A short but seriously hilly ride in the beautiful North Downs, Kent.
|South East||Car Park on Toy's Hill, Kent, UK||63 km||1122 m|
I’m at a crossroads in my life right now, having just quit my job of the past 7 years. While liberating, it is a bit intimidating to not know what the future holds. What better way to give yourself direction than starting a blog about riding bikes?
I’ve lived in Cambridge, UK, for the duration of the aforementioned job and in a small town called Bourne in Lincolnshire, UK for years before that. These places are flat. Very flat. While not without beauty, the lack of variety has pushed me to start exploring some of the UK’s great cycling roads. I hope to be able to share with you, the reader, some beautiful rides and routes across the UK’s wonderful and varied landscape.
Today’s ride starts in the “Garden of England”, in the North Downs of Kent. We’ll be climbing steep hills, passing through dark forests, posh towns and quaint villages, past vineyards and lush fields of wildflowers and grazing horses. It really is a beautiful area of the world.
Starting at Toy’s Hill car park on top of the day’s last climb, we are greeted immediately with a hair raising descent and an opportunity to scope out the inevitable climb back up to the car at the end of the ride. Exercise caution down here, it is extremely steep and can catch you out if you start the ride as groggy as I did.
From the bottom of Toy’s hill we take a quiet country road to the first, and arguably hardest, climb of the day, York’s Hill. It starts gently enough, with a few hundred meters at 4% before pitching up viciously. Here my eagerness got the better of me and I went way too hard at the start. I’m ashamed to admit that I had to stop to catch my breath barely 100 meters from the top, having run out of gears for the ridiculously steep 20+% pitch at the end. There’s no way I can accept this defeat, so I’ll be back next time, wiser and stronger to finish it as it should be done. I say wiser because there’s definitely a technique to climbing these ridiculously steep chutes that you wouldn’t necessarily know if you lived in Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire most of your adult life. Experienced cyclists will laugh at this but nonetheless I quickly learnt the following.
Never go into the red until you know you can hold it to the top. Keep everything you can in reserve because sometimes you run out of gears and need to put all your power down just to not grind to a halt when it gets this steep.
Relax every muscle that doesn’t help you climb. Focus on keeping your core stable and everything else relaxed.
When the road points at the sky, flatten it by weaving. Sometimes it’s just that steep!
After this shameful defeat I vowed nothing would stop me from now on. No matter how steep I would get up it and I’m pleased to say I did.
With another terrifyingly steep descent completed off York’s Hill, it was time to cross over the M25 and tackle Sundridge Hill. Unlike most of the other climbs on this route, this is not featured in Simon Warren’s excellent “100 Climbs” book, but is nonetheless vicious, averaging 7% for 1.5 km. Sounds fine right? Well think again. The bulk of the climb is a half KM of 14% wall before flattening off at the top. This time I was better prepared for what lay ahead, I started easy and kept spinning until it really ramped up. By this point I had plenty in reserve to slowly grind my way up the steepest sections. The views from the top are fantastic and far reaching. It’s worth stopping to savour before plummeting down into the valley again. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, the lanes here are very narrow, and although traffic is at a minimum I’d exercise caution descending them. I may be a coward, but I’m a coward who has yet to be mangled by oncoming traffic and I intend to do everything I can to keep it that way.
Now the road carries you along the valley floor with some welcome respite before, you guessed it, another steep wall. White Lane is the second of the climbs featured in “100 Climbs” and deserves its place. As you ascend from the nicely named village of Titsey the road starts to sting immediately, before you’ve even reached White Lane itself. Turning right off the bigger road to the quiet and pretty, yet once again ludicrously steep White Lane at least allows you to zig zag a bit as there was barely any traffic. I wish I had more adjectives to describe most of these climbs other than steep, but that’s all I was thinking at the time. Mercilessly the road levels off as you turn left to follow the main road along the ridge and then left at the roundabout to follow the larger road back down to Titsey. Here, for once, you can let off the bike and gain ridiculous speed as the surface is good enough and the road wide enough to allow it.
We now find ourselves in Oxted, a pleasant and oh so posh town about halfway through our ride. It’s a good place to get something to eat, there’s numerous cafes serving lovely cakes and nice coffee. As any good soon to be unemployed person should, I brought my own food, choosing to sit on a wall and do some double-barrel last name people watching. As it turned out, this was probably a mistake. I should have eaten more but didn’t feel the need on what is a very short ride by my usual standards. What it lacks in length it definitely makes up for in height though, and I definitely felt a bit short on energy at the end.
Out of Oxted we hit, you guessed it, another big climb, Chalkpit Lane. While also not in the 100 climbs, it’s in Simon Warren’s second book, 100 More Climbs. Like the others, this is steep but manageable if you are sensible with your energy and gearing. It’s another pretty climb which I unfortunately can’t remember too much about. Another road, another double digit gradient wall.
After the much smaller climb of Enterdent Road, where I irritatingly got overtaken by a couple of blokes on electric mountain bikes (not fair!) we have a few km of flat to recuperate before the final push up Toy’s Hill back to the car. This is a pleasant change after the endless ups and downs and the roads here are well paved and fast. Before we know it’s time to climb again. We like to leave the best until last.
Toys Hill is one of longest climbs in the area, 2.2 km long averaging 7% but with some very steep double digit gradient ramps towards the end. By this point I feel confident knowing I only have to hang on so long until I reach the comfort of my car. I start steady and make good progress without overexerting too early, completing the climb with minimal fuss. It’s probably my favourite climb of the day; longer and more rewarding than the others despite not offering particularly beautiful views from the top.
I’m not sure I’d change anything about this route, apart from making it longer. Despite the minor hunger at the end I had more in the legs. It’s the sign of a great ride that I can’t wait to return, next time with friends to torture up the steep gradients. Thoroughly recommended.
Check out the route and profile here…