Ride, ride against the dying of the light

One thing the Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club cannot be accused of is “going gentle into that good night”. The Wednesday after the wildly succesful Rode Village Festival – the committee met in The Cross Keys pub to have a post-fest meeting. This being done, and the libations and rituals of preparation being completed (i.e. no small amount of ale, lager and spirits consumed), the ride could take place. This time we had the Rev Philip Hawthorn, curate of Hardington Vale with us. It always pays to have a man of the cloth around when riding the darkened lanes of Somerset and Wiltshire in the gloaming. For these are old roads, and it is an old darkness we ride through. No matter what armour to superstition and fear your sensibilities and beliefs have provided in the warm glow of the day, it all turns to rust when riding beneath the pale ghostlight of a waxing moon.

Anyway, Phil rides a rather splendid Specialized, a large frame as he is long of leg, and a keen cyclist to boot.

At 23:30 the last embers of the sun had long burnt out beyond the horizon. Only the dull orange glows of nearby towns tinted the furthest reaches of the sky. We headed out of the village via crooked lane, drifting briefly from the old sideroad across the A36 and onto the road to Rudge, as a lost spirit might materialise from a wall covering a long forgotten passageway and glide across a landing before vanishing into the opposite wall.

With four lights blazing we shot down the hill at Rudge, hung a left at the bottom and continued toward Brokerswood, turning right at the tin tabernacle and headed for the railway bridges. We took turns at the front, and as we approached Old Dilton, Mike made clear his intent to go up… The Hollow. In truth, there was nothing we could do, Mike had spoken what we all surely felt, this malevolent slope was sucking us in like a black hole, its gravity was too strong to ignore this far past dusk. We crossed the double roundabouts by the church. The only mercy was that night had mercifully becloaked the upward gradient in its mantle – that we would not be overawed at the hills severity. The pools of light cast forth from our bikes darted about the tarmac and the banks as the slope took hold. Spotlit glimpses of branches, thorns, earth and asphalt flashed about us as we wobbled our way up. Every now and again we caught sight of one of our companions in the bikelights, an afterimage of a rictus grin of grim determination burnt onto the retina when the light fell away to crazily dart around the banks as we struggled to maintain our upward course.

Then, against all odds, the ground leveled out – not only had we taken The Hollow at speed, it seemed incredibly short compared to the other times we have ridden it. Too numbed to change up gear, we spun the cranks crazily fast on the flat and hungrily gulped down great lungfuls of air as if we had emerged, crazed with the bends, from exploring the crushing darkness of an oceanic abyss.

Turning right at the top proved to be an alarming choice as more than one car shot past us with seeming scant regard for our safety. The noise of their passing all the more alarming given the quiet country lanes we had emerged from.

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

We crossed the A36 and disappeared into the cthonic darkness of the lanes around Frome. Mike led out on the descent towards the town, Marcus pumping his legs like mad at the back to keep up on his mountain bike with its smaller wheels and heavier tread. The streets of Frome were near deserted and we had the sulphur glow of the streetlamps to ourselves, our shadows flickering about us as we passed from one pool of light to the next. Taking up the whole road we freewheeled together, the nocturnal peleton (or nocaton as Phil called it) shot through the narrow streets and into the town centre with incredible speed. Another hill up out of the town, past Iron Mill Lane and then left towards Lullington. The Creamery was lit up as milk was churned into the small hours. Up the hill we rode, a skeleton oak stood stark on the horizon, a warning of the hill we were approaching. Marcus and I rode far off the front racing each other down the final dip, a foolish act of faith as we rode faster than the eye could take in the tiny spotlit area ahead of us. We waited at a crossroad to take the picture below:

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Rode and District Nocturnal Velo Club

Finally we wheeled our way back into the village via The Mill, Mike peeling off down his farm track before Marcus and I said goodbye to Phil who powered off up Nutts Lane.

Around 20 miles accomplished, a good workout and a magical ride.

If you are local and you wish to join us on a Nocturnal ride – leave a comment below and we’ll try and arrange something.

Per Noctem Volamus

Rodeanddistrictnocturnalveloclubinvert

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The meeting being finished before 10pm, Mike suggested some spurious festival business that would enable myself, him and Marcus to cycle around in the dark. By the time I got the bike and reflective gear out, and Marcus had pumped up the tyres on his under-used mountian bike, the festival business had evaporated with the discovery that we were out of festival posters (for details of Rode Village Festival go here). The dark had gathered around us and it was ten thirty before we set off, the gloaming having passed, we were into the night.

It was still amazingly warm, the tarmac retained more than just residual heat from the baking hot day. Earlier I had noticed that the tar painted on the telephone poles in  the village had started to melt, dribbling onto the notices pinned to the dark-stained wood.

We raced out of the village and crossed the A36, still fairly busy even at this late hour, but the lanes were empty, the only sound was the chirrup of crickets, the ticking of the freewheels and, less pleasingly, an irregular knocking from the bottom bracket of my bike.

Various chitinous bodies whirred around our heads, or thumped into our faces as we rode at breakneck speed towards Laverton before turning down hill for Buckland Dinham. Our velocity seemed magnified in the darkness as the road dipped into steep banks, cutting out the moonlight. Round twisting corners we hurtled, sharp shadows of long dead elms raked the road, hiding the potholes and stones.

A particularly spooky ghost story I was telling as we rode was spectacularly ruined when Mike ran over a rat, sending him briefly and dangerously off course with a yelp of surprise. Somehow he stayed on the bike and took the hill into Buckland at a breathtaking pace, leaving myself and Marcus trailing.

Mike in the dark

Mike in the dark

We stopped beneath the light of some public building, before turning towards Mells. Somewhere on that route my chain flew off. Bravely I proclaimed that the others should go on and I would catch up, but to be perfectly honest I was expecting some chivalrous response such as “Never! One for all and all for one!” or “No one gets left behind” rather than “Ok, see you at the top of the hill”.

Having caught up with them and delivered some choice blue language, we continued on what had turned into the inaugural ride of the Rode & District Nocturnal Velo Club. Giddy with excitement we hurtled down Ironmill lane, by day a nerve-shredding experience as cars scream down this rat-run between Mells and Frome, by night a beautiful piece of silky smooth tarmac devoid of all vehicular activity save three whooping cyclists. We took a left onto the Frome road, but then immediately turned left again and drifted up the hill towards Lullington, turning right at the folly entrance and towards Woolverton. The moon sailed behind a cloud making the long dip where the lane crosses a microvalley an interesting experience, all of us taking the crumbling tarmac at a much higher speed than we should have.

The A36 was silent as we skipped briefly onto its surface before peeling off left just as we crossed the River Frome and up the hill toward the village. The Moon resurfaced so our shadows rode beside us, picked out sharply on the asphalt in the silvery luminescence. The Nocturnal Peloton rolled into the village side-by-side a no doubt eerie and inspiring sight, had there been anyone or anything save a startled cat to witness its triumphant arrival as the commerative clock atop The Cross Keys struck midnight.

The motto of The Rode & District Nocturnal Velo Club is snaffled from a Vulcan Bomber Squadron (no.9) that a friend of mine’s father was a flight engineer for

Per Noctem Volamus – We fly through the night.

Anyone local fancying a night ride – apply here to join us.