I’ve a bit of a problem with that title. First up: Surrey – twinned with Audi, BMW and Cockage. A problematic combination of manicured county seats, and the fat arsed driving 4x4s who own them. Then: “Hills” – there aren’t any. Not proper ones anyway. Put them up against a Herefordshire Alp, and they’d be left crying onto its’ brutal shoulders.
I tried – oh God I really did – to balance my chippy shoulder with an evidential pursuit of the actual, rather than cheap shots at the stereotypes. But dodging only shots of trail side expresso and terribly expensive non moving Mountain Bikes, this proved on the can’t-be-arsed side of difficult.
The centre of Surrey’s self reverence appears to be Peaslake. A chocolate box village serving high teas to the mostly porky, and uncouth mugs of tea at £2 a go. Lots of non riding seemed to be the new all-mountain, with 5k bikes sprawled artfully in what passed as an outdoor photo shoot for “Leisure Activities for IT executives”
So tick that pre-conception and let’s move onto the riding. Which I remembered as being woody fun slowed by the buy-first-ride-second tribe. Not hard, not terribly demanding, kind of trail centre-y with more expensive cakes. A nice day out, but not really proper riding is it?
It is. Oh and then some. 40k later, my legs were dribbly blomonge, my throat coated with dust, my arms wibbly wobbly appendages barely able to clasp a hero’s beer, and everything brainside frazzled to the point of exhaustion.
We rode three hills, first up was a quick hour up and over Peaslake which 5 minutes in had the kind of steep roll in easily obstacle enough to end your day there and then. 5 minutes later, I was abrading my left elbow having failed to conquer a set of steep, loose switchbacks.
Ten minutes after that, my bike separation anxiety continued with a head-first punt over a log. No excuses other than over-exuberance, chasing local and all round hardtail-fast-man Nig, and the ever widening gap between confidence and ability.
Of the forested-four, only I was fully suspended with the familiarity of the ST4 over-riding any reason to pull the Cove from hibernation. 50% of the time this was the right decision with trails shot through by roots and dips, the other 50% I wished for a shorter wheelbase and tighter geometry – a base for carving turns and instant line changes.
Still run what you’ve brung, and even with the squish out back and the slack head angle up front, much fun was to be had blatting lush singletrack, pumping vaguely remembered trails, wheels pawing for grip and – in seemingly many places – the ground as the terrain dipped and swerved between endless trees.
Cake stop – HOW MUCH? – spot of bleeding, not much sympathy, epic planned under sunny skies. Two further hills to summit; Leith and Holmbury – neither of which would seem to offer the mountainous terrain most of the still parked bikes were configured for, but challenging nevertheless.
Much as I can already hear the knashing of teeth Gloucester way, the steepness and length of some trails are greater than those in “our” Forest. Or certainly the trails I’ve ridden on. From the top of the tower at Leith hill down to the road is 20 minutes of grinning lunacy. It’s pedally in the middle and at the bottom, narrow (narrower than my 710mm bull bars a few times) and tight in places, but opening out to become sweepy and fast. “Summer Lightening” is an awesome trail especially covered in nothing but dust and – latterly – sweat.
As we headed back, Nig had that hollowed out look I’ve oft been associated with. He saved a bit of energy tho for a final giggle-fest of “Barries” showing us all a clean set of wheels. The trail fairies have breathed on this already fine track, and it’s now a mass of berms, jumps and flat out jedi-speeder waggling between the trees.
It was warm enough to sit outside the pub, but far too hard to sit back on the bikes pedaling to the car park. I was happily knackered and somewhat humbled by just what a fantastic area for riding this is. Amusingly we didn’t really see many riders away from the car parks, other than a flange of ten or so sat waiting at the entrance to the final trail.
So yes I’ll admit there’s a raft of decent riding down in Surrey, especially if you have dry conditions and a knowledgable guide. I was pondering this as a tosser in an blacked out X5 cut me up for the express purpose of cementing his “total cock” status.
It seems I was only half wrong.