Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cycling the hills in Surrey

Summer in England is such a pleasure (when the sun is shining, that is). Flower boxes and the smell of roses everywhere. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit in the tiny village of Ewhurst, which lies between Cranleigh and Shere in Surrey. Here my cousin and his wife share the village with stars like Eric Clapton and Kenney Jones of The Who. Not that they've met them - yet.

Cycling seems to be a popular pastime when surrounded by the Surrey Hills and there are many stunning cycling routes throughout Surrey. The Hills have been classified an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a title which is given to rural areas in the UK valued for its landscape aesthetics. I quickly decide to join in and explore the area by bike. After all, if Surrey is good enough for the 2012 Olympics Road Cycling event then cycling in Surrey is good enough for me.

Reasonably close to Herman and Lalie’s cottage in Ewhurst, lies a stretch of MoD (Ministry of Defence) land. This unspoilt area is set aside by the Ministry of Defence for Armed Forces training. However, they also share the rolling hills with the general public, who use the footpaths to walk their dogs and, as in our case, to cycle through the woods.

After a breakfast of fresh strawberries, scones and clotted cream, Lalie and Herman take the lead through the streets of Ewhurst. They easily cycle up the steep, muddy slope from their cottage in Ewhurst to the MoD park. It is clear that they do this often and have managed to conquer the hill. I am relieved and a little embarrassed by the time I eventually reached the top, but more than happy to see that the hills from here onwards look a little gentler.

Soon we are surrounded by leafy trees, ferns and lush grassy vegetation dotted with white and yellow flowers. We also pass the ruins of a small fort and quite a few other cyclists, joggers and hikers before we have to stop to fix Herman’s tire. Good timing, as we've reached a view point and it's worth lingering. The view from here crosses quite a few counties and, says Lalie, on a clear day you can see the London skyline.

Later we toast to our cycling efforts with some fruit ale, on the grass under the apple tree outside their cottage. Time for a well deserved meal of beef bourguignon and salad, with fresh herbs from the English garden. Ah, on days like this I do tend to agree with Bill Bryson.

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