Monday, 29 April 2013

Two years ago...

Matt, Richard and Andy, Longford Lake May 1st 2011.
Who would have thought that this ride was now two years ago! Click here for more.

One in ten journeys should be by bike, says All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group

Mine, Andy's and Jon's bikes on Woodmansterne Green

A landmark report on the future of cycling in Britain calls for a national cycling champion to lead a drive for 10 per cent of all journeys in Britain to be by bike by 2025.
More of the transport budget should be spent on supporting cycling, at an initial rate of at least £10 per person per year, increasing as cycle levels increase, says the report by British Parliamentarians.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Rain and shine – at Botley Hill and Westerham

Major General James Wolfe was born in Westerham.
There's nothing more depressing than the small, shaded car park just beyond Botley Hill at the top of the Titsey Estate. For a start, whenever we're there, it's raining and there are always little muddy puddles of rainwater and a litter bin to stare at as we try to shelter from the rain. It's a miserable place and it's always on the agenda when either of us need to get back home quickly for some reason. At the moment, it's me. My Saturday ride is severely curtailed for a few weeks (until July) because of an early morning commitment back home. It's one of those 'is it even worth going' scenarios, but it's always worth going; the thought of cutting rides back to just one a week is out of the question especially as sooner rather than later, one ride a week would become the norm and then suddenly, when I suggest that I'm going out on a Saturday, noses will be turned up. So, no, I have to get out there, even if it's just a ride to the Green and back.

Yours truly on Westerham Green
All this week the weather has been wonderful. It reached 22 degrees mid-week, which is not unheard of at this time of year – but then again, nor is snow and rain and April's had them all this year. With the sun shining and the skies blue, it was depressing to wake up on Saturday morning to fine grey clouds and spitting rain, that later developed into full-blown rain. It was cold too. There's nothing worse than raindrops hanging from the rim of the helmet (if you'll excuse the phrase); it makes you feel wetter than you actually are – and that was how I was feeling as I made my way up the 269 towards that depressing car park with its muddy puddles and it's litter bin.
"Come and join us on a ride"

Andy and I stood there drinking tea and munching cereal bars and then, basically, we jumped on the bikes and headed home again. We'd met at the Green at 7am, not 7.30am, in order to make the tea drinking bit a little less rushed and to give me enough time for a leisurely rather than a hurried ride.

We parted halfway along the 269 and met again on Sunday, early, to ride somewhere a little further away. Various destinations were discussed: the Titsey off-road ride, which we hadn't riden since February 2012, Longford Lake, Merstham...but we settled for Westerham.

Compared with Saturday, Sunday was lovely. Blue skies and sunshine, but it wasn't that warm. There was a frost on the ground and while the sun was shining, any wind generated by cycling was cold. I noticed that the trees were still, meaning there was no real wind, just that created by our own movement. It warmed up slightly as we made our way past the Tatsfield Bus Stop, but on the hill down to Westerham, the air was still cold and mildly unpleasant.
Oh! Such a bargain! Not!

Westerham is a pleasant place on a sunny morning and we arrived at 8am – enough time to enjoy a break and a chat as we watched the town slowly wake up and chatted about Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia among other things.

We joked about how nobody ever joins us for a ride. One of the panels on the right hand side of this blog invites those reading it to 'join us on a ride' but nobody ever does. We started fantasising about how 'joining us on a ride' could develop into a huge cycling festival with hundreds of riders basking in the early morning side on Westerham Green. Sticking with silly fantasies, we both noted with interest that our bike shop – the former Barclays Bank that used to stand in the middle of the high street but had been advertised to lease for many, many months – was still vacant. Some years ago we'd had an idea for a bike shop and caff slap bang in the middle of the High Street – not a bad idea considering the amount of tourists and cyclists you get in Westerham during the summer. But we're both too risk averse, understandably in these troubled economic times.

It was hard to come up with an image of Westerham that we hadn't taken before and thinking one up delayed our return trip for a few minutes, but I decided that the statue of Major General James Wolfe, who was born in Westerham and died at the Battle of Quebec, was the best bet – that and a self portrait. Andy took a shot of the benches, vacant and ready for other cyclists who might 'join us on a ride'.

Jon rang as we sipped tea on the green. He was at Woodmansterne Green. Now there's somewhere we haven't been for a while.

I'm never keen on the ride back from Westerham as it's uphill all the way to that miserable car park I mentioned earlier. But these things have to be done so off we went and then, halfway along the 269 we said goodbye and vowed to meet again next weekend

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Spring is here....

The lake at the top of Slines Oak Road near Knights Garden Centre
Andy went out on Sunday alone and did a loop that took in The Ridge, Botley Hill and then the Green – a kind of reverse version of my ride on Saturday morning. Here's a shot he took of the lake just beyond Knight's Garden Centre.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

To Botley Hill...

