There was a slightly different feel to this year’s Bigfoot to Brighton outing and as I sit and type I have realised it was because it was on a Saturday rather than the usual Sunday outing.
I was a little nervous because of the change of route, and when looking at the changes on the map following the twists and turns without the benefit of a Wahmin or some other device looked quite complex.
At 07:45 on the pavement outside Hayes Parish Church I briefed my 12 riders. All were experienced cyclists so the briefing from my hastily jotted notes was short. We were chaffing to get under way.
The weather looked quite promising; it was sunny with some high cloud, but it was cold with a stiff northerly which was to blow us along for more or less the whole journey. Most of us were layered up as for a winter ride.
The two faster rides had set off before us; at 08:06 with a wave from Adam we launched southwards. We hadn’t gone half a mile at a nice steady pace when we were hailed by police officers from a passing van that West Common Road south of Croydon Road was blocked by a fallen tree and we would need to take an alternative route. Fortunately West Common Road runs parallel to Baston Road which at this time of the morning was quiet so nothing too disruptive but it did leave me thinking is this a portend of the day ahead.
The ride at a steady pace to the top of Titsey Hill was uneventful I spotted a couple of pied wagtails playing kiss chase near the White Bear at Fickleshole and Julie pointed out a largish bird of prey hovering alongside Nash Lane. There were bluebells everywhere but particularly under the shade of the trees in the various bits of woodland that we passed. At The Ridge we commenced our descent from the Downs. This was new territory to me so at this point I needed my version of the Garhoo (see picture) basic but cheap, and hey, we got there didn’t we? We sped down Gangers and Tandridge Hill, meeting hardly any traffic and by this time we were all beginning to think: “I like this route.” The road surfaces were pretty good although there was quite a bit of debris and because the roads are so narrow vehicles don’t clear grit and gravel from the road centre, so there are only two narrow useable tracks to navigate at quite high speed down the long hills to the flat plain of East Surrey.
Crossing over the merciless roaring M25 we continued southwards; all seemed very relaxed and the tailwind was helping too so I think we were all astonished to suddenly stumble into the Blindley Heath Coffee stop at 09:45. I had no idea we had made such good progress; it certainly didn’t seem as though we had been riding for nearly 2 hours.
The Red Barn Pub did us proud. There were lovely teas, coffees, the usual bananas and flap-jacks. There were delicious buttered toasted hot-cross buns, but above all there were chocolate brownies to die for. We sat in the sunny beer garden soaking up the light hearted abuse from some of the faster riders and chilling down in every sense of the word. We loitered no longer than about 25 minutes and then restarted before frost-bite and hypothermia set in.
I picked up the pace a bit from this point. The initial intention was to get everyone warmed up, but as everyone seemed to be coping rather well with the faster pace I decided to keep it going. The next 3-4 miles consisted mainly of wriggling through the lanes to get back onto the usual route, so plenty of stops here to check for turnings etc. At Smallfield we rejoined the usual Brighton route so I was able to relax a little. We kept up the pace as we headed now towards the long climb up Turners Hill where we stopped to draw a breath and enjoy the view. Once we cleared Turners it was pretty much a long downhill all the way to the Victory Inn where we pulled onto the car park at mid-day. On previous rides we have arrived here as late as 14:30 so this was an amazing achievement for us, although it now became clear that one or two of the team were beginning to feel the pace. It was pleasant sitting on the benches in the sunny garden, but still very cold. My initial thought was to have an hour but by 20 to 1 riders were fed, watered and beginning to get chilly so we hit the road for the final push.
We took a vote on whether or not to tackle the Devil’s Dyke. There was a significant minority who said no (and I was easily persuaded). Once again we were pushed along by the tailwind, so progress was good. At Pyecombe we found the cycle path completely flooded with mud, which would actually force a pedestrian to walk into the oncoming traffic to avoid. I have reported this via FixMyStreet.
At the southern end of this lovely cycle track I generally turn onto the London Road through Preston Park and make my way to the seafront through the town centre, this invariably ends in chaos as it is all but impossible to follow the twists and turns of the cycle paths in the old Bohemian Quarter. Today I decided to try an alternative and rejoin the official B2B route. This was much harder than I realised; the saving feature was there was a shared use cycle track, but this was so overgrown and heavily rutted that it was very hard to navigate. I have reported this via FixMyStreet too. We toiled up this long slope to the Dyke Road where we joined the official route for the long downhill ride to the sea front. We arrived at the Meeting Place Café at 14:38.
There was no finish line, no fanfare, no applause, no cheerleaders, no paparazzi and no adoring fans waiting to congratulate us. One of the riders from another group very kindly took a group photograph and that was it – all over. We had a cup of tea – very English and understated – one or two of the more determined rascals headed over to the Beach Club for a post ride stirrup cup. Apparently they had trsain tickets for the 19:30 return. That’s a long time in the Beach Club. For the rest of us it was up to the station for the 15:27 to East Croydon and then the five last killer miles of the day to our homes.
Riders as ever you were wonderful. Great company, for some who found the going tough you were uncomplaining. I hope to see you all on many other bike rides throughout the summer.
Pedalling: 4¾ hrs,
Av speed: 10.9 – incredible
Time out: 6½ hours
25 minutes stop at the Red Barn
40 minutes stop at the Victory Inn.
Finally my thanks to Bigfoot generally and Adam Shepherd particularly for organising this wonderful cycling day out.