Saturday, 30 May 2020

Beyond the Pleasure Pit, beyond the Lockdown

Pleasure Pit Road is surely the best named road in Surrey.  What did they used to do there?  Stamp Collecting?  Tiddlywinks?  Just beyond it is where Tim and I met on Thursday to try out a theoretical resumption B ride; based on a Leatherhead start; First half my idea, second half Tim's.

First question, is Leatherhead High Street a good, safe meeting place for a small group of cyclists (say six) which might be allowed when Lockdown is further eased?  Answer, yes.  Benches and plenty of standing/lamp post leaning and social distancing space outside the Dukes Head (closed at the moment and probably not busy at elevensies time even after Lockdown).  Sunshine Cafe next door was open for two take-away cappuccinos and - wait for it - a Bounty Bar.  Had not had one of those for many, many weeks, Oh the joy!  Perhaps scoffing Bounty Bars is what they did in the Pleasure Pit.

Second question, how testing a ride do returning B-riders want?  Main thrust in the morning was to take the Old London Road in a southerly direction and cycle over Little Switzerland, turn south towards Pfizer's, and come in to Walton-on-the-Hill over the golf course for our packed lunch on Banstead Heath (never knew it was called that, it's nowhere near Banstead!).  But although this includes a couple of decent inclines it is less than fourteen miles.  Should we take the harder option and go down to and over Ranmore Common, doubling back through Denbies Wine Estate, approaching Little Switzerland by coming northwards up Old London Road, past Rykas?  One theory is that many won't be fit after Lockdown and starting off up Ranmore Common Road may not be a popular idea!

We rode the shorter route, passing many a whizzing youngster going the other way, and though we did not hurry it took us only an hour to find ourselves sitting on the grass opposite the Blue Ball.  But why oh why can't posh people take their dogs' poo home instead of decorating the trees with it?  There were children wanting to climb.

The Coffee shop opposite Mere Pond was serving takeaway at the door and we passed that as we began Tim's design for the afternoon.  Down Ebbisham Lane and Hurst Road and north on Walton Road and then Headley Road.  It would not be a Tim ride without some dodgy off-road, would it?  So we turned up gravelly Shepherd's Walk and made our way up clay-and flint and at one point get-off-and-push Stane Street.  If that's what the Romans call a road it's a wonder they conquered anywhere!  We eventually cycled back in a triangular pattern and worked out a rideable alternative, where once you have settled for going through the horse poo instead of falling off the bike trying to avoid it, passage is not too difficult.  Why can't they house-train horses?

Who's pulling a selfie face then, in the off-road section?

The track down had a few difficult tree roots and there was a teasing tantalizing glimpse of beautiful tarmac between the trees long before we got to ride on it, and lo and behold, we came out on Dene Road, on that tight, unsighted corner near Coffee Active in Ashtead.  From there we sailed down the hill behind Epsom Hospital to give ourselves the pleasure of climbing Chalk Lane.  Along Tattenham Corner Road on top of the down to the tea shack opposite Tattenham Corner itself.  Not sure about the social distancing; it was London's equivalent of Brighton Beach.  Still, a leisurely cup of tea lounging on the grass before going our separate ways home.

Now, THAT's a proper selfie face; he's not even looking at the lens!  Tattenham Corner.

A pleasant day out, 62 Km door to door with just over 640m of climbing but for a B ride the ride itself (as opposed to the getting to it) was a touch short.  Perhaps we'll have to throw in Ranmore as a morning treat.  Or perhaps if we have to ride in sixes we could offer an early starting ride without Ranmore, and a later one including it; that way they would not catch each other up?  Either way, many people might be grateful just to be riding in group company again, even with the likely restrictions.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Sensing the ghosts of the few

The rules were relaxed on the Monday so on Wednesday Dave Vine and I decided to take our exercise each with one member of another household and to test the new distancing rules.  I have in my head an idea for a Saturday ride in September, Coronavirus situation permitting, and of the options I offered, Dave was keen to try it out.

