07 December 2021

Pedal around… Surrey Hills

September 21, 2011

Surrey Hills have always been a popular haunt for cyclists in London and the South East. These rolling chalk downs set within an area of outstanding natural beauty attract a few hundred cyclists on any weekend.

Surrey-HillsBox Hill is a well known meeting point and is a great place to stop for tea and cake after conquering the famous zigzags to the summit. Thousands will be here next summer as the eyes of the world watch the action during the 2012 Olympic road races.

This route focuses on off-road cycling, which is every bit as popular as road cycling in the area.

Our ride starts in Dorking and goes up to another well known hill in the area, Leith Hill. At 294m above sea level its summit is the second highest point in the South East, and if you climb to the top of the tower you will definitely feel like you are on top of the world!

From the station it is a short trip along the cycle path on the main road to reach Denbies Vineyard. The sight of the vines stretching a long way up the hill gives a continental feel to the place. Apparently the wine is good too! The road climbs up gradually as it becomes a gravel track and then suddenly rises up very steeply, making this section a tough slog. The bridleway is just about rideable, but I come very close to getting off and pushing my bike.


Once at the top I have a nice ride through the trees to reach Ranmore Common where there’s a pretty church, and further along, the welcoming sight of an ice cream van.

It is rather bumpy ride along the bone dry trail that runs parallel to the road, so some may prefer to give their butts a rest and ride on the road. If time permits it is worth crossing the road to enjoy the spectacular panorama over Surrey from this point.

From being on high in the openness of Ranmore Common, the route then delves into the forest and plunges down a steep trail. Some people may feel happier walking the tricky sections. Others will find this quite an exhilarating descent, which continues a long way down. Be ready to stop near the bottom as there is a gate that needs opening in order to cross the train line.


After the railway line the route goes along a single-track to reach Westcott village where from here it is mainly uphill to reach Coldharbour village. Apart from a couple of short sections the gradient is not difficult. The noticeable feature here is the way the terrain and landscape have changed. Where previously there was deciduous forest on narrow muddy, gravelly trails, I am now on Wolvens Lane fire road among coniferous trees with lots of ferns. The mud and gravel has now been replaced with sand. So, although the gradient is not tough, the ground under-wheel presents new challenges – especially following the rainy days we have had!

As this is a byway, I find myself sharing the route with a couple of 4×4 vehicles, some motocross bikers, and even a galloping horse! Well, at least these other trail users have helped to plough a descent furrow in the sand for me and my bike!

For those looking for a greater challenge than this wide trail, there is a parallel stretch of twisty single track, known locally as Summer Lightning where you can satisfy your adrenaline craving by racing between trees and through bomb-holes. Just look out for riders coming down this section as you race up. I am happy to plough my way along the wide byway.

Surrey-Hills-3The end of the fire road marks the arrival into Coldharbour village where various people are congregated in the car park – walkers, mountain bikers and horse riders are sitting on benches or on the grass having picnics. This is a good time for me to stop for a drink. A pub across the road is conveniently located for those looking for something more substantial and stronger!

After a quick refreshment break it is time to complete the final uphill stretch to reach my destination, Leith Hill Tower. The early part of the trail is a little steep, but with a bit of force I get over the lump and continue on a gradual, gentler climb past the cricket club and among the trees before enjoying a short, technical descent to the home straight.

This home run could be dubbed “steep hill challenge”. Many cyclists attempt to ride up this steep, root infested slope and see how far they can get before needing to put a foot to the ground. Like many others, I only manage to ride a third of the way up before fear of my front wheel lifting up makes me stop. A few people valiantly manage to get more than half way up the trail, but on this day no one can conquer the Leith Hill ascent.

Fortunately, there is an easier alternative – a hidden trail which follows a back route up to the tower and is perfectly rideable. This option is good enough for me so I go leave the masses to take this lesser travelled route and arrive at Leith Hill Tower feeling fresh. It’s good to have a little energy in the tank to climb the stairs to the top of this 20m-high monument.

My journey back to Dorking is very pleasant, especially as it is all downhill. My legs have worked today, so I am happy to give them a rest on the journey home.

Road Book

Distance: 27km (17miles) Total amount of climbing – 605metres (1985ft)

Terrain: Hilly

Surface: 90% bridleways

Difficulty rating: 4

Map: OS Explorer Map 146

From Dorking station cross the A24 using the subway or the pedestrian crossing. Turn right to travel towards Leatherhead along the cyclepath. Turn left at the mini roundabout to enter Denbies Vineyard. Follow the road and the bridleway towards the back of the estate. Ride up the path and follow the gravel driveway. Climb the steep hill and cross the North Downs Way. Half way up the steep hill take the right fork. As the trail levels off take the right fork at the junction. Follow the trail and cross Ranmore Common Road to join the trail on the opposite side of the road. Follow the trail to emerge on Ranmore Common near the church. Turn right to follow the bridleway that goes alongside the road, which turns right to go through Ranmore Common. Turn left (cross the road) into the byway at Dorking Scout Council and Ranmore Campsite. Follow the byway downhill. At every junction take the path which goes downhill. Descend the steep hill, crossing the railway line and continue to the end of the bridleway. Turn right onto the tarmacced road, passing a couple of farms and follow the road which rises slightly and then goes down Hole Hill.

At Westcott Street Bridge turn right into Balchins Lane and follow the road to the end. At the T-junction turn left onto the A25 and then immediate right into Rookery Drive. Turn left onto the bridleway and follow the trail up the steep incline to the T- junction, then turn left onto the fire road. Alternatively, take the single track which runs parallel to the fire road. Continue along the same trail (Wolvens Lane) all the way to Crockers Farm and Coldharbour village. At the car park turn right and go up the steep trail between the houses. Pass the cricket pitch and take the left fork. Follow the trail and then drop downhill to the junction of trails. Turn left up the steep trail. To reach Leith Hill Tower either continue up the steep trail or take the first right onto the narrow bridleway and then turn left at the crossroads of bridleways.

To return to Dorking station, retrace the trail back to Coldharbour village. Leave the car park and turn left onto the road which goes down hill. At the bottom of the road turn left at the T-junction and join the one-way system. Turn right at the traffic lights onto the A25 towards Reigate and continue along Dorking High Street. After the shops and before the petrol station turn left and join the cycle path onto the A24. Either cross the road at the pedestrian crossing or use the subway to reach Dorking train station.

Fact Box

Train: Dorking, Dorking Deepdene, Dorking West Boxhill and Westhumble


Restaurant: Denbies Wine Estate, London Road, Dorking, RH5 6AA. Tel 01306 876616. www.denbiesvineyard.co.uk

Pub: The Plough Inn, Coldharbour, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6HD

Refreshment booth at Leith Hill Tower

Cafes in Dorking

Bike Shops

Head for the Hills, 43 West Street, Dorking RH4 1BU. www.head-for-the-hills.co.uk

Halfords, 111-113 High Street, Dorking RH4 1AL. Tel 01306 878560

Nirvana Cycles, 2 The Green, Guildford Road, Westcott, RH4 3NH. Tel 01306 740300

Places of Interest

Leith Hill Tower, Leith Hill Lane, Dorking RH5 6LY. Tel 01306 711777. www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Denbies Wine Estate and Vineyard (see restaurant listing above)

Polesden Lacey, Great Bookham, nr Dorking, RH5 6BD. Tel 01372 458203. www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Maria David, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Image credit: Aodan Higgins

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