Reconnaissance in the South Downs

South Downs Reconnaissance

Tap, tap t-tap tap... It's 4pm, the sun is streaming through the office windows. After a long day of sitting at a screen the thought of being up in the hills couldn't be more appealing. Today, that is precisely what's on the cards. The current workplace is situated within striking distance of the South Downs, and it would be daft not to take this opportunity.

It is tempting to head to a purpose-built trailcentre where you know the templated experience will be delivered, but sometimes its good to roll the dice and follow your nose. I had spotted what looked like some interesting contours in the hills on the drive in, so this was my target for tonight's ride. What ever else is found pedalling to and from this zone will be a bonus.

I pick a carpark a the foot of the hills, so the first killer-climb will be out of the way, and ensures any office-blues are clearly blasted off. The first few turns of the trail were indeed steep, running parralel to the equally windy road, before peeling off to the right. It doesn't take long before the treeline opens up to a large dis-used quarry. First great find. A quick scout-out reveals some exposed 'big-mountain' lines, but looks like a revisit in the Winter would be best when undergrowth is suppressed.

Disused quarry

Picking the trail back up, I follow it until a break to the left allows me to push straight to the summit. No option to ride here - the gradient is a killer, but I don't want to stay in the foot of the hill for too long in case of missing the area I intended to ride (which I know is located nearer the summit).

Steep incline

Up top, a soft breeze sways the white-gold grass in the golden evening light. The far reaching views inland to the Surrey Hills northward, and out to sea southward are glorious. Following the ridge line, I eventually reach a perimeter fence, where a quick check of Google Maps reveals I am directly above the 'area of interest'. I try to suppress the anticipation; many trips like this end up somewhat of a disappointment. But today that isn't the case.

A short roll through some trees, and the view opens up once more, but in the foreground lies another dis-used quarry, this one is a lot more clear of scrub, with contours and lines heading in all directions. I am not the first one on a bike here; someone has sculpted some jumps and drops into ridge lines - nothing too obvious and garish, but any mountain biker would sniff these out no trouble. Perfect.

Line options

A particular floaty drop catches my attention, and after a few sends of this beaut, I decide its game on for the hip following it. I can't quite seem to nail this one, with arkward airtime or landing on each attempt. But the line has me hooked for multiple rounds.

Eventually the sun is dipping low and the homeward trail calls. A short push back to the summit places me conveniently at the beginning of a fast ribbon of singletrack that cuts round to the base of the hill and the car park. This deceiving line hides some nasty gullies which prove tricky at speed; definitely not time to let the concentration lapse just yet.

Back at the car I reflect on the success story tonight's ride has been. Reconnaissance missions may not always be success stories, but the rewards of finding new places far outweigh the risks of returning empty handed. And even then, at the least it is time in the fresh air, getting excersise on two wheels.

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