Wednesday was a beautiful day, the sun still powerful, the wind not yet up.  Traffic was increasing but not back to anything like old normal as we went through Millionaires' Row and Woodcote Green and up and down the Woodcote Grove roller-coaster to Farthing Down.  Instead of climbing Farthing Down directly, though, we took Downs Road and Woodplace Lane to Netherne, through the grounds of the church that used to serve the mental hospital, and past the ornate Victorian water tower to go up Dean Lane.  A bargain route to Caterham-on-the Hill, this one, offering two hills for the price of one.

Past the Caterham elevensies stop and the nice new coffee shop into new territory for us both, but turn left at the High Street and follow your nose and you can't really miss Kenley Aerodrome (it's big enough!) even though you can't see it until you are in it.  A blue sky, a glider spiralling above us, but the wartime bunkers are there and the unmistakable outline of a Spitfire shows how they were parked after 1940, when the hangars were destroyed in a dawn bombing raid.  There might be joggers and walkers on the perimeter track but it is not difficult to imagine the young pilots from the Polish and Canadian squadrons stationed here running across the field to their machines in the early light as their mechanics get the propellers turning.

Dave Vine at the old rifle range, Kenley Aerodrome.  Has the other cyclist been shot?

Through a hole in the hedge for lunch on Kenley Common (home made sandwiches at six feet distance).  It is difficult to imagine you are in Croydon, hardly a soul in sight, the bees buzzing, the larks singing and there across the Whyteleafe valley is Riddlesdown, so picturesque you expect to come across an impressionist at his easel.  Dave had never been to Riddlesdown so we abandoned the second part of the recce for another day and instead guessed our way downhill, carrying our bikes down dozens of concrete steps (though the council has thoughtfully put in a rail to help you push the bike over the footbridge).  I have only done Riddlesdown from the west and the climb from the south east up the steep gravelly track tells me why Beginners always tackle it from the other end!  At least we get a super ride down Riddlesdown Road, though the roads which zigzag their way up the other side of the Brighton Road to Croydon Aerodrome were also designed to be cycled only from the other direction!

The ride gave us an opportunity to test out the new social distancing advice with a view to the resumption of group riding hopefully later this summer.  Six feet apart while stationary sounds straightforward but pondering directions tests it to breaking point; the tendency was to pore over each other's maps, especially as one of us had the OS and the other the TfL.  We decided that riding side by side was within the rule so long as we stayed six feet apart but where the lanes got narrow and when traffic came we had to switch formation and it took several seconds to fall back the required ten metres, during which we were too close for the existing Sou'Wester club guidelines.  Ten metres is an odd distance, too, just insufficient to allow a car to tuck in safely between us, so we ended up making it a bit more than ten.

Distancing lessons, then, but more importantly for the soul a thoroughly pleasant day out; not too demanding and a refreshing break from the world of plague.  And half a ride recce'd to boot.  Just under 30 Km with 410m climbing.

Plan B comes up trumps

As a Committee member of an elite cycle club in South West London, I have not only to obey the letter of the law but to be seen to do so.  One of the rules set by Cycling UK is that we should not stray from home so far that in the event of a serious problem we could not get back without putting others at risk.  The temptation has been great, especially with the recent encouragement to exercise more. 

I might mend a puncture or change an inner tube but most "mechanicals" beyond the chain coming off would be beyond my ability to rectify using only an Allen Key, a tyre lever and a sachet of high energy drink.  If I were a Government Special Adviser, I might just be able to apply my own brand of common sense and hope that no-one would ever find out but no, we developed a wizard of a plan B.  Maggie and I would only cycle within a range where the other spouse would be comfortable cycling home and fetching the bike ambulance to pick up the casualty.

