[Many more photos on Flickr]
Eleven Clarionistas converged from all points (well London, Lewes and Brighton) to the very “unbike” atmosphere of Gatwick airport: Angela, Eogain, Helen, Jim, Joyce, Nick, Rob, Roger, Sean, Sikka, Suzanne. After welcoming our two new recruits, Eogain and Rob, we posed for our usual photo in front of a “No Access” sign, which we ignored because it was actually NOT no access, but in fact the way out … (our first example of independent thinking!).
We were very soon in the different world of the Gatwick Country Park, amidst the riot of greenery and the lake covered in water lilies. This was in fact a preview of the whole ride where the richness of nature in an area of which, I for one, knew nothing was a complete revelation. Who could guess that a ride between Gatwick and East Croydon (hardly propitious starting points) could be so beautiful and so richly green and varied?
Onwards along the NCN 21, except when the sign was wrong (our second moment of independent thinking …). Jim had picked up a mistake on his recce ride, so instead of going right we carried straight on but not until, in a commendable act of public responsibility, he had put up the new professional-looking sticker he had made. He also undertook to contact the Local Authority to inform them.
We then sailed on through what was to characterise this ride: a varied mix of quiet roads, cycle lanes, good bridleways, stony bumpy routes, nature reserves and woodland, and, whatever Jim said, some hills … On route, and once again not conforming when we eschewed the (correct) NCN21 sign to turn left because, as informed by Jim, part had been surfaced with fragments of tile and glass! But we soon picked it up. As we rode on we passed the new housing estate built on the site of the former Parcels Concentration Depot (a site of nostalgic memories for Jim).
After about 8 miles we came to our second nature reserve “the Moors”. Amazing vistas, large expanses of water and a sensation of being totally remote from any urban area. It was here we saw a cormorant – there was some debate as to whether it was in fact a shag, but I settle confidently for cormorant after checking. It was standing on a pole, totally still, with its wings held out to dry and I hope there is a good photo, it was magic. And all this it seems is formed from an old quarry – uplifting to see how nature can re-establish itself.
After more lovely quiet paths we finally came to Inn on the Pond for what everyone now needed – lunch. I couldn’t help thinking we were rather downmarket compared to the usual Sunday clientele of this establishment, particularly when we were shown to our table and noted the napkins and the wine glasses (no hope for baked potato here!). Our first discussion was about their intention to take orders at the table and not allow us to go and order our own food from the bar. But it ended to the satisfaction of everyone when they undertook to separate the bill so that everyone’s order would be clear and we would not have the dreadful calculations as to who had what, and it did work! And the food, expensive though it was, was very good, although the hour that Jim had foreseen for lunch turned into nearer two hours.
Nevertheless it did prompt the perennial discussion about picnics. I am well known as a picnic fan. Although of course the pub in winter is a welcome sight and I am very happy to follow the general wish. But now that the summer is coming maybe we should think a bit about the option of a picnic, perhaps combining the two when possible. Maybe this is a discussion for the Google forum …
After lunch we soon discovered that the break was a prelude to our greatest challenge on the ride. Although we did reach that before our next pleasure: the Spynes Mere Nature Reserve (yes another one), this time an ex sand quarry. Then on through green lanes, bridleways (some very bumpy) to the ascent to the North Downs – up the hill that Jim had said was the “only hill on the ride” Ha! But this one was indeed of a different nature to the ones we had already experienced. Steep, very stony and long! Most of us after a desultory attempt gave up and walked, but Eogain, Rob and Roger heroically stayed on. It was all worth it of course because the view was indeed magnificent.
Then the run down to Caterham station where we said goodbye to Nick and Eogain who had commitments to meet. The rest of us pressed on – little realising (well me anyway) the seeming endlessness of Croydon suburbs, and there were hills here too! This was Jim’s van territory in his previous job, so it was very familiar to him, otherwise I don’t think we would ever have found our way out. After ambling through the Croydon suburbs, by now weary, I think I can speak for many if not all the others when I say that in all the years I have passed through East Croydon station I have never seen it with such relief.
What a ride – we must have ridden just about every form of surface, seen an enormous variety of environment, it felt like a dozen rides in one; and although it was only 27 miles on my clock it most certainly felt like more to me and I don’t doubt for some others. A full and rich ride – thanks Jim.