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West Dorset Mountain Bikers

2012 The North Downs "Men Only" Biking Weekend
Four Go Mad in Surrey

The 2012 'boys only' biking weekend away was organised by GB ("he has too much spare time on his hands", Ed) and we decided to go somewhere more civilised, not the wet, boggy, miles from anywhere type of place that we usually frequent. So we went to Surrey! What I hear you shout, that's London. Well yes it is, but it does have some great MTB trails hidden away in the Surrey Hills & North Downs.

After much research the chosen venue was The Plough Inn, Coldharbour, 3 miles south of Dorking (the cycling capital of Surrey according to a sign outside a pub there). The website for the pub looked promising, nice photos, has its own micro brewery and specialises in steaks in the restaurant. Duly confirmed by Mrs Summers as a good place to go, she went there a lot apparently before she met Ed, we booked rooms and started planning. Young Mr King was unable to attend as he is funding, planning and being a general dogsbody for his daughters upcoming wedding, so as it was last year it was Ed, Ian, Rod and GB.

Ed decided to take the Friday off this year so that he could join in the Friday ride, but his best laid plans went awry when he had some final bits of work to do on Friday morning. GB set off at 08:30 and at 10:30, just outside Fleet Services, he rang Ed to see what part of the M3 he and Ian were on, but worryingly there was no answer so he tried Ian's phone ......

"Hi GB how are you"
"Fine thanks, but it sounds like you are in a very echo'y kitchen, not a car"
"Ah, we have a minor issue"
"Yes, Ed was a bit delayed and we haven't actually left Weymouth yet! Where are you?"
"I am just about to stop at the Fleet Services for a coffee, I guess I should buy a newspaper as well!"
"You could probably have lunch by the time we get there!"

After reading the Daily Telegraph (all of it!) and consuming a very large (supersize) coffee GB pushed on to Dorking. The phone rings again ....

"Hi GB, where are you"
"Just entering Dorking"
"OK we will meet you there and we can visit the bike shop. Go to the White Hart pub you can park there and wait for us, you can't miss it, right in the middle of the high street, with an arched entrance to the car park"

GB sees a pub sign looming with a white animal on it, The White Horse Hotel, too late he also spots an arched entrance to a car park, he rings Ed again ....

"That pub you said to meet at, The White Hart wasn't it, well it wouldn't be The White Horse Hotel by any chance would it?
"Yep that's it, just like I said, The White Horse Hotel!"
"Thanks Ed, just driven past it. I'm now stuck in the Dorking one way system and the lady on my sat nav is getting very upset!"

An hour later we meet up at The White Horse Hotel (right) for a swift half and a visit to the local bike shop who confirm that the routes we have planned are going to all the right places. We had only been in the shop 2 minutes when Ian disappears out the door on one of their bikes for a test ride, he returns extolling the virtues of the 14 speed geared rear hub on the bike. 15 minutes later we are still trying to get him out of the shop while he is having a deep and meaningful conversation with the resident bike mechanic about the engineering virtues and vices of rear hubs, as usual he has just one more question.

As the weather darkened and it started raining we head on to The Plough Inn (left) at Coldharbour. As the rain kept coming down and the rooms weren't quite ready we decided to do some beer tasting instead of biking. The Leith Hill brewery attached to the pub currently brews 3 ales:

They also had a cider on hand pump and Shepherd Neame Spitfire, enough to keep us going on a wet afternoon in Surrey. With the rain abating we decided to get on the bikes, at which time Rod arrived so off we went on to bridleways right opposite the pub (photo right).


Friday's Ride - Leith Hill (7 miles 1000ft climb)









Ed posing at the entrance to The Plough Inn before we leave

After a long and excellent downhill stretch of byway we found ourselves off the map and lost, GB's fault (of course!) for not bringing a larger map!

After a bit of riding on the road and navigation by use of the sun, we found our way to Broadmoor, no not the place which is famous for high security psychiatric hospital, but another one.

A long climb thru the woods brought us up to near the top of Leith Hill and some fantastic views towards the South Downs.

View west from the side of Leith Hill

Gary and Ed map reading, did a lot of that over the weekend!


More picture taking

Ian arrives after losing us (lagging behind!) on the climb up

View across to the South Downs

After admiring the views and taking lots of pictures in the failing light, we headed up to the top of Leith Hill and its famous tower. Having got to the tower we once again had great views this time to the north and the outline of west london across to the towers at Canary Wharf, more picture taking before trying to work out how we get back to the pub.

