Hellhound On My Trail


It was already dark as my bike and I hissed along the wet country road, though the sun was not due to dip below the distant hills for another half hour. A thin blanket of leaden cloud had clotted on the horizon, diminishing fingers of golden light dripped damply down from the smothered orb suffocating in the greyness. I rode lost in the lanes through this premature, sodden dusk, the day was choking in its final hour, an undignified ending. Barely six miles from home, but turned around by these tracks that weave around each other through the landscape, I had no idea which direction I was facing or what the next village might be. The next village did not appear from around the next bend or crossroads, nor from the junction after that. These were bad, bad choices of direction, the remains of rusted signposts were no help, one of them peppered with holes from a shotgun blast, the names of the villages lay in heap at the side of the road pointing mockingly into the centre of a muddy field. The rain came down, as did the blackness, and soon I rode along a line of silver in the road. This reflection from my lamp on the slick tarmac was my only source of illumination.

A farm on the corner, as I near, a coal-black shape detaches itself from the darkness of the hedge and runs towards me. A dog. Its barking is thunderously loud in the quiet of the evening, jaws hanging open, teeth bared, matching my increasingly panicked pace for twenty metres before I get enough speed up to leave it behind. But then at the next house, another loose dog, huge, angry. The bike is almost in the hedge on the right of the road as I accelerate past the careering hound, it slips in the mud allowing me time to get away.

At the next unmarked crossroads I unknowingly make another bad decision, moving further and further away from any villages. The road goes up and up, I know this can’t be right:

I am in blood
Stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o’er;
– Macbeth

Cresting the horizon, the rain works its way into my clothing and a farm sits on the switchback. This time I sense the dogs before I see them and am already going at speed before they come hurtling, barking out of the open gate. The wheels slip on the mud, my guiding silver trail is gone, I ignore two turnings off to the right, because to cross the road would mean slowing enough that the dogs would catch me. Suddenly the road drops away and I am sucked down a hill and into the inky blackness of a wooded, steep-banked track. I let the bike go for a while as the dogs disappear into the distance behind me, but then I can see or sense nothing. All light ceases save for the weak smudge of silver given out by my front lamp. It falls into blackness, useless. Down, down, always down, the poor bike rides over and through the potholed and water-damaged lane, and I hold on, as a mariner might grip the shattered stub of a mainmast and pray to ride out the storm that hammers his ship. Now the wheels are locked and I am sliding down the hill, mud, leaves, shit… SHIT! I nearly overcook a corner and hurtle over a staggered junction with no time to make an informed choice of road, always down.

Until the bike is at rest, sitting on the raised ford at Wellow with the waters lapping at my feet.

A long walk up the other side of the hill, I turn right, hoping that I am heading for Norton St Philip, and not deeper into Somerset. Under a viaduct, and up a long boring hill, grinding out each metre as the bike fails to find the granny ring. At the top I am in Hinton Charterhouse and heading in the right direction. Tired and hungry the rest of the ride is a blur, clipping the curve at Woolverton, back tyre deflating as I pull into the village. A mere seventeen miles on the clock for two hours or so of riding. Exhaustion.

And the day keeps on worring’ me, there’s a hell-hound on my trail,
Hell-hound on my trail, hell-hound on my trail.

Robert Johnson

Published in: on October 2, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Comments (3)  
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Tuesday Ride XII – The fine art of getting lost

Last Tuesday, John turned up for the evening ride on his own. The distinct lack of Brad to relentlessly drive us on meant that it was a mere fifteen minutes before we were ringing around people we knew en-route who might put the kettle on for us or even offer us some cake. However everyone was rather thoughtlessly not at home, so by the time we go to Westbury, distinctly lacking in the tea and cake department, and no safe port available, we decided that perhaps we ought to do some cycling. John led me out along the road beneath the giant chalk horse carved into the hillside, but we quickly became fed up with motorists attempting risky overtakes or squeezing past us and forcing us into the verge. We turned left, racing downhill and I was quickly off my mental map and into uncharted territory. John’s curse is that he knows the backroads and lanes so well, even by name, that it’s very difficult for him to enjoy the simple pleasure of getting lost a mere few miles from home. However, once we had turned across ourselves a few times, double backed and taken some decidedly narrow lanes (at one point meeting a denim clad grey-haired hippy in a volvo head-on, he had a beard like an old testament prophet and some big aviators on. Without hesitation he put his car onto the verge to let us past on the road), even John wasn’t sure where we were. We found a hill that just took us down, down, down, and John started snapping pics on his phone as we drifted round the forgotten roads. This was blissful, our internal compasses were spinning wildly in the no-man’s land of the wiltshire backroads. Strewn with gravel and flood tidemarks, verges overgrown with grass overhanging the road, bending inwards to the grey, chalk-mud and dust smothered tarmac, these lanes sucked us deep into the landscape. These were old, old routes, cut deep into the Wiltshire soil by generations of feet, hooves, cartwheels and finally capped with tarmac. The road wound its way up again, passing skewed telephone poles and a distant church tower hoved into view. Sadly John now knew where we were.

Me on the lanes

Your author, lost in the lanes - one hand on his hip, freewheeling, bliss.

We crossed a busy road, the traffic seemed shockingly loud and abrasive after the calm of the lanes, then headed for Trowbridge. John and I parted at the pub near his house and I made my way home. As I wheeled the bike down the path at the side of the house, scimitar shapes raced between the gaps in the houses. Swifts diving and screeching at gutter height – beaks open as they hurtled through clouds of near invisible insects before wheeling away and climbing up and up, higher than any of their avian brethren dare climb.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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