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.

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