Five of us set out from Marden just after 9am; myself (Jimmy), Jon Craig, Jo Hovenden, Chris Kennard and Ciaran Johnson. The weather had been wet for the last couple of days so most of us brought wet weather gear just in case – I chose to ride my winter bike.
We headed out of the Low Weald into a blustery headwind towards the first climb of the day, Castle Hill. Then a rollercoaster ride after Matfield on some lovely new tarmac until we hit our second climb, Half Moon Lane, where we encountered Southborough and District Wheelers youth wing practising their cycling skills. A fast run down the cycle path next to the A21 before another climb, Vauxhall Lane up to the A26. We skirted Bidborough and on through Penshurst. Jo had the first and only puncture of the day at the top of Smarts Hill. Chris helped by pumping a spare inner tube up to beyond the circumference of a wheel. It looked like a giant sausage – very amusing – but I think you had to be there to appreciate exactly how amusing it was!
We descended into Chiddingstone at around the half way mark and I suggested we stop at the Tulip Café (we had been due to stop at Hilden Park Golf Centre). Everyone acquiesced so we sat outside. It wasn’t long before a few spots of rain hurried us inside.
After the food stop we set out again – the weather over the North Downs looked ominous and some of us donned our rain jackets. As we approached the foot of Carters Hill (aka One Tree Hill) the heavens opened and there was a giant crash of thunder! We spread out and ascended in sheets of rain. The hill was awash with streams of water and winter detritus. The cars that passed us in the gloom must have cursed us and questioned our sanity in equal measure. I was as close to getting off and walking as I have been in a long time.
We reassembled at the top and set off again, a very bedraggled bunch. The rain eased off but had left massive road-wide puddles on the North Downs which we pedalled through nervously. Once we hit Plaxtol Jon peeled off home and we were now bathed in brilliant warming sunshine. The roads looked like they were literally steaming – very photogenic. But we didn’t take any pictures because we were motoring now, around the back of Hadlow, East Peckham and through Yalding. Along Lughorse Lane which has been very recently tarmacked and down East Street. Chris went into time trial mode at the Chainhurst bump and pulled away. When Jo realised I wasn’t going to chase (because I couldn’t) it was too late. She valiantly charged after him but Chris rolled into Marden first, closely followed by Jo, then me and then Ciaran.
Jo’s stats were 54.09 miles, 3,032 feet at an average of 15.9 mph.
A big thank you to Chris who let me follow his wheel all the way back to the foot of Barn Hill.