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Epsom and Walton Downs: hack ride no.1

Introduction

Marker post at the foot of Middle Hill

Epsom and Walton Downs offer lots of opportunities for hacking. But if you haven't been before, you're not familiar with the hack rides, you don't understand the hack ride marking system, or you just want to be told where to ride, this hack ride might be for you. It's about 8¾km (5½ miles) long, and might take you 1–1½ hours. If that's too short, there are plenty of other hack rides you could explore — or if you're riding in the afternoon, you could combine it with hack ride no.2.

This hack ride can be used at any time of day. If you're riding before midday, and particularly in the early morning, you should expect to see and pass racehorses in training on the downs. If you think that might be a problem for you and your horse, you should not set out before 10:00 (when there are fewer horses in training and none on Sundays), or ideally, midday. And remember to avoid race days and a fortnight either side of the Derby — see the racecourse website for details of meetings; it's also a good idea to check the local council website (scroll down to Events) for other events (such as fun runs) which can make riding less enjoyable. None of this route takes you along roads with any traffic, but you will have to cross several busy roads, and you may encounter cars elsewhere (e.g. near the downskeepers' hut).

Depending on the time of your visit, the day of the week, and the weather, you may encounter other hazards: the downs are not for the faint-hearted! There are dog walkers at all times of the day, and few dogs are kept on leads (although the byelaws required that dogs be kept under 'proper control'): you'd be unlucky to encounter a vicious dog, but it does sometimes happen. Remember that dogs can spring out of the scrub without any warning, so keep well under control when riding along woodland paths and near cover. The downs are popular with kite flyers, and although kite flying is prohibited before noon, and allowed only on the eastern side of The Hill (i.e., east of Old London Road bridleway) in the afternoon, don't be surprised to see activity elsewhere, particularly on a sunny weekend. Model aeroplanes are flown on the highest part of The Hill (between Old London Road bridleway and Walton Road, north of the back of the racecourse) on afternoons (but members of Epsom Downs Model Aircraft Club do respect the rules). And on top of all that, you might encounter cyclists on the hack rides (sometimes permitted), downskeepers' vehicles on the tracks, other hack riders in a world of their own, and families just about anywhere, including picnicking on the hack rides.

The guide below will tell you where to ride. But it doesn't tell you about paces — that's up to you. There are, however, plenty of tracks suitable for trot work, and you will also find several good opportunities for canter if you wish.

The aerial Google mapping photograph below shows the route of hack ride no.1. Please take a map with you in case you get lost (you could take the OS Explorer Map sheet 146, or the official leaflet and map)! Marker posts may come and go, so if you don't find one where one is expected, please try to work out where to go next from the context of the instructions, and from the map. For feedback, email: ewd@craddocks.co.uk


View Epsom Downs hack no.1 in a larger map

Parking

Park your horsebox or trailer in Derby Stables Road. If you're arriving from Epsom town centre along Ashley Road (B290), look out for a sharp left turn into Derby Stables Road after the traffic lights with Langley Vale Road, but just before the equestrian pelican crossing. If you're approaching from the east along Tattenham Corner Road (B290), turn right just after passing the Queen's Stand and the equestrian pelican crossing. Derby Stables Road is one-way at the bottom, so if you miss it, you'll need (if going uphill) turn round at the roundabout or (if going downhill) to go round the block (next right at mini-roundabout, then shortly right again, and right again at the roundabout at the very top).

Park on the left, but not on the grass. Please avoid riding on the grass here (it's not a hack area), and tidy up when you go. This parking area is unenclosed (as is the whole of the downs), so unsuitable if there's a significant risk your horse might break free while tied up.

The ride

1. Ride up Derby Stables Road, and pick up the pavement round to the left.

The double corner to the Derby Stables, on your left, was built in the 1970s, in the same style as the original stable block, to accommodate the new alignment of Tattenham Corner Road when the Langley Vale Road underpass was built over to your right.

2. Ignore the equestrian pelican crossing, and go straight on into Derby Arms Road, past the pub.

There are four equestrian crossings on the downs, primarily for the use of horses in training. Each one cost around 60,000. There is a short delay between pushing the equestrian-height advance buttons and the operation of the lights, and the cycle lasts long enough for a string of horses to cross!

3. Just by the bus shelter, go right over the bank onto the grass, but continue alongside Derby Arms Road on your left.

4. Drop back down onto Derby Arms Road (on your left) just in time to use the equestrian push button (mounted on a post just short of the walkway with wooden railings) for the pelican crossing ahead. (If you push the button, and walk to the crossing, the lights will change when you reach them.) Cross Downs Road, and continue straight ahead along a broad track downhill.

5. After about 300m, the track bears a little left, and (ignoring the left turn) divides into two. Take the left hand of the two tracks, through what may be a muddy patch, and continue straight on. After about 200m, arrive at the crossing of Burgh Heath Road.

Roger Ingram's racing yard, Wendover Stables, is on your left.