Leith Tower and Rod taking pictures of the London skyline

"c'mon hurry up and take the photo, I need to find a loo"

Ed pointing out something in the distance.
This photo makes the tower look much smaller than it really is.

There is a famous downhill track called Summer Lightening which we wanted to do and having found the bottom of it on the way out we wanted to find the top, however no one seemed to know where it was. In the rapidly fading light we started to look for any way down off of the hill. After several abortive attempts to find a track and with the light rapidly disappearing we began to wonder if we would be stuck here for the night. Having found our way around Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Lake District, the Quantocks and various other wild places, could we really get this lost in Surrey! Eventually we came across a cricket ground which Mr Summers recognised and we found a very dark (large overhanging trees) and lumpy downhill track which spat us out right next to the pub. It should be noted that this was Ed's backyard in his much younger and formative years and we were relying on him for local knowledge. However every time we were in need of this 'local knowledge' he told us it was 40 years ago and things had changed, yep the dinosaurs are now extinct!chaise longuechaise longue

Back at the pub we tried the Tally Whacker ale, a very strong porter, before retiring to the rooms to get cleaned up. GB and Ian's room had a very nice Chaise Longue in the large bay window which Mr B claimed as his own and spent much time reclining on said Chaise while reading the paper and waving regally to the locals as they passed by below (apparently I should have had some clothes on while doing this! GB).

A few beers and a very nice dinner later we go to the barn in the pub garden when a local band are playing, just two blokes on guitar and sax called Loony Tunes. A bit chilly in the barn, but quite a few locals come along including the village drunk whose dancing style mainly involved falling over a lot and grabbing any woman that happened not see him coming in her direction. The band were quite good and play a good eclectic mix to keep everyone happy, mainly music for 40/50 something's, which unsurprisingly is the average age of the crowd in the barn. To keep us amused Rod does a Meerkat impression every time a person of the opposite gender enters the barn. We retire around midnight after the bands final final encore.


Saturday's Ride - Coldharbour to Ranmoor Common Loop (26 miles 3300ft climb)map


Saturday's promised sunshine duly arrives and with it a fairly mediocre breakfast. The evening meal was very good, but the full English breakfast was a bit on the rough side, filling, but not tasty with some strange, possibly under cooked, possibly just rubbish, sausages.

Breakfast over we ventured outside to get the bikes ready for the days riding. Muddy crusty and smelly, the bikes not us (!), some cleaning and oiling was done to removed a few of the squeaks and grinding noises. As we were getting ready a non-stop stream of roadies and MTB'ers went past us something we definitely don't see in Dorset, cycling really is the new rock'n'roll.

Having recc'ed the trails on Friday we decided to do the route in the opposite direction to that originally planned as it would give us a downhill start and big downhill finish. so we headed north across Coldharbour common and into Abinger Forest.

The trail thru the forest was excellent either on the main trail or the singletrack cut thru the wooded hedge at the side. One thing we would have to get used to in this part of the world was other folk on bikes on the trail, not something we encounter very much in Dorset. On a particularly quick section thru the woods we came across six or seven MTB'ers speeding along in the opposite direction! Collisions thankfully avoided we came to the end of this 5km section of trail in Westcott outside of a very picturesque thatched cottage complete with its own lake and waterfall.



The trail across Coldharbour Common & Abinger Forest

The 'chocolate box top' thatched cottage at Westcott

From Westcott we headed further north across the railway line on to the White Downs where we stopped for more photo opportunities, Ian in particular getting very arty with his shadow photos!

Photographing shadows

Guess who's who?

Ian and the headless man on a gate

Photos taken, snacks consumed and calls of nature taken care of we headed up a steep climb thru the woods up to Ranmore Common. After crossing a couple of fields and woods we came to Fetcham Downs and started heading back South. At this point Rod decided to empty his backpack to find a Mars bar, as more and more stuff was taken out and dumped on the floor we began to wonder whether his backpack was actually Hermione Granger's handbag. If you haven't seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt 1, this comment won't make any sense at all, however think of Mary Poppins carpet bag and you might get the picture.

Back on the trail we headed south to Polesden Lacey House. While checking the map outside the entrance to the house Rod did a u-turn on the flat wide gravel path and managed to somehow fall off his bike to our initial stunned silence, quickly followed by much hilarity and p*ss taking. We headed back across Ranmore Common and down a hairy, but fun, descent down thru the woods of White Downs where we nearly had several collisions with a party of school children going up the same track!

