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Epsom and Walton Downs: hack ride no.2

Introduction

The sand track at the foot of Six Mile Hill in better days

This is the second hack ride around Epsom and Walton Downs. It's about 13¾km (8½ miles) long, and might take you from 1–2 hours. If you wish, you can combine it with hack ride no.1 — only a short stretch of ride is covered in both — which would make for a total ride of 22½km.

Unlike hack ride no.1, this hack ride can be used only in the afternoon (i.e., only after midday). You'll also find the route a little more challenging to follow than hack ride no.1: some of the way lies across hack areas where there are no marked paths, so you'll need to follow the instructions particularly closely at times. As always when considering a ride on the downs, 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 roads (there are special equestrian crossings on the busiest, but visibility elsewhere is sometimes poor), and you may encounter cars elsewhere (e.g.on the inside of Tattenham Corner, and on private drives).

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. If you're riding in the afternoon (as you should be on this ride), you're unlikely to encounter horses in training; but some hack riders do let their horses fly where the ground is good.

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.2. 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, including any comments on these instructions, email: ewd@craddocks.co.uk


View Epsom Downs hack no.2 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) to 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 towards 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 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, and keep right reasonably near Ashley Road.

4. At the roundabout, cross the top of Downs Road (coming up from your left) at the traffic island next to the roundabout (keep a particularly good look out for traffic on the roundabout turning left into Downs Road). Go through the small gap in the low bank opposite, and turn immediately right. Go up to the marker post near the roundabout and turn left. You should now be facing alongside Grand Stand Road, with a long car park ahead of you, and fine views over London to your left.

This is a popular spot with motorists who come to park and admire the view (some even get out of the car). You will be closely scrutinised as you pass by!

5. A path leads ahead just to the left of the corner of the car park, becoming increasingly well-defined, and parallel to but eventually about 20m below the edge of the car park. Continue along here, with Grand Stand Road always a little to your right, for around 800m in total. On the way, you will need to go round the left of two smaller car parks, each time returning to the main path parallel to Grand Stand Road. As you approach a golf tee squeezed up to the road (with Buckle's Gap roundabout ahead), just hug the edge of the green, reasonably close to the road (don't worry, this is a hack ride, and the golfers won't be peturbed).

Epsom Golf Club started in 1888, although the game was played here well before that. The club occupies much of the downs north of the racecourse. Some of the tees have encroached on the hack rides over the years, so don't be too worried about riding on the fine downland turf, so long as you don't stray from the designated routes.

6. As you reach Buckle's Gap roundabout, pick up a well-defined track in the rough round to the left, just short of the roundabout itself, which now takes you back down hill alongside Burgh Heath Road (which is now on your right). After about 75m, go straight ahead over the golf course path by a barrier, the way ahead now rising again. You continue alongside Burgh Heath Road for around 500m in total, initially with the golf course fairway on your left, then picking up a path between bushes, over another golf course path, finally with a substantially raised tee on your left, before joining a well-defined path from the left above Wendover Stables.

Roger Ingram's racing yard, Wendover Stables, is directly ahead.

7. Turn right to cross Burgh Heath Road in the corner by Wendover Stables, next to the white barrier. Look and listen particularly carefully for traffic coming up the hill: visibility is poor. Go straight over into the drive opposite, immediately picking up a shady path straight ahead which goes gently down hill along the northern edge of the downs. After 300m the path joins another surfaced driveway at the entrance to Lark Hall: continue straight on, up hill, and then across the practice driving range of the golf course.

There may be some noisy dogs in the grounds of Lark Hall. Very likely, the gates will be closed, and just as well. Fortunately, the emu is unlikely to stray from the terrace.

8. As you near the end of the track, with the club house on your left, and Longdown Lane South ahead, turn right just after the hack ride marker post (which itself is just after some dark green mats used for driving practice). Now continue alongside Longdown Lane South, keeping left of the hack ride marker posts, soon picking up a well-defined path through the trees, and eventually joining a chalky track which passes above a golf tee, to emerge at a crossing of Burgh Heath Road. Cross over the road (again, visibility to the right is poor), find your way round the barrier on the far side if it's closed, and immediately turn left alongside Burgh Heath Road.

You are approaching Buckles Gap roundabout alongside Burgh Heath Road, in the opposite direction to a little earlier: 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.)

9. Continue up to the roundabout, retracing your earlier steps, and picking up the 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 close to the next road, Old London Road.

10. Follow the track ahead with Old London Road on your left. After 70m, and after having passed some scrubby bushes on your left, cross Old London Road opposite a post on the other side of the road (there is quite a drop off the grass onto the road on the near side).

The post marks the former T-junction with Longdown Lane South, adjacent to which you rode a little earlier. This part of the road, south of Burgh Heath Road and across Grand Stand Road, was stopped up in the 1960s.

