There is always lively discussion on the Sunday Rides Whatsapp group prior to the ride. As usual, Marco was setting the pace, suggesting hills, 1,265m of ascent, and a 108k route to keep his alpine training regime going. A few people sounded apprehensive online, so when Simon suggested a shorter route this was quickly taken up by myself and a number of others. Simon’s suggested route looked fine indeed. A lovely ride through Cobham up and over the tail of North Downs, through pretty countryside to Farley Green, Cranleigh and then over scenic Leith Hill and back up to Headley with a return via Epsom. A modest 85k ride, but we should have paid more attention to the number of up and downs in the route – more on that later. Sunday dawned cool and clear. I microwaved the porridge prepared the night before which I find great for long-lasting energy. It’s nice to be able to have breakfast and get the bike out in daylight before 7am. I was not alone in wondering how cold it was going to be. Jonathan had declared it warm enough for shorts and 2 thin layers, which generally means adding a couple of layers extra for those of us without ice for blood. Stepping outside I was glad of the Gore Windstopper jacket, leggings, full gloves and helmet liner, but concerned I might get too hot later as the forecast suggested a high of 14 degrees. Positively balmy! Meeting at Woodie’s we swiftly sorted into two groups. The faster/longer/madder group set off first and we followed afterwards. Kingston and Surrey seemed to be sleeping in as the roads were deserted. It is a joy to race down Surbiton High Street, then along Portsmouth Road/A307 through Esher with nice wide roads and barely a car to trouble us. Simon set a fast pace down to Cobham and the newbies to the group kept pace without trouble, showing up some of us regulars. Suddenly Rob appeared at my shoulder looking sweaty. It turned out he had needed to replace a tyre valve and had still managed to catch us up despite what I thought was a rapid start. Past Cobham you are in the countryside of hedgerows, fields and cottages. Normally this is accompanied by the wealthy local residents zooming about in 4x4s, but today we had a clear run over the M25 then through the Stockbroker commuter houses along Forest Road. Simon had kindly loaded the route a few days before, and for once we were following it! Now I have tamed my Garmin I was able to follow the route on the map. Once through East Horsley the real Surrey Hills that are dear to our hearts begin. We headed up Greene Dene, a moderately steep rise surrounded by woodlands on either side. Leaves were budding on the trees, a mist lay in the fields and the hollows, and the sun threatened to break through from the cloud. Truly a great day to be alive! At the top of the hill I was starting to feel hot so took off my helmet liner. Maybe I was overdressed after all?
We continued along the ridge until the deep descent of Combe Lane - up to 22%. They need a sign “cyclists check your brakes” and escape lanes! I have been down here before, so dropped my hands to be fully on the brakes and checked my speed as it possible to feel out of control on the way down. I was pleased Nilkunj was alongside for medical backup. After turning the deadly sharp corner, the road levels out a bit and you have have enough visibility to let rip down the final descent of Combe Lane where I topped 53km/h. Following a swift stop in lovely Shere for the public toilets, kindly open early on a Sunday morning, we headed up Sherbourne and New Road to Farley Green. This is the Surrey village area of Midsomer Murders and the Vicar of Dibley, and in between the Farley Heath area of lovely steep-sided lanes and ancient forests. Once at Stroud Common we had left the hills and were speeding through the vale to Cranleigh.
We were all probably a little over-confident and too fast through the town, and a sudden braking in the peleton before a roundabout saw Karen nudged off her bike after a tangling of wheels. After checking nothing was dented on the bike, we also made sure she was OK, but it seems nothing was damaged other than ego and probably a bruise in the rear end. She insisted she was fine to continue and in fact made good time all the way back.
We had a nice run from Ewhurst along the fairly flat Ockley Road. We were so preoccupied with the impending Leith Hill climb, that we were taken by surprise by the fact that the supposedly easier/slower route contained 1055m of climbing. Still, the best motivation is a rest stop with food and coffee/tea. With this goal in mind we turned up Leith Hill Lane which is a fairly steep and lengthy ascent through wooded lanes. The air was getting colder and the mist was not lifting here, so I was glad to have the cold-weather gear on, despite the exertion. Turning right onto Abinger Rd, there was no let up with the climbing. Normally you laugh when thinking Leith Hill is the highest point in Southern England, but at this point grimacing was all we could manage. At last we pulled into Coldharbour at the dizzy height of 233m. Cold it most definitely was, but we had a warm harbour in the Shop at The Plough, a small room crammed with goodies and a line of cyclists queuing for sustenance. Apparently The Shop is known for its sausage rolls, which were a large delicious sausage patty wrapped with flaky pastry (although the smaller chorizio sausage rolls were not particularly well liked by Hattie). The yard seemed small but had plenty of nooks for leaving bikes, and we had time to recuperate before continuing. The temperature was cool and you could see your breath. Even with a hot tea inside you, you van feel your body temperature dropping, so my helmet liner went back on ready for the final 30k.
Next was a long descent along Coldharbour Lane as we allowed gravity to pull us sedately down to Dorking. We passed swiftly through the town along the cycle path and under the A24 then passed the Box Hill turning and turned right into Headley Lane. This was my first time up Lodge Bottom the “wrong way” (no sniggering at the back please). It was the glorious descent of Lodge Bottom Rd that convinced me to buy a road bike, and I was concerned my memory would be spoiled to travel up it, and besides I was tired. Luckily talking to Jim and Karen on the way up distracted me from my aching legs and before I knew it we had reached the top. Hattie spotted the sign had been adjusted to say Large Bottom Rd and insisted on a photo beside it.
Karen had managed to keep going despite the accident and we were able to inform her that after a short climb of Tumber St, it really was downhill all the way from here. The Headley Rd and Wilmerhatch Lane descent into Epsom is another favourite ride of mine. It’s a lovely gently descending ride starting through the woods then opening out with millionaire houses with neat gardens on one side, and fields and views on the other. Just watch out for the steep turn at the bottom of Headley Rd. The road delivers you straight and painlessly right into the centre of Epsom. A short bit of the A24 dodging Porsches then left under the bridge to escape Epsom. A short stretch of busier road beside Epsom common and then we could wiggle through the roundabouts and oddly provincial Barratt estates of Manor Park. Nearly there. A spin up Ruxley Lane dodging white vans, but once across the A240 it was time to ease off for a largely car-free final stretch into Old Malden, from where the tunnel leads us home. Overall, a lovely ride through amazing and varied countryside, hillside, woodland and common, deep lanes, cute villages and towns. Thanks to Simon who planned and led the ride well. Perhaps more climbing than those who did not look to closely (me!) expected, but all including the newbies seemed to manage it cheerfully.