The start and finish of the off-road circuit.
Well, in the same way that 'The Dark Lord', Voldemort, is not to be mentioned by anybody within the hallowed grounds of Hogwart's School, so the word 'Lycra' is forbidden territory for the likes of Andy, Jon and myself, but, if the truth be known, most of the cycling we've been doing over the past four years could have been done on a racing bike. We've all got decent Kona mountain bikes but we rarely go 'off road' with them.
Until yesterday. Bank Holiday Monday, April 5 2010. A day to be remembered. Why? Because while out cycling on Sunday, following our aborted attempts on Saturday, we found a complete off-road circuit, around five miles in length, circular and, it has to be said, absolutely fucking brilliant! Needless to say there's a Gangers Hill connection, Gangers being our favourite road at the moment because it has taken away the drudgery that is Woodmansterne, Westerham, the Tatsfield Bus Stop and other uninspiring routes, which, amazingly, have kept our interest over the past four years.
Gangers Hill has given us a reason to live again: new territory, a new church gate under which to sip our tea and munch on our cereal bars and now it's given us something else: a decent woodland trek, full of mud – naturally – but a five-mile round circuit where the roads our in a minority and the open countryside rules the roost.
Marden Woods, part of the Woodland Trust, doesn't have any 'no cycling' signs, but, in the quiet car park a quarter mile down Gangers Hill on the right, mountain bikers gather. Actually, not that many, which makes it all the better, but from the car park there begins a fantastic circuit that goes downhill towards Woldingham Station (where we had to dismount and manhandle our bikes over a wooden gate (twice)) and then back over the railway bridge, uphill for a bit, before encroaching on the grounds of Woldingham Girls School. We cycled past a lonely tennis court then took a road left and found ourselves on the same road we cycled along on Sunday before we bore left and on to the muddy, uphill track we had to walk up on Saturday. However, once at the top, instead of hitting the road, we dived off-road again until we found a really serious hill – one to rival the greats of our cycling – which eventually brought us back to the road again, but only briefly.
Across the road was another gate and another woodland path. Lots of mud and it wasn't long before we were lost. The iphone's GPS wasn't working and we had to put all of our skills, acquired while living with the bushmen of the Kalahari, into action. These skills could be summed up by "Look, there's a bloke with a dog, he must have come from the car park, let's hang a right". So we did and soon (not too soon, we still thought we were lost) we found the car park. When we looked at the map we realised how we had probably been a little more adventurous (purely by accident) than intended. We hadn't followed the route for the last half a mile or so and instead had hacked our way through thick woods, narrowly avoiding a quarry, only to arrive eventually at the finish (which was also the start).
Elated by an excellent morning of cycling, we sipped tea and munched on cereal bars – and then Andy found a KitKat in his rucksack, an Easter leftover, and we tucked into that too before cycling home and parting company at the top of Sline's Oak Road.
Needless to say, the bikes now looked like mountain bikes and were caked in mud (see pic to right of my bike). All the way home our tyres flicked mud at us as if to say thanks for setting them free from the roads. Later that day, after a spot of gardening and cooking, I hosed mine down in preparation for a visit to the cycle shop and a much-needed servicing.