As it was around lunchtime we decided to a find a pub and after a quick look around the map we settled on the one in Sutton Abinger. Once again Ed's local knowledge was useless as he had never been there! In Deerleap Wood we came across a local couple walking their dogs and asked them about the pub and the best trail to get there. To be honest as nice as they were we shouldn't have bothered, their 'local knowledge' was nearly as good as Ed's. They gave us several incorrect directions, constantly contradicted each other and then said they thought the pub had closed down! We said thanks and pushed on finding the correct trail on our own. A quick climb and then a fast descent into Sutton Abinger with the trail finishing to our amazement right outside The Volunteer Pub! As it was open we went in to find it was a Badger pub selling Dorset ales! Chatting with the landlady it turns out that the pub had never been closed and was doing quite well thank-you very much. We adjourned outside to sit in the sunshine, enjoy our ale, food and the entertainment in the car park.

The entertainment consisted of firstly a group of five mountain bikers with a very flash Range Rover, sparkly new, full sus, white (and very clean), high spec MTB's and wearing all the latest (and very clean) MTB clothes. However they were taking so long to get all their gear together that we wondered whether they were going today or tomorrow! However as it turned out the reason for their delay was one of their number arriving late.

The second lunchtime diversion was a bloke in a very expensive and very tricked out AMG Merc who roared into the car park and very loudly gunned his obviously very large V something throbbing engine as he parked the car where everyone could see it. Of course we did lots of jokes about blokes with throbbing engines and their penis size, as is our rather schoolboyish way.

If you think that all that sounds like we were drinking beer flavoured with a large bunch of sour grapes, that we were jealous that we didn't all have posh new clean sparkly bikes, all the latest gear and an AMG Merc with a big throbbing engine .......................... then you would probably be right!

Some Fursty Ferret and Badger Best

Lunch at The Volunteer

"Are those guys ever going to get those bikes ready and use them!"

Fed and watered we headed away from the pub and up to Holmbury Hill. A long steady climb brought us to the top of the hill and fantastic views south as far as the South Downs and the Devils Dyke near Brighton. There were many other bikers at the top including many small children and a couple of blokes who had hauled up trailers with their toddlers in them.

Photo right - GB, Ed and Rod at the top of Holmbury Hill.

East of Holmbury Hill we could clearly see Leith Hill which was our next port of call, between was deep valley, so a good descent (350ft drop) into Holmbury St Mary followed by another climb (450ft) up to Leith Tower. The descent was hairy as we left the main trail and headed onto a singletrack side trail which traversed a steep wooded hill. The trail was fine except for the wet tree roots on which the tyres slipped all over the place and tried to throw us down the slope. A few relieved grins at the bottom and we started the climb up to Leith Hill, which wasn't actually that bad and we were soon at the top with hundreds of other walkers, bikers sightseers and some folk who had somehow managed to drive up! Compared to the peace when we were there of Friday evening it was now like Piccadilly Circus! We stayed for a while in the sunshine admiring the views before looking for Summer Lightening again. This time we did kind of find part of it, but weren't to worried as the overall descent was very good and again we were spat out of the downhill trail right by the side of The Plough Inn.

Bikes stowed away we went into the pub for more beer ............ well actually no it was pots of tea all round. Rod then used his charm (this will never work!) on the landlady to persuade her to let us eat his packet of plain chocolate digestives with our tea in the bar, to which she said he was a bit cheeky (Rod!), but ok as long as none of the other customers saw them. So like sneaky little kids we covertly ate our biscuits and drank our tea hidden away at the back of the pub well away from the other two (count 'em!) customers.

With a couple of hours to clean up and have a snooze before dinner we retired to the rooms. Ian (left) snoozing while GB once again is reclining on the comfy Chaise Longue. While looking out the window GB spy's Rod making a phone call from the village green (at least that's what Ed would call it, he has history in this area - private joke, GB). Apparently it was the best place to get a phone signal, of course he could have used the big red box with a land line in it!

Seconds after this photo was taken the black car reversed out and very nearly flattened one of the MTB'ers who were emerging from the very fast downhill track.
Rod had his 'Lawyers 4 U' business cards at the ready, but was disappointed that no one was hurt.

