As climbs go it’s not really that tough, there are certainly harder climbs closer at hand. Unlike many of these, save perhaps Ditchling Beacon, Box Hill retains some kind of magical hold over roadies in the south east of England, and perhaps even further afield. It’s this pull, and probably that is was used as part of the course for the 2012 Olympic road race course that sees thousands pedal their way to the Dorking-based climb each weekend.
I venture up there about once or twice a year, put off in part by the hoards of other cyclists filling its bends and the area at the top by the café (I’m partial to a bit of space and clear air), and by tourists chugging their way up in their cars slowing any attempt at a PB; so the key is to pick your day visit well. Stay clear of weekends if you can, particularly bank holiday weekends for these can be hellish. Whilst it’s great to see so many other people out on their bikes it can detract from the experience if all the space is taken. Roadie and vehicle populations swell as people are drawn to the National Trust land to ride this iconic climb, and take in the wonderful vista the looks south towards Sussex and the coast, turning what can be a fairly quiet road into something much busier and ruin any serious attempt you plan on making a quick ascent, which can be irksome to say the least.
I wish I’d listened to my own advice.
Me and my two riding buddies, Stan and Henry, headed north from our meeting point, up and down the rolling Sussex lanes, past copses and lakes under a blue sky and a hot sun, chatting about Froome’s Giro victory, the glorious weather embracing us, as if it had been created just for us and this ride, and the amount of horses we were coming across en route. As we arrived at the foot of the approach road to the Box Hill climb proper we passed riders getting their bikes out of cars – it seems people drive here to then ride up, bypassing the ride to and from Box Hill. I’m sure they have their reasons, but that seems a tad odd to me.
Turning the corner onto the climb we push on and Stan and I pace each other up, past other riders and around the switchbacks as Henry gets stuck behind a car and he waves goodbye to any attempt at challenging his PB. The same fate awaits Stan and I as we approach the summit, just after the sprint section of the climb, much to our annoyance. As the car turns off we dig in and push on past the National Trust café, around the corner past the viewpoint, and on to the postbox where I take my feet of the gas and begin to look for the entrance to the parade of shops that houses Destination Bike, a bike shop that also sells coffee and cake.
Chats ensue as we sit in the sun, sipping flat whites and soaking up the vitamin D. There are other roadies beside us enjoying the same pursuit, but not as many as I had feared there would be on this bank holiday Monday.
Rolling home we stop for an ice cream moments before the dull, threatening rumble of thunder roars over the South Downs. Deciding this is a good juncture to push for home we set off, now joined by flashes of lightning in the distance. The weather remains on the horizon and it looks like we might just be alright here. However, not one minute after Stan tempts fate with “I think we’re going to be fine, boys” we ride right into the storm the weather forecast had been warning was coming all weekend. The hail stings our skin as each hard sphere hits us and we very quickly become soaked, puddles swish and sway in my shoes, my glasses now all but redundant as the spray kicks up; we would most certainly not be “alright”.
Arriving home I was wet, a little crumpled, yet exhilarated. You don’t get a ride like that every day. Plus, Box Hill wasn’t that packed for a bank holiday. What do I know?!