during the day. So, I wasn’t surprised to find a much reduced group of merely six riders at Ladywell. We left promptly at 9am. I didn’t want to hang around as the weather, already very blustery, was scheduled to get worse in the afternoon.
Fiona caught us as we entered Ladywell Fields and I stopped the group as my phone was ringing. It was another rider, also caught out by our uncharacteristically prompt departure! We met up in Catford and the eight of us headed out through the Bellingham estate and Beckenham Place Park.
I had opted for a different route out of London than my usual choices, heading through the Downham Estate and Sundridge, using a footpath and two private roads, one through the Camden Park Estate in Chislehurst, laid out at the end of the 19th century, by William Willett, primarily a builder, but who also had the original idea for British Summertime. Coincidentally, another of our regular routes out of London to Kent, passes the Daylight Inn in Petts Wood, named in memory of him as well.
We headed down to Chislehurst, past the church and green, on to St Paul’s Cray Rd and then down Leesons Hill, which was empty enough, despite usually being a pretty busy road, to enjoy the 14% descent to the full, safely.
Then on to St Mary Cray. Whenever I pass the church which sits above this busy suburban street, I always think how out of place it looks, a reminder of the old village which once stood by the river, which two hundred years ago, must have been similar to the little villages that still exist deeper into Kent.
Apparently the church has been here since the 13th century, although added to, bits rebuilt and remodelled over the years. I have since found this picture, which is thought to be the church at the beginning of the 19th century.
However, we still had a few more busy roads to ride until we reached countryside and views that resembled anything like this. So on to Chelsfield, turning in to the wind, and beginning the long slow climb up this side of the North Downs. Then across the nasty roundabout over the A25 that also carries traffic on and off the M25. And up a bit more till we hit what feels like a B road (but isnt) to Halstead and Knockholt.
This is usually a pretty easy way to head out to Kent, a fairly gradual ride up along a ridge. But the ever increasing head wind made it a wearying slog. I had ridden the route the previous day, when many of the Kentish lanes I usually use had been waterlogged, mud covered, with piles of gravel washed on to the bottom of the descents. I prefer usually to use the little rollercoaster network of lanes which traverse the downs around Knockholt and Cudham, before heading south of that line of hills on to the Pilgrims way. However, the previous day, I had worn my brakes down, the conditions on these lanes being so bad that no descent could be enjoyed, but mostly ridden down disappointingly slowly, and painfully straining my wrists on the rim brakes I use on the road bike. So I had decided, for safety’s sake to avoid those lanes and use the road that heads through Halstead and Knockholt to get through that part of Kent. Its pretty straight and boringly flat. We put our heads down and pushed into that headwind, buffeted and pushed from side to side by wayward gusts along the way. Halfway along, we passed a small group of Dulwich Paragon riders, speeding in the other direction with a tailwind pushing them along, obviously heading home. I almost felt jealous at that point, as I pushed my head down even harder into the wind, wishing this road would end! Apart from them, we saw few other cyclists out that day. Unusual for this area, where every few minutes one normally passes many groups of varying sizes, some in club kit, others not.
I was so pleased when we reached Sundridge Hill, my chosen route off the North Downs, and the end of this tiring slog up this boring road! And, the hill was dry and free of debris, so could be ridden and enjoyed safely with minimal use of the brakes. Very different from the day before, when it was littered with piles of gravel, large stones and mud washed out by the nights rain. What a difference a day makes! We all enjoyed the freedom of the descent which revived our wind drained spirits enormously.
We turned on to the Pilgrims Way at the bottom, where I was expecting the headwind to be at its fiercest. It was there, but surprisingly, not as strong as I had expected. It may be that the line of the Downs offers a little bit of protection here. Even on this cloudy windy day, the Pilgrims way delivered the ride it always does, a glorious glide along a low ridge of the hills with views out to the south of Kent. However, the surface is becoming gradually degraded, flooded and muddy. If we get a bad winter, I dread to think what it will be like in the spring.
We turned off at Force Green lane, to avoid most of the main road into Westerham, where we planned to take a break. Then a little bit of main road riding, straight into the wind, a gust of which made forced a cry of “Whoa!!” from me!
In Westerham, we headed straight for the cycle cafe, the Drop Bar Cafe. Where, in addition to the lovely cakes and bakes, made by the owners, they have started doing sandwiches and hot home made soup. We had only done 25 miles, but I, at least, felt like I’d ridden twice that! That’s a headwind for you.
The Drop Bar in Westerham is definitely worth a visit and I’m sure we’ll be using it again. Especially as they now do good soup. My favourite lunch on winter rides.
