Guest Blogger – Yalda Davis: Cycling round Suffolk

In an historic first for The Highway Cycling Group blog, we have a guest blogger. Regular readers will be familiar with Yalda’s vintage Raleigh bicycle, but now Yalda has provided a splendid write up of her recent few days cycling round Suffolk, and supplied some terrific photographs that will have you longing to get on your bike and explore the countryside.

Rattlesden church

Rattlesden Church - Suffolk

Having been desperate to get out of London for several weeks, I finally booked my tickets to go to Suffolk with my bike for a couple of days, regardless of the weather – but hoping I would be lucky! Which indeed I was. But first things first – the 6.5 miles from the train station in Stowmarket to my parents’ house (where we always spent holidays when I was a child) I always found a particularly punishing ride – I defy anyone to tell me East Anglia is flat after doing that journey! On a one-gear bike at least…. Well, this time I had a pleasant surprise as it didn’t seem nearly so bad as before – all those 16 mile round trips to work and back with the long hill up to Manor House (London) along the side of Finsbury Park must’ve done the trick! Even the not-so-nice B1115 felt like a treat with the vast expanses of green on either side, and my rats must’ve liked the country air as they slept soundly in my bike basket (in a box of course!) all the way home despite the odd bumpy patch!
The following morning I set off for Punchard’s Farm, otherwise known in our family as the Jersey cows (for obvious reasons) – a favourite place of mine ever since I can remember. On the way I passed the brilliantly named (but only recently signposted) Louse Lane.

Louse Lane on the way to Punchard's Farm

Louse Lane on the way to Punchard's Farm

I was hoping to see some babies of one sort or another, it being the right time of year, and I wasn’t disappointed – a foal about 6 weeks old, and 6 fluffy kittens about 3 weeks old in the barn, in the cosiest little den I’ve ever seen, made of straw bales.

foalkittens

After that I carried on northwards to Rattlesden, a village with a lovely church and pretty thatched cottages. I then had to turn around to head southwest towards Lavenham, intending to take a narrow turn off on the same road as the farm I had just come from, as it is my favourite road in Suffolk (so far anyway!) However I managed to take a different route back for most of it, which satisfied my rather over-zealous determination never to return by the same road where possible!

A favourite lane

A favourite lane

Anyway this particular narrow country lane is my favourite for various reasons – first, it’s so narrow it has grass growing down the middle; secondly, recently I discovered that a farm from my (vague!) childhood memories (which I’d many times decided must’ve been either from a fairy tale, a dream, or else existed somewhere far away that I’d never remember the name of or revisit in my lifetime) was down this road: the low stone walls of the farm on one side of the road, and a pond full of ducks on the other. Nothing more supernatural about it than that, though still it retains that fairytale-like quality that it had in my mind for so many years. Thirdly, along this road is one of the most beautiful old houses that I’ve ever seen – which I now know is called Hill Farm! My fourth and equally satisfying discovery about this road was that there is a poppy field along it – and having not seen a poppy field for a long time, that was an extra special discovery.

Poppy Field

Poppy Field

After the delights of this road, I concentrated again on actually getting somewhere – Lavenham – in time for lunch. For anyone who doesn’t know Lavenham (plenty, I’m sure), it is an old wool town, with lots of crooked old beamed houses from the 17th century and earlier no doubt. It is popular with tourists, and being Sunday, with a French market on in the square, I probably could have picked a far better place to find a quiet country pub with a garden to eat in… Nevertheless, I found a table under a weeping willow, which though rather shady, created relatively successfully the illusion of peacefulness!

