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Surrey Hills Society on the Marmite topic of cycling

PUBLISHED: 09:21 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 09:21 16 May 2017

Literally, a 'Marmite' rider relaxing at the top of Leith Hill! (Photo: Christine Howard)

Literally, a 'Marmite' rider relaxing at the top of Leith Hill! (Photo: Christine Howard)

Archant

Whether you love cycling or hate it, efforts are being made to appease both sides. Chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Christine Howard, reports

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2017

***

Mention cycling here in Surrey and the reaction is similar to mentioning Marmite. It strongly divides the public! However, the number of people who love cycling is growing ever stronger and therefore the conflicts on our rural lanes and paths are too.

Cycling UK, formally CTC, is an independent cycling charity that works to inspire people to get out to try cycling, and improve facilities for those that do. Formed in 1878, it now has over 67,000 members nationally and 6,500 of those live here in Surrey.

In 2016, Cycling UK carried out the largest survey to date of off-road activity in the UK. It received 11,500 responses. The number one reason given for why people rode bikes was for health and fitness, with 58 per cent saying off-road cycling was very important for their physical health and 66 per cent saying it was important for their mental health.

Interestingly, despite all the technology and apps now available to give you information on routes and maps, most riders said they appreciated signposts and way-markers on routes, especially novice riders, while 85 per cent of responders said the current system of path networks for walkers, horses and bikes was difficult to follow and link together on “legal” routes.

Wheels in motion

Here in Surrey, there is a group called the Surrey Hills Mountain Bike Working Group. It includes, among others, Surrey County Council’s Countryside Access Team, landowners like the National Trust, the Surrey Hills AONB unit and Cycling UK. They are trying to improve the route network for mountain bikes and horses across the area. The idea is, by clearly marking the routes and creating a proper network of legal routes for cyclists, then this will reduce the conflict between all the users of the Surrey Hills.

Part of the scheme being planned is for the North Downs Way (the long distance walking route that runs from Farnham to the Kent border and then on to Dover). The idea is to give alternative “legal” bike and horse riding routes to reduce conflict with other users on this National Trail. It is based on a similar successful scheme on the South Downs Way and Peddlars Way.

The south east of England is the most densely populated part of Europe. Despite this, we have managed to protect the Surrey Hills as a special piece of quintessentially English countryside within a stone’s throw of London. Many people love to use the Surrey Hills for their recreation. Indeed, as the Cycling UK survey proved, many people feel it is crucial for their well-being. However, the sheer population pressures here in the south east does create conflicts of interest.

I applaud the Surrey Hills Mountain Bike Working Group and Cycling UK for this excellent initiative to improve access for all.

• If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Surrey Hills Society or joining one of their events, visit surreyhills.org/society

***

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We’d love to hear your views on the topic of cycling in Surrey. E-mail editorial@surreylife.co.uk and the best correspondence will feature on our letters pages.

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