This Freedom 1926 Part Three

At 8.30 this morning I was spinning along the road again, the Exeter road that took me along the edge of a wooded hill-country and gave me views one side of newly-mown fields and rippling acres of golden wheat, whilst on the other hand many an alluring little lane tempted me to leave my highway.  Only once did I yield to the temptation, then I found myself between two blazing walls of roses with the sky above almost hidden by foliage.  In twelve miles I reached Cullompton, where I tried to get a 20 tooth freewheel but failed, though I was offered consignments of 18’s.  At one village cycle shop I was told that an 18 would do just as well, and when I told the dealer that my gear would jump from 59.8 to 66.4 with a corresponding jump in pushing resistance, he could not understand why, so I took him out and explained, then he fell to examining my mount, confessing that he had not quite “tuk up wi’ them new-fangled thingummis”, and I had to drop my wheels out and in and work my calliper brake for him.  Still, it was one of “them there racers an’ don’t like them down handles an’ I think them back forks are too thin an’ I don’t like the looks o’it front un’s either, an’ I’d sooner you ride it till me”.  He had the old idea of something massive for a big ride.  I got a freewheel of the requisite size in Exeter, knocking a 19 tooth fixed cog off and putting the freewheel in its place.  I rode free after that until I reached Corwen on the last lap of my tour.

I paid a visit to Exeter Cathedral; in any part of which one may go without payment, the trustees leaving it to the generosity of the visitor.  And a visitor who goes through Exeter cathedral without making a voluntary contribution must be a very mean person indeed.  As with Wells, I shall serve no purpose by trying to explain the wonderful works of art that I saw both within and without, so again I will just leave it at that.  Exeter was very busy, and is all narrow streets; I was glad when I had squirmed through the traffic and reached the immaculate road on the east bank of the Exe.  Topsham was reached, and here I decided to have lunch, a Devon lunch, and just to see how things went I decided to make a light mid-day meal.  So I went into a pub and ordered a pint of cider and bread and jam – I am not enamoured of cheese.  The bread came in tiny cottage loaves, and was so delicious that I ate six to two pints of cider – bang went my light lunch decision.  Topsham is a rather quaint place, more so in the narrow streets leading to the river.

From here my road got hilly, giving me many fine river views, whilst at the foot of each hill was a hamlet that was a brilliant kaleidoscope of flowers.  The diet of cider, bread and jam was doing its worst, for the whole road was a drag.  Then I dropped into modern suburbia embodied in a seaside resort that resolved itself into Exmouth, and ere long I was on the promenade, glimpsing my first view of the English Channel.  Exmouth struck me as being a very usual resort, so without delay I got a boatman to take me across the mouth of the river.  It was one shilling to the sandy bar and two and sixpence to the Dawlish road, so I decided to economise and had a bobsworth.  But had I known !  Came nearly an hour of collar work over soft dry sand until I was reduced to the consistency of butter, for it was a hot, dull day.  Thus I reached Dawlish, which carries the usual brand of the resort, but is bounded by magnificent cliffs and jutting teeth of rock, a glorious first glimpse of the South Devon coast.

The road was all uphill and down dale; from the summit of each hill were wonderful sea and coast views.  My ideas for a thrust into Cornwall that day went by the board, for it goes against the grain to rush things amid this kind of scenery, even if the road allows it.  ‘Billy J’ was right when he said that 70 miles is a good average for a hard-rider in Devon.  In two miles I walked up three long hills, then unclimbed them all in one headlong descent into Teignmouth, another ordinary resort with an extraordinary coast.  Out again after crossing the river by a long wooden bridge for which I paid one penny and up again until I looked down on the river mouth in which were the low grey hulks of three warships, the golden bay and guardian cliffs and islands of weather and tide worn rocks of fantastic shape, with behind it all the rolling waters of the channel dotted here and there with ships.  So, with sea or land views I swept inland to Newton Abbot and Torquay.