Afterwards I cycled the 6 miles back home, stopping at a stream on the way (my eternal quest to find nice rivers and streams in central Suffolk…), to complete a ride of 23 miles – rather longer than I anticipated!
The following day I decided on a less ambitious ride down through Kettlebaston (yet another of the strangely named villages round there….) – where, so the story goes (I wasn’t around to witness it!) my brother once cycled full pelt down the hill, didn’t manage to turn the 90 degree corner at the bottom and went flying into a hawthorn hedge – ouch! Then on to Chelsworth and Monks Eleigh. Chelsworth must be one of the most beautiful villages I know – it’s only minus point is that it lies on that infamous B1115 road where cars whizz past horribly fast. I visited its little church, tucked back behind a house, dating back to the 13th Century or possibly older. Here I did find a river to my satisfaction – I can’t believe I’ve never noticed it before – and I spent a while standing on a little bridge admiring it, reluctant to leave. Sadly all the riverbank seemed to be on private property so I couldn’t laze by it. In Monks Eleigh I enjoyed an icecream in the churchyard at the top of a hill and had a chat with the lady who had come to lock up the church – she seemed to find it odd that I was out cycling on my own!

The River at Chelsworth

The River at Chelsworth

This ride still came to 14 miles, which again was further than I thought this particular round trip would come to.

So – I was having such a wonderful time that I ditched my reserved ticket back to London and bought a new one for the following day – with the determination that I would definitely go there more often this summer!

Oh and on the way back to the train station I hit my record speed down a steep hill – 28mph, very satisfying!

Yalda Davis is a London cycle commuter, a fan of rats, and is Communications Officer for The Prince’s Rainforests Project: Add your voice to the call to stop tropical deforestation before it’s too late at www.rainforestSOS.org

The need for bacon compels me to ride.

The very next day after riding to the Railway Bridges, I had great need of bacon in the morning.

Ah Bacon, food of kings, breaker of vegetarians. Oft have I longed to partake of a sandwich stuffed with thy fulsome bounty, eaten fresh from the pan in a room redolent with the sweet whiff of thy preparation.

So I saddled up the Brompton and rode out into the splendor of the day in search of the magical pig product. The sky was deep blue, laced with gentle white and wispy clouds and the verges were humming with a chorus of grasshoppers and crickets, an insect orchestra performing a glorious symphony in praise of Summer. The sound took me back to cycling holidays in France with the original Highway Cycling Group. Glass bottles of Coca-Cola, handfuls of warm baguette broken from the stick of bread hanging off the panniers on my father’s bike. Poring over a michelin map, on the verge, dry white grass-stalks, heat haze, shimmering mirages on the dusty tarmac, and the steady insect hum from the crickets and grasshoppers.

Riding out of the village I passed the fields of sunflowers, now in full bloom, their faces seeking the light. The main road was busy and I was relieved to pull off into the local farm shop. Then, loaded up with sweet, sweet bacon, I rode back through Beckington to the village, where the bacon was then cooked and consumed.

Why, I even made you a little film of the ride using my compact digital camera. I’ve added some music by My Two Toms, I’m not sure what this track is called, it may even be unreleased, you lucky people.

To the Railway Bridges

Do you know that feeling, when you just ‘have to ride’ ? Perhaps it begins with a restlessness, maybe repeated glances at the window, agitation, sighing, even a little heart-ache. This is the urge to ride, a demanding physical need to spin the cranks, to be moving through the air, to feel the road thrumming beneath the tyres, to bring endless horizons towards you, rolling on, and on, and on.

On Friday I couldn’t get out to join John and Andy on their afternoon ride, but when the chance came to take just half an hour, I had to ride, my bike of choice was the Brompton. The destination was the two railway bridges between Brokerswood and Dilton Marsh. One of riveted iron, straight and wide, the other of brick, arching gently out of the ground. Only a hundred yards or so apart, they span different stretches of track and the junction where the lines part can be seen in the distance from the brick bridge. Maybe a mile or two further in that direction sits another, larger bridge, off the beaten track. No road seems to lead to its grand arch, it will be the subject of another cycle quest another time.

I made another cycle film of the journey- this one is epic by my standards – nearly six and a half minutes long. It’s filmed entirely on my little compact digital camera so the quality leaves a lot to be desired, I would like to think that it has a charming sort of super8 feel to it, but that is very much wishful thinking. The film contains variously, a farm cat, lots of shots of power and telephone lines and pylons, the long hill at Rudge (road technically closed, you can see it’s all dug up) the tin tabernacle at Brokerswood, wheat fields, hedges, verges, the two railway bridges (the iron one only briefly because I could hear a train heading for the other bridge so I turned back and headed for the brick bridge to film it), a train and a feather. The music is by John Cage.

