Sunday 6 March 2011
Gatwick Circular Revisited – Horses, Porsches, Woods & Water
[More photos on Flickr]
I’m supposed to be helping Jim to lead the ride so hope to arrive early at Brighton station, but forgot about the building works fencing off the usual entrance, so a little late, but still caught up with Roger & Suzanne on their way in, then delighted to see Joyce & Fred, already waiting at the usual spot. We decide not to choose Groupsave in view of the trouble on the last ride, where we were split up for being “too many bikes”. Roger and Suzanne had opted to take the earlier Southern train, to prevent any delay at the Gatwick start. We remaining three went for senior returns, even though Sue arrived, since she was hoping to return earliest. Our train was First Capital Connect & thus £2 cheaper than Southern. Jim had arrived by an even earlier Preston Park train, Jenny had come from Plumpton station, & Roger and Suzanne had arrived on the Gatwick Express. An Airport Information Officer was asked by Fred to take the group snap & he duly obliged, amid the bustling airport concourse.
Eight of us now trailed towards the lifts back down to earth, making a surreal procession among those bound for the skies. Jim checked that no one from London was trying to join us. Angela was meeting us at Horley & she liaised by mobile phone, eventually waving & joining the band. But first we had the delights of the tunnels under the monorail and/or railway; much hollering & ringing of bells! Now the Riverside Water Park, with lake to the left of us and solitary coot & serpentine stream & anglers to the right, as we rode. We paused for a few photos & regretted that Angela would miss our first treat. Met Angela at a roundabout and then we were nine.
Jim led us carefully from the NCR 21 Greenwich bound to the Surrey Cycleway – Leigh bound. Neither was very well marked. When Mick and I had tried to recce the ride a month previously we’d wasted at least an hour finding our way out of Gatwick Airport. No one in or around the airport seemed to cycle, though once on the track, blue signs appear. The airport building always seems to be expanding & the M23 roars away in the background constantly, but now we were out on the open road heading north, into a 16-mph NE headwind, but not too bad. A few gentle hills took us to a ridge from which Surrey lay spread out before us, with the North Downs on our right instead of our familiar South Downs on the left. In the distance chalk cliffs & Reigate, and near us hedges, fields & wonderful selection of trees, a few farms, lots of lovely spring birdsong and I heard the tap of a woodpecker. There wasn’t much traffic but what there was, was of the fast variety & shouts of “oil” reverberated along the line of nine.
Just before Leigh and lunch I glimpsed a glorious Gothick mansion and diverted into its drive to take a photo. My latter half of the line followed and we wondered at the bell-tower, the chain bridge over the moat, the towers, the boat, the Gothic windows with drawn curtains. Was it abandoned or inhabited, what was it called and was the bridge safe? I thought of Mariana in the moated grange in Measure for Measure and Tennyson’s poem. Onwards to Leigh. Sue was much taken by a venerable churchyard tree & another photo was called for and taken. More Tudor cottages appeared on the green at Leigh, along with the welcome sight of The Plough for lunch.
By now, the sun was out & we were warm from the climbs, so half of us chose to sit outside, as we’d done on the previous trip here when Nick had photographed a ladybird joining us for lunch. Joyce, Angela & I had fine, green vegetable soups & Jim had substantial baked potato with vegetable trimmings. Animated discussions arose on the recent Middle Eastern uprisings & likely effects, leading onto “The Promise”, TV series about Israel now & in 1947, through eyes of a young woman visiting friend there & her grandfather, who’d served in British army there and was marked for the rest of his life by it. All agreed it was remarkably good. Angela told us of her uncle who’d bravely refused to go there after serving in the war. The other five sat inside at sunny window table & enjoyed their food, my favourite being Jenny’s goat’s cheese jacket potato. Wonder if that’s what Jim had too?
After a few more photos – Fred took one of the village well and its Best-Kept Village award – we were off again, via cutely named Newdigate Lane. There was a stop to enjoy three pretty little brindled ponies in a hedged field. Sue said they looked like hyenas, but Jenny said they were British Spotted Ponies. On looking them up on the web they do seem quite unusual, & were rather lovely.
At the turning for Hammond’s Copse, two other cyclists appeared from the opposite lane and we followed them into the wood onto the bridleway, after a photo-stop. There are still not many signs of spring: trees are bare, snowdrops are the only clumps of flowers, though very occasionally isolated primroses also arose. Green stalks of future bluebells, violets & wild orchids were there promising much once the weather warms. We met some more cyclists in the wood, who held open the gate for us to proceed through. Eventually we emerged onto the concrete track by another beautiful farmhouse where we posed for pictures.
The concrete road gave peaceful views but eventually led to a real road that took us back to the A road & the Surrey Cycleway back to Horley; just time to photograph some spring buds by the wayside. Time for some tea at Planet Café. In fact Sue and I had soup again & Joyce had scrumptious baklava which she offered around. This led to discussion as to whether it was rude to ask where the café owners came from, as they were likely to say Britain, but Joyce did it anyway & I was right in guessing Turkey, as the food was so tasty.
We had to say goodbye to Angela at Horley & then regain NCN 21 back to the airport via the waterpark & the tunnels, in which we hooted, sang & rang our bells anew! Bit of a dilemma at the station as our FCC tickets, though not cheap, still didn’t really entitle us to take the only Brighton train available. In fact the train turned out to be a Gatwick Express – 10 carriages but only two cycle spaces. Obviously Roger & Suzanne were the only two with a ticket to ride this luxurious transport, but the other four of us didn’t fancy an unlimited wait for another Brighton train. Sue had hopped onto Jenny’s train to Ore, hoping to alight at Haywards Heath & change onto a Brighton train. We remaining FCC three, comforted by Jim’s discussion with platform staff, decided to risk the Express and hope we didn’t have to pay exorbitant excess! So six of us squeezed into the luxury train & enjoyed a friendly & swift direct return to Brighton with no problems, even though there was virtually no room for bikes. It didn’t stop anywhere, let alone Haywards Heath, so I do hope Sue’s wait was not too torturous.
Jim had led us on a ride we all agreed was delightful. He’d remembered without needing his prompts, and I’d relaxed & loved the ride rehearsed & revised & seeming to unfold swiftly, with no problems or punctures. Thanks to Jim for all his very careful preparations & expert shepherding.