On a cool, foggy, but mercifully dry Sunday morning riders gathered on the forecourt of Bromley South Station. There were 21 eager cyclists as we set off promptly at 8 am.
We picked up 2 more riders at West Wickham and arrived at Croydon around 8.30. There were no more riders awaiting us here, a real contrast to the old days when I have joined up with 80+ other cyclists; so we turned south for the main adventure.
We were a fairly broad range of cycling abilities. For one rider this would be the furthest she had ever cycled, Joe was out cycling with his aunty. Joe is just 11 or 12.
At South Croydon we spotted the first of the glorious old cars rattling and wheezing along at very modest pace. We got ourselves into a rhythm and we were on our way, like outriders escorting Royalty in limousines.
With the weather being so kind the spectators crowded the pavements, enthusiastically waving as the cars passed. Some even waved at us too; and of course we responded with cheery waves back. It was challenging to keep the riders together but we managed by stopping from time to time to take a breather and regroup.
The first real stop was at Redhill where we pulled over at our favourite tea stop being run by the scouts. They were doing a roaring trade and we queued long for bacon and egg rolls and delicious cups of tea and coffee. This was also an opportunity to use the loo, and many of us were very grateful for this.
We were about half an hour here before setting off again. We had decided that as we were making such good time we would press on to Staplefield for lunch at the Victory Inn which we use on the Bigfoot to Brighton Ride in the spring.
Four riders wanted to go a bit faster and so decided to head off the front of the ride. The route is well marked so navigation wouldn’t be a problem though I’m not sure how they would get on at the southern end of the route where the cars join the ferocious A23 leading into the town centre. This is dual carriageway on which the little observed speed limit is 70 mph, even hidden amongst the old cars I would not want to cycle on this road. I do hope they all found a more pleasant alternative The Devils Dyke or Ditchling Beacon perhaps (Devils Dyke, Bitchling Beacon and pleasant in a single sentence seems contradictory!).
Our journey southwards continued. Between Redhill and Gatwick there are a few nasty roads and even with the old cars we felt a bit exposed. Inevitably we suffered a puncture but the ever resourceful Tim and Joe worked quickly and we were not delayed long.
Rolling downhill into Staplefield we joined the queues at the Victory Inn for burgers and teas and although the pub had run out of cups we were well looked after and the tea and food was very tasty and very welcome.
The restart here seemed somewhat drawn out. Despite most of us being in the starting blocks at 1:45 pm it took 15 minutes for us to actually get rolling. We almost immediately found the NCN 20 fingerboard indicating Brighton was just 17 miles further by bike. With added energy we pressed on and soon found my short cut to join the cycle path alongside the A23 all the way into Brighton Town Centre. We passed Ditchling Beacon on our left leering at us through the gloom, we laughed and pedalled on glad to leave this brooding menace where so many of us have toiled in the past. We stood at the base of the Devils Dyke gazing towards the mist shrouded summit and pressed forward and away from her evil clutches. Never again shall I see the tops of these two monsters.
And so at about 3:45 pm we rolled onto Brighton seafront and after a quick inspection of the finish line retired to a rather pleasant cocktail bar for some refreshments before catching the train to East Crodon and the ride home.
This was a fantastic day with a great team of riders who cycled well together. It was real pleasure to lead the ride and I do hope we can all ride together again very soon.