Yours truly at the junction of The Ridge and the 269, April 20th 2013.
A beautiful day of shimmering early morning mists and a light, withering frost contrasted with blue skies and sunshine. The good weather, it seems, is here at last and I'm powering my way towards the Green when I hear my phone vibrating in my left breast pocket. It's earlier than usual as Andy and I have agreed to meet at 7am and not our usual 7.30am. But the call is from Andy. He can't open his garage door and is running late. Not a problem, I told him, as I approached Hamsey. Moments later he calls again: it's not going to work. Sadly, I won't be cycling tomorrow so we'll be meeting again next weekend.

I decided to push on towards Botley Hill and once past Knight's Garden Centre, where the daffodils were in full bloom, I settled into a very pleasant ride. When there were no cars on the road, the only sound was the birds, which made it even better. Here and there I spotted clumps of daffodils on the banks and there were rays of sunlight filtering through the trees. The blossoms were out too.

The Kona at The Ridge around 0745hrs, 20 April 2013.
I reached Botley, turned at the roundabout and then stopped at The Ridge to take the photographs accompanying this post. It was then simply a case of riding home. The weather was fantastic as I made my way back along the 269 and into Warlingham, past the Green and on towards Sanderstead. I'd left Botley around 7.46am and it was 8.20am by the church clock when I reached the Gruffy and sailed down Church Way.

If the weather holds out for tomorrow it'll be a good ride for Andy if he decides to go it alone.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Lake of Tranquility...

Longford Lake around 9am, Sunday 7th April 2013 – absolutely wonderful.
Up at 6am and ready to rock. My alarm went off, I pressed the snooze button and at 0610hrs I was out of bed and downstairs making tea ready for the ride. I'd forgotten that, the night before, I'd set my alarm and then switched the phone off. As everybody knows, mobile phone alarms still activate even if the phone is switched off and sure enough, mine was no exception.

Enjoying a much-needed cup of tea.
It was odd for Andy not to be at the Green, but these things happen and sometimes I have to wait around before he arrives (he's normally waiting for me). Today, there were two cyclists standing roughly where I meet Andy; it was the two guys we occasionally meet and they're both a bit 'gung ho', despite being a little paunchy. One made reference to his weight and I suggested he cycled more – he laughed in agreement, but where, I wondered, was Andy?

And then I remembered that my phone was off, so I switched it on and, lo and behold, a message. Andy wasn't feeling too good. He had a headache that he couldn't shake off and was aborting the ride. I wasn't sure when the message had arrived – the night before or earlier this morning – but I had to avoid a situation where the other guys discovered that Andy wasn't coming and invited me to join them for some gung ho! cycling.

A frame through the frame
"See you later," I said as a third rider arrived. "My mate's meeting me further up the road," I lied and rode off in the direction of Botley Hill. Where should I go? Westerham was the plan as I settled in to the ride. The weather was amazing. Despite a frost on the roof tops of most cars, I just knew that if I swiped any of the windscreens with my hand they wouldn't be solid ice. The skies were blue and while there was a slight breeze, it wasn't cold. A perfect day, I thought, as I reached the pub that was recently converted into a coffee shop next door to Warlingham Sainsbury's. I started to sing U2's Beautiful Day to myself as I rode towards Knight's Garden Centre – the last piece of civilisation until Botley Hill, past the pond at the top of Sline's Oak Road that was still covered with a film of ice.

I was feeling good and cycling came easy to me, even the incline on the 269, which ends at the lonely bus stop and the road and the scenery opens up a bit. It's always at this point that I feel glad to be out on the bike. When I'd received Andy's text back at the green, there was a temptation to cycle up to Warlingham Sainsbury's and then simply return home, but no, Westerham was on the cards and I started to look forward to my tea, but, sadly, no cereal bar.

The trees are still bare...
I reached Botley fairly effortlessly and turned east towards the Tatsfield Bus Stop. It was tempting to stop, but no, Westerham was on the cards...until I started thinking about Chevening Church. I hadn't gone cycling on Saturday because we had the builders in for the day and I was needed around the house – but I also had a headache – possibly thanks to a bottle of Budweiser Budvar Dark – although not bad enough to abort. There were two reasons why I didn't ride out yesterday: one was the builder and two was the fact that it was my wife's birthday. I figured the best way to keep her happy on her special day was not to go cycling so I aborted and spent the morning moving heavy appliances around the kitchen floor and running errands, like a trip to a builder's merchant to buy rawplugs and screws, and another trip to Ikea to buy a doormat followed by a visit to a huge Sainsbury's to buy a few bread rolls. The Sainsbury's in question turned out to be a huge one with two floors on the Purley Way, not a million miles from Ikea.