Power and phone lines fascinate me, I think partially because we do such a good job of editing them from our vision and memory. They are so ubiquitous yet it seems to be possible to view a landscape without seeing them at all. A photograph can be startling when it restores these invisible towers and poles that we have edited out of our memories of the landscape.

Pylons viewed from the road between Frome and Standerwick

Pylons viewed from the back road that runs between Frome and Standerwick

For some reason that I cannot articulate, or even fully understand, I find pylons and telephone lines beautiful. I particularly like to see pylons striding out across fields, or better still, a skewed line of telephone poles lining a country road.

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

Telephone poles on the road to Dilton

This fascination of mine extends only to wires and lines, it does not include phone masts, I’m not sure if it includes radio masts. I would very much like to see a map with all the above ground powerlines added.

Apparently one of my first words was “Pylon”.

Wylye Valley Siren Song

Last Thursday, the 29th, I set off to cycle to work in Salisbury. My last commute along this route had been fine on the way there, agony on the way back. I put this down to carrying everything in my dad’s old mountain rucksack. So with that in mind, I loaded up the panniers and set off. There were a couple of initial stops while I worked out the best position for the panniers so they didn’t bang my heels, but generally speaking it was a good clear ride. Standing up out of the saddle tended to alter the balance and the bike would literally throw a wobbly, a slightly nervous prospect on Black Dog Hill. Once I was safely enveloped by the utopian riding offered by the Wylye Valley the bike settled down and relaxed into the road. Either that or I had become used to the new balance.

Ah but it was a glorious ride, sun-dappled lanes and the piccolo song of the blackbird accompanied me as I cruised the route. As I neared the fifteen mile mark, I was overcome by a most curious sensation. I didn’t want to go above fourteen miles an hour, though I was not tired, sore or out of breath. Then, as I rode alongside a crystal clear brook which decanted musically over a miniature sluice gate into a larger pool, I was struck with the notion that I must remove my helmet. There was an odd feeling in my head, I sensed the instruction clearly, so clearly that it seemed as though a voice was on the edge of pushing itself into my consciousness. I drifted to the soft verge, where willows trailed into the cold, playful water, and to my surprise found that I was smiling. As the bike carried on under its own momentum, the feeling faded until I experienced a ‘snapping out of it’, a drawing back, and I started pedaling again. I didn’t actually take my helmet off. Passing the farm shop, not yet open, I surmised that perhaps I had encountered a kind of siren, some sort of psychic manifestation of the Wylye Valley route itself. What would have happened had I given in and removed my helmet? Would I then have been compelled to abandon my bike? Perhaps enter the water and slip below its icy surface into the world below? Only the bike would have been left, panniers full “..They say the back wheel was still spinning when it was found by the side of the stream. And no trace of him were ever found”. Perhaps the strangest thing, to my mind anyway, was the sense of immediacy; this was very much the present, not some longed for nostalgia that the ride had evoked. Oh for sure the ride is reminiscent of long summer cycles with the original Highway Cycling Group. Days when the verges were vibrating with the sound of crickets, echoed back by ticking of a freewheel. Days when we would cycle along a forgotten ghost road on the downs while lapwings flocked about us, five hundered wings beating in unison. Squinting into the sun to look for a skylark, a tiny dot producing such glorious melodies; waiting outside a sleepy post office, guarding the bikes against no one while my father bought the drinks and the cakes. Yet this was not a longing for a return of those days, this was a new song, the sheer pleasure of being alive, in this place, in this time, and on my bike.

The experience coloured my whole day, and the rest of the ride bought further richness. A stag headed oak, majestic in the center of a field of ripening corn. Another corn field, this one laced with blood-red poppies, revealed by every puff of the tiny breeze tipping the corn ears down, exposing the flowers hidden amongst the stalks. Even the traffic heavy final dash into Salisbury could not diminish the power of the Wylye’s siren song.