I am correct when I say ‘inland to Torquay’ for I had not the slightest desire to go scouting around the promenade which is like the ‘prom’ of every fashionable resort only more so, and in my hatred of dresses, ‘prom’ adornments and piers with their quaint amusements, I was willing to sacrifice whatever scenic attraction there might be, to get away.  That is why I crept un-ostensibly round the back of Torquay, and came to rest at a CTC place on the outskirts.  The people came from Lancashire and were delighted to see me.  We fell to talking about ‘up north’ and about cycling matters, for they were old cyclists, retired and keeping a beautiful boarding house, which, to keep memories green, they have called ‘Dentdale’.  I had a right royal tea, a real Devonshire tea with extras, and yarned about things until the time got late, and I reluctantly tore myself away.

A few minutes later I descended to Cockington.  Situated in a narrow valley, it is everything that guide books and picture-postcards depict it to be – and more.  The old forge, charmingly set in a narrow lane hedged by equally ancient thatched cottages, whose stone walls were brown and moss grown, whilst over the garden walls hung roses and intertwining creepers, the tiny, musical stream and the overarching trees made up the sweetest rural picture I had seen for many a day.  The hamlet was quiet and unsullied by its proximity to a popular resort.  I crept down the valley, by the musical stream, along a lane whose leafy walls and roof shut out the light and threw the road in semi-darkness.  A Devonshire lane !  Is there anything in the world so beautiful !  Is there anything that can show such treasures of nature as the hedgerows of wild flowers and such scents as a Devonshire lane !

My lane took me to the tramlines and promenade of Paignton.  Only one thing did I see at Paignton that stamped it as different from the ‘rest of em’, and that was the tropical plants that grew in the gardens.  I might have been suddenly transported to some Indian or Hawaiian garden city, so different everything appeared.  Beyond here, I was pondering on a moorland-like heath, at the Brixham-Dartmouth fork roads, on which way to go, when a farmer came up and I got into conversation with him.  He was a right old West Country chap, swarthy and stolid, and speaking in the drawling tone typical of this county.  When he had ventilated his views of every topic under the sun, I asked him about the best way, and if Brixham was worth seeing.  He told me that there was nothing at Brixham and advised me to carry on to Dartmouth, which I did, though I later learned that I had missed a glorious bit of South Devon.  A long, long climb took me to a viewpoint from where the beautiful river Dart lay below me with its convoy of craft – including two ugly, grey torpedo boats.  On the long easy descent to the river, magnificent moving pictures rolled before my eyes.

They have a ‘floating bridge’ across the river, propelled to and fro by a steam engine, which, if noise is a virtue, must be positively bristling with good points.  Anyway, it rolled me and couple of motorcars across and charged me fourpence.  Dartmouth is a breath from the past, recalling vividly the days of those bold thieves, Drake, Raleigh, Blake and other ‘British Mariners’, but recalling them in a romantic, history book way.  Ancient cobbled alleys with the houses quaintly built, seeming, in some instances, ready to topple onto each other, a sleepy, old-fashioned little quay, and a castle and church combined, so to speak, a place where, (including the coast) one would like to potter about for days.

But my path, though flowery, and strewn with roses, had a few thorns in it.  I was already looking like a Red Indian with the heat of the two days before, and I found washing a painful, delicate operation, whilst my arms and knees were peeling and I dared hardly touch them.  Then each day was as much as anything one long search for water, for I had acquired a thirst that knew no limits.  Also, two days and a half of hard-riding on ‘fixed’ had somehow made me saddle-sore, and I knew that another day or two would be required to alleviate it.  Still, when one is amidst such scenery as I was, these ‘thorns’ are nothing against the pleasures one finds.

As ever, the road was hilly from Dartmouth, and this hill was an extra special one, the narrowness and depth of the lane making it like an oven.  On the top lay the little village of Stoke Fleming, where the walls were covered with roses and the gardens a blaze of glory,  The church, like several others I had seen had a half-round tower, castellated and no spire, similar to the narrower of the round towers of Norman fortresses.  So far as I can make it out it is a style peculiar to the West, for I don’t recall seeing one north of Somerset.  The scenery became more enchanting; now I looked down on a glorious little cove of brown tinted cliffs, either rising sheer from the water, or weathered into fantastic shapes, pinnacles and arches in islets of brown rock from a green, clear sea.  A sudden breathless descent took me to the cove, where was the tiniest of sandy beaches, and a tiny hamlet deep in a glen that owned a thousand summer shades of leaf and flower, and through which ran a crystal-clear stream.  And its name was….Blackpool !  I could not imagine a greater contrast than this infinitely beautiful, unspoiled cove beside the big, dismal, unattractive Lancashire seaside namesake, and I fancy should not hesitate if it came to a choice.

