"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
Surrey Hills Audax - 5 March 2022 - Dorking
After a long rehab for my knee and a mountainous ride in Madeira I felt ready to resume my Auxax quest for 60xAAA - the website told me I had 51.25 already in the bank and maybe a few more from before I became an Audax member (I have sent them details of my 4 qualifying events to see if I can get those points added). For the non-audacious I should point out that one AAA point comes from doing 1000m of climbing in a sufficiently hilly ride, usually of at least 100k but occasionally over a shorter distance as with Over The Mendips, Stroud 5 Valleys or the shorty I picked on this occasion - Surrey Hills. This was the perfect prelude to visiting my family in Bookham, where I grew up, and meant I would be riding roads that were familiar or in some cases half-familiar from 30 or 40 years ago. I've done this route once before in about 3 hours with a single coffee stop, so with fitness not quite where it should be I was hoping for a similar time but without the stop. There are 4 quality climbs and some gorgeous lanes. The winter conditions, thought they may make it a bit dicey if there's frost or ice, do open up the views as Surrey is a very wooded county and the downs are no exception.
I parked by Rose Hill, just a few yards from the beautiful Quaker Meeting House where I spent so many Sundays as a kid. I rarely saw it from this angle - usually we climbed Butter Hill from the High Street to the front entrance - so I was surprised to see an arch leading down to the main shopping street which made a perfect start and finish line. I rolled down into the slow, weekend traffic and patiently made my way out through the traffic lights and lane changes to Coldharbour Lane. Just at the turn I gave way to another rider in a black and fluoro top who soon left a gap between us and began to distance himself from me on the ascent of Leith Hill.
This was a long and undulating progress up the dip slope of the downs, in two distinct halves the second steeper than the first. There was little in the way of traffic and not many other riders on road bikes, though there were plenty arriving with MTBs ready for some trails and downhilling.
Coldharbour was quiet and misty, I wound slowly up past the old hill fort and Vaughan William's house, deeper into the trees. Coming round the prow of the spur that marks the highest point in South East England I looked up through the trees but couldn't glimpse the tower that tops out at 1000 feet. The views out towards the weald of sussex and the south coast were epic though, even in the dull and damp murk of the winter overhanging into early March.
I was loving being out discovering new or forgotten views, half-remembered roads, not knowing where the red line on the phone would lead me next. At one point I was descending at around 20 mph in the middle of the road as the left lane was covered with a dodgy film of mud and pine needles, ripe for a spill, then I pulled in to the side to let two chasing cars pass me and smiled as I saw it was a big Audi and a Range Rover. Welcome to Surrey! Various lanes led down to Forest Green, Ewhurst and Cranleigh where a choir of around 50 singers were performing in the wide main drag. I made sure I followed the GPX line to the end then u-turned and headed back out of town the way I'd come before forking left to start the ascent of Barhatch Lane. This was probably the toughest climb of the day, a long ramp between two spurs of the hill leading steeply up the scarp of the downs. I passed a rider, then got passed by the same rider I'd seen just after the start, and we made a socially distanced peloton without really acknowledging each other, in classic english style.
Next came Combe Lane, another climb that meant my lowest gear and alternating between seated and up-out-of-the-saddle. One of the most beautiful moments of the day came when a roebuck leapt into the road and across into the sloping fields ahead of me and to the right - it was a powerful creature but light on its feet as they always are and I could see it through the bare trees, catching glimpses of its pale hindquarters as it pranced and leapt right up to the dense woods on top of the ridge.
I stopped for a few moments to unwrap an energy bar - then came a long descent followed by the last climb of this middle section to get me on the Ranmore ridge and chase a triathlete (down on the bars and much faster than me) along the open road to St Barnabus church. Next came the descent to Westhumble with its ruined chapel and the shock of the traffic on the A24 at Burford Bridge roundabout before I was on to the iconic Box Hill. It's a great climb and has lots of lovely views as you negotiate the switchbacks - past the sculpted hedges and into wild and varied scrubland with that classic english mix of random trees of all kinds framing rough chalk grassland and brambles. The switchbacks make it a classic climb, reminiscent of the contintental roads. I u-turned at the top, not even going the extra few metres to the viewpoint, then descended fast to the roundabout and a slow progress on the cyclepaths into Dorking. Finishing under the arch where I started I saw it had been 2:47, about the same speed as a few years ago, so I would say my covid-19 is well and truly behind me and I just need to build up strength and fitness ready for the summer. Thank you Surrey Hills.
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