Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Ride report: Sunday 17 December – beers and gears Christmas ride

Posted by Matt | December 19, 2023 | 10 comments so far

Sums up middle aged mountain biking
Thanks to Lloyd’s organisational skills, we managed a Christmas ride before Christmas for a change.

I think you need to go back to about 2011 for a Christmas ride before Christmas, back to a time when the majority of us rode round on tiny 26 inch wheels. How times have changed, as The Prof turned up today with an e-Yeti.

Today’s ride had pretty much everything – drying trails (or at least dry-ish), fine weather with even a little sunshine, pub stops, a very decent lunch and a variation of our familiar Reverse Newlands route that actually went to Newlands for a change.

Unfortunately, despite organising the whole of today (with the possible exception of the weather and trail conditions) our ride lacked a key ingredient – Lloyd!

Tubercular lungs finally managed to do what the trees on Friday’s night ride hadn’t, and Lloyd was off the morning start sheet, confined to his burrow. A bitter blow for all concerned.

Christmas 2023 Moles ride

That left 8 riders meeting at Bocketts Farm – MarkP (the Prof), Tony, MarkC, JR, Stuart, MarkJ, Gordon and myself. I was hoping to see Elliot, Karlos and a James or two but pre-Christmas is a busy time of year.

Riding to our traditional start point, I felt tired before we’d started. Too few miles in my legs this year is telling in my recovery times as my legs feel sore for days and my winter hardtail felt like heavy pedaling. I consoled myself with the expectation of steady progress throughout the day but it didn’t really feel that way.

I think the only person who felt they had the legs for today was the Prof – and he was on his e-bike! Excepting JR of course. The rest of us had either a lack of fitness, lack of miles or recent illness to contend with. But we all wanted beers and a decent lunch, so there was that.

Old skool route

Off we went, properly old-skool after recent logging work on the various Ranmore approaches. For now, no point to Alfred Pennyworth since the climb up Dearly Beloved is chalk porridge, similarly the Tanners Climb has been trashed and Connicut Lane. It left us with the old Yew Trees climb past Polesden Lacey.

Ever a rude awakening, it too is showing the effects of water run off with deep chalk gulleys before kicking mercilessly upward. A conversation stopper until Ranmore.

Along the way we passed a group of gravel riders (or did they pass us?!), notable for being a mixed group with a rider profile somewhat younger than us. Or at least it seemed to me. We saw them again as we headed to Badger Run which they eschewed for the alternate that was part of our original trail repertoire until we worked out how muddy it gets.

Novices have to start somewhere!

Our preference – to plug along Badger Run, then Collarbone wasn’t obviously a better choice but we still got to White Down about the same time as they did, despite their faster machines and Gordon wanting to stop to hug trees along the way.

We paused for breath while a large group of the gravelleurs passed us on a selection of desirable machinery, and added helpful suggestions on their technique. Then it was onward to Trouble in Paradise.

It’s not particularly utopian currently.

The log roll has long since been consumed by a fallen tree so we are back to routing around, then a bit further on is more windfall disrupting the original route. But it remains an enjoyable interlude before the swampy morass taking you toward the White Down road.

Tony and The Prof

Crossing over, it was on to Secret Probation. It’s no easier to trail find in daylight than at night (this is all part of our regular weekday evening rides), with a carpet of coppery beech leaves everywhere. After some relatively level riding it eventually seques into a faster downhill and flowy race to the Drover’s Road.

These woods are so familiar to us after years of local riding but a favourite of the past couple of years has been Sauvage, despite a chequered reputation in my book. It rewards familiarity, flow and fitness before getting ‘quite lively’ toward the end.

Arriving near the sawmill, it was another climb back up to Ranmore, carefully calibrated by me to be ‘enough’ effort but not ‘too much’ effort as I struggled to keep pace. It was understandable, as we had a tight time schedule to stick to so when we reached the Drover’s Road again we had to choose to pass up the delights of El Duce and head straight to Petrol Pump.

Having not been out consistently on Sunday rides for a good chunk of this year I’ve managed to miss many occasions to ride Petrol Pump but it remains one of my favourite trails.

Long, fast in places, alternating between technical and flow sections and (usually) with an anticipated coffee stop at the bottom its a real treat. Today was no exception. Well, except we went to the pub instead!

Get the party started

Petrol Pump ends at the A25 close to Shere, from where it is only a few hundred yards to Gomshall Mill (or the Compasses next door if you prefer). We opted for the Mill, slightly lowering the tone for people enjoyable a morning brunch. I had a pint of the Tillingbourne Dormouse to start the days festivities.

Christmas 2023 with the Muddymoles

But the clock was ticking. Our lunch booking at the Percy Arms in Chilworth was for 12 noon and it was gone 11 when we left. So it was back on the trail to Shere, then Albury and on toward Blackheath, with some tricky, technical gulley climbs to navigate along the way.

Our careful timekeeping saw us arrive just two minutes past the hour at the popular pub, for a South African themed meal of meat and few veg.

It’s almost as if our South African routeplanner had an objective in mind, which made it all the more disappointing on Lloyd’s behalf that he wasn’t able to join us.

Trinchado at the Percy Arms

We toasted his efforts with pints of Percy ale and in my case, a serving of Bobotie. Others opted for Bunny Chow or Trinchado but I don’t think there was a bad choice to be made.

Although its the first time I’ve seen someone order the soup of the day as a dessert…

A struggle back

The downside of a fine lunch was needing to get home. A few pints down, a large meal consumed and… St. Martha’s Hill right in front of us! Hmmmm…

Well, the only option was to start slow. And in my case, get slower!