I have a monogamous relationship with bikes.  Unlike many club members, who rise in the morning and select from a veritable harem of machines the one they wish to ride that day, I keep one.  True, there was a divorce seven years back and I changed to a sleeker, younger model, but to this I have been faithful.  Like many a monogamous relationship, that between my bike and I is usually a happy one, despite that I occasionally fall off and damage it; but earlier this month it had a seizure.  Farthing Down ahead, change down to climb the hump on Woodcote Grove and that was that.

Somehow we did not part over the handlebars but below me my chain was tied around that rectangular metal guide that is supposed to usher it smoothly into the wheel of my derailleur, said guide was twisted into a Salvador Dali creation and rear wheel would move neither backwards nor forwards.

I took the chain off the crankshaft and could then (sort of) freewheel downhill and push it uphill, but Plan B was called into action and I had to sit forlorn on the grass verge for not very long at all before Maggie had ridden home and come to take us to Wallington Cycles, who had a new derailleur and I was only twenty four hours and a social distancing queue away from being free again to roam in a limited way.  In truth, not that limited, for if I ride out fourteen kilometres from home (a distance I know I can walk) and never go further, describing a perfectly circular route and returning the way I came, I can ride 116 kilometres without going twice up the same road.  (2 x Pi x R) + 2R.  That is enough for me.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Snuff Mill toilet reopens

Message from the Natonal Trust, Morden Hall Park.
Update regarding re-opening

Today (21 May) - The Heart of the Park (Rose Garden and Snuff Mill toilet) have re-opened to the public and will be open daily 9am – 5pm. Watermeads has also re-opened.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Coming Out of Lockdown; a message from the Beginners’ representative on the CTC South West London Committee.

The Committee has discussed what we as club members can and cannot do in the light of the new government policy.

We are officially allowed to ride in pairs which can include someone other than from our own household (max two riders).  See the Cycling UK advice here.  You must maintain at least 2 metres distance.  There have been reports in the press that 2m is insufficient distance when riding behind someone, but with no clear information on what is safe.  The Committee chairman has asked CUK for their guidance, but until that is received we suggest a minimum of 10m.

CUK guidance on how far from home we should go is unchanged here.  Basically, they are saying that you should consider your plan B if you have a mishap far from home.  How would you cope without calling on others to come out and help, with possible risk to themselves?

All group riding in numbers more than two is presently contrary to Government regulations, as well as CUK advice.  Riding outside their advice almost certainly means that you would not be covered by their insurance, so the club will not be organising any group rides until the rules change. However, the committee are keen to recommence the Rides Programme as soon as conditions allow and have been anticipating how the rules might be relaxed and brainstorming a way forward.

The main thrust of the discussions concerned the Wayfarers, who ride on Wednesdays, but the principles will have to apply to all club rides.  Maintaining social distance of 2m when stationary and at least 10m on the road will be fundamental to the Wayfarers’ plans.  Groups will be limited to 4-7 max; should more than 7 want to ride, the leader will be asked to nominate a second leader who will be provided with the route to be ridden with a 20-minute gap.  An alternative for Beginners would be for the second leader to pick his or her own route.

Initially we should stick to familiar routes, away from busy places such as Box Hill (or Morden Hall Park).  Anyone who does not want to ride in a group can follow the ride in their own time.  Leaders will also be asked to look out for suitable toilet facilities on their routes, since nearly all public toilet facilities and pubs etc, are closed at the moment.  Even if cafes are open by the time we can ride in groups they (or other customers) may not welcome groups of cyclists so the Wayfarers plan initially to take packed lunches.  The problem will be different for Beginners; we generally do not ride all day or need lunch, but we may need to be prepared to take our own snack.

These are the plans for the future.  Nothing can happen at the moment but as soon as we are allowed, the Committee will issue advice which meets the requirements of government and the advice of CUK.  Meanwhile please tell anyone you are in contact with who doesn't read the blog about this advice, especially that in the first three paragraphs above.

If you have any comments or concerns let me or any other committee member know.

