Saturday 18 July 2020

Cycle route: Local gravel ride around South London-Croydon suburbs

Following on from my previous routes on road in the Kent/Surrey lanes, and a traffic-free route into Central London, I thought I would go off-road and share a route I like to do into the nearby trails. It is nice to get in a ride on some off-road trail, and some of them are nearer than you think.

An off-road ride need not be all about doing epic adventures along the South Downs or through the Surrey Hills (though admittedly they are fun). 

Sometimes, when pushed for time a ride just on local trails hits the spot for me. It is a kind of sweet spot as the trails are not particularly challenging technically, and even though I don't go far I can work up a sweat as there are usually one or two climbs, which can be a proper work-out if taken at pace.

And of course there's always an added bonus of riding around in nature, away from built-up areas and traffic. Funnily enough, the local trails are only within a couple of miles of Croydon but you really wouldn't know it.

One ride that I do goes out to Croham Hurst, on the edge of Selsdon, South Croydon. I start off from home and very quickly am in South Norwood Country Park and Nature Reserve. This is a place that was previously waste land, and sewage farm, but has been significantly spruced up in recent times. There are lots of walking and cycling trails, as well as a lake, popular with anglers.

From there I go around the Croydon Athletics Arena to go through Ashburton playing fields and Spring Park, which have a mini trail for cyclists. The first mini challenge is the climb up through Pine Wood where there are some tree roots to negotiate, though you can always wheel your bike if it's a bit too technical. 

At Croham Hurst

Opposite this area is Addington Hill, locally known as Shirley Hill. This is a great area for off-road riding and was previously used as a cyclocross venue in bygone days. However, there are some special pebbles on the ground among the heather which means that it is banned to cyclists. So I just make-do with going around the edge of it. Sometimes I do have the odd rebellious moment and ride over to the viewpoint, which has great vistas of London in the distance. It's worth the excursion, I'd say!

Once on the other side of Addington Hill the route drops towards Selsdon along a bridleway behind residential property, to then climb steeply to reach Croham Hurst.

This area of woodland is not very big, but there is a lot going on there, with many species of bird, insects and ancient woodland. So it is designated as a Special Site of Scientific Interest. When here, stick to the bridlepath and you'll be fine. Sometimes people from the Friends of Croham Hurst get a bit annoyed with cyclists who ride all over the trails. If in doubt just follow the horse poo, and you'll know you're on the bridleway!

Going up Conduit Lane

From these woods there's the option to turn round and return home via the steep bridleway known as Conduit Lane, and then pass through Coombe Woods and Lloyd Park. That makes for a short spin, but you do burn calories - especially when riding up Conduit Lane. 

It's not a given that I would be able to get up that path, especially as it can be a little loose or muddy, and require that bit more effort to get any forward motion on the 12% incline. One good thing about this is that it doesn't last long as the slope begins to level off just as you start thinking it's excruciating, and thereafter the bridleway is either flat or downhill. Then at the end, there is a cafe to reward your efforts and replenish those burnt calories!

Bear in mind that the ride through Lloyd Park is also slightly uphill so take your time over your break (if you've got time)! Once out of Lloyd Park the ride is in its closing stages and the route passes once again into Ashburton Playing Fields before returning to South Norwood Country Park. Given the size of this area and the abundance of trails you can extend your ride by doing a few loops of this area if you suddenly feel the urge to stay out for longer, without being too far from home.

Back in South Norwood Country Park

So in a nutshell, that is one way of getting in a 60-90 minute ride while burning a few calories, being in touch with nature, and away from the London hustle and bustle.

There are other variants for extending this ride, like going on to Little Heath Woods, Selsdon Nature Reserve, or on to Three Half-Penny Wood. I detail those routes in another post in the future.

This route, along with other local routes can be found on my Strava feed.  


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