On the way back, I stopped off at the farm shop, specifically to buy some more lime curd. They remembered me from last time and knew I would come back for more. A quick apple juice and stretch of the legs and I was away again.

At the farm shop

It didn’t matter at all when I passed the spot again and nothing mysterious happened. Deeply happy, I pedaled for home.

The Simple Pleasures of a bike-train-bike commute

I woke too late to bike commute the whole way into Salisbury, so I hauled myself into the shower, got into some trousers so enormous it was like wearing a tent, and prepared the Brompton for a sprint down the A361 to Trowbridge station. Still yawning, I wove up the hill, crested, and put the bikes hubs to the test on a fast descent down the other side. The Brompton is a skittish ride at the best of times, at 30+ mph downhill it’s a study in terror, yet somehow I made it to the junction in one piece. Then it was simply a case of pointing the front of the bike down the road and turning the pedals. On arrival at the station (terrific skid up the ramp and onto the platform – no mean feat with brompton brakes), I discovered I’d missed one train and had forty minutes to wait for the next one. The bike took me into the town centre and located a coffee shop for me. Soon I was ensconced at an outside table drinking a latte and reading a book. This seemed mighty civilized, and it was a great shame to have to knock back the coffee and zip back to the station.

I thought that with the current high fuel prices it would be more economical to go the 31 miles by train, but no, I discovered that the price of the journey had gone up 33% in the last seven months, incredible!

The beauty of the journey soon erased the price from my memory, this is the same route I cycled when I rode to Salisbury a couple of weeks ago. The road crosses and dives under the track all the way to Wilton, sometimes mere feet from the track, other times it moves away, dipping behind an embankment or veering off to visit a lonely farm before rejoining its symbiotic partner, the railway track. I sat back and imagined my doppelganger riding at a speeded up pace level with the train. All those little milestones on the journey compressed into a blur of memories, the train moving too quickly to allow the mind to dwell on things like the toad crossing sign, the concrete bridge, the post office, the ox-eye daisies in the hedges, the constant pedal freewheel pedal freewheel rhythm of the rolling lanes. Train journeys seem to be a kind of time travel, you sit down, there is constant noise, but the feeling of motion is barely perceived. Very quickly (hopefully) you arrive at your destination. Strange, yet completely normal.

Cycling through Salisbury was a joy, apart from the fool who stopped on the bikes only bit at the traffic lights on Fisherton Street.

Friday Ride – bike troubles

Folly LaneI don’t know what it is about John, every time he says “Do you mind if I bring a mate along?” it turns out to be a super-fit individual who leaves us puffing and panting in his wake. Friday 6th was no exception, John’s friend Andy joined the illustrious list of riders who have helped up our average speed. We met at the pub on the A361 then headed out towards Rudge and Dilton. Almost immediately Andy was complaining of a knocking from the pedal area which seemed to be going through his foot, but it was John who forced the first stop of the day in a routine that is becoming a regular on our rides, his spokes pinged out. Actually, Andy didn’t really drive us too hard, it had been a while since he and John had met up so we ambled along the lanes at a reasonable, though not stupid pace. As we headed past the trout farm by Dilton Marsh, we saw a weasel dart out in front of us, I say we, John missed it, he was looking at a dead squirrel.

The glorious sound of three chainsets working in unison was rather ruined by some creaking from the front end of my bike. Having just come up the Hollow (me at the back) the bike was protesting alarmingly. John suggested tightening the handlebars – which seemed to do the trick. We took the ghost road from Upton Scudamore to the outskirts of Warminster, effectively shaving off a corner of B-road and also saving us some pretty nasty traffic interaction. Zipping round the outskirts of Warminster, I had to stop when a client phoned, the others waited up ahead. Business taken care of we set off again, this time for the Wylye Valley. As Andy and John used to work in the same bike shop, they regaled and entertained me with various stories and bits of bike wisdom during the ride. It wasn’t long before we swung a ride into Five Ash Lane. Ah, now this was bicycling! This quiet wooded road was alive with bird song and festooned with gorgeous wildflowers. The forest perhaps once was a solid commercial venture, a plantation, but careful forestry work and management have broken the monotony of lines of timber trees. This woodland was alive in every sense, plenty of undergrowth, a variety of trees, airy space. Huge, lush green ferns and flowering rhododendrons lined the verge and the sun sparkled off the myriad leaves and dappled the tarmac with shade as we rode down the lane. Then suddenly the road dropped away and we were hurtling downwards, just missing some seriously bad potholes, we were disgorged onto a main road. A plan to head back via Chapmanslade was ruined by John puncturing. As we stopped at Folly Lane, I took the now standard picture of John repairing his wheel. Note also Andy examining his pedals.

