Monday 4 February 2013

Hindhead Common Bicycle "bypass"

Below is a photograph I took this weekend of the beginning – or, depending which direction you’re heading, the end – of about 5 miles of mainly off-road cycle track around Hindhead, Surrey.  The pictures which follow show points on the route, starting from the south west and working north-east. (All pictures below their captions).

The route starts with a section of newly-constructed kerb separated, shared cycle/footpath, alongside what remains of the old A3 before the new Hindhead Tunnel and its approaches were opened in August 2011.  It is largely continuous although interrupted by a couple of junctions to the left.  You can see some of the A3 signage to the right and centre of frame.

Where the exit slip from the new dual carriageway meets the old road to take traffic into HIndhead Village, there is this cycle bypass of the roundabout – still shared with pedestrians – leading to the next section of the route, alongside the A333, again part of the old A3.  There used to be forests of "Cyclists Dismount" blue signs around here, but it looks like the protests of the Waverley Cycle Forum to have them removed have been successful.

The next section of the route is nothing more than the old footway alongside the road.  It has not been widened, modified or resurfaced since its previous existence as footway only.  Here you can see it is interrupted by entrance and exit to a petrol station – this photo took a little waiting, to get a window without cars blocking the path waiting to exit on to the road. (You can also see how impossible it would have been to construct a separate cycle track alongside this 30mph, local-access-only road - nowhere near wide enough).

We have now crossed the old Hindhead Crossroads into the village proper.  I didn't snap the scene near the old crossroads, now a curious double-mini-roundabout, because it is not a partiuclarly nice place to hang around.  On the other hand, with the A3 traffic diverted through the tunnel the volume and speed of traffic here is no fairly light most of the time. 

The double mini-roundabout attracted a fair bit of ire from local petrolheads - aparently it is a little confusing to negotiate.  I can't honestly see why, but it does at least make drivers approach the system fairly cautiously - otherwise the temptation for anyone crossing north-south along the Haslemere-Farnham road, the A287, would be to barrel through at speed in the expectation that there would be nothing coming from right or left along the old A3 axis, which is now purely local traffic.  Perhaps that is what those motorists are whining about, but tough - they are now driving through what local planners are determined to convert into a proper village centre.

Here below you can see where the old A3’s roadbed abruptly ends.  The entire road was dug out and replaced with soil at the insistence of the National Trust, as part of the deal for them to provide access land for the tunnel.  (Only two years ago this was a fume-filled hell, of nose-to-tail motor vehicles.  Crossing the road here was nigh on impossible, especially for horse riders.  One can question the wisdom of the tunnel, and it is already evident that it has just moved the congestion further along to the next bottleneck, but the re-unification of the two halves of the common and the removal of the traffic have been hugely beneficial.)  To the right of frame you can see the entrance to a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) which runs on down around the side of the Devil’s Punchbowl.

“BOAT 500”, as it is designated, is a narrow, tarmac lane running through the trees.  It is a “Quiet Lane” which merely means a BOAT which the local highways authority has assumed responsibility for maintaining.  Here you can see that the Quiet Lane ends, with the remainder of the BOAT being a rough unsurfaced track leading down the hill.  This is fortunate, because it renders the route unsuitable for motor vehicles apart from 4x4s and trail bikes, and so discourages ordinary motorists from using it.

Here you can see, a few yards further on, where the road forks.  The BOAT to the right, and to the left a new, tarmac path for pedestrians/cyclists only.  I don’t know whether the sections of felled tree trunk are just coincidence, or were placed there deliberately to prevent 4x4s gaining access.  From what I have seen of the surrounding BOATs and bridle paths, some such measures are probably necessary to prevent illegal incursion.

Looking back over my shoulder, the white van is one of the very few motor vehicles you actually see on the BOAT, notwithstanding that it is technically open to motors.  In fact the volume of pedestrian, equestrian and cycle traffic here, especially at a weekend, would likely reduce any motorist to a walking pace.  The van belongs to a group of downhill MTB enthusiasts.  This is a paradise for fans of downhill cycling, and you will see them puffing and sweating as they push their sophisticated full-sus MTBs back up the steep slope afterwards!

This view, looking out over the Sailor’s Stone towards the Punchbowl, shows how the old A3 road has been entirely obliterated.  The strip of what looks like garden weed-suppressing matting is more or less that, on an industrial scale. It is there to permit thousands of young heather plants to take hold to re-seed the hillside.  The old road bed was broken up so that it didn’t prevent drainage, and then the pieces were left in place and buried under, in places, more than 10 metres of soil.  Much of the soil removed to dig the tunnel was saved for this purpose, just so that the road could be buried.  Again, this was done at the insistence of the National Trust.

The Sailor’s Stone is a monument to an uknown sailor who was set upon by thieves and killed near this spot as he walked up the Old Portsmouth Road in the late 18th century.  The thieves were discovered drinking their spoils in a local pub, and were hauled off to gaol, tried and summarily executed on gibbets erected on the hill above, hence its name of Gibbet Hill.  The sailor’s grave is in the cemetery at the parish Church of Thursley, down the hill.

Below the end of the bollarded foot/cycle path pictured above, the old A3 road was not buried, but a narrow strip was left behind to form “Punchbowl Lane”, a statutory bridle path leading down towards Thursley.  This picture looks at the other, north-eastern, end of the lane, looking south west.   While the lane is a bridle path and so not open to motor vehicles, an exception is made for access to a couple of houses and the Youth Hostel which nestle deep in the Punchbowl and have no other access.  There is a standard farm gate at either end.  These were installed as a precaution against stroppy motorists who might be tempted to use the BOAT 500 Quiet Lane and Punchbowl Lane as a rat-run to avoid the appalling prospect of having to drive a half-mile in the opposite direction to get to the slip-road for the tunnel and the new A3.  The idea is that if this occurs, the gates will be locked and the residents will just have to get out and open them each time they want to pass through.  There is enough room at the side for walkers/cyclists/horse riders to pass, but not cars.

The next pic looks down the next section of the route.  We are now back on public highway – a lane which continues under the A3 and meanders around to the village of Brook, 5 or so miles away. (This photo is looking in the other direction, north east towards Thursley) It does get some, purely local traffic, but it is single track and in very poor shape in places on the other side of the A3.  This section is fine because it is new, having been built as a works access road for the tunnel construction. Here you can see, in this rather shaky shot, two roadies puffing up the modest incline.  This route has become popular with road cyclists as its surface, although a bit grubby in places, is firm smooth tarmac.

Finally, this is where the route comes back to the normal road system, on the exit slip road from the A3 to the village of Thursley.

On the OS 50,000 scale the old road is still shown but the tatest 25,000 scale has been updated and shows the old road as a thin dotted line.

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