So, with memories of yesterday's exertions still fresh in my mind,  I headed along Clarks Lane towards Westerham thinking that I deserved to stay out longer than normal and get a good ride in. Why not head towards Chevening Church along Pilgrim's Lane? It seemed like a great plan so, instead of riding the length of the downward stretch towards Westerham – which can be cold when the wind hits home – I branched left and continued east along Pilgrim's Lane. I hadn't been this way for a long time, the last time being in either 2011 or, at best, 2012 when Andy and I rode out early and sat in the churchyard doing what we do best – sipping tea and munching cereal bars. Click here for details.

Pilgrim's Lane was peaceful. While the hedgerows were still bare and the fields newly ploughed, it was glorious to be out there with emptiness on either side of the road, the occasional Lycra monkey riding the other way. At points I was totally alone with seemingly nobody around for miles and empty fields to the left and right. I reached Sundridge Lane and turned right, following the road down towards the M25 and then veering left and riding parallel to what Chris Rea once referred to as 'the road to hell'.

I stopped here for a much-needed pee. 
For some reason I was thinking about William Hague and Nick Clegg and then I remembered why. Chevening House, next door to the church, is a huge mansion they both use as a weekend retreat. I tried to imagine what I might say to Nick Clegg if I met him; it revolved around berating him for student fees and advocating some kind of social uprising to overthrow the Government. I had visions of Clegg and I riding together with him having to listen to me going on and on about how I think that he and the coalition are doing a very bad job; and then I'd change tack and think about my family and what was in store for the rest of the day.

As I rode towards the Chevening Church turn-off I decided to head instead for Longford Lake in Chipstead Village. I turned right, not left and rode over the motorway towards the village and the lake. When I reached the lakeside, the tranquillity hit me; it was wonderful. The most amazing thing was the solitude. There was nobody around, the trees were bare, the lake was so still it could have been a huge mirror and all that could be heard was the chirping of the birds in the trees and bushes.

I parked the Kona against a tree and sat on one of the benches that looked out on to the lake. It was time for tea and relaxation and I begun to wish I'd bought my book, Rob Lilwall's Cycling Home from Siberia, an amazing book about his journey from Siberia to England via Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong Indonesia, Australia and many other places, like Iran and Afghanistan. But I hadn't brought it with me and besides, with such solitude, such peace and quiet and such views, who needed a book?

After three cups of tea I was in need of a pee, but there was nowhere to go as now there were dog walkers coming from all directions. I'd have to wait. I sat on the bench for half an hour and reluctantly headed for home at 0935hrs. I was still in the right frame of mind for cycling and realised that I could have cycled all day if I had to, which got me thinking about riding John O' Groats to Lands End or Land's End to John O' Groats – what Mike Carter in his book One Man & His Bike calls Jogle and LeJog. I rode along the Chevening Road, back over the motorway and then turned left towards Sundridge, turning right further along the road and heading for Pilgrim's Lane instead of riding back over the motorway and into Sundridge.

I was somewhere on this map, but don't ask me where.
The road back was peaceful, apart from the odd bunch of Lycra monkeys, but I forgot how long it was between the turn-off and Pilgrim's Lane.

There were two horses in front of me when I reached Pilgrim's Lane and I had to overtake them, but all was well. I'm always wary of horses as I never know how they're going to react to my bike, but these two seemed fine and all I could hear after passing them was the clippety clop of their hooves, which seemed to get quieter and quieter the more I pedalled away from them – quite understandable really as I was getting further away from them – but they must have gone a different way as they never caught up with me. At one stage I had a strange thought: that if I turned around there wouldn't be horses, but a solitary man with a couple of coconut shells making the clipetty clop noises on the tarmac.

I found a place for a wee and, suitably relieved, carried on cycling along Pilgrim's Lane until I reached the hill that would take me to the top of Clarks Lane and the Surrey Hills totem pole that indicates the end of the hill – exactly an hour after leaving Longford Lake. This, I figured, was going to be a long one. I estimated arriving home at around 1100hrs, but it was 1125hrs when I eventually rolled up.

The 269 was relatively peaceful and I rode triumphantly into Warlingham, circling the Green and heading towards Hamsey and then Sanderstead.  What a great ride, I thought, as I reached the Gruffy and Sanderstead Pond, which earlier had a thin film of ice covering its surface. I sailed down Church Lane, wove my way down Elmfield Way, turning left into Southcote, right onto Ellenbridge, then another right on Barnfield and home. Time to mow the lawn, but not before two ham rolls, a hot cross bun and a mug of tea.

You know when you get that lovely tired feeling when you're eyes feel heavy and you could just drift off to sleep anywhere? After mowing the lawn and drinking another bottle of Budvar Dark – I had two of them – that was how I was feeling. Wonderful.