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.

Will sprint for tea

Signs

Crossing the A36 was a matter of cycling twenty yards and signaling right in front of a near blind corner, John almost came a cropper when a barely in control Range Rover hurtled round the bend while he was side on to the traffic. It was close, too close, and cycling up the tiny lane towards Laverton we hastily made small talk about mountain biking on order to quickly forget the near miss. Ten minutes beforehand, John, fresh back from mountain biking in North Wales, had turned up at the gate early that Tuesday evening, I was eager to show him the roads out towards Lullington so we ambled out of the village towards Woolverton and took that nasty right turn. We needn’t have bothered with the blase chit-chat, the leafy lanes themselves soothed us and drew us gently into the comfort of the Somerset countryside. The roads were so quiet that when we were set upon by a couple of over excited farm dogs, their noisome barking and yelping seemed explosively loud in the calm of the evening. We were in no danger, but we hastened away, standing up to put in some acceleration up the hill until the dogs receded into the distance, last seen standing in the middle of the road yapping madly. We dropped down into Lullington, cycling at a gentle enough pace to talk Tour de France, North Wales and a blow by blow account of John’s holiday. A gentle pace became a snails pace, then we stopped for a spot of photography:

Trundling slowly past the dairy, John took over the navigation as we crossed into what looked like someone’s drive, but turned out to be a tiny lane pointing towards Standerwick. We eased ourselves up the hill as the road became thinner and thinner. We were in lanes even John had not visited in his extensive bicycle travels. Over a small bridge and… we were suddenly confronted by what was without doubt one of the most appalling cases of fly-tipping I had ever seen:

This had clearly been hastily thrown off the back of a van. Big plastic crates with ‘corrosive!’ written all over them, stacked full of junk, old trackies, soggy books, plastic toys. It looked like the aftermath of a terrorist attack on a village jumble sale.

Over the A36 again, with a considerably better line of vision to get across safely. Then we trickled amicably towards Rudge, having only gone about seven miles and wondering if perhaps we ought to think about doing some proper cycling. In an attempt to scupper that particular train of thought, I suggested ringing our friends Lou and Rob and seeing if they might put the kettle on. John did the honours and, yes, the kettle would be switched on for when we arrived. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect from what I expected. John suddenly turned into Eddy Merckx and started sprinting. Right, if he’s Eddy Merckx, then Je Suis Bernard Hinault et tant que je respire j’attaque! (as it says on my t-shirt).

So we dueled through the lanes until we reached Westbury, opting to take the old road. We arrived dripping with sweat, which was altogether pretty unpleasant for Lou who greeted us at the door and guided us round the back of the house, and through to Rob who handed us a steaming beverage each. Later on, having had a tour of the the work going on in the house and garden, we set off for home. Having had a nice combination of gentle bicycling and hell for leather cycling. Here is a short poor quality film from the pootling bit – sorry for the abrupt cut off, still getting used to the iMovie/youtube crossover. The music is Wind Forest from one of my favourite films, My Neighbor Totoro – but played by Grooploop – who I know nothing about.

Mudfest; End of a Dream

the phonemast at the top of Scotland Lane

And so, the dream of a workable link between the village and the farm shop sinks into a morass of mud, puddles, brambles, fallen trees and deep hoofprints, but let us start at the beginning.

Tuesday, with a half hour left over from my lunch break I decided to haul my oft-neglected mountainbike out of the shed, pump up the tyres and go in search of the legendary lost route that links the village to the farm shop. To recap briefly, there is a fine farm shop and cafe very local to the village, less than two miles away. However, it is at the end of a no-through-road that can only be accessed by riding the dual carriageway or braving the busy Beckington/Frome roundabout. It seems mad that anyone who can’t ride in traffic has to get into the car for such a short journey, a car journey diminishes the idea of ‘local’. As I’ve said before, the village where I live is very bikey, but it’s hard to break out of the confines of the village if you can’t stand riding in traffic. In an effort to open up the possibilities for riders, I wanted to find a route through to the farm shop, the closest thing we have to a supermarket and crucially it sells local produce. Bikes and shopping locally? A match made in heaven. Two rides before this one, I had found the exit of the byway, now I wanted to try it out and see if it was passable.

Riding out of the village, I was amazed at how slow the mtb felt, it was like riding a big snail on the road. I was only on the tarmac for a few minutes though, just down the dual carriageway and to the farm shop. I pulled over by the entrance to the byway – of course if people were cycling from the village, they would be approaching from the other direction, riding through Rudge, but as I wasn’t 100% certain where the byway started, I thought it would be a good idea to trace the route backwards from where it comes out. Immediately, the bike was over the rims in mud. Not the end of the world I thought, from the sound of trickling water it sounded like the drainage had just got blocked a bit, easy enough to remedy at a later date, and after all, it had been very wet recently, with snow, hail and rain soaking the area. Brambles hung down from the trees, snagging in my jumper. No matter I thought, these could easily be chopped back. Then the track became even more muddy, narrower and massively overgrown, soon I was riding up what seemed to be a flooded ditch.