Monday, 11 May 2020

Memories of the great plague

As Editor of Sou'Wester, I should like to include in the next Coronavirus edition any interesting or unusual lockdown tales from members.  Have you been doing anything unusual and interesting?  Please let me know at

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Debbie's Race at your Pace medal

Debbie enjoys Pebble Hill

Check out my ride on Strava.
Had a great down hill at pebble Hill . Found Cycling up to the downs v hard got stuck on the last bit I got as far as the stables . The ducks at Walton on the Hill were really nice & Brockham was nice . It’s my longest ride this year . Debbie x

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Thursday, 7 May 2020

Searching for wildlife!

What a lovely day for another solo ride to Kew Gardens and Richmond Park via the River Thames.

Bikes out of the Thames!

Star and Garter with Belted Galloways
Managed to get quite a few photos of swans, geese and ducks with their babies! Not a good idea to try and eat a chocolate bar approaching a swan, he thought I had food for him. As I forgot my lunch I certainly wasn’t going to part it! I would be able to go a lot further if I didn’t stop to take some many photos!
Richmond Park

There were certainly a lot more people around today, but probably should go to more rural areas.

31 miles done it total, then came home to do some gardening.

~Sue Bellamy

Monday, 4 May 2020

Group Riding

I am sure you are aware that the government is considering what to do next about the current lockdown, and there may be some announcement next Sunday. However, there is no guarantee that there will be any early change which affects our riding.

The committee is considering what our next steps will be, following government advice and CUK guidelines.

In the meantime the rules are quite clear. No group rides, even informally organised, even with social distancing. Only solo riding allowed. Anything other than solo riding will not be covered by CUK insurance.

I can understand many members are keen to get out on club rides as soon as possible, but please contain your enthusiasm for a while longer. All members will appreciate how difficult this period has been, but will thank everyone for their patience and for keeping others safe. Your wellbeing and the lives of others may depend on it.

~ Dave Vine

Sunday, 3 May 2020

In Isolation - cycling reports!

A diary from Ray and Chris who are in isolation - but it hasn't stopped them!

We’ve just finished a 2+ mile walk in the garden on my 100m circuit. I packed up lunch before we left and we’ve just finished it.
As I know several distance points between here and Oaks Park cafe I kept telling Christine where we would be if we were walking over there. 
We are now sitting in the summer house/ gym wondering if we can manage the walk back.

We have Ifit on the treadmill so we did a 24 minute walk round the pyramids in Egypt Sunday. While Christine was doing her 24 mins I did 16 mins on the static bike.
We still like the garden walk , Christine did 33 laps yesterday.

My son in Edinburgh brought home his 2 day old baby Friday so we decided to walk round Edinburgh yesterday. I shared the walking so we each did 25 minutes and We also did 25 mins static bike. We were back home for lunch.

We both rode together today.
We went up to the Chalet in Tadworth 8.5 miles but it was closed.
So we rode back to my friend Steve’s house 6.5 miles.
We had lunch I had tomato soup with homemade croutons and Christine had a tuna sandwich.
We were just about to leave after lunch and noticed we both had flat tyres full of thorns.
We decided to leave our bikes in Steve’s garage and walk home 2.55 miles 41+ laps.
Then like all good stories end we sat down and had a nice cup of tea.

The weather was so good last Sunday we set off from the Grove and walked to Morden Hall cafe ,69 laps of my 100 m track non stop ( I have ridden it so often I was able to tell Christine where we were all the way there).
Luckily  I had parked the tandem behind the summerhouse for us to ride back on, we just wobbled up the garden to the garage.

What did you do in the Great Plague, Grandad?

Well, there was this.........

and my "Right said Fred" moment; honest, guv, I measured the gap on the top staircase carefully before I built the baseboard.  I ended up having to cut off two opposing corners.......

Still, the end result is up there now.  All I need is my grandchildren back.  The boy, Jasper will not be too bothered but the little girl Ava will adore it!