Another precipitous climb through hot woods put me once more on top of the cliffs, and with a view westwards of a stretch of golden sands behind which was a marsh where the road ran across, and eastward of magnificent cliffs, I tumbled down again, round many a hairpin bend, to sea level – on the first rough road of the tour.  A dead level two miles took me across Slapton sands to Torcross, where I turned inland for Stokenham.  Then, in rapidly gathering dusk I had six lumpy miles, through many an attractive village until I came to a town built on a very muddy river, with a quay on which all the beauty – and otherwise – of the town walked about – Kingsbridge.  As I was not attracted with it, I stopped to weigh up the chances of making a seven mile blind to Modbury (it was now 9.45).  Just as I was about to make a start and risk it, up came a cyclist, who, divining that I was in search of a place, suggested that we both ‘pig in’ where he was staying.  So I gave up my thoughts of Modbury, and away we went and were soon fixed up.  He is a Manchester chap on a fortnight’s pottering tour to Land’s End.


This Freedom 1926 Part Two


Sometimes I feel the need of a watch, one of those watches that tells the truth within half an hour or so.  In my determination to cast all laws of convention overboard this trip, I rigidly refused to carry a watch.  Of course, I do not find this difficult simply because I do not possess a watch, my financial resources not running into the price of a decent one.  I am always on the brink of bankruptcy.  So when I awoke this morning I had no idea of the time, and as all was quiet round about I did not want to go down too soon, but I hate to lie awake with a view of a blank wall through the window, so at last I got up, and was soon outside, inspecting the ‘lions’, which includes an ancient covered market hall and a castle.  The time was only 7.15.  By 8.15, I was bidding goodbye to that very interesting ‘modern maid of Ross’, and a few minutes later Ross was behind and the road to Gloucester was ahead.  The sun was getting strong and everything pointed to a continuance of the heat-wave, whilst the countryside, refreshed by the slight rain yesterday seemed more golden than ever.

I entered hill-country, the northern extremity of the Forest of Dean, a heavily wooded land, with the perfect road winding about between the hills in valleys ravishingly beautiful, and by snugly-placed timber and brick cottages, until, with a climb, I found myself looking down on the green plain of Gloucester.  The road flung itself clear of hills and straightened itself out, and by the time I had reached the City, it had become monotonously level.  I pottered round the beautiful Cathedral just as the bells were tolling their message to the yet sleepy citizens, then, not finding much else to interest me, I joined the Bristol road.  Gloucester was once a fine city to look upon – some of it may be yet, but I found industry predominating.

For some miles then I got a dose of modern highway.  Running near the Severn, this model speedway is as level and straight as a die; it is lined with the blatant adverts and dull workshops of ‘England’s Glory’ matches – matches that I shall in future refuse to buy; on its sweltering hide roared hordes of engines, so where the Bath road breaks away I joined it.  I wanted hill-country.

Need I say that I found it?  Almost subtly this winding, smooth road gradually introduced me to the southern Cotswolds, then, at Stroud, suddenly left me in the midst of them.  To begin with, I made an involuntary detour to Stroud, then, with equal unwillingness, climbed a long, un-necessary hill.  The water-supply was good, however, and I quaffed a tremendous amount.  I came into a winding valley, often spoiled by ugly houses and spasmodic industry, until at Nailsworth, I reached the open down-land.  It was rolling country, ideal for the freewheel, which I had left at home.  The hot sun was merciless, there was no shelter, no water to drink, and little outlook beyond successively bare, green ridges and coils of road.  For 25 miles it did not touch a village, but always kept to the highest point.  Never will I forget that 25 miles ride over scorched downs without a drink.  In an exhausted condition I spotted a village pub at last, and drained two tankards of cider, the first in my life.  It is queer stuff !  At last, 4 miles from Bath, I found a lunch place.  A morning ride of 50 miles would put anyone in form for lunch !

