Having been on a few Tuesday and Thursday Stanmer rides, Ronnie mentioned this Essex away ride that might involve some of the Hadleigh Farm Olympic course. It sounded interesting.

We were warmly welcomed at the northeast corner of Belfairs Park on the outskirts of Southend. The local riders had been to Stanmer previously, hence the invite. They were Neil (Santa Cruz Tall Boy carbon), Russell (Cotic Soul 140mm), Paul (Vitus 150mm), Jez (Giant Anthem carbon), Colin (Giant Xtc Carbon) and Mike (Giant Anthem X1).

The Brighton riders amounted to Ronnie and me only. Ronnie’s satnav had led him on a bit of a “detour”, so it seems we were lucky that even he made it! To be honest we were hoping for a slightly larger Brighton MTB turnout so we waited a bit (usual bike chat and tyre kicking) hoping for a few more, and then set off.

The route was an entertaining mix of urban and rooty wooded singletrack that was a compilation of their regular rides. After about an hour we found ourselves on a section of the Olympic course that extended beyond the boundary of Hadleigh Farm. Specifically it was the part from Deane’s drop, through the slightly wooded section that then loops back up to the top of the rock garden. The rock garden itself was within the farm boundary but we could see it from the fence. In the half light we climbed over the gate and found ourselves at the top. The rocks looked a lot smaller on tv! There was a range of rideable lines, but the potential for disaster was everywhere.

Sadly (or maybe luckily, as it would have probably ended badly for us!) parallel barred fences have been placed across the descent preventing anyone from having a go. After popping off a few photos and taking in the views we became aware of the sound of an approaching engine so made our escape over the fence to the top of Deane’s drop. Again the cameras had failed to do this section justice. The 20′ height of the drop shoots you straight down at that very tight left hander. Carrying the speed that they clearly did in the race made me all too aware of the chasm that separates the weekend warrior from the elite level riders.

Suitably humbled we set off on the return route, taking in much of our outbound route which was welcome as it lent some familiarity to what lay ahead, allowing us to exploit the flow of the wooded sections to a better extent. Despite the lack of vertical that the local geography dictates, it was surprising how much fun there was to be had in the twisty bits.

We arrived back at the meeting point which had thoughtfully been arranged to be outside a restaurant/bar. In the cooling evening air we enjoyed a sip or two and swapped tales of derring-do before giving in to the dropping mercury. Farewells duly exchanged we packed up and headed home on thankfully empty roads.

I look forward to welcoming Mike and his “crew” back to Sussex – I think they might be planning a spring visit. Here’s hoping they can surpass our posse size!


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