London, Camping at Henfold Lakes & Mountain Biking at Leith Hill

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After visiting my younger brother in Cambridge two weeks ago, it really made me want to visit my elder brother in London. I usually only see him once a year around Christmas-time. We all meet at my younger brother’s in Cambridge. I thought it was about time I made the effort and visited him at his house.

I started a new job last week, back in F1, at the Haas F1 Team in Banbury so wasn’t free to go where I wanted, anytime I wanted, which is quite hard to get used to, having not worked for seven months. As usual last minute I popped home from work at lunch time to load my camping gear, mountain biking gear and bike into my car, ready heading off straight from work……and called Paul to make sure he was going to be home.

I left work bang-on 5pm that Friday and headed to London in the rush-hour traffic. As usual I had a saga finding my way! My car SatNav was sending me on the M40/M25 but looking at Waze on my mobile I could see the M25 was choca, so I decided to use Waze to navigate me. At some point my phone fell off my dash, and when I picked it up I must have pressed on the screen as Waze continually kept trying to navigate me home, which was a real pain. I just kept driving towards London, eventually my SatNav picked up the trail and I got to my brother’s in West Norwood, south of the river, dead on 8pm.

It really isn’t very far at all, and even in the heavy traffic it had taken less than three hours including getting lost, filling with fuel and my usual faffing!

My sister-in-law June had made a nice vegan dinner, and we had a good evening catching up. It was a beautiful day that Friday, and waking early on Saturday, it was another beautiful day.

Even though they live in a densely populated area, they have a lovely back garden, completely blocking out the surrounding houses with trees and shrubs. It has quite the English country garden feel in fact.

That morning we sat around chatting, and June introduced me to the game of Boule, which was fun. At around 1pm June left for her Saturday art class, so me and Paul took a walk to the main strip in West Norwood and grabbed some lunch. Paul’s a real café culture type and enjoys the hubbub!

It’s actually quite nice around West Norwood, I can see why he and his family love it there and want to stay in London. We keep trying to talk him into moving into the shires.

After popping into a few shops we took a look around a rather high-brow cemetery on the main drag, stopping to take a look at the final resting place of the inventor of the machine gun, Sir Hiram Maxim! I guess someone was going to invent it at some point, so you can’t hold it against him!

Here’s some info on the cemetery, it seems it’s quite a big deal!

I left London for the Surrey Hills at around 3pm. I’d not been able to find a campsite online, and was hoping, as I normally do, find my riding location then find the nearest campsite. Alas Surrey Hills is really really monied, I guess they don’t want scuzzy campsites cluttering up their expensive and beautiful hills!

I came across a Scout campsite, that was about all. After driving around until nearly 6pm I settled for one I’d found online, but didn’t really fancy, Henfold Lakes on the Dorking road. I didn’t like the sound of it because it has fishing, and I thought it would be very fishy!!! But it was rather pleasant actually.

The staff were friendly and got me checked in quickly. I so love my tent, I can’t wait until dark so I can lock myself in it away from the world! I dithered quite a bit, as I thought I could ride that night but realised I’d be pretty tired if I did, so decided to have a pootle around in the woods next to my pitch.

I don’t think you’re meant to use these woods, it seems to be set-up and roped off in lanes for a ‘Tough-mudder’ type obstacle run. It’s on a gentle slope so after getting to the top there was some nice downhill runs, alas I didn’t see a rope which was at head height and rode quite quickly into it. Luckily it hit my visor and only burnt the side of my cheek, ear and neck. But it was quite scary thinking what could have happened!

I rode for around an hour, and although it wasn’t dark in the camp field, the woods got dark very quickly, so I stopped riding around half eight and settled into my tent after having some supper.

The camp field is quite big, and there was only one tent around 30 metres away from me, but they were quite quiet, so I had a really good sleep. After a beautiful sunset.

The toilet set-up is rather peculiar at Henfold Lakes, in the field I was in there are three chemical toilet cubicles, but they have proper flushing toilets and a proper sink in them. There’s two for men and one for ladies. It was a little awkward in the morning, at 7am I walked across the field to the loos and I couldn’t see if it was occupied or not from the lock, so I knocked and asked, and got a reply from a bloke.

