Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day

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Route 2: Greenwich to Guildford via NCN21 & the North Downs

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Summary This ride uses National Cycle Network Route 21 (NCN21) to take you through a cross section of modern London and its suburbs, from historic Greenwich, through the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Catford and Beckenham, before emerging into more rural surroundings beyond Addington. The route through the Downs at Woldingham is surprisingly tranquil. The splendid viewpoint of Gravelley Hill is marred only by the roar of the M25 below. Then the North Downs Way is picked up, with more good viewpoints at Reigate Hill, Colley Hill and Box Hill. Cross the Mole Valley to join the trackway along the North Downs, with another great viewpoint at Denbies Hillside on Ranmore Common. This trackway will take you back to Newlands Corner and the final descent to Guildford at Merrow.
Distance/time: 54 miles (back to Merrow); whole day
Start: Greenwich Overground Station
Finish: Newlands Corner near Merrow
Transport: From Guildford get the train to Waterloo, then cross the concourse and take the lift up to Waterloo East, where get one of the frequent trains to Greenwich (usually one change required at London Bridge). Buy an all-in ticket from Guildford: make sure you specify via Waterloo East, otherwise they may sell you a more expensive (and useless) ticket via the tube. The total journey time should be around 90 minutes. On weekdays, travel after 10am for cheaper fares.

Check train web sites for cycle carriage policy, but bike carriage is usually OK (and at present free) outside weekday rush hours. There is usually one or more special bike carriages: look for the bike logo next to the door. Check train operator websites for engineering works, especially at weekends: replacement bus services will not carry bikes.

From Newlands Corner, you may be able to arrange a lift, otherwise descend on Trodds Lane across the golf course to Merrow for access to Guildford.
Conditions under the tyre: The NCN21 uses suburban roads and paths through parks, all of which have a good surface. The paths across the Downs beyond Addington, and, especially, along the North Downs Trackway are quite rough and for this reason I recommend a mountain bike, particularly after rain when there may be mud. After dry weather, or if you shorten the ride at Redhill, you could get by with a conventional bike.

The route beyond Addington is quite hilly - descending and climbing the north downs escarpment several times.
Reverse route: You can of course do the route in reverse, cycling to Greenwich and getting the train back via Waterloo East, though you would need to avoid weekday rush hours when bikes are banned from trains. One factor to take into account is wind direction. If the wind is from the south westerly quarter, go Guildford- London, from the north easterly quarter London-Guildford: it makes a big difference having the wind behind you.
Route variations: You could shorten the route by cutting to the stations at Redhill (33 miles), Reigate or Dorking, for trains to Guildford. This also avoids a lot of the most demanding part of the route along the North Downs.
Route description: From Greenwich station, leave on the northern side (ie the side you come in on) via the ramp with brightly painted rails. Although you can immediately join the NCN21, pedants will want to start by the Cutty Sark beside the Thames, and perhaps also to look around the impressive grounds of the Naval College. Having done this, pick up the NCN21 signs by the Cutty Sark and set off. Actually, you follow NCN4 West at first, with a short stretch along the A200 Creek Road before picking up the NCN21 proper down Copperas Street. The route is quite well signed, and it is too tedious to tabulate all its twists and turns: hopefully my Google map will be helpful, and I also strongly recommend carrying the London cycling guide Maps 7 (Greenwich) 11 (Catford) and 13 (the Downs).

The 6 mile stretch down to Cator Park and Kent House Railway Station is also called the 'Waterlink Way', and makes the most of the available parks and the Ravensbourne River. You pass a number of stations, both overground and DLR. The route continues through Beckenham and into South Norwood Country Park. Here you cross the Croydon Tramway and enter a more suburban area to Addington, where the Croydon Tramway is crossed again, and followed to New Addington.

Beyond New Addington, the route is much more rural, following a mix of quiet roads and bridal paths. After skirting Woldingham Golf Course, the route enters the grounds of Woldingham School, where a good but quiet road climbs through a very pleasant valley to join the North Downs Way at Winders Hill. The A22 is crossed on a dedicated bridge and the route arrives at the view point on Gravelly Hill, before descending a track and passing under the M25 and then the M23. At this point, the NCN21 is left. Pass through Mertsham to join the A23 (CARE- busy road). Head south on this road then right onto Rocky Lane, and, after about a mile, turn left into the sanctuary of Gatton Park. Here a track rises through woods to arrive at a car park, view point and refreshment stop on Reigate Hill.

