The Long Cold Sunday- a winter epic !

15 01 2009

A cold frosty sunday morning and 5 intrepid cyclists left the cold and 
frosty village of Westcott to begin their long ride.  The plan was 
ride across the Surrey Hills section of the north downs up as far as 
Shamley Green.  Then we would turn south on to the Downs link trail 
eventually meeting up with the South Downs.  Up on to the downs, and 
to finish the ride at Devil’s Dyke… At least the was the plan!


We had five riders on a ride range of bikes.  Mike and I were on full 
sussers (My new sparkly Orange 5 still free from mud) Jim was on a 
hard tail, and Henry and Ben were on full rigid frames.  Henry’s semi 
slick tyres and drop handlebars meant that he would have  a couple of 
hard hours work ahead of him!  However Henry and Ben, having just 
return from a couple of months cycle touring round Thailand, certainly 
weren’t going to be phased by the long journey, unlike the rest of us!

We all already new that the first climb straight up to Leith Hill was 
going to be the most difficult of the day.  A steep long climb coupled 
with steps and icy logs to negotiate.  It was hard work but the 
technical climbing to the top was a fun challenge, and the reward of 
hot soup at the tower made it all worthwhile.

The descent from Letih hill was great fun, and I could at last unleash 
my new bike on a route it could have been made for.  The hardtails and 
drop handlebars made the going a little slower for the others though.  
However my bike was really filling me with confidence.   From the 
bottom of the valley we then had to ascend all the way back up to 
Holmbury Hill.  Mike and Henry decided to give this one a miss, 
thinking it would be too technical getting to the top.  The other 
three of us ploughed on and the hard frosty ground actually made 
things very easy, and we were soon up the the best viewpoint of the 
day.  I am sure i could see the shadow of the south downs against the 
blue sky from the summit.  Getting back down was easy until the black 
ice in the car parks gave us one of our first scares of the day.

The next section of riding along the Greensand way should have been 
easy but none of us had done this route before, and very quickly the 
mazes of different trails had us totally lost.  Eventually we found 
our bearings and decided to make a quick short cut via Rowley and take 
lunch at the first pub we could find.  Time was drawing on and we were 
all famished.  Cranleigh came up with the goods, and a fine sunday 
roast was ours.   Over lunch though we heard that bad news that Ben 
had only just managed to get to our meeting point in the morning 
because trains on brighton line had been stopped.  Clearly we were 
going to be stranded with our 5 bikes at brighton station if we got 
the the finish, as there was no chance of getting them on a bus 
service..

We were already well behind time, but from now on the going would be 
much faster.  We joined the Downs link trail, which is basically a 
disused old railway line.  It should have been very flat, but there 
were some small climbs, and all the trail seemed to be on what was a 
continuous incline going south.  So we were going fast, but it was an 
effort.  Henry and Ben were now in their type of territory and they 
led us at a very fast pace and before long we made it to Horsham.  It 
was decision time.  We had no way back from Brighton with the trains 
out of action, but Henry and Ben were going to have to head down there 
anyway.  Mike very generously offered to cycle back to his house from 
Horsham, and pick us up later at the end of the ride.  This was a very 
great and noble gesture, but it was quite tempting to just follow him 
back: after the hard hills in the morning our legs were really dead.

After Horsham, the Downs link continued in the same fashion, and with 
fading light we made our way south.  Jim acquired a couple of 
punctures, probably due to the inch long gash in his tyre.  But ben 
made a quick fix with a Tyre “shoe”  and we were back on our way again 
(far too quick for my liking i was absolutely knackered now.)  Somehow 
the tangfastics kept us going.

Eventually after passing several entirely compelling pubs we made it 
to the South downs way and the base of the big hills again. We had 
seen the shadow of the hills even in the dark, and the looming red 
glow of the radio masts up there.  It was going to be a very hard and 
painful time, and to be honest i thought i might well be walking a lot 
of it: I had injured my knee walking in the lakes a few weeks before, 
and I could really feel it now.  However in the first part of the 
ascent we quickly realised it wasn’t going to happen this day.  The 
snow and ice had all melted now, and the track had become a gloopy 
quagmire.  Some of us might have struggled to the top, but Henry 
without mud tyres was going nowhere (except sideways.. )  I think the 
rest of us where very relived when we made the decision to turn back 
and carry on south to Shoreham.  We found the most fantastic pub (To 
be honest any pub would have been fantastic, but the Red Lion was 
really fantastic) and roused ourselves in front of the roaring open 
fire, surrounded by rapidly emptying pint glasses.

It was a great day, and quite and epic ride.  Next time we will make 
it all the way to Devil’s Dyke.  A little bit more scouting of the 
trails before the day would have meant a much faster run in the North 
Downs, and would have left us with the energy to keep going to the 
end.  I hope some others will join in when we try again.

Alex – the very happy owner of a new Orange who loves his wife very much 🙂

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