Christmas 2023 outside the Percy Arms in Chilworth

The St. Martha’s climb is a technical challenge at the best of times. At least today we weren’t struggling with a blazing sun on our backs but I had no wish to see my Bobotie again. So I carefully metered my effort and actually made it up with just the one dab despite sharing the climb with descending walkers and fellow Moles.

I assumed at that point it would be just the usual grindy tarmac winch to the back of Newlands. But I assumed wrongly.

JR by now had assumed the mantle of group leader, a role I am ever-willing to forsake.

Matt climbing St. Marthas Hill

But with the proximity of climbs I was quickly reminded that at times my lack of input can cost dearly. Thus we found that instead of the tarmac climb – unpleasant in itself – we were gently guided over to Water Lane and the long slog up to Newlands Corner.

Climbing to Newlands

This climb is a long, unambiguous grind.

An extended approach leads to a road littered with debris and flotsam from further up the hill, invariably a steady stream of water, surprising potholes and, once you reach the kick of the middle third, a steep bottom gear slog round deep chalky rain gulleys. After that it is plain sailing so long as you are prepared to keep turning your legs at close to your maximum effort for another quarter of a mile.

Still feeling the effects of lunch and beer, I was in self preservation mode. Had I been close enough I suspect I’d have heard the Prof give a little chuckle to himself as he adjusted his e-bike’s output. He had the upside of simple physics, while I suffered the downside.

Christmas 2023 at Newlands Corner

For the next few miles that self preservation continued. The return leg from Newlands is an upward trend all the way from Newlands to Beggars Lane and by then my neck was hurting, my legs were sore and I was in my own circle of pain. I decided on a strategic analgesic while we waited for us all to regroup, but at least we had largely broken the back of the climbs.

JR left us at Sheepwalk Lane to get back on time, and almost immediately we headed downhill. Coincidence? I think not (!)

Back to the future

Our final route was to the Crocknorth Road, then down the long descent to Dirtham Lane at high speed once I’d inspected my rear brake and determined I was out of pads. I haven’t ridden down here for ages so it was a fitting end to the ride’s efforts.

After that it was a case of hanging on to the Queens Stage pub at Effingham. I was completely wrung out and my legs were cramping but once in the warm and armed with another pint I started to perk up while my fellow Moles visibly wilted.

Mark climbing Water Lane, Newlands Corner

I assume my painkillers had kicked in because I felt great – until leaving. The final couple of miles were hell as I struggled to keep up until belatedly guessing I was actually chasing a group led by the Prof’s e-bike. Or Tony. Same difference!

By the end of the day I had 30 miles racked up and felt I’d earned a hot bath. Next year, with luck, I’ll be stronger.

We’ve had many Christmas rides over the years and its easy to get nostalgic looking back.

Riders come and riders go but are always missed for the contributions they make to the group. DaveC, Jem, Kev, Dandy, AndyK, Darren, Amanda and many more have all graced previous events but the spirit of the group – and a determination to enjoy riding bikes in each others company – remains strong.

Long may it continue.

Filed under Rides in December 2023


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 10 comments on ‘Ride report: Sunday 17 December – beers and gears Christmas ride’

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  1. John R says:

    Good write up Matt, and a good ride though sadly missing Lloyd. But we were briefly joined by Mrs R, who was driving her car right behind us on the section of road up to the pub. My own wife passed me in her car and I didn’t recognise her!

    • Matt says:

      I do recall a car passing us quite considerately as we headed to the pub John, I assume that was MrsR.

      I remember because when we left we were passed very inconsiderately by an Audi driver who can see round corners…

      Also, when I talk about a ride before Christmas last being in 2011…


      My phone has just reminded me of our pre-Christmas ride and meal at the Queens Arms in Clandon in 2019. Crucially… no write up!

  2. Tony says:

    Another to add….. great write up Matt. A really enjoyable day out. The S.African pub grub was excellent too, a really tasty change from UK pub food.

    It was a tough day out for certain since most of us have had winter colds etc, of course non worse than Lloyd. Seeing ProfM (the 3Marks ride!) was a nice surprise. His eleccy Yeti was a very good looking eMTB, although he’s saving up for when the 16 pivot bushings (yes I counted them to confirm) start need replacing.

    It’s positive to see eMTB integrating to our group so that more folks can ride, although I could have probably have done without ProfM’s questions 200yds from the top of Water Lane. What next JR joining us on a gravel bike?

    The last positive from the day was riding some trails that we hadn’t ridden for a while. Over Blackhealth, up St Martha’s and the blast past Crocknorth Farm down to Dirtham Lane (which is usually missed out for our now default Sheeplees route).

  3. Tony says:

    Main photo still makes me laugh. It defines going out cycling with a group of old gits / old prostates in a group like ours

  4. Dandy says:

    That write up had me reminiscing, not so much as the video clip that Tony re-shared of my otb incident on Blind Terror (?) had me wincing 😕 Maybe schedule the next pre-Christmas Beer Adventure for 2025? I’ve a wedding to attend in West Wales on 5th Dec in 2 years time.

  5. Elliot says:

    I didn’t look too closely at the route until reading this. It is entirely unsurprising that with JR taking the lead the group not only went up St Martha’s but then dropped nearly 100+ft for the joy of climbing Water Lane as well. This is unheard of, and no doubt had it been me in the lead I would have been burnt at the stake!

    Hopefully see you all for the next Christmas ride!

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