Please be under no illusion that this ride; regularly undertaken by cyclists from London is a routine matter. No-one should tackle this ride without at least having done some preparatory cycling, preferably with the brilliant Bigfoot B2B programme organised by the equally brilliant Adam Shepherd.
Between Hayes and Brighton lie, c.54 mls (87 kms), two massive (by southern England standards) lumps of geology and an undulating, though very pretty Sussex terrain. Add into this the quality (or more especially lack of quality) road surfaces and all in all the ride adds up to a significant challenge.
Respect therefore to all riders who undertook today’s journey. Children, teenagers, young adults, adults, older adults, pensioners, men, women, girls, boys. One hundred and fifty ordinary (and not so ordinary) folk from our borough and beyond on this wonderful annual pilgrimage to the Mecca of the south coast.
At Hayes village at 8 am the pavements were thronged with riders all itching to get going under an azure sky framing a glorious yellow orb so rarely seen in our country. There was hardly a hint of a breeze to stir the chilly morning air. It was a day for cycling, for exploring, for adventure.
I had harboured concerns for most of the year since the ride date was announced that I might not be able to do the actual ride because of the near clash with my wife’s birthday. In the end leave of absence was granted with barely a murmur. Thank you Mrs W, and let me also add the oft expressed thanks of my wonderful team of fellow riders who were very keen that I should be available to lead them.
Joe my fellow leader of the slower adult groups took a dozen riders and I had the remaining 16 come with me. All were regulars who had done the training rides.
Although I have been a ride leader for several years last year was my first opportunity to lead a Bigfoot to Brighton ride. The biggest challenge on such a ride is memorising the route. Last year I followed the route religiously, but this year having a bit of confidence in myself I decided to make some changes to the published route.
Firstly having discovered the perfectly adequate cycle track alongside the A23 from Warninglid to Brighton Town centre, nothing was going to tempt me over the top of the Devil’s Dyke, secondly the route to take in Turners Hill followed two sides of a triangle which appeared relatively simple to address and thirdly an off road bridle path to avoid the Halliloo Valley seemed an attractive alternative.
We set off a little later than advertised at 0815 (pardon the split infinitive) and were soon rolling along at a very sensible pace, entirely suited to the very sensible group of riders. Once again I offer my grateful thanks to both Joe W and Ann F for taking on the back marking duties. The lantern rouge position is very wearing on a rider as it invoves much more stopping and starting and adjusting travelling pace to match slower riders, so I in no way underestimate the work undertaken at the back of the ride.
We barely broke step to the top of Nash Lane and after the briefest of stops outside the Metropolitan Police Dog School we were off again. Ignoring the turning into Ledgers Lane we pressed on towards Chelsham and Warlingham and here joined the steep path to the north of the Woldingham Golf Course. This allows for stunning views across the Halliloo Valley and in the slightly milky light conditions it was almost spiritual. The path steepens towards the bottom and here we met a trio of riders on horses coming up. We were able to tuck ourselves in and make ourselves thin to allow these towering beasts to pass.
One or two riders would have been grateful for a comfort break here but unfortunately we were not able to use the loo at the club house, so it was onwards and forwards. Under the railway arch just short of Caterham we turned onto the long driveway to Woldingham School. We cycled under the warmth of the lovely sunshine amongst cattle grazing on lush green pastures. No traffic troubled us here; it was just great day to be cycling. There were a few students in the grounds enjoying the bank holiday week-end. I suspect the majority were at home with their mums and dads.
On the far side of the school grounds we crossed the bridges above the M25 and then the A22. Looking at all the fast moving motor traffic we were glad to be separated from it and happily riding our bikes.
My next little short-cut enabled us to miss a bit of the A25 at Godstone. The A25 is a vile road for cyclists (and I suspect just about anyone else who uses it). It was to relieve traffic on the A25 that the M25 was built. Gradually over the years traffic has leaked back onto the ‘A’ road, and uses it as if it were the motorway; very nasty and unpleasant. So my little shortcut lopped a mile or so off this road but we eventually had to join it to reach Bletchingley.
Turning south onto Outwood Lane we encountered marshals for the cycling event which was in progress. Again we had to tuck in and make ourselves thin as dozens of riders hurtled past us on their time trial (looked like a time trail to me). In the time we took to cycle to the Bell have a quick break and press on they passed us three times. A great spectacle, but do they enjoy the lovely countryside I ask?
