Mountain Bike - Ten Woods, Two Commons And A Slow Puncture

Posted: Sunday, 11 August 2013 by Mark Kinnon in Labels: ,


Today was an excuse for a proper bit of "Old Skool" exploration, just as it was done back in the day, without any fancy GPS smart phone wizardry. Taking a rough idea for a circular off road route around the Southern limits of the London boroughs of Bromley and Croydon, checking with the map as we went. Alasdair was my riding companion, it started as a suggestion of his and two is definitely company for this type of ride. He must be at least 10 years younger and considerably fitter than me, so there wasn't going to be too much slacking today.

Alasdair - 10 years younger and considerably fitter

Stud Farms, Parks and Woods

The starting point was Bromley South railway station, quiet on a Sunday but still very much a metropolitan area. Yet after less than a mile of suburban semi detached houses on the road you are already on Bromley Common. Skirting around the grounds of Bromley FC you are soon in an area that I remember used to be allotments, but which have now become stud farms, not the sort of thing you expect to find minutes from a suburban town centre. Just the other side of Norman Park, at the end of Rookery Lane and overlooked by Bromley College the woodlands begin.
By this point you already feel that you are miles from anywhere, with plentiful single track paths and the occasional bridleway snaking their way through Mazzards Wood, Barnet Wood, Colyers Wood and Padmall Wood, but hardly a soul in sight. We were roughly following the course of the River Ravensbourne as it slowly ascends from Bromley Common onto Hayes Common towards its source at picturesque Keston Ponds.
At Keston Common we briefly joined the Westerham Road, if you followed the road a little further you would be at the historic war time airfield at Biggin Hill, but we were soon heading back into the woodland before then.

Furze Bottom Downhill

By Keston Court Farm we joined the excellent fast bridleway descent down to Furze Bottom. For me this was the highlight of the day, it is straight and open in places, firm and with great visibility ahead, my first chance of the day to be a Gonzo and get up some speed, my eyes were watering by the bottom. Payback came with a slow slog up Higham's Hill, rewarded with a brief rest at the top to admire the open view South towards Chelsham.
A brief sprint through Jewels Wood put us on a section of the National Cycle Network Route 21 for the short ride to The White Bear pub at Fickleshole and a chance to grab a drink and consult the map for the next leg.

The White Bear pub at Fickleshole

Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie watcha

Suitably refreshed it was time for a nippy descent down Featherbed Lane to The Bungalow for a ride through Fryland's Wood Scout Camp and on to Crab Wood above it. Some of the trails were reminiscent of Swinley Forest that we had both ridden a few weeks earlier, but with no other traffic. This lead us onto Chelsham Common and thanks to a couple of wrong turns to the big Sainsbury store at the edge of Warlingham.
Realising our mistake, we turned around and headed back into Great Park Wood towards Farleigh. Farleigh appears to be quite a horsey area, there are plenty of bridleways, but some were quite churned up. With the dry weather they were just very bumpy, but I imagine in Autumn they could well become a bit of a quagmire. It also seemed that some of the paths had branches and logs deliberately laid across them, could there be a bit of a horse vs bike conflict going on at the moment?

Nature Reserve

We were now on the home leg heading North towards Selsdon. There was a very rapid and slippery chalk descent through Frith Wood onto the edge of Addington Golf course. I enjoyed this so much that I missed a turning and we had to back track uphill. The correct turning took us through Bears Wood and onto Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve. You would never guess how close you are to a town here, it is so peaceful and quiet, the trails are wide and undulating with a firm base. Alasdair particularly liked the riding and we put in few laps trying all the different combinations of routes.
I was feeling quite tired after the exertion and mooted that it was time for a bun at Forestdale before the ascent of Gravel Hill.

Outstanding Vista

Climbing up Gravel Hill, with a busy road nearby and cris-crossing the tram tracks you feel very much back in an urban environment. But once at the top there is some good, but ultra slippery riding in the Shirley Hills. Gravel Hill is aptly named, the stones are so small that it is like riding on ball bearings, braking is a challenge and climbing impossible, even on foot it took careful effort. A short flight of steps took us to the unexpected pleasure of the stupendous vista from The Lookout. Local landmarks such as Crystal Palace FC were easily visible, along with buildings in the City, such as The Shard, buildings around Canary Wharf and even as far as Wembley Stadium with The Chilterns as a back drop.

Windy Miller

Our final descent of the day was down Shirley Hills Road to Postmill Close, to visit Shirley Windmill, one of London's last surviving windmills. We finished with a gentle ride through the suburban streets of West Wickham back to our starting point at Bromley.
With the excitement over, I noticed my front tyre was looking about as deflated as I now felt, just making it back to Bromley South before I was on the rims. I bade farewell to Alasdair, popped on a spare tube and took a leisurely ride back home.

Shirley Windmill - one of London's last remaining


To keep future rides along this route snappy, we might miss a few of the more tortuous off road sections and use a bit more road to link it all together. Likewise some of the potentially boggier sections might have to be bypassed in Winter. But this is a great circular route, with so much isolated woodland, all within easy distance of major transport hubs it is holds great potential for future rides.
Almost the entire route can be found on Transport for London Cycling Guide 13, if you want to receive a free copy please look here.