Two go in search of adventure at Tilgate Forest downhill tracks.

My 8 year old boy child was invited to a party at the cinema in Crawley, and dinner post. That's three hours. In Crawley. I used to work in Crawley, and it's not a bad place. But did I fancy mooching about the Mall for three hours? Nope. Hatched a plan to take my bike and have a spin around Tilgate Forest. I'd heard of some mini downhill tracks and fancied giving them a go. Kept it quiet in case wife decided that the time may be better spent decorating or buying wallpaper in B & Q or, worse, that she'd come with me to go..... clothes shopping. Anyway turned out she was off to London with girl child anyway, so I was free to do my ride. Further she also mentioned to Paramedic P [PP] that I was off, and he said that it sounded a spiffing idea; could he come along?


Loading my car up with bike, KD wondered over. "No ride today then?" Well, yes, that's why the bike is out. "Oh. Normal route then?" Er, no otherwise I'd just ride from here wouldn't I? "Oh. Do you think we'll need wellington boots to go visit snakes?" Possibly not as I don't know much about snakes, but do know they are characterised as liking warm places. KD's sometimes not the quickest thinker, bless, but he means well.

So it was with a certain degree of ignorance that myself and PP both dropped our children off at the party and headed off. We only had a vague idea where Tilgate Forest was in relation to the cinema, let alone find the mini tracks. Yet we found it easily enough, and rather than make you read to the end for a critique.... The trails have fallen into disrepair and don't really exist right now. No idea what is up, but you can see them and see that they would have been fun. Alas only tiny bits exist. Few jumps, few berms, that's it. We did stop and watch some guys filming a fully clad downhill guy do the jumps, and he was impressive. Made it all look easy and slow, even though he was at head height. Quite surprised at how slow he appeared to be going in order to clear these things.

Anyway, the rest of the ride? Yeah, sure I'll tell you. PP I've never ridden with, yet have seen him riding a roadie route around hereabouts. The guy can ride roads at least, but off-road? No idea. He pitched up on an immaculate Marin of 1999 vintage; V brakes and all. Anti puncture tyres. This'll be fun. I was on my PACE RC303 simply because I could get it into the back of my car easily. Kind of thought there'd be an huge imbalance between the bikes that would be an issue.

There wasn't. Not really. Sure his bike was old school, all the weight over the front hub but he rode it well and I was glad he wasn't on a newer rig. He'd have ridden away from me. As it was he made me sweat on the little climbs. I'm not a brilliant rider, but perhaps of above average fitness for near 50, and I'm out twice a week, so riding hills isn't that big a deal. He kept me honest, so if he comes out again I'll have to up my game to keep ahead. Bugger! I've offered him my Reverb equipped Orange 5 to play on. That'll be an hard day in the saddle.

Tilgate was very quiet, which considering it is near the M23 was odd. We crossed it, and there were no vehicles on it at all in both directions. Indeed we stood and looked at it for a few minutes and concluded that either it was closed for maintenance, which was unlikely, or the air ambulance was out. PP is a paramedic so this wasn't a big stretch of the imagination and it turned out to be a correct conclusion. For a time we toyed with the idea of riding it, playing in the outside lane, but figured it would be silly beyond reason. Can you imagine it? Us, bikes, 14mph, outside lane. It re-opens. Car, outside lane, 100mph. "Oh look, two cyclists...." KABOOM! Motorway closed for an hose down.

We had no idea where to go in the forest. It was all mud and the little stream near the railway was running in full flow. We got over it via a rather stupid culvert climb. Us, bikes on shoulders hoofing it along a four inch wide strip of mud above a small river culvert in flood. Really quite silly but rather oddly that's where the trail went and there were loads of cycle tracks. Ultimately once on the other side, well can you guess? Yup the trail terminated at an even bigger culvert. We didn't find this out for ourselves, being told of the impending doom by a walker. He was about to jump the stream, so figured he wasn't telling fibs. Buggeration. Meant traversing that culvert again. And yes, we did goad him on to the jump. The people in Tilgate all seemed game for a laugh, even the walkers, and it was a very friendly place. Certainly none of the moodiness you get at Reigate or Leith Hill.

Yes we did try to do a jump, but only once out of sight of those that knew how to. Both did it, no incidents, we got air. Not graceful attempts certainly, but game ones. Hmm, can see the appeal of this so tried a few more of the downhill runs [hill being used here in a very lose sense]. Just mud really, so off we went to the golf course café. Sitting there it was clear that although we'd been hot and sweaty on the ride, it was a cold day with a mean wind. Indeed there was a bit of hail later on.

Picked the children up three hours later. They were as happy as us really. Walk the Mall or get muddy in a slightly crappy forest with a hint of snow in the air? No contest is it? Glad to have done it.

Naturally I had to do some painting at home before the wife got back. Funny but normally I'm a grump doing house chores but this time the work was done with a contented sigh. Tilgate is way short of being a Leith Hill, but what it did have was very accessible without putting in big climbs. Kind of liked it. Wonder if it is going to be re-built?