In two minutes after leaving the lunch place, I was in Somerset, and speeding downhill with widespread hill-and-valley scenery before me, into the valley of the Avon, and into Bath.  Some may say it was a shame to go through Bath without visiting the Abbey and the relics of the Roman Aquaesolis, but if anyone else had happened to be there on a hot Sunday afternoon, when crowds of people attired in the very latest fashions were parading about and eyeing them with either supercilious snobbery or discomfiting grins, he might have done as I did – take the shortest way out.  My shortest way was the wrong one, though it led to the right place, Wells, for I had intended going over the Fosse Way.

Motors predominated until I left the Avon Valley and the Bath-Bristol road at Corston, where a long, easy climb brought me onto the hills again.  Of one thing I was thankful; every village supplied water on tap.  The scenery was pleasant, not great, green and undulating.  On a climb leading to a village a passing cyclist warned me of a swarm of bees higher up.  I saw them; there were thousands of them, buzzing angrily with a noise like an aeroplane, and holding the traffic up.  I crept warily by.  I was a bit saddle-sore, somehow, but I think I was in form, for despite the excessive heat I maintained a good speed and soon came to Chewton Mendip at the foot of the famous limestone Mendip Hills.  A straight, jerky road led me to the summit, 855 ft, from where I descended Stoberry Hill.  Winding round characteristic low bluffs of limestone, and past riotous banks, with a living image of a barren Derbyshire Dale on the left, the scenery became very beautiful, and halfway down I obtained a heat-hazed view of Wells and the plains behind, flanked by the hills of Dorset, which looked like headlands jutting into a sea – a sea of green fields.  A few minutes later I was in that delightful little Somerset Cathedral City, Wells.

Of course I made for the cathedral, and obtained entrance therein.  I won’t attempt to describe it; it is much too big a subject, but I will remark on that much-discussed piece of architecture, the Inverted Arches.  Some say they are too heavy and clumsy-looking beside the intricately worked tracery around, but personally I thought they were very fine.  Wonderful places these ancient English cathedrals, with their delicate oaken carvings and intricate masonry, their memorial tablets and stained glass windows, most of which are very old and are priceless and zealously protected.  Outside, the building is almost as beautiful as the interior, and I spent quite an interesting hour looking the building over.  It is very old, building work started in 1180.  Getting some picture postcards and the ‘Dorset’ map, I moved out of the city, on the Glastonbury road, for I decided to ‘make’ the old Abbey town for tea.  It was a pity to leave the district of Mendip so soon, but I wanted to get to the South coast as quickly as possible.  The Mendip Hills possess some of the finest stalactite caverns in Britain, and round Cheddar (8 miles from Wells) are many caverns and the famous Cheddar Gorge (and cheese).

There was a motoring couple from Manchester in the tea-place, old cyclists, and still possessing the cycling characteristics, though they thought I was very ambitious when I said that I hoped to do both Devon coasts.  Of course, like many others, their cycling had been done on roadsters (push-bikes) with daily rides of 30 or 40 miles.  The ‘Lions’ of Glastonbury I did not look for, though they are many, including an Abbey and the site of a lake-town.  As at Bath I took the wrong road, but by crossing a couple of fields and stiles I regained my road and headed for Taunton, passing the church-topped hill known as the Isle of Avalon.  The road was not striking, being a series of villages until, at Piper’s Inn, it left the main Bridgewater road, became narrow and winding though perfectly smooth, and went as flat as a pancake.

Romance and history walk hand in hand in this part of Somerset.  Between Greinton and Greylake I crossed the field of Sedgemoor, where, in 1685, the last pitched battle on English soil took place.  Just beyond Othery a ruined church perched on a hill made me think that by some mysterious means Mont St. Michael had been transported from Cornwall, so identical was it, but on enquiry from a lady who proved to be a well-known painter, I was told that this was the Chapel of St Michael, Boroughbridge, and rather than actually ruined, it had never been completed.  It is very conspicuous, and I went up to it, but was not able to explore it, as every corner possessed a pair of people, who regarded me as an un-necessary intrusion.  So I left them to their corners and went to admire an excellent view over the vale of Bridgewater.

