With the clocks going back on Saturday night you know the hazy days of summer are finally consigned to memory, and, whilst we have had a good run of warm weather recently and dry trails to boot, it’s an all-too-quick transition to mud and gloop out there in the hills at this time of year. Sunday gave us a glimpse of what sadly will probably be the form for the next few months.
Sunday rides have been a bit of a rarity for me recently as I continue to juggle riding (and finding the energy for it) with fatherly responsibilities, and it showed as I reached the car park when, among a good sized group, Barrie’s face was the only familiar one. DaveC and Jem were otherwise engaged ‘escorting’ their good ladies to a Dirt Diva shindig at Swinley and I suspect the others may well have thought better of it after rocking it up at AndyC’s birthday bash. After some general chatter we were good to go. All in a group of ten of us set off which consisted of Barrie, Jez, John, Toby, me and then there was at least a Matt, Dave, Jamie and a Chris – apologies I will get to learn names eventually!
With Matt absent it fell to Jez and myself to plot a course for the good ship Mole and we soon settled on heading for Leith Hill tower having stayed local last week. We took the usual route along the Admiral’s track towards Polesden Lacey, and whilst there was obvious evidence of hedge cutting activity near the car park, it thankfully hadn’t extended too far, so we avoided any immediate puncture frustrations.
Being well off my peak fitness of late, the assumed position of co-ride leader did give me a legitimate excuse to play tail-end Charlie for most of the ride in order to keep our charges on the right setting. Sadly for me, this meant that the usual ride ‘stops’ weren’t quite so frequent as usual. With Barrie, John and Jez up front, we pushed along at a fair old lick.
We dispatched Polesden in a blur and plunged into the Yew Trees descent before the grind up to Ranmore Common Road which strung the field out further. At the top of the track there was a brief stop to remove excess clothing – the Autumn sun showing there was still some heat in it yet.
Onto the road and left into the Scout site, Badger Run beckoned and the tight right hander onto the NDW gave good evidence that rain and chalk don’t mix well. We congregated at the top of Land Rover for a quick ‘dos and don’ts’ chat for those not acquainted with its charm, before Barrie led the group down at sufficient intervals. Yes it was wet, and the top required the usual amount of noodling before letting it run out to the end. What made it difficult was the carpet of leaf litter obscuring the normally quite visible roots and stepped drops. Fun, but a bit dicey.
We pressed on over the railway line where I nearly fell flat on my backside, slipping on the wet sleepers that form the crossing. We kept up a good pace from there to pretty much the top of the stepped climb onto Wolverns Lane, where only losing traction on the back wheel hopping over one of the logs forced me to walk up the final section. A brief rest to allow legs and lungs to recover, we set off up the lane, weaving through the trees before once again congregating at the ‘crossroads’ above Broadmoor.
Group consensus decided we’d miss out a run down Summer Lightening and instead head ‘straight’ for the tower, with the preference to carry on to Holmbury and take in a few trails new to some of the group. At the trail head of Summer Lightening, we turned off right and made a course for Deliverance via the short but fun ‘trail’ that takes in the small series of bomb holes, the last of which is filling nicely with water.
I think I speak for all the group when I say we would of taken in Deliverance had it not been for the detour it would have added to our route. Next time of course. That left a run towards the cricket pitch, taking in a ‘freestyle’ route through the bomb holes and onto the tower. Attacking the tower climb from this direction (as opposed to the climb up from Broadmoor) means the legs aren’t already shot and you get a flying start too. Jez led the line, and made a good crack of it on his singlespeed, but was soon dismounting, leaving me with a clear route ahead. I stuck to my favoured left hand side and once I’d cleared the last of the rocks knew it was just a case of driving to the top, but not before an ever youthful, and frankly disgustingly fit, Barrie pipped me at the post.
At the Tower, the pace of our ‘rest stop’ was almost as relentless as the ride. After what must have been no more than three minutes respite (OK, maybe I exaggerate slightly, but not by much!) we were back in the saddle. What talk there had been was largely more on-the-fly route planning and with Jez and I hazy on the location of known trails between the summit and the road we were thankful when Toby stepped up to the plate with his knowledge of the ‘other side of the tower’. I must reserve a special mention to Matt (I think it was), who not only rode the entire ride in a sleeveless vest type top, but in the chilly wind then proceeded to devour a lemonade ice lolly by way of ‘refreshment’. My testicles were retreating for warmth at the sight!
We picked up what I can only describe as the ‘usual’ route to the quarry (it all came flooding back to me if ever so too late) which includes I think Chocolate Jesus. We emerged at the top end of the quarry and ducked left into the short but gnarly trail that spits you out onto the road above High Ashes Farm. I led the group down this section and for once cleared it, as normally the final tight right hander above the last drop off normally causes me grief.
We flew down the High Ashes descent, stopping briefly for a horse and rider, before making our way up past the cricket pitch to the ‘five ways’ crossroads, just below the exit to Yoghurt Pots. We trundled up the hill to the trailhead, passing some kids who, quite frankly, were riding machines more expensive than my car. Where’s the justice? We watched them rocket off down the trail and followed shortly behind. I’ve only done a handful of runs down Yoghurt Pots since it was remodelled, and whilst the ending is still quite a boggy affair, it would have ordinarily been largely unrideable by now with the amount of water collecting along its undulating course. It’s certainly much better for the modifications.
We pressed on towards Telegraph; a trail that demands to be ridden fast especially the final straighter section. We had previously decided to peel off right before the final run into the car park and it was at pretty much this point, in amongst a group of guided beginners, that Barrie rather bizarrely lost his chain. What’s even more surprising is that he found the chain and both of the powerlink connectors to avoid a very long walk home (or at least a bit of faffing around with a chain tool).
The stop did allow a few minutes chat with one of the All Biked Up chaps who was looking forward to the forthcoming improvements to the end of BKB as work got underway at the beginning of this week. All in we should see about an extra 500m of trail developed.
With Barrie back to a fully operational drivechain we wound through the trees before descending the switchback descent into the car park and onwards to the Volunteer to pick up the bridleway to the A25. It was straight over the road into Abinger Roughs where the brain quickly began to compute the final throes of the ride. Up White Down and back down Yew Trees? Or up McPhearsons and down past the vicarage? Well, on the basis that the vicarage descent can still leave you with a nasty end-of-ride climb back past Phoenix farm we opted for the former.
The ascent up White Down can rarely be described as pleasurable and whilst it was rather hellish on weary legs, if you have the necessary wherewithal to look around, especially at this time of year, you are rewarded with beautiful views.
From the top we largely retraced our wheels back to home via Collarbone, Badger Run and Yew Trees. A good ride, in lovely weather, and at a good pace too. Back home at just a shade past 12.45 was a pretty good effort considering we had a fairly large group. And with 27 miles on the clock (so I guess about 24 miles for those starting from the car park) it was a good workout to say the least.