Over the summer I’ve discovered two more tough ascents in the Surrey Hills.
Both lead through the woods up to Winterfold Heath, deep in the Hurtwood Forest set high above Cranleigh.
The Hurtwood is one of the largest privately owned estates in Surrey.
Mercifully, most of it is accessible on a dense network of footpaths, one of which is an ancient Roman road.
Alderbrook Road (A to B); Barhatch Lane (D to C)
The two ascents are different.
Ditchling Beacon is the high point of the London to Brighton Bike Ride each year, in lots more ways than one.
A whole year of training is finally distilled into one breathless blur of uphill climb.
And no matter how many hills I’ve toiled all winter, it never seems that success on Ditchling is guaranteed — because it’s the toughest ascent I do.
Here’s a map and a profile of the hill, and a comparison with White Down, the steepest climb in the Surrey Hills close to where I live, and the last training test I do before setting off to Brighton each year.
The rain is falling softly beneath a grey and weeping sky.
Dull, wet, oppressive sinks the afternoon, through a rising restlessness I can’t define. Puddles beneath my feet. Familiar streets chiding my every turn.
Northeastwards from here in Epsom, the city stretches wide. Twenty miles to London Bridge, and as many reaching out beyond. The megalopolis, looming heavy in the rain.
“Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground”
– The Tempest, Act 1, Sc.1
“Full fathom five thy father lies” – The Tempest, Act 1, Sc. 2
The sky is falling all around me as the winter afternoon is fading. Down, down we glide, towards the North Atlantic. Three thousand miles of unforgiving sea are all behind us and ahead lies just a pinprick of green holding out against the blue-grey vastness of the ocean.
The rain lashes against the windows as our wings bank on the approach, the landing lights looming nearer in the dusk. A rugged landfall, but now we’re safe.
Outside the airport and across the causeway, a deluge is raging in sheets across the road, the palm trees swaying wildly in the storm. The evening washes itself wet and windswept upon the shore. Continue reading
When the worrying starts to hurt
And the world feels like graves of dirt
Just close your eyes until
You can imagine this place – yeah
Our secret space, at will
Snow Patrol – May 2006
New job. New town. New colleagues. New commute.
Less time to write. More time to worry.
It’s a sunny week in early June, when Epsom hosts the Derby. The biggest event in the flat-racing calendar. The original article, the horse race founded by Lord Derby, after which so many imitations are named, all around the globe.
A few weeks have passed, and it may be summer at last, but here in Epsom a new and unfamiliar mould is pressing all around me. The sun is high outside, and today I need to escape the stuffy office, the grim shopping mall and the choking traffic, and to remind myself of who I am. Just for an hour, I need to run.
On this day, of all days, I turn my back on the ladies in posh hats and the dusty punters with their champagne-soaked shoes and shredded betting tickets. I head out of Epsom the other way.
There was still a faint glow of dark blue on the horizon above the hills, but the taxi clock was fast closing on midnight, and the numbers on the meter were clicking even faster.
The driver wasn’t sure of his bearings, and neither was I. All I knew was that the town hotels were full, and my old favourite The Udny Arms in Newburgh was booked out, too. I’d been consigned to a far corner of Aberdeenshire to stay the night.
We pulled up onto the gravel drive, and I fell out of the taxi, suddenly rueing that last farewell port consumed in sumptuous Hazlehead, half an hour ago. I shook my head through the still night air, unpeeled an alarmingly thick roll of Scottish twenties, and headed inside.
The massive gothic oak door creaked open into an ancient hallway, long and chill. High vaulted ceiling, grandfather clock, ceremonial swords fixed to the walls. Somewhere nearby would surely hide a hunting rifle and the head of some unfortunate stag, I thought, as those famous words from Simon Callow sounded to me from somewhere long ago and far away: “It’s bloody Brigadoon !”
Before taking on the four-minute mile, Roger Bannister and his Oxford colleagues most famously abandoned their training to spend three days climbing in Scotland.
Widely considered a reckless decision at the time, in fact that unwise trip unearthed the missing mental sharpness which proved so decisive at Iffley Road in May 1954.
I’m far from certain that the same approach will work for me in the Almería Half Marathon this Sunday, even though I’ve had my own personal kind of mountain to climb this week.
A trip to Scotland with my back firmly against the wall.