I’m not sure how it happened, but I ended up cycling home from Bristol on Friday. I’d taken my Brompton in as I couldn’t be bothered to drive to Bradford-on-Avon, plus I needed to be at the studio I was working at by 09:30-10:00 and the train times didn’t quite add up. I figured that if I rode to Bradford on Avon, then trained to Bristol, I could use the Brompton to ride to Old Market where the studio is. The ride to Bradford was a bit harder than I thought it would be, it’s only about 5.5 miles but the wind was against me and before nine o’clock everyone was driving stupidly fast, very close to each other and not pulling out enough when overtaking me. Rather than have to slow down, cars were attempting to slip past me while traffic was coming in the other direction. Needless to say, the drivers in the opposite lane were not liking this and beeping at the overtakees. It happened four times. Why are people in such a hurry to get to work? Are their jobs so stressful, so cut-throat that their boss will fire them if they are thirty seconds late having been ‘stuck’ behind a cyclist? And what’s with this thing of everyone just following the first person that overtakes without even looking to see if the road is clear? I’ve seen that happen a lot while I am driving. Four cars behind a lorry, the first driver checks the road, overtakes, the second follows, and then the THIRD pulls out and starts overtaking with no way of knowing if the road will be clear or even if there will be enough room in front of the lorry once the first two cars have overtaken. How does the third driver know that the first driver isn’t going to relax and ease off the pedal once they are past the lorry? I’ve watched it happened so many times, it often ends in flashing lights and beeping horns, if not from the oncoming traffic, but from the lorry that has to brake hard to let the idiot third driver in. Anyway that was happening a lot too, streams of traffic overtaking me without checking the road, sometimes on blind bends. At one point I was on a bend and heard the car behind revving up to overtake just as a truck came round the corner. I put out my right hand to tell the car to stay back and thankfully they dropped back, just in time to miss the lorry. Then with the road clear I motioned them past. They waved in acknowledgment that I had spared them from being smeared over the front of the oncoming truck.
Ahead of me in the road I could see the mangled corpse of a pheasant. The cars were all running over it, and as I got nearer I could see that the head and body where smashed into a mush, smeared over the tarmac. The wheels had missed one of the wings which, still attached to the mashed up remains of the torso, was flapping slowly back and forth in the slipstream of the passing traffic, beckoning like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. Another car impatiently roared past me, narrowly missing my elbow.
It annoys me because it makes me feel guilty, that perhaps it’s my fault that these people just can’t wait even those twenty seconds to check the road is clear. If I wasn’t there then surely it would be okay and these drivers wouldn’t be putting their lives at risk. I have a right to be on the road (more than cars do, they are allowed on the road if they have MOT, insurance and excise duty paid) and bikes have been on the road for a generation ahead of cars, but I hate, really hate that I feel in some way responsible for putting the lives of people who can’t drive safely at risk. That’s why I just don’t like riding country B Roads anymore, it’s pure transportation to me, I just can’t get any pleasure out of it now.
I rode on, longing to get off the road and on the train, I felt thoroughly miserable.
Monday evening stayed dry and bright, there had been a fair few smatterings of rain around, and as I pointed the Lemond towards Warminster I could see the dark sheets of a downpour hanging below distant black clouds on Salisbury Plain. A side wind was blowing them towards Shrewton, I felt little concern at the prospect of being rained on as I gently eased the bike up Black Dog Hill. At the top I took the time to examine two posts next to the flyover bridge at Dead Maids Junction. The smallest post was a milestone, similar to others in the area, carefully crafted, smooth and carved with great skill. The larger post turned out to have three small holes, perhaps for bars, and the words ‘Warminster’ and ‘Bath’ in a beautiful 18th century script. I think this must have been the post for the tollgate on the turnpike.
