Surrey Hills Winter Edition December 2013

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I have been a bit remiss in completing ride reports recently…but having been told at the Greenwich Christmas Quiz that at least a few people enjoy them, I will start again.

I rode to Clapham Junction under blue skies streaked with thin threads of pure white cloud, a beautiful clear winter light flooding the Common. A great 6 miles to start the day
I was expecting at least half a dozen people on this ride, due to phone calls and messages indicating a good deal of interest, but, after a flurry of last minute texts bowing out due to the unpleasant forecast, it was just me and, at Dorking, Ian, who had ridden out from London that morning.
We left the station under greying skies and headed down the main road. Circled the roundabout and up to the Box Hill turn. The top of the Box was covered in mist and low cloud, and the higher we climbed, the thicker it became. It lent the hill a calm, quiet atmosphere, the dampness seeming to soak up any sounds of traffic. It’s not a hard climb, gradual, the zig zags bringing the gradient down to an almost friendly level. Ian whipped up ahead. Me, easy hill it may be, but these days I spin up most gradients slowly, and I knew there were harder, steeper hills yet to come.
Fewer roadies than usual were scattered around the tea hut at the top… some perhaps deterred from their weekly hill fix by the weather. Indeed, it seemed there would be no views today, the magnificent spread of Southern England that stretches out below as you ride round the top of the hill was invisible. But, there was a calm and quiet that the hill does not usually possess and we enjoyed the ride through the village, and down on to Pebble Hill.
Our descent of Pebble Hill was, as ever, a glorious thrill. It was not raining and the road was clear and not too greasy, so we could still take it at some speed. Then down into pretty Brockham village and off into quiet farm lanes, for a while before heading down the wonderfully named Spook Hill, over the roundabout to take a turning on to the road to Coldharbour.
Again, I pedalled slowly up this one, although, it didn’t feel as tough a climb as it usually does. I realised this must be because, in spring, autumn or summer, I start the ride much further out and we have already climbed at least three hills before getting to this point. Whereas today my legs were still fairly fresh.
Through pretty Coldharbour, again the sense of calm and peace drifting through the lanes and trees with the mist. The road climbs up and down from here around Leith Hill, although the general tone of the gradient is still up. The higher we climbed, the mistier and more atmospheric it became. There were still some other riders out on the hill, but fewer than usual. Although we had none of the usual stunning views miles out across the countryside, the colour of the fallen leaves, in huge deep drifts covering the ground between the trees was a stunning sight, brilliant coppers and deep reds.
We decided to forego the short off road detour to the tower… The mist and cloud was so thick, it would not have been worth the undoubted huge load of mud we would have gathered on this damp day, after the last night’s rain.
Instead we carried on, turned off Leith Hill and headed down to Friday St. Despite the popularity of Box and Leith Hill with roadies, you rarely see other bikes down here, yet it’s such a beautiful place. Today, wrapped in mist and light rain, it felt like we had gone back in time two or three hundred years as we stopped by its ancient hammer pond, hidden from the rest of the world by tree covered hills.
A steep but short climb out of Friday St, through Abinger Hammer, the name also a reminder of the iron smelting that went on in these hills hundreds of years ago, and then down to Holmbury St Mary. We decided not to stop at the Kings Head after all. Although its welcoming wooden beamed interior, and warm and crackling wood fire would have made it a cosy place to lunch on this damp day. We opted instead for the Peaslake bus shelter and village shop mug of tea, about 5 miles further on, up and down another hill. This is generally where I stop for refreshments when I ride here alone. The descent into Peaslake was very wet and very muddy. However, the bus shelter was already full with mountain bikers, far wetter and muddier! We squeezed in, sat down and supped our mugs of steaming, hot tea from the shop and munched the mince pies I had brought along.
Then we headed out. A few more wet and muddy, narrow lanes, up and down, into Sutton Abinger, then another smaller hill, across the main road and then White Down. After this shorter, easier version of the Surrey Hills, it felt easier than it usually does, although again, I ground up slowly and was passed by a couple of guys, one of whom commented on the boots I was wearing shoved into my toeclips, saying I must be “hard” to ride up in those. I am still puzzling this one out!
Ian was waiting patiently for me again, and began to persuade me to ride back rather than take the train….although this involved one more ascent of Box Hill. He didn’t seem too worried by the fact that I would definitely slow him down, so that’s what we did. And glad I was that I made that choice.
It’s practically all downhill back in to London and includes the beautiful sweep of the Chipstead Valley. Eventually, the roads became busier, the atmosphere of calm tranquility which had characterised the ride began to fade and we were in Coulsdon. With the wind behind us, we were in Croydon in no time. Here we parted, at a distance, as I got caught at a set of lights and waved Ian on. Great riding partner! Off through Penge and Sydenham and one last short hill, across the South Circular and home!
It wasn’t until I peeled off my clothes to get into a steaming hot bath that I realised quite how wet and muddy I was. If you were one of those that pulled out off this ride due to the weather, next time think again. It’s rarely as bad as you think it’s going to be and there are different pleasures to be had riding in all kinds of conditions. Unless the weather renders things unsafe, there is absolutely no need to miss out on rides this winter.