Can you have a tradition after just two years? Well you have to start somewhere and today was the day for our now ‘traditional’ Christmas lunch at the Cock in Headley.
It doesn’t have the same ring as Jamie Oliver’s Cock in Cider (say it out loud!), but all the same, a decent place for a lunchtime meal. Thanks to Barbara it came with it’s own custom chocolate cake too!
Immediately preceeding the meal was an informal ride for the more enthusiastic among us. This turned out to include Amanda, KevS, TonyG, Jez, BigAl, DaveW, DaveS, JohnR and myself and we were due to meet Darren, MarkyMark and Steveo at the Cock car park where they would join us for the rest of the ride.
Just for a change – for which you can read it is currently my only bike with mud tyres! – I decided to take out my 1998 V-braked and rigid forked Marin Muirwoods. With all the mud around it wasn’t likely to be a fast ride so the lack of suspension didn’t bother me at all and neither did the old-school brakes. As the ride progressed it took me back to days of little or no suspension travel and the scrape of mud on wheel rims but to be honest it all seemed to work just fine.
First off we headed down into Norbury Park and turned left to pick up the singletrack toward Bockett’s Farm. It was pretty cold, with temperatures around 2° and plenty of frozen mud and puddles around but surprisingly quite a few people around walking or with dogs. This is probably due to us starting an hour later than usual but on the whole people seemed relaxed enough.
We headed down to Leatherhead with some of us scampering along while people like myself brought up the rear, my tired legs being slow to warm up. So far this month I have 300 miles on the clock and the miles are starting to tell.
Alsation offered nothing but pain despite the gears on my bike. I rode it last week in 6:18 on the singlespeed but managed just 6:33 with gears although I was certainly pegged back this week by riders ahead for the final third. JohnR had no such hindrance at the front and posted an astonishing 5:13 but then he was trying!!
We continued on for a similarly sapping climb up Life on Mars which is now firmly mud bound at the top. At one point I nipped past Tony, preferring to float across the mud at speed rather than drag myself through it but it’s all a matter of taste.
After reaching Headley we rode round to the pub to pick up the others and then continued on our way as there was a distinct chill in the wind as we stood around the car park. We rode round the back of Headley Cricket Ground before cauuting back and picking up Secret Singletrack. It’s now pretty clear of vegetation as the bracken has died back and just needs a bit of careful consideration of the wet tree roots, something I was a bit cautious of with my rigid fork. As it turned out the Marin was handling quite well but with that kind of set up when it breaks loose it goes pretty quickly.
After Secret Singletrack we turned left up the climb back onto the Heath and then rode Gear Selecta! in it’s ‘proper’ direction. Again, a turn or two proved a bit dicey on the Marin but I just tried to get a bit further forward and steer more deliberately than I would normally and it seemed fine.
What wasn’t fine was my legs, letting me know each time the trail turned up that they have worked hard this month. We trailed across the Heath, picking up the odd noodly bit of singletrack here and there and then ended up riding round the perimeter toward High Ashurst. At this point JohnR and Darren fairly blasted past me as the short sharp climbs kicked in, to which I had no response.
Finally we neared the tarmac road from High Ashurst, but rather than ride this we took the bridlepath that parallels the road, which was splashy with mud as the morning wore on and the ice and frozen mud melted. I remember a long time ago that there was a long bit of singletrack the parallels this too but couldn’t see any sign of it, more’s the pity.
I had a plan for us to ride a short but notorious bit of techy trail which is the chalky gully that goes down from High Ashurst. It’s now gated (wonder why) but back in the day the pioneer Moles used to ride this – or at least attempt to – and thought of it with a degree or respect and called it Dave’s Descent for some very obscure reasons that even Dave is now unsure of! We used to ride a very limited area (hadn’t heard of the honeypot trails of the Surrey Hills back then) but I’m pleased to report that it’s still a difficult few yards of trail, particularly when the roots and chalk are slick with damp and ice!
Despite warning everyone I’m not sure any of us rode it without at least dabbing but I reckon I made a good fist of it on my rigid hardtail, keeping my speed under control on the approach, moving over to the right and then dropping left into the gulley and letting it guide the bike round a sharply dropping right hand bend. I needed a toe dab but I can assure you I’ve ridden that a hell of a lot worse over the years and often given up completely! But I was proud of my retro route and retro bike combo…
Facing us next was the need to gain a lot of height if we wanted to get back to the pub for lunch, a reminder as to why we rarely ride this neck of the woods today. The options were the frankly masochistic pebbly climb which I had no doubt I’d end up walking on, or the slightly easier long climb to the right. If you haven’t tried the pebbly climb you’ll be forgiven for thinking that this long climb was bad enough, and seeing JohnR (and this time DaveW) disappear up the trail at a rate of knots won’t help your frame of mind either. I guess climbs can be as masochistic as you make them!
Eventually back on higher ground we crossed the Heath a final time and finished the ride with another run through Secret Singletrack, riding better this time with one lap already under our wheels, before we arrived in the pub car park bang on schedule to meet the non-riders amongst us for the much anticipated Christmas lunch.
It turned out that Adam’s other half Babara knows how to sling together a few ingredients (in fact, she’s a pro) and had made us our very own Muddymoles cake decorated with the mole logo and with scenes of the Surrey Hills round the sides. Fantastic, especially the multiple layers of chocolate sponge separated by chocolate cream filled with fresh raspberries. After photographing the cake for posterity the evidence has now been devoured by some hungry moles. Massive thanks to Barbara!
The rest of the daylight hours were spent in companionable conversation in a nice warm pub eating some nice pub food. Can’t be bad.
Merry Christmas everyone! (photos of the day are on Flickr)