At 6.30pm I was taking the shortest route out of Bolton, making my way to Didsbury, where I was to meet Tom. Together we were to ride through the night to that little Warwickshire village tucked away in the heart of England, the village that is like a magic wand to cyclists……Meriden. My heart was light, my saddlebag heavy, as I waited at Kingsway end, watching the motley collection of traffic homeward bound. I had not to wait long, and soon we were forcing our way through crowded Cheadle, and along Wilmslow road. The latter place was duly reached, we soon came to Alderley Edge, and a mile further on, we were halting at that old-world farmstead, in a quiet backwater at Alderley Cross. Here, Mrs Powell made us welcome as we trooped in out of the cool room for supper, 8.30. The latticed window was thrown open, revealing the lane in front, with the hedges and fields beyond, garbed in the fresh green of spring. Here we lingered, watching the golden-red russet fade, giving way to an infinite twilight. Whilst it was yet light, we left Alderley Cross, and soon reached the now silent highway. This road, though always pretty, usually wearies us, owing to familiarity, but tonight we knew no such thing. Beside us, the Western sky was radiant, before us a mellow moon had risen, which, on the tree-shaded road made yellow, leafy patterns.
Lighting up time came and went, leaving us still unlit – it did not seem worthwhile, in the now bright moonlight. Now, the silvery waters of Redes Mere, Marton, with its little old ‘black and white’ church silhouetted on a slight elevation from the road, an ancient cottage, nestling deep beneath the shadow of some sturdy old oak. These are real ‘living pictures’. Now we were nearing Congleton, signs of life betrayed the fact, and we lit our lamps. The Macclesfield road joined us, and we started dropping. We knew this hill of old, and our brakes were jammed on. Then we came in sight of the celebrated ‘road lighthouse’, the first of its kind. It is a tower, lit on a lower panel, and containing the words: ‘Very dangerous Hill – Change to low gear’ in deep red. Higher up are brilliant searchlights to show the nature of the road. Erected on a narrow bend, it is certainly striking and effective. Going carefully, we dropped down over the river Dane, and into Congleton. We soon left it, however, preferring the more silent road. Astbury faded into oblivion, then the trees and hedges again, and now we had the company of the hoarse corncrake, unseen, but very much heard! A short drop brought us to Red Bull, where the scenery ended with the advent of the Potteries.
Now came a long climb through Talke, a squalid colliery village, with the gaunt hill before us showing black against the moonlit sky. Here in contrast to green fields behind, what there is left of nature are the poor, stunted ruins of once fine trees. Slag heaps, decrepit dwellings, the shadowy outline of some ugly pithead, denotes the ruthless march of ‘modern civilisation’. The road rose and fell continuously, each climb showing the same squalid outlook, each drop the same industrial confusion. Last year, when we last came through this district there was one redeeming feature: that was the effect of the furnaces. One moment a brilliant red glow would light everything in the vicinity, next, some chimney would seem would seem to be belching a ruddy smoke with wonderful effect. But now the bright moonlight made this impossible. At last we bumped and crashed our way over the terrible setts into Newcastle (11.50pm), and soon the Potteries were behind us.
Thank God this has not been commercialised! We slid into the Trent valley, and as if by magic, the unkempt ugliness of the towns gave way to real, untainted England. Again, the smiling moonlit waters, the glorious woodlands, those old-fashioned homesteads, such scenes as made the American exclaim “So this is England!” Trent Vale, Trentham, then we were in a kind of park, the road was hedge-less, and time after time we ran over little bridges, beneath which some little brook babbled its way to its big sister, now within sight. At one point, a mist was creeping over the low-lying land, forming a kind of lake, into which the road disappeared. The larger trees and higher land appeared fantastically, ethereally, above in a filmy haze.
Several times we crossed and recrossed the Trent, and later, as if wishing to be in the running, the railway joined us. Traversing the narrow, winding streets of Stone, we again entered the valley through Sandon to Weston, a superb picture of neat, black and white work in a gloriously wooded setting. A little later, a large notice board bade us ‘drive slowly for two miles through villages’. Two miles of villages! and truly rural at that!; had it been in Lancashire, those two miles of villages, would soon be a large town, but here, each has a separate existence, to our eyes, each seemed to be competing with the others to see which could be the most beautiful. And each, from our point of view, were equally successful. A form outside a cottage on the deserted road tempted us, and being in need of refreshment, we turned it into a table and seat combined. We had quite grown out of lunch in the open, and to us it seemed great fun, and many jokes were cracked over our alfresco lunch. The moon still shone brilliantly, and clouds of the haddock – no mackerel – (well its something fishy, anyway) type constantly crossed it, and the night was unusually warm.
After filling ourselves, we got on the road again, soon coming to Rugeley, an old market town. On the farther outskirts of the town, we stood debating, on which way of two to take, one signed ‘to Lichfield, flat road’, the other ‘to Lichfield, hilly road’. We decided on the hilly one, for we should be coming back on the lower one. The distance was eight and a half miles, or eight miles respectively. The hills started immediately, but the scenery! Those great trees that over-arched the road that, in places, was like a sunken lane lined with brambles, forget-me-knots, and other wild flowers, all fast asleep, but none the less pretty. Brereton, then Longdon, quiet, old world villages, then one and a half miles from Lichfield we joined the flat road, and rushed downhill to the famous city. The moon had disappeared now, and the half-light of early dawn made everything appear illusive, mystical. We trod the silent streets to the ancient cathedral, a gem of early architecture. In the semi-darkness we could see some of the numerous gargoyles and images, and the plumes that cover its massive frontage. High above us soared the three immense spires, one of which was scaffolded near the top. No doubt there is always something under repair about this wonderful structure. Going round to the west side, we noted a beautiful arched doorway of the Decorated period (13th century). It is a pity that we only got a vague idea of the place. As we left the city, the cathedral bells chimed 2.45am, in a beautiful tone.
In the open country again, we turned our lamps out. Now the road climbed gently – gently but continuously. Again everything was like a garden, a broad, free garden, and very soon we entered the most English county, Warwickshire. It is of little use describing that road, or what lay in sight of it, for words fail to express the wonderful colour and sublimity of all things, for now dawn was breaking – well, we did not really know whether it was or not, for daylight came dully and slowly, a good sign for the new day. Bird life was fully awake, for the world resounded with their musical exuberant twittering. I think we caught some of their infectious spirit, for we brightened up wonderfully. Not that we were sleepy, or jaded, far from it, but we were just a trifle lonely. The fascination of travelling along a silent road, through silent woods, dead towns, and villages that were long asleep, wears off as dawn approaches, and the company of these feathered creatures put new life into us, and made us realise once again, the great, eloquent joys of the Open Road. At Basset’s Pole, on the Tamworth – Sutton Coldfield cross-roads, we started dropping downhill, through Wishaw, until we approached Coleshill. This town climbs a steep hill to the church, which is perched on the summit. In Coleshill, people were about, but after leaving the town, we were alone again. This section of the road to Stonebridge reminds me strangely of some Delamere Forest roads up in Cheshire, but, of course, things are on a bigger scale here, and are ‘forrarder’ than our way. Eventually, we reached pretty Stonebridge (which is just as its name implies), and then a short run brought us to Meriden at 5.45am.