02 March 2012

A loop of the North Downs

We needed to put some hill-ish miles in. Our upcoming trip to the Peak District to gain our very first AAA points (i.e. points awarded by Audax UK for riding hilly routes) means that we "southerns" are going to experience some pain. The UK is not a particularly hilly country compared to other European destinations, but it does have some ridiculously steep, yet short, roads. In the Southeast, the best you can get is across the North and the South Downs.

The North Downs are close to central London, just on the outskirts of the M25, and we have cycled through them quite a few times already, but always on our way to somewhere. So this time we decided to do a loop to take in some of the most famous bumps (including the infamous Box Hill!) that overall totalled over 2000 m climb in 120 km. Although this may look quite significant, it really is not, as the climbs are never longer that a few km followed by nice descents. Nothing compared to climbing 2000 m in the Pyrinees or the Sierra de Guadarrama in Madrid (yes, we do have mountains down there!). The route was originally used by a chain of cycle shops in one of their outings, and looked like this:

We got to Dorking just after 9 am, and headed straight into the first climb of the day, to the west of the town. The traffic was very light, something to be expected on a Sunday at 9 am, but surprisingly, it remained this way for the rest of the ride. The first 20 km were very scenic, passing through very narrow country lanes and farms. It really felt like the North of Spain, with the green fields, rural cottages and farmlands. Crossing the busy A24 via a cycle path underneath the highway, we entered the zig zag road that takes you to Box Hill. This road will be used by the machacas of the Olympic Road race in the summer, but unlike us, they will climb it 9 consecutive times. Truth be told, this hill is probably the easiest of the day, and we were atop it without much delay. I felt much better than last time I was here in January, when I struggled a bit to keep up the pace with the other riders (too much turrón after Christmas I reckon!). The view from the top is really quite nice, and was already busy at 10 am with other fellow cyclists.

View from Box Hill, at 226 m over sea level
Roads out of Dorking, very quiet and scenic
After a few stretches of A roads (again, very quiet) we headed east and then south towards Gatwick, where the roads seemed much flatter and extremely wide for UK standards. After some quick miles the tarmac began to get a bit steeper - we were back in the Downs. Somewhere en route we saw quite an usual sight in this part of the world:

Can we pass you Sir - I shouted
Lucy climbing out one of the many short steep hills, but still smiling
The roads remained bumpy for the rest of the ride. Up and down all the time, through narrow stretches of country roads. Some of them we had already used in the past two Audaxes organised by "El Supremo", but unlike those times, after a descent we would head back up again and again. Peaslake, a cute town embedded in the forest, appeared at the end of one of those descents, along with mountain bikers everywhere. I knew this was a popular area within the southest mtb community, and promised myself to return with the wide tyres sometime soon... Although I wished I had my mtb with me, the lanes were so lovely to be ridden on skinny tyres that I soon forgot about it.

It really felt isolated near Peaslake
The hills were relentless, and we were feeling it. All the bumpy miles seemed to be packed in the last third of the ride, with the steepness increasing gradually as we approached the 100 km mark. Past the 100 km Lucy was allowed to complain (or that is what I was told, apparently) so I wasn't looking forward to it. However, she handled all the hills extremely well and she had an smiley face throughout the ride. Maybe the new cassette (a 12-27 in cyclists language) I had fitted to her bike helped here?

Approaching the end and she's still smiling after 2000 m of accumulated climb?
After a long-ish descent, we got to Dorking and back to the train station before it got dark. All in all, it was probably my top ride in the Southeast. Very little traffic, nice roads, and excellent weather. Lucy's getting fit, no complains about hills nor km left on the ride!

The stats said: 6 h 15 min moving time, 55.7 km/h max speed, 20.5 km/h average, 1 h stopped, total of 127 km (plus another ~20 km door to door). 4 bottles of water were drunk, and only weed twice!

No comments:

Post a Comment