It all started as such a fine plan. A warm summer evening, a nice ride over Leith and Holmbury Hills and a pub to end on. Except it didn’t quite work out that way after arriving back at the pub at 11 o’clock with 23 eventful miles under our wheels.
Just James and myself were there to uphold the honour of the core Moles, with numerous no-shows. AndyC and Tony I know are off to North Wales, JohnR should be in Australia (volcanic ash permitting), but the rest? Well, I’m afraid I don’t know!
So it was much to the surprise of Darren, Amanda and Adam that we were down to a skeleton staff. Fortunately they had brought along a couple of new riders, Dan and AndyF1 (known as Badger) so there were seven of us setting out.
Up Wolverns Lane and quickly the warm evening made itself felt as we ducked in and out of the trees, meeting the odd group of riders here and there on the way. It was a great evening to be out with a perfect stillness to the air but I soon had to stop to remove my outer layer, meaning I was down to riding with just my merino base.
You certainly don’t hang around with Adam and co. and I had a reasonable route in mind. First stop was the second section to Summer Lightning which certainly felt rather disjointed to me. Normally it’s a final flourish coming off Leith Hill and by then I have my rythmn but riding it cold was a new experience.
By the time I’d reached the end with Adam close behind I took the last sharp hump rather too fast, taking off slightly and landing heavily on the front wheel in the dip. Full travel on my 150mm Revelations in the first few minutes of riding was a bit of a surprise!
From there we proceeded up toward the bomb holes, with me leading rather than following navigation was a bit erratic and we managed to ride them in both directions before washing up at the top of Deliverance.
Adam and Darren disappeared down and since I was on my Orange I had few excuses. Having safely negotiated that and returned to the top I found Dan, Amanda and James had all given it a go without mishap. And I’ve seen a few mishaps down there!
Moving on toward the cricket ground, we were soon high-tailing to the Tower climb which was painfully dispatched. I managed to switch on my ProPedal and promptly forgot about it until many miles later! I normally ride with the shock open and to be honest am not entirely sure what benefit I get with the ProPedal, if I can’t really tell when it’s on.
Anyway, I was pretty distracted as the darkness was closing in and my navigation continued to suffer numerous lapses on our way to the quarry. It doesn’t really matter since there’s so much nice singletrack up there anyhow. Eventually we rollled down the section with the big step just round the corner which resulted in another lumpen front wheel landing for me – my fork was sure earning it’s keep tonight!
At the quarry it looks as though there’s been a fair amount of sculpting going on which isn’t entirely successful. After one circuit we pressed on to the Mother, via Chocolate Jesus and the trails were starting to look quite different from our normal daytime riding over here.
A storming run down the Mother (still with my ProPedal on!) brought us out into Holmbury St. Mary and gifted us the cricket club climb up onto the hill. We kept moving but by now the brisk pace was starting to show the first tell-tale signs of stretching out the group. Even so, we managed to reach the summit in daylight before heading down toward the Reservoir.
There’s been much logging activity recently but we had a go at picking up Reservoir Dogs before I let the trail lead us away and round, contouring the hill for long sections of singletrack which brought us out downstream of the Reservoir. No problem, a short fireroad run brought us up to the start of Barry Know Best.
Adam was suffering light problems which plunged him into darkness more often than not and was forced to continue mid-pack with Darren and Dan lighting his way, not something I’d fancy down Barry’s. James and I lead up and despite much skittishness from worn my tyres it was a blast in the darkness.
The final berm section is terrific and I was able to run it without the distraction of anyone in front of me which was hugely enjoyable. Fortunately everyone got down without mishap, including Adam.
My original plan had been a short Pitch excursion but looking at my watch I could see that was hopelessly over-ambitious. It was 9:50, we had nearly ten miles under wheel and still had to get back! So we opted instead for the Radnor Road climb where it was nice to settle into a decent rythmn without being weighted down with tea and cheese straws for a change!
At the Reservoir again, surrounded by the scent of freshly felled pine, we continued on back up to the Holmbury summit, before consuming some energy gels and starting on the Yoghurt Pots run. Quite, quite different in the dark and massive fun now it’s pretty dry although the sandy bits at the top had me running wide. I’ll crack those berms one day…
After Yoghurt Pots we carried on to pick up Telegraph Road which we covered at high speed before turning into the trees for the pitch black run to the car park. Bearing in mind Adam’s continuing light problems I’d say hats off to him.
Arriving on the road we turned up toward Holmbury for a short section of tarmac before rolling through the village and tackling the Mother in reverse. I don’t mind this climb but it was definitely taxing with Darren and Adam sitting on my wheel all the way up. Painful.
The others were not that far behind but I could see riders starting to wilt from the relentless climbing and we had more to come as we made our way up toward the Tower. I was certainly glad when it came into sight after plenty of slow speed but twisty singletrack and rooty scrabbles so we stopped just long enough for James to cadge a Torq gel off me before heading down Personal Hygiene.
It’s a shame to say that without the daylight showing you what you’re riding into it’s not really that much of a deal and was quickly dispatched. It just shows how your mind tricks you sometimes.
A short section of cross country brought us back to the cricket ground where we rolled straight down to Coldharbour. I was keen for a pint but with the need to get back it was clear we’d have no chance of making last orders at Wotton. We pressed on regardless as we all knew (and felt) this was a long ride.
I reluctantly had to pass up the chance of Summer Lightning as general tiredness and hunger was starting to tax us. Instead an easy roll down Wolverns Lane got the bulk of the return leg over quite quickly before we dipped into the parallel singletrack for the final miles.
All in all I was pretty pleased with the evening’s efforts as the riding was fantastic but a little disappointed to have got back so late. It’s not easy to judge riding distance and time but I’ll know better next time; even so apologies to our visitors who still had a longish trip home by van and car. That aside, I hope you got a good taste of the Surrey Hills.
So apart from that, my pint is still waiting for me another day then!