I traveled on towards Warminster, pausing at the garage on the outskirts to replace the batteries in my front light, although the sun was still up, it was slowly heading for the horizon, dipping into low lying clouds and setting them on fire. I went through the centre of Warminster itself, noting some thick redwood trees around the area of the church. These will have to be investigated at a later date. Two shops stood out in the town, both on the Salisbury side of the town centre, the first was the superbly named ‘Gnashermakers’ home of the Warminster Dental Laboratory. What kind of crazy dental maverick runs this place?
For a photo of the lab front click here.
The other shop was called simply ‘Ripoff’ and seemingly deals with bankrupt stock, catalogue clearance and Lord only know what else. The windows were blocked out, perhaps the shop has closed down but I rather suspect that the occluded views hint at nefarious goings on out of the public gaze. The layby in front of the shop was packed with motorbikes, mopeds and trailers. See picture here.
Much cheered by these unexpected shops, I pedaled out of Warminster towards the A36. Still no sign of that rain and the light was still good. As usual for evening rides I had my reflective vest on and my customised helmet stickers which make me look like I am from TRON. There’s a nice bit of open field on the lead out from Warminster, I was drawn off the road onto a chalky track up to an old red-brick railway bridge. The way across the bridge was barred by steel poles, the ground around the structure was crumbling and the whole thing looked very precarious. Now the sun was going right down, the fire on the horizon was spreading, already in the East I could see darkness and stars, the moon was almost half full and high in the sky. Back on the road, I elected to go a little further, here the tarmac was wet and slick from a recent shower, the tyres hissed over the surface, the road-smell after the rain. Left at the roundabout onto the A36, now I was entering the deathzone. Crashes abound on this road, crystals of shattered windscreen piled up in small drifts, tinkling beneath the wheels, here and there a wing mirror, a hubcap, a section of bumper, testament to speed beyond the capability of the driver. Hard against the verge, inside the white line almost 3ft across I hammered the road while the cars screamed past at excessive speed. Black skid marks, the scent of burnt rubber still lingering in the air though the incident had happened earlier in the day, etched into the road , a memory of sudden panic. All too happy to take the left at Knook camp where the road goes off over the plain. Here I decided was the turn back point of the ride, the corpse of a badger served as a warning, its mouth bore the remains of a snarl though I could see no other damage on its body. Fur slicked with rain, eyes almost completely closed, a melancholy sight. Behind me on the side road I had freewheeled down, there was a simple circular sign ‘out of bounds’. I took a photo of the long shadows drawn out over the landscape, mindful of the last half hour of the day’s light. There was no activity in view at the camp, only the hum of the main road behind the trees broke the stillness of the evening. I turned back, crossing the A36 as the dusk overtook me. Now I was cycling through the magic hour, everything seems faster in the gathering darkness. With the sun just out of reach, the air cooled rapidly making me glad I had long sleeves on. With the traffic thinned out, it was easier to ride home, even the artic lorries were a help, pulling me along with their slipstreams, the welcome warmth of a passing diesel engine running hot as it guns the gears to take the roundabout, the glowing-coal red of the tail lights I am chasing. Back on the country lanes, blackbird alarm calls, a single staccato note repeated over and over as I pass Yew Tree Farm. Then into Warminster itself, queues in the chip shop and the chinese, smokers standing outside the doors of the pubs, sharing their exile, Marlboro Country. Out the other side of the town, labouring up the hill under the sulphur yellow light of the street lamps. Now the slow gentle gradient up to the top of Black Dog, then down, down, down. Hands on drops, tucked in, mouth practically on the bars to achieve 41mph. I sat up at the end, opening my arms to slow myself down, for some reason I felt the need to shout “AIRBRAKE!” as I did it, there was no one around to hear me.
Lorries pulling over into laybys, bedding in for the evening, some with curtains already drawn. Then into the village, cycling alongside Cousin Philippa on her way back from her mum’s (age 93), she doesn’t recognise me at first, taking me for a friendly chatty cyclist. Then she laughs as she realises who I am. We amble into the village talking about bikes. She rides her hybrid in wellies, it’s served her well for years and she racks up the miles going to her mum’s every day. We bid each other a cheery goodnight at the top of Lower Street and soon I am back at the house. 26.5 miles.