In a recent post I slipped in a shameless plug for the joys of off-road riding around my home town of Haslemere, on the donut-ring of commons which surround us. This really has very little to do with cycling for transport or utility. It is mainly about fun – exercise, great views, enjoying the open air.
This south-western corner of Surrey contains large tracts of common land which are now mainly in the ownership of the National Trust. It is a mixture of heath, broadleaf and conifer woodlands, some quite flat and some quite hilly. It is criss-crossed by byways, bridleways and permissive paths of varying difficulty, from easily managed on all but the skinniest-rimmed road bikes, through to steep and rocky tracks requiring the right equipment and a reasonable level of skill – and fitness.
The commons are easily reached from the railway stations at Godalming and Haslemere, which have up to 4 services per hour, and smaller stations such as Milford, Witley and Liphook, with one or two services per hour.
And if you really must, you could always bring your bike on the back of your car. Parking is generally quite straightforward, apart from Hindhead where the National Trust Café car park tends to fill up pretty quickly on any half-decent weekend.
A good source of inspiration for rides is the Routes page of the local cycle club, VCGH – www.vcgh.co.uk . They have about 35 routes mapped onto Ordnance Survey 1:50k or 1:25k mapping and saved as PDFs. These are probably best seen as sources of inspiration, modified to taste, and I doubt they print to good enough quality to use for navigation – I am always meeting cyclists up on the hill who are unsure of where they are, so a proper OS map is advisable.
All of the routes are circular, and some take in one of the railway stations. For example, the Tour of the Commons starts and finishes at Godalming station, and takes in Witley, Thursley, Hankley, Elstead, Ockley and Rodborough commons. It involves a little on-road riding around Godalming itself but this is urban road with a 30 limit. The ride is mainly quite level and on good unmade surfaces, although personally I would pass up the traverse of Thursley Common – if you have ever tried cycling on deep, soft, dry sand you will know what purgatory that is – and divert a little to the south into Thursley village where you can stop for refreshments at the Three Horseshoes Inn.
|The Three Horseshoes, Thursley
That way you could probably get away with a roadster bicycle as long as you have a decent gearbox. Bear in mind that Hankley Common is owned by the MOD and is used for military exercises so departing from the statutory bridleways is frowned on when exercises are in progress, but in my experience our armed forces slope off for the weekend around Friday lunchtime – god help us if “the enemy” (whoever that is these days) launches an invasion at 4pm on Friday!
The Haslemere Members Alternative Route starts and finishes in Haslemere, and although not shown this way could easily use the station as terminus. It takes in Black Down, one of the highest points in the south of England and a superb viewpoint across West Sussex known as the Temple of the Winds, then Marley and Linchmere commons, Liphook, Bramshott and Ludshot commons, the Devil’s Punchbowl and Hindhead Common. Personally, I would join or leave the circuit from the town centre, where you can find a Costa, and an independent café, Hemingways, which I personally rate more highly, as it has proper cake. Other good stops would be the National Trust café overlooking the Punchbowl at Hindhead, and the Wheatsheaf pub in Grayswood.
|The Wheatsheaf, Grayswood
Surrey County Council has bid for grants from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund for the “Two Parks” – the new South Downs and New Forest National Parks – which was awarded some £3.5m for active and public transport initiatives. In fact no part of the South Down National park is in Surrey itself, but parts of it are very close to the county border, notably right up to the Surrey-West Sussex border which is on the southern edge of Haslemere. Phase 1 will involve some signing of routes from Haslemere rail station and following bridle paths through Marley and Linchmere commons to rejoin the rail line at Liphook station – a fairly easy and short ride which might suit families with children. Phase 2 would involve signing a route towards the “Serpent Trail” which goes up to Black Down from its eastern side, and upgrading a section of bridle path which at the moment is badly degraded and difficult to negotiate. I’m hoping that Surrey CC has taken on board my comments that the signed route should stay away as far as possible from the principal roads and instead pass through the town centre to benefit from quieter roads, and direct visitors into the retail area where they can shop or stop for a coffee. Time will tell.