In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.

Recently I have been reading so much about urban riding, mainly on Copenhagen Cycle Chic, that I have been feeling that I’m missing out by cycling in the countryside. I have been longing to put on a suit and ride a classic roadster, or swing down to the coffee shop and pick up a latte, perhaps meeting a friend, also on a bike. Walking a bike over a zebra crossing, signaling to rejoin the traffic, waving at a van who’d let me in. Maybe I would have a newspaper rolled up under my arm, or I would be balancing the coffee or doing something equally urbane and sophisticated.

But today all that went away in one ride through some arcadian country lanes. I had worked hard all day and was feeling drained and lethargic by the time the evening came, so much so that I couldn’t be bothered to change into my cyclewear, and just clipped up my jeans – slapped on a hi-viz vest (the sky was bruised and dark) – and put on a cycle cap. The helmet sat on the rack of the bike while I decided which way to go, in fact I forgot about it and it sat there for the whole ride. Leaving the village I headed over the mill bridge towards Bath, but turned left when I hit the A36. Almost immediately I turned right where a small sign indicated ‘Laverton’. and I was off the main road and into narrow country lanes. As I rode down the rough tarmac the sound of the A36 diminished then disappeared completely, to be replaced by the sound of the wind in the oak trees and the sweet singing of blackbirds, sparrows and finches. The hedges closed in and the banks rose up, more old roads, older than maps and carved deeply into the hills over generations. Massive oaks, stag-headed, leaned over me as I wended my way along what seemed more track than road. At every crossroad and junction I guessed my way as there were few signposts to guide me. It felt wonderful, the few signs pointed towards villages that I had not heard of, and I was only four miles from home. The hum of machinery from the open door of a farm building, the smell of a dairy, something I remember from my youth, cows, straw and sweet milk – mingled into a cascade of scent and memory. The road continued through farmyards, disappearing under mud and gravel, stones washed away from the banks in a flood and left high and dry in the centre of the track, here and there water seamed to be bursting from holes in the road where springs had worked their way up through the tarmac, memories of rivers, streams born again after the rains.

Every now and again, the road opened up at a corner and the verge disappeared into a morass of cow hoofprints where the animals had stopped to drink at a roadside spring on their way between field and dairy. These were drovers roads once, before the days of the cattle trucks animals were funneled down these steep banks and high hedges to market, even today the air was thick with their bovine-stink, surprisingly a not altogether unpleasant smell.

Cornfields near Lullington

Cornfields near Lullington

I worked out that I must be headed toward Frome, and the roads opened out a little, now meandering past golden fields of standing corn, or the green fuzz of maize. I saw a hare with black-tipped ears nibbling at the base of the plants, unconcerned as I watched from a gateway. Then down a hill, the road crumbling and eroded by water until suddenly I was in Lullington and passing what looked like a castle. The old village pump still stands, protected by a wooden shelter. This village seemed ancient, as old as the roads that lead the rider into its boundaries. The foundations of its buildings were laid long before even the mightiest of the mighty oaks that stood amongst the houses was a sapling or even an acorn. The clouds swept overhead in the strong winds, dappling the streets with occasional flashes of sun, giving the impression of time moving fast, speeding up while the village remained constant and unchanging. The bike carried me through it all, my own time machine descending toward the river. Then suddenly a huge modern dairy, all sheet metal, pipes and carpark, loomed up from around a corner. Cars flashed past at the end of the junction, the main road to Frome.

I knew where I was now, back in the 21st Century. On the way home I reflected back on the ride and realised that I am lucky to live out in the countryside.

“Romae rus optas; absentem rusticus urbem tollis ad astra levis.”

In Rome you long for the countryside; in the country you sing to the stars of the distant city.*

*Translation taken from the site Sweet Juniper

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Reading this post I was with you every inch of the way. Very evocative. Took me back several decades to when I lived in Sherborne, then Dorchester, then Cirencester. Thanks for the memories.

  2. It’s good ‘ere, innit. In my area it’s the Radstock-Frome-Shepton triangle where I enjoy getting “lost” in.

  3. […] The scope for vivid, descriptive writing is great indeed and to give you one current example click Highway Cycling Group to see what I […]

  4. excellent translation.

  5. jdg Hooray Thank you for dropping by, I had noted down the translation from your site – specifically the entry on buying the family home – which moved me greatly, and then two days later I wanted to send a link to your blog to show someone else and couldn’t remember what it was called (I had arrived at your blog by following a link from someone else, possibly one of the 30+ blogs I try and read every week – and then couldn’t find the linking article again), so thank you for commenting, I’m glad to have found your blog again. For everyone else, if you want to read a really, really beautiful blog post about someone finding their original family’s home then please click on this link http://www.sweet-juniper.com/2008/07/homestead.html I promise you it is well worth it.

  6. Just WIlliams pointed me in the direction of your blog, and having read this post, I’m extremely pleased he did so. As one commentator has already said, it’s very evocative, and also took me back to my childhood memories of country lanes near my home, which I walked and cycled regularly, and now miss. Though I’m fortunate enough to still live in a very rural area, here in South Wales, it’s not the same as I remember, it’s not just that I was young back then, but more, it’s the faster pace of life in everything we do, nowadays, that precludes our innate appreciation of time and our surroundings. This, I would guess, has been degenerating through several generations now, as we all have “progressed” to a higher and better standard of living, but at the same time life has lost it’s real quality of basic simplicity, to use an Americanism, i.e.,”having time to smell the roses”. As “human beings”, it’s not just global warming we have to worry about, we are all being dehumanised at a more and more faster rate, loosing touch with our roots in mother nature. What it will be like in a hundred years hence, I dread to think, because I’ve no idea at all, how we can stop the rot, who does?


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