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

Failed milk run turns into hour long country ride and semi-delirious yearning for tea and scones

Reading Rodinsky’s Room and drinking a cup of tea today, I suddenly had the urge to make some scones. This was perhaps because I had been baking bread (in a breadmaker so I hadn’t actually been baking bread, I’d been measuring ingredients into a container then pressing some buttons) but I really fancied mixing and baking some scones to go with my cuppa. Unfortunately the kids had slupped up all the milk. So I gave a cheery wave and saddled up the Brompton to head to the garage. I was slapdash with the gearing but not really caring as I wove out of the village and crossed the A36 to take the old Beckington Road up to the garage. However there was no milk to be had at my local dealer in petroleum spirit. Feeling a bit flabbergasted I remounted the Brompton and turned towards the local farm shop, visions of scones fading rapidly. Pulling into the carpark I thought “Excellent, not too many people here”, however this turned out to be because the place was closed, and only six minutes ago! Seven Damns and a great big side order of BLAST! I headed into Beckington, hoping against all reason that there was a secret village shop that I knew nothing about and not only is it well-stocked and welcoming, but also open at 14:15 on the Sabbath. Pootling through the village quickly disabused me of my fanciful notions and soon I was heading out of Beckington on a road I had not travelled down before. It took me under the A36 and along some very pleasant lanes past old farms and cottages. Now I really was off the beaten track, but there had to be a way back to my village along here somewhere. I phoned in to say everywhere was out of milk and I was out of luck so I was heading back to the house. However I missed my turning somewhere and went through to Rudge. I didn’t much fancy going back up the hill I had just come down so I continued along the road towards Brokerswood. It was very breezy but actually quite sunny. Dust blew across the road in billowing clouds from the dry ground at the field edges. With my upright position on the Brompton I could see over the hedges to the round bales gracing the stubbled fields. Swallows swooped close to the ground, hungrily feasting on tiny insects and preparing for their migration, it seems to me that the end of summer is a pleasingly melancholic time. I am by nature an autumnal person, though I shall miss the light Summer evenings and the opportunities for riding they afford.

I really wasn’t handling the gearing well at all, the bike drifted side to side on the road, moving under me as I made no effort to pedal smoothly, hills were laboured or taken in too low a gear, so much energy wasted. Into Southwick, only to discover that Southwick News closed at the ridiculous hour of one pm! I pictured the news-vendor at home with tea and scones, milk probably lifted from his own store at the end of its sell-by date. I wondered what jam he was dolloping onto the fresh sconnage, what brand of tea was infusing in his teapot. I imagined some Tescos value strawberry jam, all pips and oversugared gloop. PG tips in a cracked mug, stewing nastily, scum on the surface. Has this philistine no sense of service to the community? Can he not see that I’m hurting for tea and scones? I had the feeling that I was tipping over into a type of afternoon tea deprived insanity so I ceased hammering on the glass door and groggily rode the Brompton into a brutal headwind all the way back to the village.

I was saved later by a BBQ provided by my father-in-law and, now sit sated on sausages, steak and blackberry crumble.

I could still do with a scone though.

Published in: on September 2, 2007 at 8:03 pm  Comments (2)  

Evening Milk Run

Well the wind dropped down to nothing, the rain stopped and we were out of milk. Having just come off from a skype call with my colleague and chum Jez, author of the blog Novemberfive, I siezed the moment and decided to take the Brompton out into the fading light to the garage. The Moon had just eased into the sky and was just hovering above the horizon, full, fat, a hint of red on its plump circle. The main road was deserted save a slumbering refrigerated lorry in the layby that joins the A36 to the hidden, near forgotten old Beckington Road, with its overgrown milestone and crumbling, dead elms. Apart from the light, it felt more like eleven p.m. than half past eight. The Brompton handled the hill easily. On the flat, you could pedal in a Brompton’s lowest gear furiously and the bike would probably just fall over, on a hill it glides up effortlessly; slowly, but effortlessly nonetheless. It wasn’t long before I had loaded up the stuffbag with goodies from the garage and was my way back. Dusk came down incredibly quickly, In the few minutes I was in the garage the moon had slimmed down and climbed high up, the cars all had their headlights and.. gulp! I had no lights. Luckily I had my Respro Super Hi-Viz vest. The greatest thing that I have discovered about the vest is that will easily carry a full portion of saveloy and chips in one pocket (see image for example).
Saveloy and Chips held easily in Respro super Hi-Viz vest
It also lights up like a Christmas tree if even the teeniest beam of light hits it.

Over the roundabout, first left and back into the village, bringing the milk back just in time for a cup of tea. Lovely.

Published in: on May 30, 2007 at 10:30 pm  Leave a Comment