Phew! Well it’s now two days after our Christmas epic and I think I’m now recovered enough to tell the tale. But first, of course, welcome to 2016, now with 24 (ish) extra hours!
Back in 2015, D’Andy hatched a plan that loosely translated as ‘ride out to the Surrey Hills and return using the power of beer’. Beer being the carbohydrate of choice for our special brand of athletic ability, this was greeted with enthusiasm from certain quarters, such that 10 of us assembled on a very windy and (‘Frankly’) rain-mooted morning with the prospect of a full day in the depths of the Surrey Hills ahead of them.
Sadly, being Christmas we missed various group stalwarts such as DaveC, Kev, Jem, DDub, JamesS and several others I can’t mention here who succumbed to the seasonal demands of apathy, contagion and family commitments. Rest assured your attendance was marked and missed guys. Those that escaped the Lick of Indolence included D’Andy (but of course), Tony, Big Al, Karl, Elliott, Andrew, MarkP, Colin, Gordo and myself. D’Andy had suitably dressed his steed with the now infamous Strangled Cock of Bookham which was to be our inspiration, our soul partner and, when Al got confused, our guide for the day.
After a fruitless extra few minutes where we hoped Dave and Jem might appear, we set off with a startled squawk from the chicken.
The idea was to navigate our way to Holmbury and enjoy some trails there, en-route to Peaslake for refreshments, then on to some old school trails on Pitch before returning to Peaslake for the first of our liquid diversions. We were in absolutely no hurry at all and set off to take in View to a Kill. The approach round the edge of the field is currently offering minimal traction and pretty soon we were all fighting to stay upright. Tony performed a graceful over the bars move in front of me into the undergrowth, with no harm done to rider thanfully. View to a Kill itself proved a similar challenge and I struggled to keep up with Tony who pulled away from me quite easily although our Strava times suggested otherwise. It was nice to feel a bit of flow though which boded well for later on.
Incidentally, I’m currently running a Specialized Butcher and Purgatory combination on the Five at rather low pressures – I’m not sure what exactly but the front feels to be sub 20psi and the rear about 21-22psi. Despite the horrible clay around Ranmore they clear well and seem to hang on quite well for all-rounder tyres and I feel quite confident on them thanks to the reasonable volume offered by their 2.3 size. If you don’t want to faff with winter tyres these are worth looking at.
All of us were keen to get past the Ranmore clay as soon as possible so after climbing up to Ranmore past the Tanner Hatch youth hostel we headed into the strong Storm Frank winds along the Ranmore Road to try and pick up Little Endor and circumvent the horrors of Collarbone. This was partially successful and proved to be a nice change after a bit of looping round the undergrowth. Soon we hit the Abba Zabba complex which had a far more reliable surface than the last time I rode it with Dave at the beginning of December. This time it flowed beautifully all the way to the bottom.
Across the Roughs then and down to the A25 and an immediate improvement in trail conditions, pretty dry and sandy. The weather was warm – too warm for many of us who were anticipating foul weather later on and much standing around – and in the trees the wind was no issue either. The question was, would it rain? So far, so good.
After climbing up past Paddington Farm we crossed onto Holmbury Hill at car park number 9, past a massing crowd of walkers. The climb from here is painful, especially so for Al who was on his Stanton singlespeed. It’s interesting to see how Colin and Al have built their frames up into quite different machines so that you don’t notice initially that they share a common core.
We rode up as far as Telegraph Road and followed it back down the hill. It’s been a while since I rode it (Strava seems to think not since April 2014, which can’t be right), so I was very happy to cruise down what is a very familiar trail. At the bottom we turned left and rode down Brewing Up With Billy (another old favourite) and then continued over to ride Van Gogh’s Missing Ear. This is a new one to me and as I followed Elliott I was thinking how nice it was to follow an experienced rider who could read a trail and adapt to the unexpected, thinking it was new for him too. When I said as much at the end he said ‘Well I’ve been riding it all year!’ which surprised me. Obviously Elliott, you need to point us to these gems and, since you knew the trail you were obviously holding me up (haha)! BTW, in case anyone’s wondering, so was Kev and he wasn’t even riding today…
We crossed the Hill and made our way to Barry Knows Best. I went first to try and get some pics at the bottom and ragged it pretty hard, getting within 6 seconds of my PR despite (or maybe because) I was having to ride in such a way that my rear wheel didn’t bottom out on my mudguard. Those Specialized tyres felt superb! Just to be clear, my idea of ‘ragging’ is probably not the same as most but ‘riding briskly’ doesn’t sound as gnarr!
Peaslake led to a slightly longer stop than usual as I was last in the queue and had to wait while a fresh batch of cheese straws and filter coffee rolled off the production line. But the upside… warm cheese straws! Andrew managed to somehow catch his falling and very full coffee cup when the handle sheared off mid conversation which showed impressive reaction speeds. After this, the amateurs were winnowed from the pros as Colin, Gordon and Elliott needed to return for various life commitments. Rumour has it they also had a quick drink at the Hurtwood Hotel while we headed off to Pitch Hill but that’s hard to believe isn’t it?