At the next village is a little stone monument which is supposed to mark the exact spot where King Alfred let the cakes burn.  I refer to the Isle of Athelney.  This area was once, no doubt, under water, and every hill was an island possessing its shrine, as Athelney and Avalon, which, in after years, became famous in legend.  Lyng was the last of a chain of marshland villages, so I hailed Lyng with relief.  After a day of hills a bit of level country comes as a change, but when one does not get the ghost of an incline for mile after mile, when level fields and stagnant dykes dissect the fields and line the road all the time, and when the air from four to six feet is solid with flies and midges, making you dismount every hundred yards to unearth them out of your eyes, one does get tired of it.  The sun specs’ were very useful, but I could not bear them on for long at once; they made my head ache.  But Lyng ended the marsh, and for a few miles I climbed and descended umpteen snappy little hills, eventually joining a main road which took me into Taunton.

Fig 10d     Boroughbridge near Taunton

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Taunton on Sunday night is like any other town on Sunday night, a place where, in the main street, all the lads and lasses parade their manliness or beauty, and failing those qualities, their best clothes, and stand staring at you, making cheap jokes about ‘bare knees’.  Moreover Taunton struck me as quite an ordinary country town, whatever there might be ‘behind the scenes’, so after ascertaining the time I got on with it along the Exeter road.  It was crowded with bicycle riders, motorcyclists and motorists.  A ragtime cyclist on a cheap lightweight drew me into a scrap.  He rode wrong, was geared miles too high, and was dressed in his Sunday clothes, but he gave me a hard tussle, and it was only after one or two hills that I left him after a record seven miles to Wellington.  It was 9.30 in Wellington, but as it was something like Taunton I decided to push on and bank my hopes at an Inn at Sampford Arundel, the only listed place after Wellington for 20 miles.  I pottered then, for it was only 3 or 4 miles away, and the country had become charming.  From a ridge I obtained a beautiful view of the last rays of sunlight above the Quantocks and the green fields between, settling down to the quiet of a summer twilight.  Ah, here was Sampford Arundel, just the place to spend the night, at a dip in the country, thickly wooded with a little stream running musically by the Inn.

It never struck me that they might be full up until I asked, then – “I’m sorry but we are full up” came the reply, and I was advised to try the White Ball a “little up the road”.  That “little”, as is usual in the country developed into two miles, all of it being literally “up” the road.  It was dark when I got there, and the Inn was closed up.  Then a yokel told me that the Pink Ball – Blue – no it was Red Ball was sure to put me up – a few yards down the road, so off I skipped for another two miles, wondering if I should have to try all the Balls on a Snooker table ere I found a place.  Ah, there it was, a new place with a crowd of topers on the steps – it was well after closing time.  It struck me very unfavourably, but, well the next place was twelve miles away, so it was Hobson’s Choice.  The Barman decided, on my enquiry to ‘ask mamma’, and a long time elapsed before ‘mamma’ came and accepted me.  Supper in a well kept room, and the neat condition of my bedroom served to nullify my misgivings about the place.

This Inn is just near Burlescombe, a mile or so over the Devonshire border, so I found that I had unconsciously set myself a record; breakfast in Herefordshire, dinner in Gloucestershire, tea in Somerset and supper in Devon.

Glorious Devon !

‘Green swelling hills of Devon, foliage-traced

With cliffs romantic, round bright waters close –

Here blushes early, lingers late the rose,

The myrtle here survives the leafy waste

Like isles pine-pinnacled the glossy deep ‘

This Freedom 1926 Part one

This Freedom001

And now, for ten days, I have the wish.  Ten whole days in which to exercise ‘this freedom’, in which I own no master, no allegiance to anyone, even be he the king; in which my mood will take me where it will – as it will; my bicycle to take me – some money (not too much of that !), and ten days of absolute, untrammelled freedom – why, I was the wealthiest man in the whole world !  So I packed up my kit; on a cycling tour the secret lies in knowing not what to carry, but what not to carry.  The ‘tenderfoot’ tourist, even if he has studied the problem, always takes too much luggage with him; only experience can teach him what constitute ‘necessities’ and ‘luxuries’.  So, modestly enough, claiming to have some idea of the hang of it, I took the following to pull me through ten days.