I waited about five minutes for him to come out, and as he did he said something like ‘I don’t recognise gender’. Yeah whatever, I have no problem with that but the fact is men do stinkier poos and wees than ladies, so I’m not sure where I stand on that!

Anyway I packed up and left at around 8am, and made my way to Leith Hill that was around twenty minutes away. The car park I had read about was called the Landslip car park, driving through the small village of Cold Harbour, turn right then right again and it’s on your right. There was only one vehicle there when I got there. It’s quite big, and even though it got busier throughout the day, it was never choca.

It cost nothing to park and nothing to ride, although there is a donation box, which I didn’t contribute to, and looking at the other cars in the car park I’m sure others were in a better position to part with their cash than I was!!

The Summer Lightning trail that I wanted to ride, starts at the monument at the top of Leith Hill. You take the hikers path to the top, which is quite steep in places, it’s not scrambling but it’s ‘heavy’ walking. I rode a little of the uphill, but mostly pushed. There is a section of downhill as well on the way up. It’s a very beautiful woods that you’re making your way through, very similar at times to the Wa’ahila Ridge woodland in Hawaii.

Once at the top you have beautiful views across the Surrey Hills. There’s a lot of space for chilling, and a snack bar in the monument itself, serving food and drink.

It was quite busy at the monument, but not ridiculously so. There’s plenty of space so it’s not crowded. You can buy a ticket at the snack bar to walk up to the top of the tower, which I didn’t do, but would imagine it’s quite a view from up there.

I spoke to a few local riders, who gave me tips on how to find the Summer Lightning trail. There’s a bit sign at the top, but after that there’s very few pointers as to which way to go, especially after the short upper section.

The upper section is really good fun, once you get to the bottom of it you need to push-up some way to pick up the lower section of the trail, that can be found on the left just after a cricket pitch.

I was surprised to find that a lot of the trails are for hikers, bikes and off-road motorbikes! Although Summer Lightning is just for bikes. After picking up the trail again after the cricket pitch, I found my way OK until a large clearing with around six different ways to go!

I chose one way, whether it was Summer Lightning I don’t know, but it was fun. And eventually it hits a tarmac road, where I turned right. This takes you to the village, turn right at the pub and it takes you back to the Landslip car park. So I wasn’t too lost.

The trails in the Surrey hills cover a large area, and unless you’ve got loads of time and energy they’re pretty difficult to find a decent run on. So, it would be best to go with someone that knows the area.

It was a surprise that the area is so pretty and so hilly, I know it’s called Surrey Hills, but I didn’t think it would be as picturesque as it is. Some of the roads are very tight and twisty, and with the area being popular with road bikers as well, you can be stuck behind them for a long long time!

I had something to eat at my car then headed back up to the top again. I rode the upper section of Summer Lightning around three times then made my way to the car park via, what I thought, was the walking trail! I didn’t bother doing the lower section again as I couldn’t be arsed to get lost again, but I still got lost! I started on the walking track but had turned off it somewhere, which actually was a really good downhill trail. It existed the woods around 20 metres from the car park, so wasn’t a major setback!

So that was my Leith Hill ride, I was finished by around midday and made my way home. I needed to get back early as I needed to get my work clothes washed and ironed. I started a new job last week, at Haas F1 in Banbury. I’m really enjoying it and it’s so fantastic to be back in F1, even though I said I’d never do it again!!

It’s my third stint in the Haas building, I worked there when it was occupied by Ascari, back in 2003, then again in 2011 when it was Marussia, and now as Haas. I hope I’m not a bad omen for that place!!

As I write this it’s a very hot and sunny week in the UK, such a shame I’m stuck in an iceberg of an office and have to wear jumpers! No matter, I need the money and am enjoying the work. And am thinking where to go next weekend!

Info

Surrey Hills Mountain Bike Trails - the best website I found is here

Leith Hill – Head towards the village of Cold Harbour, the Landslip car park is signposted from there. Info can be found here

Refreshments – There’s a nice looking pub in Cold Harbour and a snack bar in the Leith Hill Monument

Costs – Nothing to park and nothing to ride, just donations!!!

Toilets – I didn’t see any, I used the bushes!

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