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London to Brighton: Part Two - Wallington to Smallfield Road, nr. Gatwick

Marlpit Hill and a Lady Feeding Ducks

After exiting Wallington and needing to stretch my legs, I decided to head off a little into the distance, before a long decent down to Coulsdon Station. Page zipped along closely behind, with Jonesy beginning to recover from his initial dip in energy.

Just through the viaduct carrying the A23 and the old Southern Railway mainline to Brighton we faced our first major hurdle. It came in the form of Marlpit Hill, a category 5 climb up a silent suburban street. A major challenge that, once overcome, would mean we had finally escaped the clutches of London and would be out in open country.
Sasha waits by the duck pond in Coulsdon, Surrey.
Feeling confident, I set off, once more slightly ahead of the other two. Page, complaining about his gear ratios – he rides a motorbike so knows a little about this technical stuff – decided to hang back a little as he didn’t think he’d be able to go as fast up the hill. Jonesy, still a little befuddled by the gears on a road bike when compared to an MTB held further back.

The hill had nothing by way of a build up, instead it just began and sustained the same gradient for 0.9 miles. After my usual psychological jitters about half-way up, that feeling of doubt where you feel the hill may never end, or worse that you might suddenly stop going up and start rolling uncontrollably backwards, I just put my head down, undid the straps on my bike helmet and dug deep for the remain 500 metres or so. With my legs beginning to feel the burn, I stopped a few metres beyond the summit of the climb and waited by a small pond.

As I dismounted, panting like a madman, a lady appeared and started explaining to me that there was a duck in the pond that shouldn’t be there – subsequent research has failed to find out the identity of the duck. In my slightly knackered stated, I just about managed to mumble something about calling the RSPB which satisfied the lady to the extent that she left me alone and wandered off to feed the ducks.

After a pause of a minute or two, Page appeared over the brow of the hill. We stood and waited, beginning to wonder whether Jonesy had got off and started to push, or whether he’d collapsed in a heap halfway up the hill. 

Just as I was about to walk to the brow of the hill and see where he was, Jonesy appeared, red in the face, bouncing out of the saddle due to riding in his easiest gear, and to a chorus of cheering and support from Page and myself. He managed to roll his increasingly dirty Cannondale CAAD10 to a halt by the pond before hopping off and bouncing around with cramp.

After five minutes of respite, we got moving once more, but not before Jonesy, losing his balance whilst getting back on his bike, had grabbed on to Page bringing the pair of them crashing to the ground. The ducks seemed unimpressed by the commotion and even the sea cadet walking by on the other side of the road seemed unmoved, as I stood there dying of laughter.


Out into Open Country

The next five or six miles simply flew by as we passed through Old Coulsdon, bisected Coulsdon Common avoiding the epic puddles, darted off the main road, along the winding Roffe’s Lane and through Grub’s Wood. 

Once out of the other side of the little woods we started to roll down the sharp decent of Whitehill Lane. My confidence in Sasha – my Specialized Allez 2013 named for Beyoncé’s alter ego Sasha Fierce – meant that after a 100 metres or so of braking, I let go of the brakes, started to pedal, and, with water streaming from my eyes, the Garmin registered around 32 mph. Our reward was to be spat out of the woods at what felt like great speed onto a bridge over the M25 motorway. Free at last.

Page leading the peloton forward, followed by Jonesy, just coming up to half way.
The mood in the peloton had suddenly lifted, as had the threat of imminent rain. The endorphins were clearly kicking in as I decided to start singing ‘Clique’ by Kanye West. A decision that I later regretted as Jonesy, mistaking the lyrics slightly and singing things I couldn’t repeat in the polite company of my dear readers, continued to sing the song for the duration of the ride.

The peloton, with Page keeping good speed and Jonesy revived, snaked its way around the country lanes, passing through Bletchingly and a number of anonymous hamlets, and with the sun rising across the fields as we rolled along a B-road, my Garmin beeped. We had reached the halfway point and suddenly Brighton felt that little bit closer – although the challenge of Turners Hill and the category 4 climb of Ditchling Beacon still lay ahead.

⇐ Part One: The Mall to WallingtonPart Three: Countryside to Brighton Pier ⇒

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