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 climbs, great scenery and relatively car-free lanes. You can do one of these routes on an old hybrid or mountain bike… you don’t need the latest road bike. There are hills, of course, though so a smidgeon of fitness is required. And although the lovely green lanes are nearly car-free at times, always bear in mind a Range Rover is about to come round the corner.
I’m partial to a good cycle too, along with various members of the fam, but we don’t think heading out on the busy ‘A’ roads is a lot of fun, so we plonk the bikes on a rack and drive to Downe or Cudham, park up, shed the bikes and off we go.
Here’s route one (Downe, Knockholt Cudham, Downe):
Route map for Downe/Cudham Cycle, 1 Hour by Adam McCulloch on plotaroute.com
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, you should 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 misled; most of the uphills are gentle whereas the downhills are sharper.
Route 2 (via Chevening): Downe, Horns Green, Chevening hamlet, Knockholt, Cudham, Downe
Route map for Downe/Chevening/Cudham by Adam McCulloch on plotaroute.com
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). The route is 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. A third Downe variation, taking in the very quiet but taxing Sundridge Hill (rather than the busier Starhill Rd) is here:https://www.plotaroute.com/embedmap/447637
Route map for Downe/Knockholt Pound/Cudham by Adam McCulloch on plotaroute.com
Route 3: (Downe, Knockholt, New Years Lane, Cudham, Downe). This third route is very quiet traffic-wise and, at 14 miles, is a good little work out with a couple of steep hills. A nice road to cycle down is Blueberry Lane just before Knockholt Pound.
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 and the car park at Cudham recreation ground. 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.