6. Do not go through the barriers out on to the road, but turn right, keeping between the road and the golf tee (the tee is raised up on a bank). Continue up hill, keeping close to Burgh Heath Road all the way, with the golf course on your right. After about 300m, begin to drop down slightly, and pass the junction of Burgh Heath Road with Longdown Lane South on your left.

You are approaching Buckles Gap roundabout alongside Burgh Heath Road: looking anti-clockwise around the roundabout are Grand Stand Road and then Old London Road. (Beyond, dropping down hill away from the downs, are Yew Tree Bottom Road and Fir Tree Road.)

7. Continue up to the roundabout, picking up a mown track round to the right just short of the roundabout. Now cross Grand Stand Road ahead of you, just next to the traffic island, and go ahead onto the grass opposite to bear right alongside the next road, Old London Road.

8. Go straight ahead, keeping Old London Road to your left, and after 500m, after breasting the top of the rise, keeping a golf tee to your right, to arrive at Tattenham Corner Road opposite the downskeepers' hut, with the little roundabout on your left.

The downskeepers' hut is where, unsurprisingly, the downskeepers hang out. In an emergency, contact them on: 01372 722931. On the other side of Old London Road is the Lunch Box, which sells hot and cold drinks and snacks, and is open more often than not: ride across into the adjacent car park if you want to use it, and you'll find a little corral on the far side of the catering hut, plus a water trough of uncertain potability. There are public toilets on Tattenham Corner Road, a little down from the downskeepers' hut towards the grandstands (but on the other side of the road): if you want to use them, you can use the hack ride on the right side of Tattenham Corner Road, which runs in front of the lavatory block.

9. Assuming you haven't been tempted away by downskeepers, catering or lavatories, this is a tricky bit as you need to ride round the shoulder of the roundabout on the other side of the road: so before you cross Tattenham Corner Road, watch out for large vehicles approaching from any direction, and wait before crossing if needs be. Cross Tattenham Corner Road at the traffic island opposite the downskeepers' hut, go left on the shoulder of the roundabout round the outside of the small car park by the downskeepers' hut and bear right to drop down to and across the crossing over the racecourse (the Derby Straight).

The dusty brown track ahead is Old London Road, once a principal route across the downs. It was downgraded to a bridleway in the 1960s, when 'New Work No.2' was built, which is the road round the inside of the racecourse.

10. Immediately after crossing the racecourse, turn right through the barriers, and ride along the grass 'platform' immediately adjacent to the racecourse (keep the hard track to your left, and the racecourse to your right). Go ahead along the platform for 470m: on reaching railings guarding a subway across the racecourse, go through a small gap on the right between the subway and the racecourse. Now continue ahead across the grass, and drop down to the hard track at the far end on the left.

This is the Lonsdale inclosure: a rather small and dingy grand stand stood here at the far end until a few years ago. This inclosure is often fenced off during the racing season: a gap should be left at both ends for hack riders, sometimes with heavy gates which may be closed but not locked, but if you can't get through, go to the left of the subway, and drop down to the hard track a bit earlier.

11. Do not join the hard track, but cross straight over it and go steeply down the grass to the crossroads at the bottom of the valley. The tarred road dropping down and back up out of the valley is Walton Road. Cross Walton Road and pick up the reddy-brown track, half right, down the valley.

Walton Road was formerly the main road from Epsom to Walton-on-the-Hill. It remains a public road, but vehicular traffic is prohibited under a traffic regulation order. This bit is still used for access to Downs House, and is popular with cyclists and walkers, so watch out!

12. Go down this valley track for 300m. Watch out for the third post on your left (note (April 2016): the first two posts are missing at the moment, so if the post you see is described as follows, that's the one), well after an isolated tree on the hill on your left but well before a junction of tracks: the post should be marked with a red cross on the near side, and a blue arrow on the far side. After passing the post, turn sharp left off the track. Your route now lies up the gentle valley to the left (not quite an about-turn on the way you've just come): bounded to the left by a low baulk with taller grass, and to the right initially by a bank and scrubby hedge (later, by Downs House Road). Go straight up the valley, taking care not to veer left over the baulk. It's about 340m to the top, which is marked by the line of Walton Road (but beware, the road isn't very obvious until you reach it).

This is one of the best hack areas on the downs, and a good place for faster work, because of the gently rising gradient. The bank and trees on your right mark the near side of the old alignment of the Derby course used from 1848 to 1872. It was moved to its present alignment in 1872, because of the excessively taxing start to the race from the bottom of the valley. You can ride along this bit if you want, instead of riding up the valley: your chance to ride the Derby course! When you reach Walton Road, reflect on the fact that if it were competing in the Derby before 1872, your mount would have 2km yet to go after that climb, on a still undulating course.

13. Turn right along Walton Road, and shortly, at the unmarked junction with Downs House Road (which goes down to the right in the direction you've just come from) go straight ahead through the gap across the racecourse. Continue ahead, to drop down to and across the fibresand track. (Warning: horses may be in training on the grass or on the fibresand track before noon.) Continue straight on through the woods.