Andy adjusts his pedals, John repairs his wheel and tyre - as usual

With time now very much of the essence (I needed to get back to the village to pick up the children) we abandoned the Chapmanslade plan and headed for the A36. The stretch towards the beginning of the Warminster bypass was dealt with quickly and at speed, we caned up to 28mph and that was going slightly uphill! Next, Black Dog and some pretty serious downward hurtling. Finally, the long, slow drag up to Beckington, and this was were I very much came off the back. Staying up all night on Wednesday to launch The Prince’s Rainforests Project website suddenly caught up with me, as did the lack of quality nutrition and energy in my garage bought lunch. I just slipped into a lower gear and pedaled through it. Andy had gone on way ahead and I didn’t see him until I finally caught up with John and we arrived back at the pub carpark we had set out from. For me it was 24 miles and a good ending to what had been a massively mixed week. We pledged to make this a regular thing of a Friday and parted ways, the others heading back to Trowbridge and me to pick up the kids, crucially, on time.

Into the Valley of The Wylye

t shirt one t shirt two

Many years ago, while I worked for Ottakar’s books, all the staff took part in a company wide effort to raise money for the children of Deogarh in India. One of things I did was a sixty mile cycle ride to our head office in Salisbury from Trowbridge, and back again. Considering how unfit I was at the time, it was an epic undertaking. John (who I still ride with on the Wednesday rides) was our guide, taking us into Salisbury via the beautiful Wylye Valley, rather than the hell that would have been the A36. At the top of this post you can see the front and rear of the T-shirt I made for the ride. I made one for everyone with the rider’s name on the back and their number, 1-4 on the front and sleeve. Below are some more pics from the ride.

warminster-no-casualtieshalfway-point-carefully-arranged-shot-of-spire-ruined-by-claridgeheroic-cyclists-at-head-officestart-of-phase-2-james-sees-the-troops-off

On Saturday I took a ride out from the village and ended up retracing some of the route we took on the sponsored cycle ride. We had been promised foul weather, but although it was very gusty, there was no rain in the air. I headed for Dilton Marsh, then took the road up The Hollow. This was the steep hill that saw one member of the group simply exclaim “Oh F*** off!” and dismounting to walk up as soon as he saw the gradient. I remember cycling up behind John, but being unable to breathe at the top as we waited for the other two to walk it. This time I took it with ease, crossed over the road and headed for Upton Scudamore. On the way I passed the layby and bridge where in April I had seen a seriously filthy amount of flytipped rubbish. I’m happy to say that someone has tidied it up. here’s a before and after for you:

Rubbish! Little or no rubbish!

Through Upton and over the main road to another ghost road. A fragmented old stretch of tarmac overgrown and crow-haunted, it deposited me almost by the Warminster sign, next to a crab apple tree by the side of the road. The back roads of Warminster saw me wondering if I was taking the right route. It seemed to me that in retrospect, the sponsored riders appeared to have stopped off at every grocery shop on the way. I crossed Imber Road and sped down long stretches of tarmac dotted with speed bumps, still not 100% sure of where I was going, sat up in the saddle with one hand on the handlebars I drifted towards Bishopstrow with the vague recollection that we had at some point crossed the A36 via a bridge. The only way that could have happened was if we had gone over the Warminster bypass. So I headed that way, tacking my back a little like a sail to allow the tail wind to push me through Bishopstrow village and, yes, over the A36. There was little traffic on the road and I crossed the bubbling Wylye river in peace. Here on the backroads I simply turned the cranks and enjoyed bicycling, cow parsley brushed my shins as I rode close to the verge. A myriad range of birds, swallows, buntings, finches and sparrows, dipped and sped across the road at head height. Sometimes they stalled into the wind, flapping wildly but unable to make headway as the gusts rose and fell. Across the tall grass in the field, the wind blew in eddies and currents; where the evening sun struck the seedheads the ripples of light moved over the surface of the field, tracking the path of the zephyrs like waves on water.