11. Having crossed the road, turn right and pick up a path parallel to the road. Follow the path through the trees. On emerging onto a grassy area, keep left near the fence line, to arrive at Tattenham Crescent next to the left hand corner of the Lunch Box car park.

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

12. Go straight over Tattenham Crescent, and follow the wall of the Tattenham Corner pub round to the left, to arrive at the equestrian crossing of Tattenham Corner Road. If you can use the pedestrian height push-button, so much the better; alternatively, follow the drive just beyond into Tattenham Corner Stables, and you'll find an equestrian-height mounted push-button just out of sight (if you use the equestrian-height one, it's nicely timed to allow you to reach the crossing again). Cross over, and go straight ahead to pick up a path adjacent to the race course.

Epsom racecourse has three spurs off the main course, at five, six and seven furlongs. On your left is the junction of the five furlong spur with the main course rounding Tattenham Corner. 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 of the old course still marks the boundary between the gardens of houses in The Spinney and Great Tattenhams.

13. At the far end of the path next to the race course, go through the railings onto Old London Road, and turn left across the race course.

You're crossing the home straight of the racecourse. 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: that's the road on the inside of the racecourse as it rounds the famous Tattenham Corner.

14. On the far side of the crossing, don't follow the road around to the left, but go straight ahead through the barriers, along the Old London Road bridleway. Now, the next bit is tricky! Ride up here for about 125m: far enough to have passed the first hack ride marker post on your right (not counting the posts near the crossing), but not to have reached the second (and well before the bridleway has a kink to the right). Turn right onto the grass. Your objective is to keep about the same distance south of the home straight of the racecourse, which will take you down into a slight dip, before climbing a modest hill beyond. There are two hack ride marker posts visible ahead: keep these to your left. But don't allow your route to drift too far right, nearer the race course, where a further two posts mark your right hand boundary. If you get the direction about right, you should, after you've breasted the top of the rise, find yourself somewhere near a stony grey track heading north-west (slightly right) off the hill down hill to join Walton Road at the bottom of the valley, from where Walton Road (a tarred road across the downs) continues up towards the Rubbing House (a pub to the left of the Queen's Stand). Don't follow it, but keep straight on, above and to the left of the track, to pick up Walton Road, where turn left. Above all, avoid straying so far to the left that you end up near the model aeroplane flying club ground.

You've been crossing The Hill, the rise of ground inside the racecourse which offers good views of the home straight, and so is packed with spectators on racedays (there is no charge to enter the Hill). If you stray too far north, nearer the home straight, you'll be crossing the training gallops parallel to the racecourse; if you stray too far south, you'll encroach on the model aeroplane flying area. A series of posts mark this southern boundary (with blue arrows on the near side, and red crosses on the other side), with the last such post on Walton Road itself. Try to keep to the right of all of these posts, but to the left of the ones alonside the training gallops nearer the racecourse.

15. Continue along Walton Road: depending on where you joined it, you may be climbing uphill initially, but it soon levels out.

You may find a training gallop laid out across the road with material spread on the road to provide grip, and barriers to direct horses in training across the safe crossing.

16. About 100m before reaching the back of the racecourse, but immediately after passing a hack ride marker post about 10m off in the grass on the right, turn right onto the grass. Don't go straight down the slope: your route is to go half left across the modest dip, heading for the entrance across the back of the racecourse into Downs House, which is about 330m down from Walton Road (the entrance is at the top of a line of trees which marks the far side of the dip). When you've crossed the dip to arrive opposite the entrance, climb up onto the road, but don't follow the road across the racecourse into Downs House: instead turn right so that the road becomes a track next to the racecourse, going slightly downhill.

The bank and trees below you to 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're now heading down to the start of the Derby Stakes, which is 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards, or 2,423 metres, from the finishing post. By the time you reach the start, just before the end of the racecourse, you will have descended 40m from Walton Road: despite the realignment of the racecourse, it's still a gruelling start to the Derby.

17. About 60m before the end of the racecourse (and pretty much where the starting gates for the Derby are stationed), the rough surface of the track peters out into grass, and the track forks: take the right fork, away from the racecourse, heading back down to the valley. Keep straight ahead, down to the bottom of the valley, where you should see a reddy-brown path along the valley bottom, and another one which joins it out of the woods to your left (this last one is marked, where it enters the woods, 'racehorses only'). Don't take any of these tracks, but instead take a grassy path into the woods between the 'Y' of the tracks where they join.

This is Beech Wood: the path through the woods was reopened in late 2009, after 20 years or so of neglect.