Saturday, 2 May 2020


Just six or seven weeks ago we were seeing our grandchildren frequently and I was regularly supping with my friends and going to church.  On the Saturday we went out on Helen’s splendid all day ride to Fulham Palace, an interlude from building ourselves up for Tim’s trip to Los Picos, which in turn would prepare us for our ride up Alpe d’Huez, after which we hoped the Dieppe Raid would be a doddle.  The next day I went with friends to Manchester's Curry Mile before mixing with 75,000 strangers to watch the Manchester Derby; I was worried that I had booked cycling holidays that meant I would miss two cup finals as my team unexpectedly took a turn for the better.  They played a game on the Thursday behind locked doors but that was in another country and besides .....

Now I am busier than any of our younger family can credit catching up with jobs put aside and life is a day to day business.  My hope is that the supermarket packer who deals with our delivery will one day learn the difference between eating and cooking apples; the daily news is unreal until the statistics involve someone you know, as they did last week, and then the proximity of mortality makes you realise it’s not all just a strange dream.  Cycling almost daily keeps me sane (ish) and fit.  Sometimes it feels like a chore when I start, especially if I leave Maggie behind at home, but it takes only ten minutes before all I hear is the hiss of the tyres on the road and today’s song in my head, setting a rhythm I can try to keep up.  This morning I climbed Pine Walk to Non Piu Andrai from the Marriage of Figaro.  I sailed down Holly Lane with the wind in my ever-lengthening hair and the magnificent opening of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in my head and the opening riff to Deep Purple's Smoke on the Water got me up Grove Lane.

If you ignore the tragedy, there is much to like.  So little traffic that after a quick check you can smoothly swerve away from pedestrians or potholes.  The weather has been kind and there is a new camaraderie amongst cyclists, who almost to a person return a brief nod or a hand signal, sometimes with enthusiasm; hang on, chaps, we are English!  Cycling solo means you can go at your own pace; I was never one for chatting on the road anyway.  But I did not realise how much I would miss lunch in the pub and cake in the cafe, and the chat that went with that.

The least known war memorial in London, on Verdun Avenue, was never busy in the old world

With little else to think of on the road, Strava has changed its role in my life.  Long ago, in March, I used it merely to record the distance I had covered but now I am in danger of enslavement.  Because it can provide a measure of my increasing fitness, it encourages me to ride the same routes.  It has got me setting a distance target for each month and I was so close to making April’s target that I very nearly went out a second time at ten minutes to midnight, just to ride around the block and cross the line.

I have failed to master it properly but it is my only companion when Maggie does not ride with me.  I measure my effort in distance but its graph shows hours spent in the saddle.  Thus April’s curve disappointingly showed me doing worse than in March even though I had ridden a greater mileage; this was because it took me five hours less to complete the greater distance.  Another conundrum; as I pedal down empty hills as fast as my nerve will allow, I improve my average speed.  Obviously, I have to climb an uphill to “earn” a downhill cruise, but is it faster for a cyclist, unlike a runner, to ride a hilly route rather than a flat one?  Unable to iron out the North Downs, I can make no true comparison, but I wonder, if solo riding continues (and it may well have to do for us over seventies) if I can “cheat” by planning routes which go up the dip slope and down the scarp.

Time to spray the chain and check the tyres, Banstead and Farthing Down and Caterham-on-the Hill await my daily visit.  I’ll pass Ray and Chris’ house and as always wave at them in their three month isolation as I go by.  I know by heart every worsening pothole, every little sharp incline, every closed public loo and every deserted coffee stop and pub.  Still, I may be lucky and pass another Sou’Wester; so far, Mark (twice, each time on a bike) and Steve (he was on foot).  Then there was the chap who waved so enthusiastically that he may well have been a Wayfarer.  Sorry, whoever you were, but I was being driven relentlessly up Farthing Down by Jimi Hendrix in pursuit of a better Strava time.