London to Ashford - April 2021
From our Nigel, our Sussex correspondent:
The Joy of Six
Twenty-four riders leaving London for Brighton. Under current guidelines, protocol dictates groups are limited to no more than 6. So, The Fridays creates 4 groups of 6 - Adrian’s Accidental Acolytes, Ross’s Ragtag Rabble, Tim’s Trundling Troupe, Jenny’s Folding Faction* - 2 different starting locations and staggered starting times and slightly varied routes, some flatter than others.
[*It has been noted that at least one known owner of a Fridays Folder was riding a proper bike. No further action will be taken on this occasion].
Upon arriving at Victoria’s concourse, it was eerily quiet for 23.15 on a friday. No concessions open, no inebriated commuters rushing to catch the last train back to the burbs, no noise from a human mass, no revelers coming into The Smoke for fun, frolic and frivolity. Although heading towards the Tube, four young girls tottered in heels high enough to make them look like they had never previously worn them and each wearing similar tight knit dresses, the hems inching down to upper thigh. Remarkably, they seemed sober. Unlike the four young men at Hyde Park Corner who asked us for directions to Hyde Park - having just walked from that direction!
A short blast up to Hyde Park Corner, turn right and find Adrian at the Royal Artillery Memorial. An Acolyte had dropped out, one of the Troupe fancied a flatter route, so he joined Adrian and we were down to a bijou five. At midnight we rolled away, a dry and balmy 15°, under the Wellington Arch in time honoured fashion. At km 2, we missed a turn and found ourselves on Cadogan Lane. For 300 m we rode along what must be the best tarmac in town - total joy. That’s Belgravia for you. Quick map check and we were soon back on route at Sloane Square.
Following familiar roads, crossing the Thames on Chelsea Bridge, irritatingly stopping at the red lights on the incline at Lavender Hill and soon at Clapham Common where we found 6 cyclists milling around. It was the Rabble who had left the South Bank. We paused and happily waved them on their way. Onward through the burbs passing a couple of the now ever present urban foxes. Full gas descending into Coulsdon and a brief pit stop before the climb up Portnalls Road. Slow and easy, all reaching the summit without hindrance, another joy of six (or five).
Over the top and down, over a lightly trafficked M25 and stop in the layby before Reigate Hill. Which way? Usual Southbound route quite closed. Preferred route was to ignore the double No Entry signs, hop over the kerb, squeeze past the huge recovery truck and descend Wray Lane, which just happens to be a one way street northbound. The added bonus of this route is to pass under the railway and not over the potentially treacherous ‘level’ crossing at the bottom of Reigate Hill.
Trundle through town, turn left, another left onto Lonesome Lane. A lovely stretch of road to stretch the legs, big ring time and push the pedals. It is still a joy to use, putting a big smile on Patrick’s face, his first time. The surface is not great in places, a modicum of caution required.
Around Gatwick with a small diversion to The Beehive. Tim expounded this was the original site of the airport believed to be the world’s first circular terminal building, built in an Art Deco style. Compare and contrast with Brighton City Airport, another art deco terminal building, the destination of the Fridays’ Shoreham ride.
Through Tilgate Park, up the 1.2 km straight drag of the A23 to Pease pottage services, mingling distantly with the Faction on the climb. The varying speeds of riders ensured arrivals were staggered and no long queue ensued at the hot drink outlet. The Acolytes and Rabble had already arrived, thirsty riders drank, hungry ones ate. No interior seating, so we assembled at the picnic tables outside, positioned perfectly on the north-east corner of the building to catch the moderate breeze. Such was the cooling effect, some retired to the entrance, loitered in the bookshop or lingered in the clean toilets.
Keeping to our staggered timings, the Troupe set off last. Not having fully warmed up, we were soon hurtling down an unknown road to me, exercising caution again due to unkempt surface, into Balcombe. No need to worry about being cool, the tiny country lane around and over Ardingly reservoir was startlingly steep to the unwary and fumbled lower and lower gears. Warmth quickly returned to hands and fingers.
Down and up to Lindfield where another stop was taken, using village facilities and parked up on the bench between the butcher and florist. Ducks quacked on the pond and a barn owl was heard. An early rising resident was pulled to an abrupt stop crossing the street opposite. The dogs she was leading wanted to investigate the movement of a local cat. The Faction moseyed into town, paused and went on their way. Butcher and florist arrived to open up soon after and that was our cue to move on.
It was a cloudless night, leaving the sky to be clearly visible. Setting off, the eastern horizon was glowing faintly. No, there are no distant street lights, we are in rural west sussex, it is the muted beginnings of the sunrise.
A brisk right left dogleg onto Slugwash Lane. Narrow, high hedges, restricted visibility, almost feeling for the next bend, dip or rise, extreme care on the descents, wary of gravel, senses heightened for faster riders.
The opaque glow from the east is intensifying by the minute, birds are starting to sing, this is a glorious time of day. Down Hundred Acre Lane, a single deer is alerted by the passing cyclists, down Streat Lane and the sun is now a radiant orange ball. Stopping is obligatory. Photos taken. Glorious indeed.
We pass verdant fields, horses grazing, chardonnay vines and before long arrive at the north end of Ditchling Bostall, the twisting road leading to the Beacon. A steady climb to be ridden at a steady pace, We each set off in our own time, soloing in our own bubble. I ride comfortably, breathing laboriously, changing down to the second largest ring at the rear and regretting not fixing the indexing to use my smallest gear. I lay on the grass, enjoy the view, watch pictures being taken, wonder at the myriad folk doing their thing along the path and banter with a MTB’er who agrees the Bob Jackson bike is pretty. Ha, what does he know! How can it be pretty when it is handsome?
After a suitable rest, we zoom down, down some more, then up for the last time, the tailwind making it less a hauling drag than usual, past the golf course and into town. Two try to trigger the camera, not quite in formation, no flash, despite achieving required velocity.
Trundling along the seafront in bright sunshine and blue sky, we arrive at our destination, finding the Acolytes and Rabble enjoying their respective nourishment at their tables of 6. The Faction arrive and take their separate table. No mechanicals, no visitations; all appear happy, especially the first-timers. This is the Fridays - doing their extraordinary Fridays thing, in extraordinary times, in extraordinary fashion.
Thanks to Adrian as Chief Ride Leader, Ross, Tim and Jenny as Ride Leaders and everyone else as themselves.
[This ride report originally appeared on CycleChat]