14. Emerging from the woods, Walton Road arrives at a T-junction. Go neither right nor left, but continue ahead along a grassy track across 'the Triangle'. Go straight ahead past signs (about horses in training) to the top of Six Mile Hill (or Walton Hill). Continue straight on across the Polytrack and continue down hill along a well-defined route, most of it now tarred. (Warning: horses may be in training on the Polytrack or on the downs below it before noon: please keep a good look-out, seek advice from any downskeeper if stationed nearby, and give way if necessary).

You're still on Walton Road: people used to drive up here until the 1970s (yes, even during the hours of training)! Six Mile Hill is the main training gallops.

15. Drop down to and go through the barriers at the bottom of the hill. Cross the Mactrack and the sand track. (Warning: horses may be in training on the Mactrack before noon.) Turn left along the hard track just below and beyond the sand track.

The sand track is for hack riders' use, but only after midday. It's in pretty awful condition (see here for an explanation) and so use it at your own risk and with care. It's two way: so if you use it, keep a good look out for riders coming the other way.

16. After 150m, just after a gate on your right into a field, fork right uphill into the trees. Immediately inside the trees, fork left by a marker post, to follow a rough track uphill across Juniper Hill. Go ahead for 250m, ignoring a crossing track (four marker posts), to arrive at a T-junction with a bridleway.

This track across Juniper Hill was reopened in 2008, and has great views left and behind over Six Mile Hill. Juniper Hill is noted for its semi-natural grassland, but there's a constant battle to keep back the scrub and woodland. Sheep are sometimes brought here to graze the grass.

17. Turn left and slowly drop downhill along the bridleway through the trees (watch out for cyclists) to emerge from the trees onto a hard track. Turn right, and follow the hard track up hill for about 375m, where it bears round to the left and continues up hill, now with Epsom Lane North on your right behind the hedge. (Warning: horses may be in training on the nearby Mactrack before noon, and if so, they will share your track to return to the Old London Road crossing.) Carry on uphill, past some bushes, until the reddy-brown track swings round sharply to the left (don't instead go straight on through the gap). The reddy-brown track continues along the top of Six Mile Hill, across the six furlong spur off the racecourse, and then alongside the seven furlong spur.

Epsom racecourse has three spurs off the main course, at five, six and seven furlongs. The five furlong spur is unusual in being in a direct line with the home straight, allowing some of the fastest sprints in international racing. The racecourse has special statutory powers to close Tattenham Corner Road for five furlong races. The five furlong spur was the original alignment used in racing on the downs, extending towards the site of a chapel now commemorated in Chapel Grove off Merland Rise. The alignment still marks the boundary between the gardens of houses in The Spinney and Great Tattenhams.

18. The reddy-brown track turns right to round the end of the seven furlong spur (remember, this turn is round the second of the spurs which you ride past). Keep on the reddy-brown track, shortly bearing a little left through the woods, to emerge at the Old London Road crossing of the racecourse on your right. Do not cross the racecourse, but keep straight ahead (keeping the racecourse just on your right).

19. The next crossing is Walton Road, which you used earlier. Now, ignore the racecourse crossing, and go straight over Walton Road. Do not follow the reddy-brown track ahead to the left, but go straight on onto the rough grassy area to the right of it, to pick up a grassy track (sometimes not very obvious) parallel to but about 20m to the left of the racecourse railings. After about 200m the track reaches a T-junction with a path and a wall of heavy scrub beyond it: turn left to follow the small path alongside the scrub, which soon emerges onto that reddy-brown track you left behind a few moments ago. Turn right along it.

20. You have a choice: you may ride on the grass just to the left of (but keeping close to) the track, or remain on the track. Continue along here, gently downhill, for 450m, and follow the reddy-brown track as it bears right and peters out into a grassy track (do make sure you don't miss the right turn, especially if you're riding on the grass). Continue ahead, keeping slightly right, passing just below the very end of the racecourse.

This is where the Derby Stakes race starts from: it's 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards, or 2,423 metres, and the first part is a taxing climb of over 40m uphill to the milepost marker.

21. Just after passing the end of the racecourse, take the left hand of two grassy tracks going ahead, and drop down to a junction of reddy-brown tracks at the bottom of the valley. Don't take any of these, but cross straight over, climb up the grassy bank, and bear half right, ascending gently past three isolated bushes, towards but well to the right of the Rubbing House buildings in the distance (avoid veering slightly left towards Langley Vale Road).

22. Go past the side of a barrier in the far corner of the field out on to Walton Road by the Rubbing House pub (if you're now standing next to the junction of Langley Vale Road and the access road to the Rubbing House, follow the bank of the access road right then round to the left as far as the barrier). Go ahead (don't turn left) past the terrace of the Rubbing House and a drinking trough, and cross the racecourse. Now turn right, and follow the specially surfaced path up towards the pelican crossing near the Queen's Stand. Push the button on the post as you pass, and cross Tattenham Corner Road at the lights. Your horsebox or trailer is just round the corner to your left.




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Page last updated: 23 April 2017

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