18. Continue along the well-defined track through the woods, which emerges opposite the start of the fibresand track. Go straight across and slightly right here, to pick up a path just to the right of the railings which enclose the fibresand track. This path runs all the way right of but next to the fibresand track, between it and the backs of houses in Rosebery Road. After 630m, a turning opens up on the right after the last house in Rosebery Road: ignore this, and keep straight on. After another 280m, you reach Walton Road (which is here no more than a track), with an equestrian crossing of the fibresand track on your left (the first available equestrian crossing of the fibresand track). Here, turn right instead, into the woods, on Walton Road once more. Soon emerging from the woodland, cross straight over Old London Road onto the grass beyond (still on Walton Road!), known as the 'triangle'. Now, do not follow the track straight ahead, or any particular path, but head half right across the rough grass, looking for a path into the woods in the far right corner, which is marked with a yellow sign, just about visible from afar at the moment, warning against cantering (at certain times of year, the ground can be quite difficult going: feel free to work your way round on established tracks, but make sure you end up in the corner. In any case, do take it slowly).

19. The path through the woods has a sandy base: continue through to the end of the woods, emerging on the top of Six Mile Hill, with another track joining acutely from the right. Go straight ahead, and emerge onto a hard surfaced track as it turns a corner: turn left onto the hard track (but not sharp left out onto Six Mile Hill), and just before some woodland, turn left, and follow the grassy path (the ground is currently rather disturbed following previous works) round to the right, along the edge of the woodland at the top of Six Mile Hill. After an all-too-short 250m, the path rejoins the hard track which you left a few moments earlier. Continue downhill along the track, to reach a five ways junction at the start of the Mactrack.

There are three all-weather gallops on the downs, only for the use of racehorses in training: all of which you have now encountered and envied: the fibresand track, the Polytrack along the spine of Six Mile Hill, and the Mactrack along the foot of Six Mile Hill. Hack riders have the sand track, which you're coming to shortly, and which is now pretty awful. But then, you don't have to pay a hefty fee to maintain the training grounds!

20. Don't turn left onto the Mactrack, however tempting, but take the next left, below and parallel to the Mactrack through the woods (this can be boggy in places: the only section of this ride where you're likely to encounter mud even in the wettest of weather). The path emerges out of the woods: here, go straight ahead onto the sand track, or if you prefer, follow the hard track just below it.

This ought to be good: about 1.5km of sand track on a generally steady ascent towards Epsom Lane North. However, parts are poorly drained, parts are too deep, and the initial 100m or so is plagued by flints which float up from the base beneath. Maintenance has now ceased altogether and it's in pretty awful condition (see here for an explanation) and so use it at your own risk and with care. This isn't one-way, so beware of riders coming the other way, also riders crossing at the Walton Road crossing (after about 500m), walkers crossing just about anywhere, and dogs behaving as dogs do. You are allowed to leave the sand track at any time to pick up the hard track just to the right (not left to the Mactrack please), or vice versa, even if that means clambering over the shoulders of both tracks.

21. If you make it the full 1.5km on the sand track, you'll find it peters out onto the adjacent hard track a little short of Epsom Lane North (if you've already picked up the hard track, watch out for the sand track where it merges with yours). And the hard track then veers left, with a hedge dividing it from Epsom Lane North, and the Mactrack soon coming in on the left. 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.

22. 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). Just after rounding the corner, turn left along the grassy ride just next to the woodland, along the top of Six Mile Hill. After about 300m, look for a path into the woods on your right: this should be next to a litter bin. Just inside the woods, turn left, and follow the path through the woodland and soon out onto an open grassy triangle which you encountered (from the other side) at 18. above. Now turn right, and follow one of two broad grassy paths which converge towards the Old London Road crossing of the back of the racecourse. Go over the crossing, and turn immediately right along a tarred road. From here onwards, you may ride on the (initially narrow) strip of grass between the road and the inside railings of the racecourse (it gets wider, but never enough for two abreast, and always watch out for oncoming traffic on the adjacent road). After passing a patch of gorse on the other side of the road, you may (if you wish) cross over and ride on the grass just on the inside the road (strictly speaking, you should keep between the road and the posts). Continue ahead, on the grass on either side of the road, right round Tattenham Corner until eventually, after a complete semi-circle, you arrive at the other Old London Road crossing of the racecourse (this crossing is the one across the home straight): you came across here at 13. above.

23. Don't retrace your steps over the crossing, but go straight ahead, through the gap in 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.

24. Bear right along the hard track, and roughly opposite the far end of the Queen's Stand, go right off the track onto the grass again (this will avoid encounters with vehicles outside the Rubbing House car park), and go ahead to the crossing of the racecourse just outside the Rubbing House restaurant. Cross the racecourse, and bear right along a specially surfaced path towards the Queen's Stand. Press the raised button mounted on a pole to operate the equestrian crossing lights: cross the road, turn left, and your horsebox is just around the corner.




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