I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that things have turned rather chilly lately. It’s December after all and on the horizon our annual Christmas meal this coming weekend.
Some of us have been busy, some of us are hibernating (GrandMole!) and some of us have hangovers to nurse. That’s what a monthly Friday night meet up in the pub does for you! But all in all there was a surprising level of enthusiasm for Sunday’s ride to somewhere on the Surrey Hills.
Initially we thought Newlands, via a longish loop south to Blackheath and Albury and a climb up past St. Martha’s Church. Al suggested we head for Peaslake instead via the back end of Winterfold and once we’d checked we’d be stopping for cheese straws, we were off. We set out with Jez, Tony, MarkyMark, DannyP, RayK, Al, AndrewK, Barrie and met JohnR up near Polesdon Lacey, making 10 riders in total.
I started slowly at the back with Jez who was suffering a head cold and had already decided to call it a day at Ranmore, having ridden over from Dorking. I can’t say I blamed him as we rode into the teeth of a cold headwind up the road to Polesdon. I blame John for taking us down (or up) Hogden Lane, one of his quiet specialisms I think.
As everyone knows, I hate this climb as it’s so easy to pick up a flint cut early in the ride. You’re forced to ride as lightly as you can, not putting undue force throw the rear wheel just in case. It slowly rewards you with a steady increase in height and if you know what’s good for you, you don’t go too fast too early as it always drags on longer than you expect.
At the top we parted from Jez and headed off on the tarmac for the Green Lane, as John was reporting the White Down area was chewed up by works traffic – or at least the bit at the bottom of White Down was. This prompted the plan to head for the long descent to the railway at Hackhurst Lane, which in turn prompted a meander along the North Downs Way on the Green Lane, then a left into the woods to head to the start of the descent.
It was pretty cold all day but when we were moving things were warm enough – in fact too warm at times – as the trails everywhere had a lot of drag going up and no traction going down! Things were proving quite hard work but I quite enjoy this sort of riding. I could have done without the plunge down to the railway though. I was shadowing Tony all the way down, with us carefully and deliberately picking our lines down the sometimes off camber, sometimes steep, sometimes twisty descent. I could smell hot brakes all the way down and kept thinking it was strange that Tony was dragging his brakes so much, whereas I didn’t seem to be braking particularly heavily. On reaching the bottom I realised we’d been near the back of the pack and more than half a dozen other riders had been marginally ahead of us!
Crossing the A25 at Abinger we picked up our usual Newlands route toward Shere and across toward the Little London area. By now I had no idea what Al was planning and in fact I was convinced we were headed to Newlands after all and was mentally recalibrating from cheese straws to bacon rolls. Once in the Little London woods though we veered south toward Parklands and then on to Ponds Lane. Even then I still thought we’d be heading toward St. Marthas but just as that seemed the case Al took another southward turn into Winterfold Forest.
A narrow bit of upward singletrack alongside a small brook had us scrambling for the optimum line over soft ground, along a narrow uphill climb that needed a bit of effort to get past. It was here that disaster struck for John and he wrecked his mech on a bit of debris or chainsuck. His ride was summarily over in terms of onward progress though he did manage to limp home which I imagine he found very frustrating although at least he didn’t need the team car.
For the rest of us slowing depleting moles we had more climbing ahead, along the river bed of the brook we’d been shadowing thus far. It was pretty hard work actually although the river bed was quite firm under a couple of inches of water. I was sure glad I had my SealSkinz socks on I have to say!
Slowly but surely the hard work started to pay off as we gained height and put the soft ground behind us, not before what seemed like a lot of careful meandering through the woods though to pick the dryest lines. It was uphill, it was soft ground and wet and in fact it seemed we spent most of the ride climbing sticky hills! Eventually we got onto more familiar territory as we picked up Ewoks (excellent fun as usual apart from an unexpectedly deep wheel-shaped trough near the start), then – after doubling back on the tarmac – picking up the lonf run down to Walking Bottom car park. It was all running pretty well I must say with the berms proving to be rather rewarding.
Rolling into Peaslake I must admit to a feeling of relief that food was in sight as it felt like a reasonably hard ride to this point. Cheese straws, still warm from the oven were subsequently consumed and I was even tempted by the prospect of bread pudding but I had to remind myself we had more miles to come. MarkyMark, DannyP and Barrie left us at this point as needed an early bath – probably not together, although I can’t be sure – while the remaining five carried on munching.
Eventually the chill got the better of us and Tony, Al, Andrew, Ray and myself got going again. The first mile was horrible, all cheese straws and cold legs for me, but we soon warmed up again with a hilarious slither down Rad Lane to Abinger. Having to pedal on the downhills is never a good sign and finesse deserted me it must be said.
From Abinger it was a simple enough journey back toward Dorking, past Abinger Roughs and then on past Deerleap Woods. We stopped briefly for a while to let another rider through and then I was held up by Tony (!) but even so I put the hammer down once past him all the way to the end to record my fastest time for that section, narrowly missing beating DaveC’s PB. It’s a boring linking section anyway (although nice for a gently spin on a warm summer evening) and I just wanted to get some warmth into me.
More climbing ahead kept the pulse rate up, all the way past Colin’s Corner (or badger-me-senseless as I like to call it) and up High Med, with Al ‘not trying’. Sort of not trying. Sort of. Anyway, we spun our way up there pretty briskly!
Up on Ranmore again we chose Dearly Beloved for a steady descent down for me while Al and Tony led the way. The final few miles saw us all with depleted energy levels slowly working our way back to the car park although it’s worth remembering Ray (and MarkyMark and Danny) had ridden to the trailhead first. For Ray that was an extra 10 miles each way on top of the 28 mile we’d just covered. I was tired with ‘just’ the ride itself so lots of respect to Ray and the others.
Next weekend we’re having a Leith area ride before decamping to a local hostelry where I shall mostly be eating beef medaillons! And duck. And Christmas pudding! Hmmm. I don’t ‘think’ I’ll be riding home…