In praise of Box Hill

12th April 2019
Over the last couple of days a lovely little local climb of mine, Box Hill, has been getting a bit of a pasting on social media (see in particular this tweet and its replies) seemingly because of this picture:


Box Hill - a bit of on outlier in this selection?!

As is usual, most of the criticism comes from jealous and insecure Northeners who need everyone to know they have mole hills that are longer and steeper than Box Hill. When the words on the page are "iconic Box Hill" their brains seemingly cannot process it is as anything than "difficult Box Hill". But iconic doesn't mean difficult, it means something like "famous". So here is my defence of Box Hill
  • It is popular. On any weekend the cafe is overspilling with dozens if not hundreds enjoying their achievement. How many Strava segments have more than 100,000 people making more than 700,000 efforts? Almost any time you head up there will be some to chase (or try to hold off). And indeed how many climbs have a National Trust cafe directly at the top?

  • It is historic. It has been a staple of the club run since at least 1879 (as this archive of the gazette of the London Bicycle Club shows). And, yes, it was a focal point of the 2012 Olympics when the Men's race ascended it nine times and the women twice. It *is* kind of cool to cycle in the tyre-treads of Millar, Froome, Wiggins, Stannard and Cav on a hill where they were watched by 15,000 people.

(Image from Box Hill: Andrew Wright, National Trust)

  • It is pretty. If you stretch your mind a bit, the smooth zig-zags and view back into the valley do offer a faint echo of an Alpine ascent. And the view from the viewing platform over the South Downs (and Gatwick) is great.

  • And it can be hard. Ok at 2.5km of ~5% it is hardly hardhard. But that makes it a "sprinters hill" which you can make hard by pushing at it (e.g. leave it in the big ring). Put it this way, I've really slogged it up there and still not got within a minute of Andre Greipel's time (5m45 from roundabout to top). Feel free to beat him and then say its still not a hard effort. Additionally, it's almost always the last of 5, 7 or even 9 of the Surrey Hills before heading from home, so is rarely done without something in the legs. [In Simon Warren's 100 Climbs book he rated the climb 3/10, but that was on the old relatively rough road before the Olympic re-surfacing, so on his scale it is perhaps 2/10 now.]

  • And finally, my brother proposed to his (now) wife at the top of it. And they're quite cool people.