Night Riding to the Thankful Village

It’s not long until we go on a cycling camping trip to Belgium and France. I remain woefully out of shape, carrying at least a stone and a half too much weight, the majority of which seems to be round my middle forcing an inadvertant ‘whuff!’ noise to escape from my mouth whenever I bend down to pick anything up. With a barely suppressed sense of mounting panic, I decided that I’d better get another ride in before we go. So I arranged a weekend pedal once again with Mike.

The night before, I made an adjustment to the rack on the bike. I like to have my panniers quite far back so my heels don’t clip as I spin the pedals. Unfortunately this has the unwanted side-effect of obscuring any light attached to the rack. Also, with a tent slung over the panniers, a light on the saddle bag would be covered. So I fashioned an extension bracket out of an aluminum strip. In order to keep it flush to the rack I used my tap and die set to cut some threads into the metal, ensuring a nice snug fit with no wobbling. Using a hacksaw, I carved off a bracket from an old plastic light set and bolted it onto the metal. It worked perfectly, pulling the light out from under the pannier and, as it’s box shaped, remaining strong. I then added the HYmini wind charger to the handlebars, choosing to sling it underneath to keep the top clear of clutter.

As Earth Hour kicked off, I took the bike out for an eerie spin through the country lanes. The Bike Hut Ultrabright front light was certainly bright enough to ride with at speed and confidence in the dark, but it was a little leaky, throwing some of the powerful beams up into my face and ruining my night vision somewhat. However, this did seem to have the effect of underlighting my face in a demonic manner, which is always good. I spent the best part of an hour shooting around the roads, trying to make the rear light fall out of its new location and also testing out the speed I needed to be going to get the HYmini wind charger turning in order to create charge.

I stopped the bike at Tellisford crossroads and propped it up against a five-bar gate. I walked twenty or so yards away down the road and turned back to look at the light arrangement, trying to imagine the right eye-level to get a driver’s eye view of what my bike would look like in the dark. I was pretty pleased with the result. In combination with the Hi-Viz vest, and the stickers on my helmet I should be visible from space.

Away from the comforting pool of the bike lights, the darkness enveloped me. Thick cloud smeared the sky above the horizon cutting out the starlight and I suddenly felt very vulnerable and exposed. This crossroads and these lanes were old and filled with the weight of unspoken and unrecorded events. Mere yards away, the red LEDs on the rear of the bike blinked out an organic rhythm, moving in a line from left to right and back again. For some reason I enjoyed the frailty I felt then, the smell of damp turned earth, the way the searing white light from the front of the bike picked out freshly-exposed flints in the field beyond the gate, the silhouette of the tower of All Saints church.

Arthur Mee's King's England: SomersetTellisford was dark, perhaps because this was still Earth Hour, or maybe the owners of these big houses had retreated into some inner sanctum, unviewable from the outside. As we are going to be visiting some WW1 battlefields in France and Belgium on this ride, I recalled that Tellisford is one of the initial so-called ‘Thankful Villages’; thirty-two villages in England and Wales which lost no soldiers in World War One, all those who left to fight came home again. The writer Arthur Mee popularised the phrase in the 1930s when he wrote ‘Enchanted Land’, the first volume of the The King’s England series of guides. It is sobering to remember how so many communities lost so many people in that first ‘great’ war, what a huge vacuum the loss of so many young men must have created in a village. In WW1, villagers often enlisted as a group, and were kept together in the regiments. They trained, barracked, traveled, fought, and so often, died together. Tellisford truly had much to be thankful for in the return of all her young men from those killing fields.

Arthur Mee wrote especially of Tellisford “We do not remember a more charming place in all our journeyings”. So with that in mind, I remounted my bike and pointed it back through the darkness to my own village.

Oranges and Lemons

Though the shop and post office in our village makes a manful effort to supply the needs of the village and surrounding environs, (homemade plum jam filled victoria sponge anyone?) there was a distinct lack of oranges and lemons to be had there today. I came away with a cucumber, some local lettuce and a very small lemon – but that wasn’t going to help me make elderflower cordial. So, having finished work, I took to the saddle of the Brompton and headed for The supermarket. I decided that I couldn’t face the Wingfield straight so I went via Tellisford and Farleigh Hungerford. It was very hilly indeed, but on a Brompton it doesn’t matter, a leisurely pace is all that can be managed so there is no need to sweat, strive and strain up hills. I crested the tallest hill at the point where I used a photograph I took to make the Highway Cycling Group poster:

Many people have asked how I did the painting of the landscape in the background, but I assure everyone that it is real. The only things that weren’t there in the original photo are the words and the clouds which I added from another photo.

Easing over this hill saw me take a fast descent via some sharp corners and a final climb to Farleigh Hungerford. I took a right onto the main road and passed the castle. Then on into Trowbridge – only to discover that the Tesco Express had neither oranges nor lemons. So it was down the cycle path to Bradford-on-Avon and the Sainsbury’s there. Soon I was departing the supermarket with a riding bag full to the brim with fruit and goodies, but that also meant an enormous amount of extra weight. Never mind, it sped me up on the downhills and gave me a work out on the uphills. I took the same route back again – stopping now and again to pick more elderflowers for the cordial. At the bend by the bridges at Farleigh Hungerford I stopped to read the rules of the Farleigh Swimming Club. This group own a field next to the river in a spot ideal for a bit of wild swimming – but it’s strictly members only.
Farleigh Swimming Club

I liked the texture underneath their information sign where the new poster had been stuck over the old, which was probably stuck over an even older poster.

Swimming club sign

The number to call for membership having been noted, I started the ascent of the hill by the castle. Oh this was a bad one, I could have done with the drop nose Wilderness Trail Bike saddle on my Mountain bike, the Brooks on the Brompton, although being a fine and beautiful saddle, does not give you much scope for sliding forward. I have also found that standing up a Brompton only really works if you’re going downhill. I struggled up and turned left into the village itself, another hill but out of the traffic and the heat it was fine. I carried on along the road, up and down up and down, broken up with sporadic forays into the hedge to pick elderflowers. My arms, slick with sweat, were now dusted with yellow pollen. The air itself was thick with it. As I sped down the final descent I passed a tandem going up the hill, a man and woman gave hearty if breathless hellos as we passed each other.

Back at the house – all goods were unloaded and once the kids were in bed, stage one of the cordial making commenced. Now the flowers are soaking overnight in the zesty water – the smell is delicious.

Today’s ride was gloriously warm and bathed in sunshine. The sights and smells were that of an English summer, lazy looking horses in fields, heavy pollen, fresh-mown grass and wildflowers gracing the verge. The sounds were the ticking of a sturmey archer hub, the distant drone of lawnmowers, the rich and lyrical singing of blackbirds in the hedge and the joyous shouts of children splashing in the river.

It was a perfect ride, and I dedicate it to the memory of Noah.