North Downs. Doesn’t sound like much really, does it? Yet somehow today we managed to squeeze in a variety of freshly uncovered trails, about 28 miles and 2800 feet of climbing (and, obviously, descending!). All in all quite a lot packed into a ride which never took us further than Shere then.
Ah the North Downs. Everyone thinks roots, clay and chalk and to be fair, for a large chunk of the year that’s pretty much it. But for a brief period in the middle of the year things get to be pretty good fun, as today proved, helped no end by recent trail developments.
Today our ride group of James, Eliott, Dave, Kev, Chris and myself was joined by Karl (no, not THAT one but another one from Ashtead), making a small group of seven. Incidentally, thanks to the Bike Snob NYC I’m always very tempted to nickname someone ‘Hot Karl’ when we meet another Karl. This is deeply unfortunate as a quick read of the link (or a look on Urban Dictionary) will explain, and why, wherever possible today I just got on with riding my damn bike!
With plenty of rain at times this week I stuck my lucky mudguard on the Kona singlespeed this morning and that proved to be an inspired (and entirely wasted) choice as we encountered no rain at all today. The only bit of mincing came within the first mile as we negotiated the puddles on the Admiral’s Track but after that it was dry all the way. The mincing was understandable from Dave and Elliott, both riding new 2014 Salsas in (literally) Regular and Large flavours of Spearfish and Horsethief. Both fine looking machines.
Our route took us up to Ranmore the traditional way, via Yew Trees which has now been optimised for horses with lots of aggregate down on the downslope. In fairness it was getting pretty eroded and without realising it there is now a small lip halfway down as the scalpings cover a drainage pipe, providing us with some minor fun. Being singlespeed though my main concern was the grind up to Ranmore. It seemed to take until then for my legs to loosen up.
Soon after that we picked up our first twisty bit, the top section of Wire in the Blood which served only to remind me that my forks are currently a bit soft. 100mm of Reba goodness doesn’t go far when there’s step downs and lumpy stuff to contend with. Back onto Badger Run, it was soon dispatched and then the steady pull along Collarbone toward White Down. By the time we reached the end of that, Chris had disappeared and when he did finally arrive he didn’t look to well, possibly suffering from a touch of Ebola (which seems to be ‘going round’ at the moment). He decided to turn back and try and get home before he collapsed in the woods, bleeding from every orifice, which would certainly have put the threat of bovine TB spread by badgers into perspective.
So we were six. And six we remained for the rest of the ride, meandering firstly along the North Downs Way, then up to the Drovers Road, then onto Dave’s target of Bingo Bongo Dave. This is quickly establishing itself as a bit of a favourite during this period we call summer, with all of us having a good go down there, despite a bit of sat nav error thanks to all the trees. My singlespeed really goes go well for a hardtail, although I properly bottomed out the fork as we crossed the road!
After that we span up to Honeysuckle Bottom and then dragged ourselves up to start on Wonderland (it’s name irritatingly putting the Simply Red tune into my head! Which is still there now!). I was unlucky enough to drop my chain which forced me to pull up – unlucky because it happened, even though I knew I’d set up the chain with one link too many when I fixed up the bike. I rode the rest of the trail a bit slower but it seemed fine and when I arrived at the bottom Dave said ‘we’re going round again!’ so off I went.
This time the chain stayed put and the extra familiarity let me ride it a bit quicker; at least the sat nav error was on my side this time. A great trail which might suffer a bit over winter but will be waiting for us in the spring I’m sure.
At some point during our ride an idea had formed for Kev, who’d taken on the cake-sourcing duties, with the suggestion of a stop in Ye Olde Sandwich Shoppe in Shere. To get there meant a climb back up to the Drovers Road past the sawmill, followed by a splendid trail down through Netley Park. At this point, as we left the Sawmill Karl pick up a flint cut on his tubeless tyres which required a short stop to wormify a repair from Daves backpack of possibilities. The stop gave Kev the chance to size up Eliott’s Horsethief which I don’t think will ever fit Kev judging from the picture.
So Netley Park. Awesome! First time for me and a lovely flowing wend through the trees, relentlessly downhill but with few surprises and a very instinctive feel to it. I love the way these tracks just spit you out into civilisation and you realise you’ve been passing them by for years and none the wiser. We didn’t waste too much time after this getting to our cake where I confess I shamefully and entirely guiltlessly managed to nab the last rock cake in the shop from James! Sorry!
By way of karma rebalancing things I got a week cup of scalding brown liquid claiming to be coffee, but the cake was lovely. I’ve put in an order with my domestic staff on the strength of it.
Our return was pretty straightforward, a kind of reverse of our usual Newlands route to Abinger, then onto the Roughs and all the way to Westcott, with me forced at times to go at Maximum Hamster speed to keep up. I could feel myself starting to tire, with the hills getting more and more grindy but my pace stayed consistent thankfully. A Concerted Hello approach seemed to work with the large groups of walkers we passed on the way back and for a change there didn’t seem to be too much friction.
Very little friction was in evidence from Elliott as well as he took off up the High Med climb at a rate which had us wondering if the Sheriff was on his tail to question him about some missing horses. Whoosh! he was gone with no reply from any of us.
The final trail of the day was a spirited run down Golden Nugget for us, one I enjoyed immensely as it was flowing really well. From there we needed only to haul ourselves through the Polesdon estate and home to Bockett’s. I had the urge to push for a stop at Domestique and don’t think any of us would have taken much dissuading but time was getting on. The prospect of ending the ride with a raspberry and chocolate brownie and decent coffee was very tempting, hopefully next time!
North Downs. Never would have expected to have this much choice (and that’s without the Norbury stuff which is out there too).