The stop at the Bell Inn at Outwood allowed us a few minutes to have a snack and a drink. I think access to the toilet facilities was probably the most welcome. I will probably do a recce in the future to identify a loo facility a little earlier in the ride; I think one or two riders were quite uncomfortable by the time we arrived at the Bell. There was also an opportunity for cup of tea which was appreciated too.
We probably only had about half an hour before we were off again, now heading towards my ‘Turners Hill by-pass’. With hindsight I would have to agree that my shortcut was not particularly successful. Yes it shortened the ride and avoided Turners Hill, but because I missed a turning the distance saved was minimal. More significant was the journey over Cuff’s Hill which was probably as steep as Turner’s Hill but much busier with motor traffic and we missed out on the lovely views from the top of Turner’s Hill too; all in all not recommended.
This was quite a tiring part of the ride but with the lovely warm sunshine on our faces we could have hardly asked for more. Dotted amongst the trees in pretty groves of woodland were carpets of bluebells. The different shades of green of the trees at this time of year as they come into leaf are spectacular. How fortunate we are to be English. We re-joined the official route and turned towards Handcross making good time towards Staplefield and the next refreshment break.
It was a quarter to one as we rolled onto the forecourt of the Victory at the southern end of Staplefield Green. We noted a sign saying it was also the day of the veteran commercial vehicle rally, the only other evidence we saw was a steam driven furniture removal van chuff chuffing along the road.
There were cyclists everywhere. The Panagua pit-stop tent was doing a roaring trade handing out bananas, flap-jacks, drinks and other delicious titbits, and doing umpteen repairs to bikes. A big thank you to Panagua for their support for this event, it is greatly appreciated.
We sat and chatted in the garden. Teas and coffees were available from the bar at a very reasonable price; we were also able to use their toilets, which were much appreciated. One rider had to depart from here and was waiting to be collected so now our number dropped to 15 riders. More disturbingly I learned I had first rumblings of a mutiny on my hands. I was informed by some riders that they were going form a breakaway faction cycle over the Dyke. Horror of horrors; perhaps now I understand how Captain Bligh felt on HMS Bounty.
The uprising was stifled over the luncheon adjournment and we restarted as friends in high spirits. A few hundred yards on from the victory as we turned into Staplefield Lane we spotted the Sustrans sign informing us that we were now just 17 cycling miles from Brighton.
Continuing south we passed Warninglid and Bolney; but at the turning for Hickstead the turbulence of the mutiny resurfaced and 6 mutineers cut the nine faithful adrift and headed over the horizon for their ‘Pitcairn Islands’.
The nine now continued on the lower route towards and then alongside the roaring A23. I will not say that my alternative route is flat, but it is definitely flatter than the ‘Dyke’. We perhaps do not get quite the same downhill buzz on the ride into town as is experienced coming down the Dyke Road. But it’s a pretty good downhill ride none-the-less.
A lot of work has been done in Brighton to provide good cycling facilities and I am sure for those that are familiar with the geography it is a super city to cycle around, and I hasten to add it is very good for us visitors too, but I have to mention that finding the cycle route to the sea-front through the maze of tiny back streets is still a challenge for me. Anyway we only had to get off and push once this year so I’m getting the hang of it.
At 4.15 pm the nine loyal riders arrived at the The Meeting Place Café on Brighton seafront. The final ride into Brighton had been quite gruelling so we were all grateful to dismount, lock up bikes, stretch our legs and have our pictures taken. We had only been there a few minutes when the missing six arrived, the mutiny was immediately forgotten and we now felt complete again. There were more pictures, riders were congratulated on their achievement and we celebrated with a well-earned cup of tea from the café which was doing a handsome trade.
Surprisingly there was no sign of Joe A and his dozen riders; I later learnt that they had departed at just about the same time we arrived, so we can have only missed them by moments.
Finally my riders had all clubbed together and signed a thank you card for me, which I thought was really kind and thoughtful. I will finish by saying you were a lovely group. You were all great company not only on this ride but also on the training rides. Never complaining, always looking out for each other and for me, I could not have asked for a nicer team to ride with and I hope to see you all on another ride soon.
Riding time: 5:37:01,