Today, many of our regular riders were elsewhere – Tony and Keith were recovering from a Geneva to Nice road riding ‘holiday’; Kev was returning from Tuscany; and D’Andy, Al, Jon the Greek were riding the Passeportes du Soleil. Fortunately we managed to scrape together just over a quorum of riders to brave the Surrey Hills.
Last week had proved a tough ride with lots of climbing in hot and dusty conditions. This week, Dave planned a similar effort with those dusty conditions in mind since the sandy areas of the Greensand ridge around Leith and Holmbury always drain much better than elsehwere; we had, after all, had a lot of rain in the past couple of days. Fair enough.
So Dave and I were joined by James and Karl, plus Nick and Steven (both relatively new to the group), making six in all.
The first part of the ride was a standard trudge up to Ranmore, with puddles newly appeared on the Admiral’s Track leading to early mincing, making me glad I hadn’t attempted to run my newly singlespeeded (and stripped and cleaned) Kona. Instead I remained on the Five which I’ve now reacclimatised to.
I was slightly circumspect down Yew Trees, partly unsure how the surface would be after apocalyptic rainfall yesterday afternoon and partly because I was riding without contact lenses due to an order fulfillment issue (Okay! I forgot to order them!). By the time I’d reached Ranmore it was time to ditch the base layer that I’d rashly thought to put on as things were hot and humid, and before long were were slipping and sliding toward the start of Wire in the Blood. This is a fun little trail that leads onto Badger Run, with a couple of logs and a small dropdown but with the damp Ranmore clay it demanded a bit of caution.
Wire in the Blood continues off the side of the hill after Badger Run, but so far I haven’t had the chance to scope this part out and in any case we were heading toward White Down. So along Badger Run, then onto Collarbone it was, Everyday Essentials riding from the Muddymoles Value range for us. Pretty soon we were onto the Abba Zabba complex, with Karl completing it fine while the rest of us skirted round with the emphasis on flow and form. Dave and Karl also rolled into Blind Terror 2 by the oak but I woosed it and joined them for the big roll in to the road, then over and down through the woods back onto the road. I found the lower half really enjoyable today and found a good flow.
Soon we were crossing Abinger Roughs, heading for the Paddington Farm climb, the sharp Abinger hills making themselves felt, before dropping to the A25. At the foot of the Paddington climb we found some fast looking bikers trying to fix a broken chain and Karl managed to help out with a spare quick link. By this stage Steven felt it better to turn back rather than slog up the hill as he was starting to feel the pace a bit, but the rest of us settled in for the climb, soon passed by the riders we’d helped at the bottom. They turned out to be as fast as they looked!
Onwards and upwards. There’s no getting away from the fact that from the A25 you are basically climbing all the way to the Holmbury summit (as distance I’ve never measured; perhaps I should). We headed for Car Park 9 and continued to climb in increasingly warm conditions, across Telegraph Road and then up the parallel trail. It felt pretty relentless but eventually we rocked up at the start of Yoghurt Pots. Dave headed off first, then I followed about 30 seconds later and got a clear, uninterrupted blast down Yoghurt Pots, pushing hard enough to get a lovely arcing flight off one of the big pots and to arrive seriously out of breath at the bottom. I enjoyed that one.
We were tempted by the idea of Crackpipe and in hindsight should have given it a go as the trail surface on Yoghurt Pots was much better than I’d expected, but instead headed down past the cricket ground to the road for the long slog up the Mother. Crackpipe would have brought us out pretty close by but we’d made up our minds and stuck to plan. Besides we needed some energy for the Mother.
Actually compared to last week it was not too bad. A couple of sections were quite wet and gloopy and of course you had to keep your eyes peeled for riders coming down but at least it was a steadier effort than last week. I haven’t been up this climb for a long time but paced it out and felt quite comfortable watching James disappear into the distance!
After regrouping we crossed into the quarry, Karl and Nick having a couple of goes over a jump or two before Dave led us off through the trees following a path of least resistance to end up at the Starvall car park, leaving us with a relatively steep and meandering route up to the Leith Hill play area. A long time ago this was as gnarly as we got but it’s eroded a lot since then and it was all easy fun, helped by the fact our bikes are much better these days as well!
A cake stop at Leith Tower was slightly hampered by a deceptively cold wind blustering the heights, despite clear views across the Weald. We stopped for the requisite bike talk and random conversations with anyone passing, including a Pugsley fat bike rider with a Drunk Cyclist shirt on (lots of boxes ticked), before starting our return journey via the newly built Tower trails.
These seem to work well, despite the recent horse riders’ complaints which I worry about more from the point of view of wanting to maintain some harmony among different user groups than the substance of their misgivings, which are relatively spurious. Or rather, they can be addressed easily enough.
I do think the trail is hard work to ride well and managed to make a ham fist of just about every jump, berm and double but still enjoyed it and started to find my stride as we got onto the old Chicken Wings trail to the cricket ground. My efforts were helped no end by following Dave, it always helps to have a something to aim at and by the time we crossed over to Moonbase I was flying into and out of the bombholes. That Five is definitely lacking in some ways, but it is certainly on your side for this sort of riding.
By the time we had clattered over the roots onto Waggledance I could feel the tiredness setting in but when Dave offered the chance for me to go past I seemed to find a brief burst of energy and after finding myself on Waggledance for the first time in ages with no-one ahead of me I decided to make the most of it. What followed was a very intense, andrenalin-fueled thrash to the end of the trail, followed by an equally rapid James who eventually had to pull up with mudguard issues.
As we popped out into the clearing to regroup, we found Nick missing and realised firstly that he isn’t as familiar with the trails as we are (and might not have realised where we were going), and secondly, none of us had seen him for a while. Ooooops… Karl and Dave headed back searching likely end points while James and I waited. When Dave turned up without Nick we reluctantly agreed that the two of us should head on as we were short on time, while Dave and Karl continued the search.
So James and I headed for Westcott, via Summer Lightning and Wolverns Lane. Summer Lightning, the first sanctioned man-made trail in the area remains a challenge, especially the mide section which is now full of loose rock and big step downs in place which make it hard to keep a flow. I said to James I was just going to cruise it but as is often the case when you think you’ve backed off, actually you end up going reasonably well. Very weird.
The upshot of that was that by the time we got onto Wolverns I was knackered and James was pushing me as we slogged through some pretty heavy going gloop on the trail. He was only delayed when forced to stop to deal with his mudguard for the final time, while I continued on oblivious until I reached the top of the Rookery. I needed the break.
When James reappeared we headed downhill and ultimately made our way through Westcott and up the long High Med climb which by now (midday) had the sun full on it as we climbed. That felt a pretty relentless climb today and I think we were both glad to finally haul ourselves to the top of Ranmore. Given the time and our tiredness it seemed the obvious thing to do was head down Dearly Beloved as the quickest way home. A couple of trees were down on Dearly Beloved – it was unclear whether they had fallen or been deliverately placed – but they were easily dispatched.
Our final miles involved the old Polesdon drive, round the back end of the estate and along the usual bridleway to the Polesdon road where we passed Ritchie Rich heading in the other direction. My final stats for the ride were about 27 miles and 3100 ft of climbing and it certainly felt that way.
All good fun and it transpired Nick turned up just fine just after James and I headed off! Some more photos of the day are on our Flickr account, with the moving ones showing odds photo effects from my phone camera!