Preparing for London to Brighton #2: Over the North Downs

The view from the North Downs

The view from the North Downs

It is downright impossible to cycle at your peak speed when you’re not too sure where you’re even going. Of course I had a rough idea; I was continuing my adventures along Route 21, one of 96 routes that make up the National Cycle Network. Having made it through the formidable urban sprawl of Manor Royal and Gatwick Airport, I now had no clue of where I would be heading, save the name of a village (Woldingham) and a general direction (north-east). All I had to guide me were little blue signs telling me I was going the right way.

Beyond Gatwick, Route 21 takes you through the towns of Horley, Salfords and Redhill before sending you off across the North Downs, where your perseverance on the slopes is rewarded with spectacular views. You glide through the environment at such a pace that they barely register; a suburban town soon becomes the quiet countryside, before giving way to a sprawling quarry to a congested motorway. It even takes you directly through the extensive grounds of Woldingham School, a Roman Catholic independent school for girls, giving you an intriguing glance into a different world of education from the one you might have experienced.

A country lane north of Redhill

A country lane north of Redhill

A plane coming into land at Gatwick

A plane coming into land at Gatwick

There are plenty of occasions like this where you can’t be certain you’re going the right way. You dart past warehouses, farms and schools all adorned with signs screaming “private property” in extra-large print; it wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve had one too many lost cyclists creeping down their drives and they’ve simply had enough of it. It’s a viewpoint I totally understand, but it’s not exactly as if we’re deliberately trespassing with malicious intent. We’re just trying to find the next part of our route, which is why it’s always such an immense relief when you see one of the blue route 21 signs spurring you on.

As you make your way through the bleak technology parks around Gatwick airport, it’s hard to imagine why this particular route was chosen for the Avenue Verte, an initiative to develop a largely traffic free route between London and Paris. On this side of the English Channel, it mostly follows Route 21, and when Gatwick greets you with a wall of noise as you scurry past the South terminal… well, it’s certainly not what you might expect from a cycle route. But once you’re through it, suburbia gives way to lush rolling hills, deserted country lanes and fields bursting with colour; there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon, and it’s an immense feeling of satisfaction when you reach your goal.

A quarry just before the North Downs

A quarry just before the North Downs

It's nature innit?

It’s nature innit?

I thought this would be a good time to post an update as I’m now getting into the swing of things with my London to Brighton training (today’s ride was over 30 miles!) and I also talked to my local paper, the East Grinstead Courier and Observer, about the value of the Worth Way and Forest Way as platforms for cycling, horse riding, and generally just improving our health. Have a gander here if you like! Or click here to read my previous post on Route 21.

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