Country Roiding [sic] Memories of Snow Hill

Having been out on the Brompton earlier on to pick up some vital supplies from the garage, I was in the mood for an evening amble over to Dilton Marsh to pick up a curry with rice from the Full House take-away. That’s BOILED rice, not fried.

me, Dilton Marsh Road

What amazing weather, it was as Summer should be, warm air given off from the road as it cooled, a gentle breeze barely stirring the roadside grass. The few clouds that could be seen were tiny, puffy and white, an unconcerned scattered flock grazing peacefully at the edges of the azure blue sky. Choosing the senic route was a good idea, low gears and an unhurried cadence meant I could hear every cricket’s chirrup as I sauntered down the lanes. New mown hay is one of my favourite smells and it was hanging heavy in the air. Through hedges and gateways I glimpsed cut fields, golden light raking across the hay drying in rows reminding me of happy hours bale-hauling in my teens.

Ah, bale-hauling for the Mitchinsons. I used to cycle to Freegrove Farm, about three miles from Hilmarton. The farm itself is old enough to be mentioned by name in the Domesday Book, and the layout of the fields suggests that not much has changed since the survey was compiled and pressed into King William’s eager hands. Although the route to work was short, it included Snow Hill, a legendary slope in the minds of the children of Hilmarton and Goatacre. If it snowed enough, the school bus couldn’t go up or down it so we would have the day off. To a teenage cyclist it was an imposing slope and riders would take a route round it, climbing up a much gentler gradient by Catcomb that leads through a hamlet with the improbable name of New Zealand, but adding another three quarters of a mile or so onto the journey. Amongst my peers, I was the first to cycle up Snow Hill, fed up of turning left at the bottom I carried straight on up with my friends behind me shouting that I would have to walk up and it would take me ages. I cycled solo all the way up, the gears going down lower and lower, every few pedal strokes; ‘Clunk! Whirrr! Clunk!’ no bidon in those days, no helmet either and probably a pair of cotton trousers or jeans. It seemed to take ages, but when I reached the turning for New Zealand none of my chums were there. It was a good five minutes before they arrived, having sprinted hell for leather round the long route with a mind to reaching the top of the hill and laughing at me as I walked up. It was heroic stuff, especially for me who excelled in no sport of note save a reasonable record when bowling in cricket and an inexplicable ability to do more sit ups in a minute than anyone else in my peer group. I remember well kids coming up to me and saying “‘Ere Ev, Rudder reckons you coicled up Snow Hill without walkin’. That true?’ and I had to repeat the feat with Andrew Wright posted half way up to make sure I wasn’t walking it as I went out of sight from the bottom. Even after I cycled up regularly, very few of my friends made it up. Strange because when I go back, it just doesn’t seem that bad, not that I’ve ridden it for about ten years or so. I’d love to give it another go now.

a diagram of the defeat of snow hill

Bale hauling was damn hard work, I was one of the few to stick it out for more than a week, in fact the only other people who stuck it out were a) the farmer, b) his son. The young master Mitchinson went on to be an accomplished cross-country runner, competing at national level, so you can see the sort of person who had the stamina to haul bales. I was very glad that it was mostly downhill all the way home, except for the hill up to Hilmarton itself. Luckily it was a short gradient, it certainly wasn’t sweet.

Straight off the bike and into the bath, soaking in hot water as the straw and dust floated to the surface. Three quid an hour, a reasonable amount to a teenager in need of new tyres and brake blocks from Ducks cycle shop.

Back in the present day, a splendid ride was made slightly longer by the fact that I had to cyle to Westbury Leigh to get some cash out before taking charge of the delicious takeaway. In Dilton I passed a pierced goth-girl and her beau, both dressed to the nines in black and chains, faces plastered with corpse-paint make up, most impressive considering this is a tiny Wiltshire village. It wasn’t long before I was pootling home, this time with a backpack instead of my trusty Hi-Viz vest to carry the tuck. Got the nod from a couple of roadies on full carbon steeds coming the other way. Just on the Wiltshire Somerset border a tabby cat darted across the road with what looked like a weasel dangling from its mouth, someone else with a slap up nosh for a Friday evening.

By the time I arrived back at the house I had completed another fourteen miles making my full tally for the week 136 miles. I felt I deserved that takeaway, and again may I say that the rice was boiled, NOT fried.

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