A quick ride around Highway on a borrowed bike

After work today, I took my youngest son over to my sister and brother-in-law’s new house in Hilmarton. During the course of the afternoon, my brother-in-law opened up his shed and pulled out a couple of mountain bikes. One of them, a Trek full suspension, was a bit of a frankenbike, with Alivo shifters and XT rear mech. Manitou front forks and v-brakes where there had once been discs. The cranks were mismatched and the cogs worn down, but the frame looked good. The other bike was a blue Claud Butler. Everything looked pretty new on it, in fact it had only been ridden a few times in the two years since it was bought. This was clearly a crime. I asked if I could take it for a quick spin, and promptly rode the three miles to Highway, the spiritual home of the Highway Cycling Group.

This tiny linear hamlet in North Wiltshire is where the genesis of the group took place. My father lived in a semi-detached 1930s cottage here in the eighties, and as he was the founder member of the Highway Cycling Group (or Cycle Group, it changed almost daily)  it was from here that we struck out on many club outings. Not much had changed in the hamlet, apart from there being more cars parked on verges, I guess nowadays the two or three car family is a normal thing. There were still daffodils lining the road by the farm, the old barn had rusted further and seemed to contain more holes. The farm track next to it that leads up to the ridge looked the same. Taking that track will lead you six miles to Avebury stone circle without touching a road.

After the barn the road turns left and then the rider is on Highway Common. This supremely straight stretch of road was a joy to cycle, it still is. The Highway Cycle Group would ride side by side or strung out chatting. very rarely did any cars appear, but they could be spotted over a mile away and evasive action could be taken with ease. In the summer this road is heavy with chalky dust from the dried up mud on the verges, as teenagers the boys in the Highway Cycle Group would hold sprint races here, and great clouds of dust would follow in our wake. Ideally, a rider would pull such a terrific skid that the dust would obscure him from view for a few seconds, only to reveal the rider posed heroically with one foot down and a defiant look on his face. More often than not the dust would clear to reveal the rider sitting on the road next to his crashed bike, wheels still turning.

This road is the antithesis of the typical winding, steep banked, occluded country lane. On Highway Common one can see uninterrupted for maybe a mile or more.  A real treat, was to ride this stretch by the light of a full moon, when the dust seemed to glow and sparkle. Long shadows would reach across the fields, and perhaps, if a rider was lucky, he or she might see a barn owl or a hare.

I saw a hare today, some twenty feet into the field, it crouched down low to the soil when it saw me, ears flattened against its back. I had my compact camera with me and took some video footage as I rode through the hamlet and along the common. The result is posted below.

Then I was back onto the Bushton road. It was much busier than the golden years of the Highway Cycling Group, and I lost count of the cars that flashed past me in both directions. Where Highway seemed to have been in a state of stasis for the last twenty four years, the Bushton Road had been reworked and promoted. New signposts were dotted everywhere and the fields had been rearranged, hedges grubbed out and replanted, ditches drained and fences reset, only the route itself remained the same, the route and its memories..

Published in: on March 21, 2009 at 12:55 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. That’s an excellent video. Very evocative.

    • Thanks Aleppo, and thanks for reading (and watching).


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