The trail was muddySoooo muddy

Soon I was pushing the bike as it just wouldn’t go forward through the water. It was calf deep mud. It occurred to me that about a hundred or so years ago, traveling out of the village in winter or early spring would have been hard work. These bridal ways and byways are a reminder of what it was like moving round the villages by the shortest, but not the easiest routes. A shattered elm lay across the track in a tangle of brambles, no one had been down here for a long while. There was quite obviously no way anyone could ride a hybrid or shopper with a basket on down this track, the dream was over, but the trail wasn’t. I clawed my way through the undergrowth, a padlock gate barred my way so I hefted the bike over before clambering up and over the rusted metal. Then I was out of the woods, but into a rough field, very rideable, but without suspension, pretty hard work, again no good for someone with shopping. Another padlocked gate, this one surrounded by an electric fence, ticking idly as I gingerly picked my way over. Finally I was on the road again, coming out exactly where I thought I would, Scotland Lane in Rudge. I stopped to take a picture of the phonemast there, and a buzzard took off as I snapped the pic (see top of post). Moving on again, I pulled a lovely huge skid to scrape some of the mud of my tyres. There’s something deeply satisfying about a long, childish skid. It seemed to clear away some of the disappointment of the uselessness of the trail from my mind, allowing me to ride home satisfied.

An elm had shattered and lay across the trackafter cycling through mud, I find a big skid is the best way to remove filth

Published in: on April 12, 2008 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Bicycling in the Spring

Before I get started on this one, it’s been pointed out that I’ve spelled Tellisford incorrectly, continuously. I really can’t be bothered to go back and change it all yet, but rest assured that when I say Telisford, I mean Tellisford.

Now the ride I am about to blog about was actually completed on Thursday the 27th March. However, I’ve just had so much work to do that every time I’ve turned on the computer I’ve ended up working instead. I’ve actually ridden out again since then, but let’s concentrate on 27th March first.

It felt to me as though it was the first proper Spring bicycle ride of the year, as I pedaled out of the village I surmised that perhaps I didn’t need my merino top, the air was warm. Plunging into the arched avenue of trees on the lead out quickly disabused me of that notion, in the shadows it was still very cold. My next door neighbour had just come back from her cycle ride (this is a very bikey street) and warned me to take my glasses, in the sun, the air was thick with freshly hatched flying insects and she had got an eyeful, several times. I felt like a bit of a meander so I headed over to the local farm shop, searching for a way through to the village that didn’t involve tackling the A36 or a roundabout. Past the farm shop is a no through road, in fact it’s the old main road, it still has the cats eyes.

The surface of the road is starting to break up, a few layers of tarmac have gone from the top leaving a tiny canyon landscape, spattered with microboulders. The centre of the road surface had split open and sprouted grass and mosses and at the edges the verge had blurred into a mat of creeping green and drifting twigs. I wondered how long it would take before the road is absorbed into the woods, ten? Fifteen? Twenty years. A few days after this ride I met a man in the village shop looking for Chapmanslade, he had lived here twenty-five years ago, but the roads had changed so much that he had started down the A36, hit the dual carriageway and had a sudden mental crisis, he had no idea where he was. None of the tunrings off the roundabout looked familiar to him and he had turned the car around, crawled back into the village and stumbled into the post office looking for some sort of directions. I showed him Chapmanslade on the map and he said “I know where it is, but the roads aren’t right anymore!”. I told him, up the Black Dog Hill and off at the top, it’s signposted. All he had to do was hold his nerve for four and a half miles. Perhaps this here was the road he remembered. Now it’s lost, there is nothing at the end of it,  it fades into a field of sheep becoming a mere footpath. How the sounds of the traffic screaming down the new road scant yards away must mock it, or maybe not. Maybe the road has served its time and is now content to fold back into nature, be sucked into the green oblivion, recorded only on ordnance survey maps from the 80s, a tarmac ghost whispering its fragmented memories of journeys to the steel phonemast at its terminus.

I found it impossible to believe that there could be no bridalway around there so I traced my way back towards the farm shop. Sure enough, right next to the pig pens a lichen streaked wooden sign pointed down an overgrown path. A public byway.  A glance down the track revealed a very overgrown pathway, with a little cutting back and care, it could be used for bikes. But where did it come out? It was too muddy down there to find out, especially since I was riding the Lemond Etape. This looks like a job for The Highway Cycling Group Expeditionary Force (who I’ve just invented). The HCGEF will take a Mountainbike and some branch lopperrs down there and see if they can find a way through. By my calculations the other end of the track could well be Scotland Lane in Rudge, if it is then it could be the passage through to the farm shop that the timid of the village have been longing for. No, they shall not have to brave the A36, nor shall they have to hang a right on the very busy roundabout at Beckington, for I shall blaze a trail through the overgrown byway for them! Can you see how I’m setting myself up for a fall here?

The location of the track duly noted, I set off again, once more with no idea where I should go. I took Black Dog Hill at speed, well 12mph anyway, searing my lungs in the process and electing to swing off at Dead Maids Junction. I passed a derelict garden centre, it still had its ‘open’ sign out.

This was another A road, though not as wide as the A36,cars were passing me pretty closely. I stopped to take a work call by a field scattered about with majestic redwoods, their glorious crowns towering above every other tree in the area. I skimmed down the incredibly steep Hollow at Dilton Marsh and hung a left at the railway bridge which tipped me into Penleigh. A range of goat breeds watched me drift past the house, their chewing was the only sound save for the soft whirr of my chain and the gentle hiss of rubber on tarmac. Over the delightful pair of railway bridges, set on an ‘s’ shaped road so that a rider can see the other bridge hove onto view as the first bridge is crested. Somewhere in the distance there is another two span arch bridge, but I guess it must be on a private farm track, it’ll take some courage to find it, another day perhaps.

Back into Rudge a little lost now, not used to coming this way. Passing old hand-painted lettering on the sides of decommissioned trucks. Here in the valley the air has a sharp chill where the Spring sun has not yet penetrated. Rudge Hill throws me over the road, left to right and back again, out of the saddle pushing hard on the cranks. Then a sharp descent back towards the village, rolling in past the post office standing on the pedals before a final sprint up the hill.

In total, 17.5 miles. Not bad for an hour or so of pleasant bicycling.