The Old Ways

This weekend an old friend was visiting from London’s famous London. We went out cycling and I endeavoured to show him some of the highlights of the area, but forsaking the savage climbs which make up a typical scenic perambulation in my route-book.

At the Drove In

It has been a thoughtful weekend; I haven’t seen him in about 5 years and in that time a lot has happened. It was good to catch up. Sometimes friendships drift away over the distance of time and space and it’s reassuring when old acquaintances resurface and connections are reforged. Will put it succinctly when he remarked that things in common stay in common. We talked of disparate things, the difficulties and demands of living in London, solitude and solipsism and our ever-changing sense of subjectivity; over 5 years any collective sense of who we are, let alone any individual sense, has changed; how we perceive time and space changes. Maybe i’m just getting old.

Our conversations kept returning to Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane, two significant ‘nature’ writers, the latter heavily influenced by the former. I think that both writers try to capture in words the fugue state that can only be accomplished by encounters with nature, usually when divested of the trappings of the material world, including notions of time, space and self. Setting out on a meandering cycling ride that consciously sets out to avoid main arterial routes, seeks out ancient paths and avoids cars, underpinned by the flow activity of cadence and gentle reiterative motion, results in a joyous amnesia from the conscious and unconscious realm. It’s a paradoxically modern movement that pitches the transformative geography of the rural environment against the urban sprawl and notions of psychogeography, just as the the figure of the tramp acted as a counterbalance to the flaneur in early modernism,

“The open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows, the rolling downs… the whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing…”

We went along drovers’ roads, through and around strangely named paths; Beggar Bush Lane, Horse Race Lane, Winter’s Lane, Dark Lane, Claverham Drove, Blind Lane, Brinsea Batch, Cardytch Rhyne, Crookwell Rhyne, Pudding Pie Lane, Half Yard, Tinker’s Lane… a litany of lyrical naming that hints at the past but only in half-revealing, the narrative significance lost over time to leave only a geographical palimpsest.

These are the old ways Robert Macfarlane explores in his book. We meandered across the landscape on a day when average speed was of no value. We saw buzzards and kestrels at close quarters, hovering and screeing across Kenn Moor. Cattle slept lazily in the fields, indolently aware that the days of the drove were gone, they would be chauffeur-driven to their fate. We were chased by yapping dogs and hailed by fellow cyclists, each enjoying the sun and brief respite from yesterday’s rain. We rode along the Strawberry Line and gazed at the endless cider orchards.

Will had a terrible accident…
Whilst overreaching…


in pursuit of perfectly ripe and delicious fruit…
and etched a story in blood-red spatter to go with the mythical belgian stripes

After serendipitous encounters and perfect cycling, we took the route around the airport and marvelled in child-like wonder at the planes lurching askew into the crosswinds directly above our heads, each new experience adding colour to what was already the perfect bike ride. 

the physical impossibility of death in the mind of an artist living (le blaireau)

Will was eyeing up my bicycle. I have got the Mercian back on the road; it was the perfect bike for the day; hand-built for extended jaunts into and around the English countryside. I put new bar-tape on, it looks a bit Bet Lynch but is nicer than the slightly mismatched yellow I had on there before.

new bar tape
Coronation Street’s finest

I’m looking forward to taking the bike out on the saddle bag tour next month. It’s perfect for the job, absorbing any imperfections and ameliorating the rigours of the road with comfort and efficiency.

The King of Mercia

Here’s to a weekend of rekindled friendships, the enduring fellowship of cycling and the open road, escapism and simplicity.



4 thoughts on “The Old Ways

Add yours

  1. You’re either racing or you’re training.

    Or you just having fun for the sake of it. Having just come back from a long weekend of cycle touring I can identify with rambling through the lesser crossed paths of the countryside. Average speed became a target of just how low could we get it. With a tent etc strapped to an already lardy steel framed hybrid it was easy to switch out of competitive mode.
    I’m Glad you had time out to enjoy the country side too, I have to say I’m quite surprised. I think you might well be getting old and sentimental.

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