On a lovely sunny Sunday morning we gathered outside Panagua Bikes. The fine weather had brought out the ‘crowds’ that were missing from the last outing.
Although we are well into Spring the weather has been particularly chilly of late and there was no respite this morning. One rider had set off from home when the thermometer was showing -10C, but in the sunshine at 0915 it was considerably warmer and quite pleasant.
I set out with 14 riders today. Most of whom had been out on one or more of the previous training rides and all of whom were well known to me, so after the briefest of briefings, with Tracey kindly acting as the ‘Lantern Rouge’ we headed off to the downs, with Joe and his slightly faster group only a hundred or so yards ahead at this stage.
Today’s ride went the full length of Layhams Road and it’s easy to forget that this is a long gradual uphill gradient on a narrow lane. Those of us who were wearing too much clothing (most of us I think) were soon enjoying our own individual private saunas.
Beddlestead Lane is a bit of a slog. The first quarter of a mile is so steep downhill that it could never be called fun – akin to going over the edge of a cliff, it’s a sort of ‘grit yer teeth and hope slope’; after that it just goes up forever. At the bottom of the dip we saw the newly sited tribute to the well known and loved local cyclist Paul Skelly, who sadly died at a young age a couple of years ago.
I’m never quite sure why I don’t cheat on this section of the route (I don’t hesitate on other cheats) and just stay on the top road – a bit of a no brainer really, so perhaps that’s why I hadn’t thought of it. Half way up the hill as we were waiting on a convenient farm drive for the ride to regroup a lone cyclist came down the hill past us screaming abuse and calling us dangerous. This was most confusing as we were quietly standing with our bikes in the layby whilst he was hurtling downhill and barely in control of his bicycle. A touch of sunstroke maybe, though personally I didn’t think it was warm enough.
One of our riders wanted a bit more speed and so set off to catch Joe, who we could see in the distance from time to time, another rider had difficulties in Beddlstead and decided to retire from the ride and do an alternative. We did however have a lengthy wait in the cold on arrival on the top of the downs so we were pleased to get moving again through Tatsfield to Ship Hill and Wragg Hill to get us warmed up again.
Passing the top of Hogtrough Hill there is a lovely view over the downs marred only by that man-made scar called the M25 known also as the Great Outer London Car Park. Another victory for the motor vehicle over mankind.
We turned right onto Brasted Hill Road and commenced the long ride down to Brasted, passing over the M25 and then joining the A25 where traffic unremittingly hammers through making cycling the short distance to the bottom of Toys Hill Road very unpleasant.
Turning left from the A25 the ride uphill through Brasted Chart went on forever, I had forgotten just how challenging this slope really is. We did not carry on to the pub at the top of Toys Hill having already decided that we would stop for refreshments at Shoreham. We were excited to learn from one rider that there was a new café in Shoreham where cyclists are welcome, so this seemed an even better reason to bypass the pub at the top of Toys Hill.
Descending back down to the A25 on the adjacent hill was a pleasure after the long climb up. Words like Woosh and Zoom spring to mind. But of course, after every downhill there’s an up; and so commenced the long slog back up to the top of the North Downs ridge. This is fortunately interrupted by the long-awaited lunch stop at Shoreham. We pulled up outside the aforementioned Honey Pot Café only to find every seat on their patio taken by Joe and his riders. Of course, there was a certain amount of banter, but Joe was not squeezing up and possession being nine tenths of the law we were forced to continue to the nearby old faithful at the Shoreham Battle of Britain Museum. Here we all refuelled with huge bacon sarnie doorsteps and hot drinks in the cosy lounge.
After lunch we commenced the final leg of the journey with the uphill slog onto the North Downs Ridge culminating in the ascent of Shacklands Road. From here its relatively downhill all the way back to Hayes. I was amazed to see the amount of construction work underway at the new housing development at Knockholt, there seemed to be quite a lot going on for a Sunday.
So finally, a big thank you to Tracey as my back marker (apart from the last 3 miles where she actually led and I was demoted to the rear). But most of all a big thank you to all the riders for a lovely day out in the Kent countryside. I hope to ride with you all very soon and to lead you to Brighton in just a few week’s time.
Time out: 5:18:00
Pedalling 3:30:00 ish
The word ‘hill’ appears 18 times in this report