A spare shirt, a pair of stockings and handkerchiefs were my touring extras, to which might be added nearly a dozen maps Bartholomew’s CTC half inch to a mile, and that golden key to touring, the CTC Handbook.  My cape of course is my regular kit.  I was clothed to the best advantage, though perhaps not very conventionally, wearing light cycling shoes and stockings, flannel ‘shorts’, sports shirt and alpaca jacket – which is about as thick as a piece of tissue paper.  Thus I combined coolness with a maximum amount of freedom of limb.  To conclude, the only knowledge of where I was going was a hazy notion of the South coast, Sussex, Dorset or Devon – and even that would depend on my mood.  The only thing I had promised was to meet a motorcycling uncle at Llanberis on the return Friday evening, with a view to climbing Snowdon.  But till then I had seven days, and much can be seen and done in seven days.

I had decided to get away at 5am on the great morning, for my first day was to get me somewhere about Gloucester, but as is my habit I was late, and what with messing about cooking breakfast and other things, it was 6.30 when I banged the door; then, as I mounted I felt that I was free at last – my holiday had started.  How sweet were those rural by-lanes, the pretty, winding lanes of the ‘old, familiar road’, those little cottages and quiet villages by which I sped ere I reached my Southward road at Beeston.  My Southward road was the great highway that runs from end to end of the British wonderland, from Lands End to John-o-Groats, and for many miles this was to carry me.  To Whitchurch the scenery was typical Cheshire – and remained so when I had crossed the border into Shropshire.  I crossed a corner of Prees Heath, the scene of a big military encampment during the War, then I rode through pleasantly scented pasture country and drew into the Hawkestone Hills, similar to Peckforton Hills in formation and very beautiful.  With very little climbing the road wormed its way through the range to picturesque Lee Brockhurst.  Hadnall introduced me to long, straight stretches of road that would be uninteresting were it not for the distant views of the border mountains and the nearer Wrekin, and that this is the plain on which was fought the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.  There is a village called Battlefield and a memorial church three miles from Shrewsbury.

Stifling a strong desire to make a slight detour to Wroxeter, where is the Roman Uriconium, I ran into Salop, where I had a lunch of strawberries and cream with other delicacies, for which I was charged a formidable price.  Heeding not the various attractions of Shrewsbury, I crossed the English bridge which was being widened, and took the Ludlow road.  The scenery was nothing to write about, being flat and monotonous and motorised, and as I faced a stiff breeze and unaccountably became saddle-sore, I was not sorry when I came up against the hill-country, and entered the narrow vale between Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd, in which lies the residential town of Church Stretton.  I searched high and low here for maps of the Dorset and Devon coasts without avail.

The hill-country became splendid, and the villages were glorious pictures in ‘black and white’ and flowery gardens, whilst the wind turned and sided me now, so I easily ticked back the miles, having the good fortune to run into a heavy rainstorm, which was luxuriously cooling.  Unhappily, it soon passed off.  Just after Craven Arms I turned to view quaint little Stokesay Castle, and becoming enamoured of it, went inside.  Though not a ruin, the castle interior is barren of equipment, except for one room, which has been turned into a tiny museum, in which are various local relics and documents relevant to Stokesay.  I know nothing of its history, except that it dates from the 13th century, the timber work that gives it such a picturesque appearance being added in the Elizabethan period, thus converting it into a kind of fortified mansion.  I fancy that the ornamental fireplace and beautiful plaster work also belong to these latter times.  I was sorry to see that the main hall has been converted into a refreshment hall.

This Freedom002 Whilst I had been pottering about the castle, another rainstorm had come, but just as I made a dash to get in it, it passed away, and soon the merciless sun was beating down in approved heat-wave fashion.  A wide, perfect road carried me through a rich haymaking country to Ludlow, which is situated above the River Teme.  There is an old bridge over the river, leading into the steep main street, and from this bridge one gets an imposing view of the castle, a ruined fortress similar in style, I thought, to Kenilworth.  In Ludlow are some ancient little ‘bits’, the best being old inns, a notable example of which is the ‘Feathers’.  I had another exhaustive search here for maps but met with the same rebuffs as at Church Stretton.

