Whoever heard of an English May bank holiday weekend under a burnished sun in wall to wall blue skies? I am still pinching myself and wondering when I shall wake up. On previous Brighton Rides I have sat with exhausted riders behind the wind-break at the ‘Meeting Point’ on the Brighton sea-front shivering in gale force icy winds; huge breakers rattling the pebbled beach under leaden skies and pouring rain. But not this year.
There are some days when cycling is just simple, fabulous fun, but there are other days when it’s so much better than that. Sunday 6 May 2018 was one of those other days.
It was my privilege to lead 13 lovely people from Hayes to Brighton. I really couldn’t have asked to have a better day.
We assembled at Hayes at 7.45. It was my usual riders plus three who joined for the day. Linda, the well-known and much loved Bromley Cyclist; Dean who sometimes rides with Lewisham and Danny. So three good strong cyclists more than able to complement my regular team. It was unfortunate that one of my crew Ajay was suffering a knee injury and was prevented from joining us. Get well soon Ajay.
At 8 o’clock ride organiser Adam raised his palm to halt the south-bound cars in Hayes High Street allowing us onto the road. We were off. Today we upped the pace and were soon in the lanes eating up the miles. Now I make little secret of being a little rebellious so in spite of Adam’s carefully prepared route I do like to add a few little variations into the mix to add to the spice of the day. Nothing too wayward mind you.
The Halliloo Valley is a very fast descent followed by a rather unpleasant climb alongside the picturesque Woldingham Golf Course. I am therefore never sad to take the alternative down the bridleway on the north side of the golfing course. At 9 am on a day such as today it was a glorious view and well worth the trouble of carefully picking a route to steer our bikes down the gravelly slope. At the lower end there was a sudden fierce hissing, warning that someone had either found a rattlesnake or suffered a puncture. Fortunately it was the latter but amazingly almost instantly the hissing stopped as the rupture healed itself. This is the first time I have seen Slime in action and I was impressed, very impressed. On examining the tyre it was found to be still rock hard and ready for riding. The rider however had not fared quite so well and was liberally sprayed with green gunk – but the repair lasted the day!
We were able to take a comfort break at the club house which was welcome. One rider shared out some chocolate which gave a welcome sugar burst. Re-joining the official route we next turned into the driveway to Woldingham School. The sign on the gate read ‘Beware Free Range Animals and Children’ I was unsure about which I should be most concerned. The beautifully tended grounds stretched up the sides of the valley on either sides and were a credit to the grounds staff.
Following the rutted drive southwards we crossed the bridge over the roaring M25. I think there was a collective sigh of thanks that we were up above on our bicycles and not down amongst the motor traffic. The route proper next goes through the rather pretty Surrey Village of Godstone. Sadly the route is along the A25 father of the ghastly M25. This is an awful road crammed with fast moving, aggressive, ratrunning motor traffic and it is a village to be avoided if possible – and it is possible, by following a linking footpath to the south and joining the A25 just to the east of Bletchingly. Another of my little deviations.
At Bletchingly we turned south towards The Bell Inn about 5 miles on; our first refreshments stop. It was a quarter to eleven. These stops are wonderfully organised by a volunteer team who give up their time to support us on the ride. Ladies and gentlemen we are greatly in your debt!
We didn’t stay long and by 11:05 we on our way again. Apart from the long climb up Turners Hill I always think the 2nd segment of the ride is easier that the first. We stopped to admire the views from the top of the hill and then began the descent through Worth and Handcross to the Victory Inn on the green. To our chagrin as we were on the final run in to Staplefield we met the first of the riders on the return route. Chapeaux; but did you enjoy the scenery as we did? Once again the support team were set up to water feed and repair us. It was quarter to one.
An hour later we saddled up and started the final leg. A hundred yards beyond the Victory is the Sustans sign – Brighton 17 miles – yeeha! This is the Devil’s Dyke section of the ride. The views from the top of hill on a day such as this are sensational and I trust you all enjoyed them. We did not. We are the ‘Ride Smart not Hard’ group. Our total age is not far short of 800 years. You don’t reach that sort of age without gleaning a few useful tricks along the way; and one of those tricks is don’t cycle up a hill you don’t have to.
The sunshine was at its hottest now and we were forced to seek shade for the numerous stops we made along the way. Following Cycle Route 20 we climbed through the saddle between the Devil’s Dyke and Ditchling Beacon and started the long roll down into Brighton town centre. One rider suffered a mechanical event which took a bit of sorting out when the bike chain jumped the big ring and wound itself into the front mech. Kevin took charge and following a few hefty blows with a rock and some jiggling the chain came free and after about half an hour we set off again.
My navigation skills had held good to this point but I am never very confident of the final mile or so through the back streets to the sea-front. Just as I was beginning to feel a bit lost a passing cyclist offered to pilot us to our final destination. I have to confess I would never be able to find his route again. Thanks, whoever you are.
At the meeting point we sat in the warm sunshine licking lollies and ice-creams. Crowds thronged the beach children played, barbeque smells wafted the air. A passer by kindly agreed to take a group pic to prove we had done it and my wonderful riders presented me with a card which they had all signed – how thoughtful.
Those who had transport said their good-byes here, the rest of us climbed back up the hill to the train station for journey to Croydon. We knew this was going to be difficult because engineering works meant we had to disembark at Three Bridges and cycle about 3 miles to Gatwick to catch the connection. Andy Ivy had provided a route which I had loaded into my phone so this was easier than it perhaps sounds – Thanks Andy: but we somehow missed the station entrance and ended up accessing the station via what must have been a staff door and then through the monorail station. The journey from Brighton to East Croydon was two hours and that’s a long journey for tired riders.
At East Croydon we said good bye to Dean who caught the tram. The rest of us cycled back to Bromley. It was gone 8:30 when I got indoors, reflecting on another wonderful day of cycling.
My sincere thanks to my uncomplaining back marker: Graham, who held the ride together with skill and patience. You are an uncomplaining hero.
I will close by repeating my praise of and thanks to Adam Shepherd for his wonderful organisational skills in making this such a happy and enjoyable day for so many people.
Chapeaux sir. You are a giant!
Total Time: 8:30 ish
Riding time: 6:00:00 ish
Distance: 54.00 + 1 to the station at Brighton + 3 at Three Bridges to Gatwick + 5 Croydon back to Hayes = 65.0 ish
Average speed: 9.8 (very good)
Maximum speed: 26.9