We left Westerham and rode out through the village. Its an incredibly pretty village, but rather spoiled by the main road running right through it. Lots of lovely buildings,the River Darenth running through it. We noticed this interesting pub and made a mental note to pop in on another ride sometime.Once through Westerham, we had a climb ahead of us, out of the Darenth Valley, up Goodley Stock Rd, but barely had we turned off the main road and begun the ascent, there was the call of doom, so well known to every cycling group, “Pu****ure!!!!
This time it was Bob who was the unlucky victim. The tube was changed fairly quickly and then Bob realised he had put a short valve tube into a deep rim wheel. We should have just swapped it straightaway, the rim was far too deep for any pump to get any purchase on the valve. But Bob reckoned he could use a canister to fill it. Wrong!!! After freezing the valve and probably his fingers, we decided to just swap the tube for one with a long valve. So, a job which usually takes about 15 minutes took over half an hour. Never mind, we all learned the lesson.
We had also all cooled down a fair bit in that time, so for once, a climb was welcome, warming us up nicely. Then it wasn’t far before we hit the descent into Crockham Hill. At the top, I warned everyone about the right turn at the bottom, advising them to overshoot it, if they left it too late to get into position, as motor vehicles come down very fast. In the event, I was the only one who overshot it, enjoying the clear, smooth surface on the descent so much that I forgot to brake until it was too late to make the turn safely! I carried on for a few yards, stopped and u-turned to join the rest of the group just as they were reaching the turn, all executing it perfectly. Ooops!
Anyone who rides with me enough soon realises I have a big list of favourite lanes in Kent and Surrey, and we had just turned on to one of them. Dairy Lane runs along the bottom of a line of hills and is a pleasure to ride. Tim and I discussed for a while what the line of hills was. We both realised its too far south to be part of the North Downs proper and I thought it was the Greensand Ridge, but realised my geological knowledge of this area which I have been riding around for years is somewhat lacking. Well, hills, plains, valleys, woods, rivers, streams, cottages and farms, this area has it all, whatever the names and labels might be!
Several more miles of quiet lane riding followed, fairly flat and only occasionally blasted by huge gusts of wind, or hammered by an unsympathetic headwind. Sometimes trees gave us protection, or hedges, or possibly the hills sheltered us too. And once or twice the twists and turns of the lanes gave us a delicious few seconds of tail wind.
Then we were heading due west again along a flat straight B road which offered little wind protection. As we passed to the north of Lingfield, three riders left for the train as they had to be back in London early. The rest of us finished a mile or so more of headwind battling, then we turned north on to Tandridge lane and the tailwind we had been waiting for was finally ours.
The last ten miles were a breeze! Literally. Well, almost all the last ten miles. There was a bit of Tilburstow Hill to climb, not one of my favourite climbs but it does lead to another of my favourite lanes, The Enterdent. Its almost, I have to admit, an off road track, but its a good link to lanes that bypass the busier roads around here. I know it well so took off at my usual speed down it. I was just getting in to the flow, when a grey squirrel shot out in front of me. I braked just enough to slow a little and avoid it and, thinking the danger had passed, released the brakes. The mad creature decided to spin round and head back across my path again. All I could do in that split second was let out a loud yell. Somehow, I didn’t hit it, and both squirrel and I came away unharmed. Another lesson learned. However well you think you know a road, always be prepared for the unexpected.
At the bottom we regrouped and I realised not everyone shared my love of that little descent. It’s a Strava, segment, a friend informs me, so maybe next time we’ll ascend it and folk can see how they do. For me, the most fun is to be had descending it.
We crossed the busy B road and headed up to Churchtown, a pretty hamlet I often include on rides. Lovely buildings, quiet church, it feels a million miles from London, yet it was only about 5 miles now to the end of our ride.I was stuck by the similarity of St Peters Church in this tiny place which probably hasn’t changed for centuries, to St Marys church in St Mary Cray, which most definitely has!
Now it was just one more climb before the final descent home. Well half a climb really. We headed over the A25 and the M25 and then began to tackle the first bit of Gangers Hill, leading on to Tandridge Hill, a tough haul up the North Downs. But this time, much to Bob’s relief, instead of heading up what feels to be an almost vertical ascent round the sharp bend, we went straight ahead on to the rough track which leads on to NCN 21 and the road past Woldingham School. It follows the lowest pass through the Downs at this point and in no time at all we were gliding down at speed, a gradual smooth descent and a tailwind behind.
A great end to an immensely enjoyable winter ride. We took the subway under the Wapses Lodge roundabout on the A22. Its quite an amazing space, which one somehow feels could be put to better use.
Then, a couple of minutes later we were pulling in to Whyteleafe South station where the London bridge train soon arrived to take us all back to our particular bits of Lewisham and Southwark.
Thanks, folks, for a great ride. First of many good winter ones this year and next, I’m sure.