Up on Pitch we covered off some of the classic trails which again I haven’t ridden for a long time. Curly Wurly was great fun and quite testing in the wintry conditions, then it was back up to the T trails. I’d forgotten how much work is involved but the riding was excellent. Our final run was back past the graveyard and down into Walking Bottom car park which is a steep, steppy, rooty challenge that the Five responded to confidently. Behind me, D’Andy’s goose (OK, his Strangled Cock of Bookham) was cooked further up after a running dismount over the very same steps.
Be that as it may, come lunchtime we finally rolled out of Walking Bottom and back into Peaslake for our first liquid refreshment stop at the Hurtwood Hotel. Two philosophies of drinking and riding made itself felt. I was in the minority of choosing half pints (conscious of my 2b + 2w winning formula), while Karl (for example, picking a name at random here) plumped for a ‘maximum alcohol content per beer’ approach. I guess you have to go with what works for you.
Whilst loitering outside the hotel we got sternly amused looks from a couple of Special Constables as they plodded past and then bumped into the Roominator and friends. Unfortunately it’s a case of no muddy footwear in the Hurtwood Hotel so before getting really cold it was time to head off up Holmbury. KarlA expanded on Tales of the Unexpected in Sri Lanka, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘rigorous’ but by the time we reaching the top the laughter was swept away by a fierce wind blowing directly up from the south.
Yoghurt Pots came and went in a pleasant blur before we turned our attention to Crackpipe. In my mind I could hear DaveC shouting ‘slidey slidey’ but my own thoughts were supplemented by some choice expletives as Crackpipe proved quite a handful. Before long I had resorted to simply leaning on the grippy front tyre, braking as hard and smoothly as possible and leaving the back wheel to do it’s own thing. It was a lively descent!
Stop number two was the Kings Head in Holmbury village, this time we were inside and soon warming ourselves with more local beer and snacks. I would have been quite happy to stay for – ooh – a couple of hours but this temptation was tempered by the thought that we still had a long way to go. Well, Friday Street at least.
The only trouble was that to get to Friday Street from Holmbury village you need to climb The Mother. This is what each of us did. In our own time, in our own individual way, each of us inside our own Circle of Pain that meant hauling slowly and slightly drunkenly up the long ascent. There was further climbing to come as beyond High Ashes Farm we needed to drag ourselves up through the Quarry before we got into the a long trail that parallels Leith Hill Road. Al reckons there’s a better trail nearby as this was quite a challenging downhill pedal (you get the idea) through a gully thick with fallen leaves. At one point Al came off at slow speed on a muddy corner, catching his landing gear painfully to much sympathy (well as sympathetic as several tired mountain bikers can be!).
The final run down to our third stop (the Stephan Langton on Friday Street) proved great fun though, Jamaican Funk it’s called and nice and funky it was too down into the steep sided valley. I’d like to try that again and judging by the friendly welcome we got at the Stephan Langton it would be worth a revisit. The beer was enjoyable (I remained on half pints despite a yearning for more) and the food looked good. By now it was three pm and I was ravenous. The pub is very dog friendly and by extension, mountain bikers too.
Shortly before our stop at the Stephan Langton MarkP took his leave from us and his route out of the valley – in short, up – was now ours too as we continued our long ride home, with Karl still on his ‘maximum alcohol content’ strategy. He went missing on our run down to the Wotton Estate but my fears were unfounded as he’d actually stopped to assist Andrew with a small bike problem. The estate makes it clear that bikes are not welcome on what is a footpath right of way through the estate but with Wolverns Lane visible on the ridge above we took advantage and hiked the bikes up the steep hillside.
Back on Wolverns we were on familiar territory and after watching Andy methodically inflate his rear tyre I had a great time following a very relaxed Andy and Karl down to the top of the Rookery, our bikes in turn rising and falling as we popped off the numerous crests and pumped through the dips, finishing by throwing the bikes down the steps at the end of Wolverns. Faaabulous as Karl would say.
It was getting dark as we dropped into Westcott and after climbing High Med it was time to put the lights on. Our plan had been to visit the Stepping Stones for a longer session before returning to the Anchor in Bookham but by this stage we were all very tired. The climb up to Ranmore for me was hard enough and I wasn’t the only one showing signs of tiredness, so we amended our plans and headed directly home to the Anchor. The involved a very floaty slide down Ricin Beans in the fading day with our lights fully on once Andy had ditched the Strangled Cock of Bookham and – again methodically – replaced it with his Ay-ups.
Ricin Beans was a handful as we were back on the clay, the bike snapping quickly front and rear as all traction vanished at key moments. Even in our exhausted state we made it safely to the bottom and down past tanners hatch before the final climb onto the Polesden estate, with Big Al invoking the Celtic Gambit by getting of and walking a handful of yards of the climb. I can’t believe he did the whole day on a slack singlespeed that was running close to a 2:1 ratio.
By the time we rolled into the Anchor I had 37.5 miles to show for my days’ effort with 3,800 feet of climbing. I was so tired I could barely knock back another pint and a half (no whiskey sadly, or in Karl’s case, tequila) but it was a tremendous way to end 2015. Getting home I had homemade Shepherd’s Pie waiting for me. ‘That’s nice’, said Al, ‘doesn’t take much chewing!’
Huge thanks to D’Andy and Big Al for ‘organising’ and ‘guiding’ the day, I’d like to try it again when the weather is warmer. Roll on 2016.