It’s 10am Saturday 24th May, and I find myself setting off on the bike to meet a couple of familiar faces and a bunch of new folk that have been persuaded to come along, convinced that they will enjoy the riding of my local trails in St Leonards and Tilgate forests. The sun is beginning to break through the cloud as I gradually pedal up to the meeting point on a dry and dusty track.
After a brief introduction, ten riders set off on the fire trail to the head of the first, gentle section of single-track. With that section completed we sail down to the ‘Wilderness’, the start of the riding proper, a real baptism of fire. Tight handlebar weaving, off camber deer track, with a nice little gulley half way, that requires a bit of momentum, a ‘manual’ and a somewhat gung-ho approach to clear both it, and the logs that are studded within it. Almost all, if not all, attempt it with a good degree of success and we carry on minus the two riders we lost after the first single-track section! Mike – being familiar with the area, we felt assured we would rendezvous with shortly; that and obtaining a good mobile phone signal!
Anyway, two stream crossings, a rideable pile of logs, loads of deer track and not to mention three punctures for the ride leader later, we meet up with Mike and make our way, in the least direct, more single-track is better approach, over to Tilgate. At this point, I shouldn’t mention further, the one rider who had the misfortune to crash spectacularly TWICE on the same descent, within minutes of each other – just to say that I have a hunch that his favourite colour could be orange! (Glad you’re ok and that not even your spirits were dented).
We plough on through several miles of pleasant farmland and bridleway to reach Tilgate Forest, pausing when we get there for a quick energy bar refuel before tackling the ‘aerobic’ perimeter single-track. This is host to regular motorcycle enduro events, making it very rutted and boggy for most of the year. The ruts were still there but to our surprise – no bog – the driest I’ve ever seen Tilgate! We proceed onward, consuming the twisting tram-lined trail, it’s not easy but very enjoyable was the general consensus. Off we turn into the ‘downhill’ section, passing the ubiquitous group camped out at the top of the trail, dressed in baggy jeans and trainers (laces undone presumably) looking on with a hint of disappointment at the group of old blokes riding their well prepared trail, avoiding anything remotely risky on the way down – the berms were great though! Back in the ‘natural’ and without an audience we locate and descend the barely visible line into the bluebell area (sadly a couple of weeks late to see any colour) where one of our group decided to take a new line over yet another stream crossing. It was hot, dry and sunny but taking a lie down in the water was a bit on the extreme side – Rob! A further water splash – no problems here, turning into the last arc of our loop, we head back all feeling suitably tired.
Arriving in St Leonards, with just two more sections to show everyone (I didn’t insist honestly) we ride another deer/woodsman hybrid of a trail. The gentle, but still with a sting in it’s tail, ‘river single-track’ and the final blast down from Mick’s Cross (riding over the odd fallen tree) back to the car park notching up almost 24 miles of trail.
I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did showing you all around.