My lot was now the type of country that often lies in view of a main road, just ‘country’ – nothing else, whilst the main road itself suffered for a time from the usual complaint, traffic.  The heat too, was almost unbearable, and at Woofferton, where I was tempted to follow the Teme Valley to old-world Tenbury and Worcester, I enjoyed the doubtful ‘fun’ of wallowing along a newly tarred two miles length of road.  By the time I had dissected countless tarry stones from my knees and shoes, and succeeded in liberally transferring the dauby stuff to my hands, I had decided to go straight ahead.  Then the country took on a new outlook, the road winding in and out like an alluring by-lane with the country around just like a garden.  Herefordshire !  I met a tandem couple who turned out to be two prominent members of my club, and with whom I had a long chat.  They were as brown as berries, had been in Devon and Cornwall, had there obtained, besides an unhealthy taste for cider, a great enthusiasm for the West Country and they urged me to go their way, lending me maps and putting me ‘on’ several finds, in the shape of caterers and lodging houses.  So I left them, and the half-formed thoughts of heading West resolved into a decision.  I had tea in an old-world cottage in old-world Leominster, or ‘Lemster’, as it is pronounced, and then ran into a magnificent country, perhaps not really magnificent in the right sense of the word, but a bit of untainted England, fields of waving wheat all splashed with crimson poppies, long-grass meadows, rolling up and down in furling waves….

‘-Such and up and down,

Of verdure, noting too much up or down,

A ripple of land, as if God’s finger touch’d

But did not press in making England’.

and hedges ablaze with roses.  Once the road climbed evenly for a mile or more, and I had a fine view from the summit, a view of sweeping hills – waves of land all green and red and brown and gold until the blue haze of distance mingled it all.  I came to quaint old Hereford, busy Hereford, I should say, for the Saturday night crowds were about.  Perhaps the best thing to remind me of Hereford will be the long search for ‘sun-specs’ I had.  I wanted some ‘sun-specs’ for my eyes had ached that day with the glare of the sun, but the millions of midges which seem to be all determined to explore the inner recesses of my eyes were my chief reason for the investment.  Hereford was combed for those ‘specs’, and I got them just as I was about to give up the hunt.  But they were good ones, and I yet mourn their loss, which came about a month later on the Berwyns – Bwlch Rhiw Hirnant, to be precise.  I must hold the crowds responsible for my failure to take a proper look at Hereford Cathedral and for not looking up the street where Nell Gwynne was born, but I did spend a moment looking down at the sylvan Wye from the old bridge.  That, I think, concluded my associations with the ancient city of Hereford.

This Freedom003

The next 14 miles on the hills to the west of the Wye Valley hold glorious memories yet with me.  The sun was setting; over the hills and valleys, green fields and woods was the hush of a summer twilight, a twilight that, at first tinged with the rays of the setting sun, golden hued, changed ever so slowly until the distant hills went blue and hazy and a dead quiet settled o’er the countryside.  Then is the time when the bicycle scores, when one glides noiselessly along, when one is, and desires to be, at peace with the great peace around, when one may sit on a stile and watch the distant mountains turn from purple to blue, and see the haze of night – a filmy cloak steal over them, when one may walk slowly uphill and see the roses drooping to sleep, or catch the scents of the hedgerows and hayfields; that is when one draws closer to infinite secrets of Nature, and feels the call of the countryside.  Add that to the thoughts of a whole week – more than a week of such country and it will be readily understood how supremely happy I was.  I revelled in my bare arms, open neck and, yes, bare knees, loose, light clothing, and in the knowledge that now, time was my own; I could go whither I chose.  I would put up in the next village till the next village came, then the next, and so on, for I hated to give up riding on such an evening.  The freedom of cycle touring, it is great !

Eventually I found myself crossing the Wye again and entering a quaint little town, Ross on Wye, where I took counsel with myself.  The local clock was set at 9.15; Gloucester, the next place in the handbook was 16 miles away.  Was it feasible tonight?  An hour’s hard-riding if the roads were not hilly, an hour hard-riding in country like this – no, I couldn’t do it, so I found a place, had supper to the tune of a wireless concert from 2LO (You can’t get thoroughly away from modern life even in quaint little Ross) then took a walk when dusk was deepening to night, and a bright streak over the Black Mountains of Brecon was all that was left of a magnificent day, a day of 148 miles of the English Wonderland.  Back at my little Temperance Hotel I sat listening to the burlesque of Harry Lauder, and to the engaging remarks of the daughter of the house, a rather pretty ‘modern maid of Ross’, who wanted me to tell her of the latest things in jazz and hairdressing in town.  I’m afraid that I failed to tell her more than she already knew, for I did not know myself, but all the same I must apologise to Harry Lauder for neglecting him.  The end of a perfect day !