Cyclists from all over south-east London head off for the nearby North Downs lanes on weekday evenings and at weekends, often en masse as part of clubs. A lot of popular routes (like this one) leave from Crystal Palace/Elmers End and involve Westerham, Downe, Brasted and Cudham with some testing hills, great scenery and relatively car-free lanes.
I’m partial to a good cycle too, along with various members of the fam, but we don’t find heading out on the busy ‘A’ roads a lot of fun, so we plonk the bikes on a rack and drive to Downe, park up, shed the bikes and off we go. Here’s the route:
Go to menu (top right) and click on ‘hills’ to get a profile view of the route with terrain guide, gradients and heights above sea level. The second half of the route, after Hawley’s Corner, is remarkably traffic free but at all times, however quiet, anticipate a Range Rover swinging round the corner ahead of you. There are some fabulous downhill sections later in the ride (Shelley’s Lane, Knockholt and Downe Rd on leaving Cudham) where really high speeds can be built up quickly but please just imagine a car pulling out (there’s one or two driveways) or coming round a corner quickly. The final (steep) hill, back up to Downe village (Cudham Rd), is through Downe Bank, one of Charles Darwin’s research zones. Some massive history right there in those woods.
Here’s a link to a topographic view of the route; there’re more uphills than down but don’t be mislead; most of the uphills are gentle whereas the downhills are sharper.
Below is an extended version of the route, taking in quiet Chevening hamlet (you’ll never guess who sometimes sleeps over at Chevening House).
This one’s a bit longer at 16 miles (say 90 mins) and adds in one gorgeous downhill (Brasted Hill) and one strenuous uphill section (Starhill Rd). Easy to extend to Brasted and Ide Hill, even Hever, if you like, but those roads tend to be a bit busier. On the map it looks as if you have to double back at Chevening but in fact you can take your bike on a footpath behind the church to join the road and crack on up Starhill Rd. Oh yes, Chevening House is where Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis periodically hang out. The church and houses there are very nice though.
If you don’t fancy parking on the street at Downe (sometimes awkward) there is the car park at High Elms country park a mile to the north. Or just cycle all the way from Peckham/Lewisham or wherever. Or get the train to Orpington or Hayes and cycle from there. Take care on the busy roads though.