BLOG POST: North Downs Way Hen Do Ride

LCW North Downs Way Crawley Wheelers.jpg

As some of you will know Georgina and I rode the North Downs Way for two days over Easter as a pseudo Hen Do for my forthcoming wedding!

The route is 240k (c.150 miles) in total and is very much a ride of two halves. The first half in the Surrey Hills and the second the rolling bridleways and lanes of Kent.

The ride is best suited to an MTB, although the second half could be well suited to a gravel or cyclocross bike. The first half takes in some climbs and descents that are technical and rooty in places that would be slow on a gravel or cyclocross bike but doable. There are a few savage climbs in the first half and one or two in the second half but nothing quite the same as the South Downs Way. The 150k of the second half could be done on a gravel bike with the right gears - there is one notable climb into Canterbury that would be savage on cyclocross gears.

There are some long road sections (total NDW is around 50k of road which I found hard seated on an MTB) and some fast flatter bridleways, but there are some notable stony climbs namely up to Canterbury and across the fields up onto the clifftops before descending into Dover where I was grateful for the MTB gears and tires.

The route is accessible by starting at Farnham train station where you climb out of the town and finishes in Dover where you descend to get the train from Dover Priory. Both train links run from Three Bridges into London then back out. We caught the 6.30am out of Three Bridges into London Bridge and rode to Waterloo taking the 8.10am to Farnham, coffee in hand, to start the ride at 9.20am. We finished the ride a day later in Dover Priory taking the 18.50 into St Pancras and rode to London Bridge to be back in Crawley at around 10pm! Great fun hurtling through London on Day one at 7.30am.

For an intermediate off-road rider with some endurance, this is a tough two-day ride. For a very strong level of rider, I think it's doable over one day and I look forward to supporting Sandy et al in doing it by running a support vehicle this Summer if they fancy it.

Georgina and I stayed the night in Westerham at around the 90k mark making for a big day on an already sore backside (me) on day two but doable. We had a great night at the Kings Arms and a not too shabby breakfast the following day.

kingsarms

The route is beautiful, we were so fortunate in seeing the bluebells at their best. Unlike the South Downs Way; where the view remains beautiful but similar, the North Downs takes in many different aspects. My favourite parts were the spectacular houses riding out of Farnham, the wonderful views from Box Hill and Reigate Hill, the wonderful bridleways and woodland riding over to Westerham, the lovely pretty Kent villages, some of the most stunning bluebells I have ever seen, the tour down the river into Canterbury before climbing up and over the fields into Dover - although I have to say I had stopped caring at that point about the view…but a handful of strawberry laces kept me going until the bitter end. We ended the day with a quick train ride into London and a Greg’s Pizza at London Bridge.

Top tips for those that want to have a go would be:

  • Choosing the right time of year. Some of the trails were quite rutted and you could see would have been unrideable if wet or too muddy.
  • A good level of competency on the MTB as there are some fast descents that could be too energy-sapping if you were not confident as well as tough on the body if you are not conditioned to off-roading
  • Planning ahead with eating/drinking, there are no taps on this route so you need to fill up in shops where you can
  • If you are going to attack it in one day you would want a long summer day and to hit it from Farnham early…
  • Check the route for the future at the final point on the fields near Dover, sadly they are cutting into the final section with fencing near a business depot and the route meant we had to double back to take the road route down
  • Finally don’t do what we did and take a detour when you get into Dover up the hill it really is the most savage climb to the castle which will be the last thing you will want to do and definitely not worth it!

Happy Summer riding

Georgina Wise and Lucy Williams April 2022