Rather like when fishing, cycling connects you intimately to the movements of the breeze. On the banks of a pool or lake, with the bait in the water, you notice that the wind rarely moves in one direction. You will see your float drift one way, then another. After a while you learn the subtle changes that signal a change of wind direction. So it is on the bike, the wind is moving around you all the time, a gust will almost stop you in your tracks, but then as it dies it creates a sort of patch of pressure where the wind seems to be sucked back the other way, suddenly driving you forwards. On such days it can feel as though you are being pushed and pulled along, you can ride on the drops when the wind is against you, but sit up tall to take advantage of a sudden tailwind. When the sun is out, it can be quite enjoyable, so much more than sheer, baking heat and still air.

At Sutton Veny I decided I had gone far enough and turned towards the Warminster bypass roundabout. It was a brief ride into the wind, then left, leaving the wind mainly on my right. By the time I got to the lead up to the crest of Black Dog Hill, I was glad of the lorries and using them to draft up the gradient. I arrived back at the house having notched up twenty six miles. Leaving me only twenty to thirty miles in order to rack up 1000 miles on the Lemond Etape since Feb 2007.

Winter into Spring

Tuesday the 12th of February saw me take to the bike for a forty minute ride in a desperate attempt to blast away the cobwebs and force some oxygen into my stalled brain. Work has been hectic of late, which for a self-employed person is of course brilliant, but it does mean my riding time is sparce, right at the point when my waistline indicates it should not be.

redwood tree and bikeAs I pedalled out of the village I attempted to formulate some sort of plan for riding. A time trial? An attempt on my personal best average speed? A pootle? Of course, the pootle won out, though I threw in a couple of sprints in an attempt to convince myself I was getting fitter. Leaving the chill in my wake I hit the A36 at speed, hands on the drops, high gears, the wind whistling through the vents of the helmet and roaring in my ears. By the time I turned off to Dilton Marsh I had reached the point where it was too late to go back and get my wallet in case I needed food to stave off the dreaded ‘bonk’. No matter, with the sprint out of the way I could take the rest of the ride at a leisurely pace and a sensible cadence.

The light was absolutley beautiful, bright and clear, but somehow slow. The sun, preparing itself for Spring, stretched out and gently flung its beams across the earth, sending light dawdling across the landscape, almost rolling over itself as it happened upon hedges and furrows in the frost-cracked fields, wrapping itself slowly around shattered elms at the roadside. The ferocity of the winter storms collapsing with a sigh into the outstretched arms of Spring. Again the hedges were alive with birds, their chatter swelling through the lukewarm air, forcing life into the ice-rimmed road shadows still claimed by Winter.

This was a day made for cycling to lift the spirits. It seemed to me that the earth itself turned beneath the tyres, compelled by the revolution of my cranks to continue its slow tumble through space, guiding the earth’s orbit towards the waiting, welcoming sun. This is why I ride.

At Southwick I pulled into the chruchyard to examine a young redwood, at its mighty base the first flowers of Spring had emerged. Redwoods are, I think, my favourite type of tree. I do not know why this is, perphaps it is their sheer size juxtapozed with their soft bark and relative fragility that I find so pleasing. Even this giant sleeps through Winter, the sap reduced to a sluggish crawl. But now this behemoth, though small for his species, was shaking off the frost to begin another year of incredibly fast growth, for though he towers above all other trees in his vicinity, he can be not much more than one hundred years old.  If left untouched and unchecked he will keep growing, perhaps for another 2,900 years or so. Then, even he must succomb to his winter.