Back in the bar more ale sampling and looking at the menu for the evening meal. Now, the pub website and the chalk board in the bar extols the virtues and tastiness of the 21 day hung steaks served there, so the choice was easy, rib-eye steaks all round. So what could be easier, well quite a lot actually. Kirsty the waitress arrives to take the order ....

"what can I get you?"
"rib-eye steaks all round please"
"ah, we only have one"
Rod and Ed toss for it and Rod wins.
"OK, the rest of us will have the sirloins then"
"Ummm, sorry we don't have any!"
"Ok, we will have the rump steaks then"
"Oh dear .... we only have two left"
Ian - "ok I will have a burger and Gary and Ed can have the steaks"
"We do have plenty of T-Bones?" - Not surprised as they were £6-7 more than the other steaks.
Ian - "Well as you don't have any of the other steaks will you do a T-Bone for the price of the Rib-eye?"
"I will find out"
She comes back 10 minutes later, having phoned the owners, with a very firm no.

If this sounds like a certain restaurant in Weymouth, then you are thinking along the same lines as us.

After dinner and a couple of bottles of Merlot Ian announces that we will have a special presentation, a first for a boys only weekend. After running thru everyone's cock ups and faux pas during the weekend he awards Rod a medal on a ribbon for something that I cannot remember, but which obviously caused much laughter as you can see from the photos. Ian said he had found the medal as we left the Volunteer pub at lunchtime, discarded by a small child from a car as they left the pub at the same time. Personally we think he was mugged by Ian.

Back in the bar for more ales and as usual the ever increasing tall tales. As there were only three bar stools Ian sat on one of the pub's 'miniature' seats,

Caught by surprise as Kirsty takes a picture

Shorty Ian

Ian on one of the miniature chairs

Kirsty refuses to let Rod take her photo for his collection

As we were the only people in the pub the noise got louder, the laughter longer and subject matter more near the knuckle culminating in Rod's description of a Perineum Massage. Ian promptly Google'ed it on his phone and found some You-Tube videos showing how to do it which I am not sure he should have shown to Kirsty the bar maid. Anyway we must have done something right as she brought out a round of very nice Talisker single malt on the house as we had been good fun all weekend and by way of an apology for the steak fiasco.

Ed had brought along a bottle of something for a night cap, so we retired to GB/Ian's large room. What had Ed brought, a bottle of Baileys! What, Baileys, its a bit girlie don't you think? I can't remember what we talked about, but it was loud and accompanied by lots of laughter, Rod and Ed left sometime later when the bottle was empty.


Sunday's Ride - Box Hill Loop (11 miles, 1400ft climb)


Amazingly we all felt fine in the morning and went down for a late (ish) breakfast. GB passes on the museli (the box was empty!) and goes for cornflakes. Ian empties the museli box into his bowl, a single current drops out, he puts it back in the box. Ed and Rod arrive at the table, Ed picks up the museli box, Gary and Ian in unison, "I wouldn't bother with that!". Ed asks the waitress for some more museli, she comes back a few minutes later, "sorry we haven't got any more". I think we have been here before.

Not a great start to breakfast, but its about to get worse. Kirsty arrives at the table to take our breakfast orders ...

"So that'll be four full English breakfasts then?
All four of us in unison - "Well actually, no thanks"
Her faces drops, quite clearly there are four full English breakfasts ready in the kitchen!
We all make our separate orders and she disappears off to the kitchen to give the chef the good (!) news.
She re-appears with Rod and Ed's order which is missing the beans they ordered, it goes back to the kitchen.
The plates come back this time with the beans.
Ian - "Didn't we ask for two poached eggs?"
Ed - "Yeah, but I really can't be asked to mention it!"

Lots of toast, coffee and tea later we pack and settle up before setting off in the cars for today's ride which starts at the top of Box Hill. On the way we pass thru Dorking one way system and leading the convoy of three cars Ed suddenly turns into a narrow side road with cars parked on both sides and not at all easy to get thru. Must be a short cut, his local knowledge finally paying dividends. However its not a short cut as we re-enter the one way system and go around again, Ed wanted to show Ian the house where Jan's mum & dad lived!!!! Back in the one way system Ed pulls up on to a very small garage forecourt, Rod and Gary do likewise nearly blocking the entire road. Ian jumps out and retrieves something from the boot of Ed's car. Rod looks over at Gary, points at Ed's car and makes that universal sign which signifies that Ed must have very large calluses on the palm of his right hand.