Now cross a bridge over the A217 and carry on along the track to another fantastic viewpoint on Colley Hill (with a sort of Grecian folly housing an orientation table). Keep on along the track, avoiding paths going downhill to your left, or flat to your right. When you reach Dewriding Plantation marked on the 1:25K OS Map, you need to take the bridleway heading north, then a bridleway heading west, and then turn left onto the B2032, right onto the B2033, then shortly left onto Boxhill Road, which takes you (unsurprisingly) to Boxhill, yet another viewpoint.

Descend (spectacularly) to Burford Bridge, cross the A24 (subway) and take Chapel Lane, then left on Ranmore Common Road, which rises steadily to Ranmore Common. Just after Hogden Road on the right, where Ranmore Common Road bears right, a track carries straight on: take this. This trackway follows the North Downs all the way to Newlands Corner. It is fairly easy to follow, but take care to check your bearings at any junctions: it is quite easy to take a wrong turn.

It might be nice to arrange a lift from Newlands Corner, but failing that get back on the A25, the take Trodds Lane on your left to Merrow and onward to wherever.
Refreshments: On the NCN21 between Greenwich and New Addington, you are never far from shops, pubs, cafes etc. I stopped at Cafe Oscars in Ladywell, which does good snacks.

There are cafes/snack bars at Reigate Hill, Box Hill and Newlands Corner (up till around 4-5pm, anyway), and pubs in Box Hill Village and West Humble.

Points of Interest At Greenwich, be sure to at least pause to admire the Royal Naval College with its painted hall and grounds running down to the river.

Cutty Sark has been closed to the public for conservation and is currently (2010) surrounded by hoardings. But the riverside walk gives good views across to Docklands.

The Waterlink Way is an established part of the National Cycle Network, connecting a number of parks and green spaces in South East London while following the Pool and Ravensbourne Rivers.

The Croydon Tramlink is, by British standards, an innovative transport project. It was opened in 2000 and now carries 20 million passengers per year. Interesting fact: The first commercially viable passenger tramway in Britain was the horse drawn Surrey Iron Railway between Wandsworth and Croydon, opened in 1803: the modern tramway runs in part on the old route. When you first cross the tramway, the Crystal Palace Transmitter can be seen towering to the North West.

340 acres of the 600 Gatton Park Estate are owned by the National Trust, the other 260 acres by the Gatton Trust. The Park was landscaped between 1762 and 1766 by Lancelot 'Capability Brown', and is now home to the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, a co-educational state school with Boarding and Day Boarding for pupils aged 7 to 18. The Millennium Stones sculpture - a set of upright stones - is passed in a field as you begin the ascent to Reigate Hill. These stones were created by Richard Kindersley during 1998 to 1999 to mark the double millennium from AD1 to AD2000. The first stone in the series is inscribed with the words from St John’s Gospel, “in the beginning the word was …”. The subsequent nine stones are carved with quotations contemporary with each 200 year segment, ending with the words of T S Eliot.

Reigate Fort (National Trust) was built in 1898 as a defensive structure to protect London from potential French invasion. It was actually a "Mobilisation Centre' rather than a Fort, its main role being to house engineering equipment (tools etc). The Fort is accessible between dawn and dusk, though one may only enter the buildings on a guided tour.

A bit further along, Colley Hill is also owned by the NT, with open downland and "The Inglis Folly", a sort of Greek style rotunda, donated by Lieutenant Colonel Inglis in 1909. It was originally a drinking fountain but now houses a direction indicator.

On Ranmore Common, Denbies Hillside (open access) is managed by the National Trust. As well as panoramic views southwards, this is an excellent location for downland flora and butterflies in summer.

Netley Heath on the North Downs Trackway nearing Newlands Corner is part of the Shere Woodlands managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. During late 1943 the area was billeted with thousands of Canadian troops as the allies prepared for the Normandy landings in June 1944. The woodlands contain many concrete roads, water tanks and the brick footings of military buildings which were used by the Canadian forces. A concrete circular water tank is passed on the route.
Finding your way The NCN21 is reasonably well signed; there seem to be several options around/through the various parks, but I didn't get lost in any major way. The London Cycling Guides Maps 7, 11 and 13 cover the route through London at large scale. See the links page for more details. The Sustrans map "Downs and Weald Cycle Route' is also handy (it covers NCN21 as the first stage of the route from London to Brighton and Eastbourne).

Once you get onto the North Downs, and especially after you leave the NCN21 around Mertsham, the Ordnance Survey 1:25K Explorer maps will be essential: 146 (Dorking) and 145 (Guildford).