Intrepid explorers to Biggin Hill please. Map? Ah, that would have been useful. Sustrans Route 21 excellence.

Wednesday. Time for an adventure!

PP mentioned the other week that he goes to the Biggin Hill airshow every now and then. It costs him something like £90 to get in. £90 he didn't want to spend, so was after an outside vantage point, somewhere around New Addington.

Why don't we cycle there one day then, have a look?

The why not being that the route from Redhill over to Biggin Hill is essentially up and down the hills of the North Downs. I calculated last night that we'd climbed [and descended] over 5,000m. That's a fair whack by any standard.

The other why not being that even using some short-cuts near home, we did 70km off-road. I don't mind the distance, what made it hard was the fact that we had to be back at school for 15:10 to collect our children. At one point we were drinking coffee in Oxted at 2pm, with 18km ride home in front of us.

And the final why not? Well let's say that Biggin Hill has yet to develop a viable cafe culture. The cafe we stopped at had staff where customer facing skills were totally and utterly absent. Totally. I'm not sure, other than asking for payment, that they spoke to us at all. The saving grace being great coffee, and everything being £2. Coffee and tea? £2. Beans on toast? £2. Cheap it was.

Other than that it was a stonkingly good ride, it really was.

Maps. Some people say you need them....

It was raining hard when we set off at 9am, and I was a bit flustered. You see I thought I'd left PP's son alone in the wilds last night. Turned out I'd not, yet the bad feeling was still there. Being flustered meant I packed quickly in order to get out fast when PP called. The route chosen was a new one to both of us, so I'd highlighted the map the day before.

Got to the other side of the A21 at Caterham, headed down the hill towards Purley, realised that I had no real idea where to go. Get the map out, quick check.

No map in the bag.

That's the ride screwed then isn't it?

Well it should have been. Here we were in Purley next to some Llamas or Alpacas. Yes, the photograph is in Purley, home to a massive Tesco shop. [Actually Warlingham up the road, but let's not get facts get in the way eh?]

Life was good. It had stopped raining, PP was in chatty mode and the scenery was truly lovely.

Why not carry on then, and see what we can find?

Route finding without a map.

Not impossible. For a start we were partially on Route 21, which would take us into Addington. Secondly the aircraft from Biggin Hill flew over us every so often. In my head we had to follow Route 21 for a bit, then cross track using bridleways or whatever.

By such means we did, 46km later, eventually arrive at Biggin Hill, and I may add faster than if we'd used a map. A map involves stopping and faffing. It involves knowing where you are. Often using a map on the fly is counterproductive. You've planned a route, and if you go beyond it, the tendency is to backtrack, which takes time.

Us, well we just flew by the seat of our pants. Clearly it was a route not well trodden as some of the trails were only a few inches wide - really, they were. For miles I could have spanned the trail with my hand; my legs are slightly swollen from nettle stings a day later. It felt rough, it felt wild, it felt immense fun.

The uphills were hard work, especially that road climb into Biggin Hill. What it did mean were some lovely downhill runs through wild trails. Overgrown, flint laden chutes with partridges running ahead. Trails so narrow that repairing a puncture would have been an issue.

The views were quite often more than worth a bit of nettle rash.

What did we find?

  • Llamas.
  • Stunning views.
  • Awful cafes.
  • A toad hopping on the trail.
  • Fly tips.
  • Lovely downhill runs.
  • Tough old climbs.
  • A reptile zoo with cafe attached.
  • A truly beautiful piece of old wooded singletrack right in the heart of Limpsfield.
  • Pitchfont Lane.
  • Dust.
  • Nettles.

Mainly we found that sometimes, just sometimes, you do not need a map to get out there and have fun.

True we were lucky and Sustrans had been here before to an extent. In my head was a memory map, and the rain had ceased. Being a Wednesday the odd route issue was solved by judicious use of footpaths - at one point we clambered over three gates to cut four or five miles and one big mother of a hill out. Some, but surprisingly few, roads were used.

I didn't drink nearly enough.

Five hour ride, I drank precisely one litre of water and three coffees, two of which were really, really strong. Leaving Oxted I started to see double and have odd thoughts. PP would turn ahead, so I'd turn in the opposite direction. I'd see a dollop of horse manure ahead, knew it was, so why did I think each time they were black cats? I went dizzy.

At the time it just seemed that I was hungry, so I wolfed down an apple, packet of biscuits and a chocolate bar.

Did nothing.

Last night no sleep until 4am, alarm went off at 5am. One hour's sleep, thanks.

Recently I had a kidney stone pass though. That hurt.

Only this morning did I realise that my water bottle was full and my bladder down to one litre.

One litre over 70km, 5,000m climb and five hours ride is way, way silly. No wonder I ended up in a bad way. I should instinctively know better, yet never felt thirsty, always going for a pee.

Knights cafes.

There are a few of these on the route. Sometimes it seems that the only cafes are at Knights garden centres.

May I tentatively suggest that no cafe is better than a Knights. Literally. Not going to a cafe at all is better than going to a Knights, even if you are seriously in need of sustinance.

I'm guessing if you want to know what being in a coma is like, then having a coffee and cake at one of these places may well be a close enough experience.

Nothing wrong with the food, or the staff. Both perfectly fine.

Just that the cafe atmosphere sucks all joy out of life. Walk in all happy and content, fancy a brew. Sit down, nice food. Gradually though all joy gets sucked vampire like out of you. The customers just seem sour faced and mean spirited. After a few minutes you end up sour faced. The food is fine, the staff are fine, just the customers are awful; young or old.

I hate the places, really do.

Oh come on, where did you go?
  • Gravelly Hill.
  • Winders Hill.
  • Marden Park.
  • Scoldhill plantation.
  • Highlands farm.
  • Chelsham.
  • New Addington.
  • Biggin Hill.
  • Reptile Zoo.
  • Pitchfont Lane.
  • Oxted.
  • Godstone.
  • Bletchingley.

Pitchfont Lane.

Ah, now that was fast and dusty. What a great route off the hill. At the end most riders go right to Limpsfield.


That's a road.

Just go straight ahead and follow the bridleway. It goes into an ancient little wood.

Nice, very.

The stats?

70km, five hours ride time, 5,000m climb.

Don't do it justice at all. We had rain, sun, views, virgin trails and that long, dusty descent down Pitchfont lane. What we didn't have were endless loops of BKB, tea at Box Hill or grumpy dog walkers in Reigate. I love all those places, but you can't eat the same cake all the time.

We had an adventure. We found stuff. We did things. We went places.