The wheels keep turning.

Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

Of Miasmic fields, weddings and sluggishness

The weekend was spent celebrating a wedding, my wife’s cousin was finally getting married and her family had a reputation for enormous parties to uphold. Consequently by the end of Sunday even my eldest son, normally so full of energy, was tired, moody and begging me to put him to bed an hour early. I seized the opportunity to get some much needed riding in as I hadn’t been out since Tuesday. During the weekend’s festivities I had consumed excessive amounts of cow and pig, now their vengeful spirits had become energy vampires, threatening me with lethargy and compelling me to collapse in front of the television. It was for moments such as these that I created this blog, knowing full well there would come a time when I would want to let it all slide back to the occasional three mile pootle around some quiet country lanes every month or so. Well no dammit, I won’t experience the shame of not blogging a ride for weeks. So it was with a heavy stomach and leaden limbs that I saddled up the Lemond Etape, slipped the Rivendell bidon into its cage, switched on the lights and eased up the path and out of the gate. By the time I hit the main road an apology of a drizzle had started, a continous patter of gentle rain on my helmet added pleasing percussion to the swish of the cranks and the hiss of wet tyres on tarmac. I spun through Rudge at an easy pace and carried straight on past the tin tabernacle and Brokerswood Country Park, now the rain was more insistent, dripping off the helmet and fogging my cycling glasses, the lethargy tugged at my limbs, trying to persuade me to turn back. Then in the middle of nowhere, I heard that fizzing, crackling and buzzing, to my right, the same line of pylons that crosses the A36 by Dilton Marsh was reacting noisily with the rain again. On a ninety degree corner there was a tiny lane off that simply had a dead-end sign, no placenames or destinations but it would take me right under the powerline. I turned down it onto poorly maintained, frost-shattered tarmac, the gravel in the centre and the washed out, undercut banks with their dying ox-eye daisies told of heavy flooding. Barely a car’s width this truly was a road to nowhere, and there, dead ahead stood the crackling steel colossus, its miasmic field buzzing and throbbing in the dusk.

pylon at dusk on a road to nowhere.

As I approached I could feel the air quality change, the hairs on my arms stood up and everything seemed more… squeezed somehow. It didn’t feel pleasant, ahead on the road all I could see was an enormous puddle, perhaps that’s all there was, I didn’t hang around to find out, mindful of Valerie Mushroom’s email warning last week:

I skimmed your cycling blog and am concerned that you might have messed with your own head by going under pylons and power cables – it’s like that at Glastonbury – huge pylons and I’m surprised people were allowed to camp right under the cables especially in such wet and stormy weather. You can hear them hissing and whispering. I don’t like it. Maybe it affected me.
But I was glad to see there were a number of references to food so I know you are still your usual self so no harm done I suppose

I hurried down the hill to Southwick then took a turn off the road where a sign pointed to Scotland and Ireland. I was disappointed to find it was a short no-through road with a few big houses on it, not even a place sign saying Scotland and Ireland. The cow and pig sitting in my stomach whispered that I should just head back down the main road, but I had only gone six miles so I ignored them and turned back past Brokerswood and on to Dilton Marsh. I love cycling through Dilton, if I get overtaken by a car as I come into the village I can keep close contact with it until the other side, that is unless they are speeding. On exiting the village I was relieved to see that all the ox-eye daisies were going over, not just the ones in the sickly lane with the pylon. Now I really was pootling, low on energy but loving the ride I settled into a nice low gear and ambled up the dreary gradient towards the Beckington roundabout, even the traffic on the dual carriage way couldn’t be bothered to speed and I easily got across to the right hand lane without risking my life. To the west the setting sun had turned the sky into an inferno of red and orange clouds. I turned my front wheel towards it and headed into the broiling horizon, the angry sky contrasted with my good mood now that the pig and cow in my gut were finally silent and I had seventeen miles racked up, albeit at a reduced speed.

sky on fire as I head for home

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment