YHA Weekend to Alfriston – 26th October

Report from Tom Baskaya.

This year’s destination was equally picturesque to last year’s but somewhat more accessible from north London. At approx 64m from Finsbury Park, and with temperatures far from freezing this time, the ride was intended to be pleasurable not attritional!

However, challenges included the wet and wind proceeding “the worst storm for 20 years” and the North and South Downs, (which as Costas rightly remarked felt more ‘up’ than ‘down’ a lot of the time). Six set out from Finsbury Park: Vince, Gray, Andrew, Ian, Costas and Richard. I jumped on just before we crossed the Thames at Blackfriars to make seven.

Gray had plotted a pleasant route through south London taking in the delights of Dulwich Village and Crystal palace, avoiding any majorly busy roads. In no time we were winding our way through prime Kent countryside, flying down sweeping descents, dancing (ah hem) up 25% ascents, past oast houses, churches and medeaval pubs, taking in the impressive vistas, and all in good time for our lunch at The Castle Inn, Chiddingstone. The first shower of the day timed itself perfectly as we were indoors by then enjoying lunch and our inaugural pint!

The ‘chocolate box village’ scene was made complete as the hunt came past the window. In all their finery it was as if they we’re trying to out-do the well turned out riders of The FPCC!

After taking in the village’s namesake, the Chidding Stone, (see pics) we continued south with a brisk headwind and gentle rain doing little to dampen our spirits. The first real test for our legs came a few miles later as we climbed into Ashdown forest, the unfamiliar heath-like terrain made the effort worth while. A quick dismount at the sumit to enjoy the view and regroup. Next stop Alfriston to pick up breakfast supplies from a shop that felt like a portal to the 1940’s. Vince bumped into a gentleman who by coincidence knew some of the club’s older members from his racing days, so stopped for a chat.

We positioned ourselves at the front of the queue for the opening of the YH. A quick shower and change then off to the pub for dinner. We were a bit early but this was not a problem as there were six local ales to be sampled. They ranged from good to excellent IMO as did the service and the food.

Off to bed. Not the best night’s sleep despite being tired and mildly intoxicated. Never mind.

It was agreed that we would start early on Sunday as the clock change worked in our favour and we thought we might beat the worst of the incoming weather back to London.

Breakfast. The Finsbury Park breakfast team are to fry-ups what the HTC Highroad team were to lead-outs. It was a winning breakfast, fantastically well executed.

A few miles outside of Alfriston we encountered our first bit of bad weather, high winds and horizontal rain be told our proximity to the coast and the approaching storm. Thankfully it was short lived and in general we stayed dry with the wind behind us, speeding us along.

Again, the ascent into Ashdown Forest. It’s a testing climb and for some reason seemed harder this way round. Gray was soon off the front by himself. I left it a long time before realising his move should not go completely unanswered, so tried to bridge the substantial gap he’d opened up. It was a hard effort for quite a few minutes and once he’d spotted my move, sadly the gap never really came down. We regrouped at the top, all except for Vince who flew past us and dropped like a stone down the other side! Gone! It was a mile or so before we caught up with him.

There was talk of tea and cake but unfortunately before long the quaint tea rooms gave way to cafes and greasy spoons as we approached the M25 circle. One last leg burning hill that I have either forgotten the name of or tried to erase from my memory and then a view of London in the distance. With 14m to go the first and only puncture. Not bad going for two solid days riding!

We were now on the last leg of the journey, the driving got progressively and noticeably worse as we moved through the suburbs and into south London.

Feeling triumphant if a little tired we made our way through Crystal Palace, Dulwich, Camberwell, Elephant and Castle and over the river at which point I split from the group. The last 10 minutes of my journey I reflected on an enjoyable weekend spent in great company. It wasn’t until I was home that it struck me how tired I actually was. Sleep.

Thanks to Gray for the route and overall organisation, to Andy for booking the table for Saturday evening and to everyone for their company, good laughs, pulls on the front and generally mucking in. Special thanks to Vince for demonstrating that if I’m remotely as hard as he is, (unlikely), I have another 40+ years of this kind of thing to look forward to! Sorry Vince!

Same again next year?