Some miles later we are heading up a narrow road which is a series of switch backs to get to the top of Box Hill, but also on the road are dozens and dozens of cyclists also going up to the top. The hill is long and steep and overtaking the cyclists is not easy given that some are also descending at very fast speeds. There is some sort of time trial going and post-olympics Box Hill is now the most popular hill in the UK for road cyclists. At the top the place is awash with tricked out road bikes and MAMIL's (Middle Aged Men in Lycra). We park up, get the bikes ready and pose for some photos to prove we where here. Our mud caked bikes look very incongruous amongst all the shiny machinery around us and we spend some time looking at other people bikes, its a man thing, a bit like looking at car engines.

We do finally start riding ourselves and decide that rather than cycle up Box Hill at the end of the ride we will do the descent and come up from the other side. In parallel with the road is a bridleway, steep, stony and fast we descend the 400ft down to the bottom in what seems like a few seconds. We then pick up an old Roman Road trail which goes north across Mickleham Downs and thru Tyrrell's Wood up and over the M25. The trail is good fun, lots of short climbs and quick descents. Just before we turn south back to Box Hill we pass lady on a horse and exchange good mornings. Half a mile further on we decide to turn right and use a bridleway rather than the road on the original route. While reading the map the lady on the horse turns up, more good mornings are exchanged. We head off up the chosen trail and stop when we get to the road for a quick snack and to fettle Rod's bike which sounds like he has a Budgie caught up in the chain. He produces some 3in1 oil from his bottomless ruck sack and oils his bike, Ian decides to use some on his chain despite advice from Ed and GB that its not much good for chains.

"Good morning", says the lady on the horse who has caught up with us again and disappears off down the trail that we are about to take.
"I think she's stalking me", says Rod.

Having given Lady Godiva a good head start we head off up the trail and on to a byway around Headly Park. Ian's chain is making one hell of a racket which suddenly stops, as does Ian's bike as the chain snaps.

Its the usual kind of repair stop, one poor sod, Ian in this case, repairs his bike while the others look on, give totally useless advice and generally take the p*ss about his misfortune. Ian's totally rational (sic) response to this is, "Thanks Rod, this is all the fault of your bloody 3in1 oil!".

As Ian was about to start his repairs a slightly worried looking young lad came down the trail towards us with two dogs (collies of the Lassie variety), one of which he was carrying (he told us it wouldn't walk home, so he had to carry it!). As he got near to us, Ian snapped on his rubber gloves in his very best Proctologist manner, at which the lad really looked worried and hurried past at some pace.

"Good morning, got a problem have we?" Its bloody Lady Godiva again, now walking her horse around the field adjacent to which we are watching Ian repair his own steed. I'm beginning to think that Rod has a point.

Ed points out Ian's blinding obvious broken bike

I don't think just pointing will help much

Rod thinks we need more photos of Ed pointing

Chain fixed we set off again, up to Headley Heath. The 3km across the heath and a couple of klics on the road saw us back to the top of Box Hill. Bikes packed away and some fresh clothes we went to the coffee shop for tea and cake.

We hadn't done the miles or climbing of previous weekends, but the trails were excellent and much faster than, for example, last year's bogfest on Exmoor. In total we did about 44 miles with 5700ft of ascent, not huge but we are all a year older and a bit closer to our first electric bike! The location was very good, trails right on the doorstep, but the pub could have been better in some areas (put some bloody steak in the fridge!). The company was excellent, absolutely no tantrums and a very large dollop of laughter spread across the whole weekend, at least that's how I remember it.

Another biking weekend had sped by and over coffee at the top of Box Hill we discussed the location for next years event. The unanimous decision was the Brecon Beacons, probably based in Crickhowell. That done we set off back to Dorset. Looking forward to next year already.


Foot Note:
I am sure I have missed out several other funny episodes of the weekend, but at my age you can't remember everything or sometimes even some of everything. Two things I have missed out deliberately:

a) the full account of the perineum massage conversation on Saturday night, because you really had to be there and also because website's with that kind of info and photos are xxx rated.
b) There was a concern from Messrs Hine, Sumby & Biles that during the weekend Mr Summer's would be pointing out all the places where he and Mrs Summers had 'parked up' in their younger days. To spare Mrs Summers blushes I haven't included the 97 times that Ed did this.

For everything else erroneous, missed completely or that I have made up, I apologise.

GB - 11 October 2012

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