serendipity has a lot to answer for, in the very best of ways. it is my regular habit on a saturday to choose from my copious phalanx of bicyclery and head off to the hinterlands for a modest perambulation prior to almost magnetically tracking towards deb's cafe in bruichladdich for a lunchtime repast and coffee of the highest quality. and always supposing no-one has seen fit to park their enormous 4x4 outside, i can gaze pointlessly towards bowmore over a mirror-like loch indaal (actually that last bit is something of an in joke). yesterday was no exception to this unwritten rule.
however, as i pulled up in a thoroughly relaxed manner outside my intended destination, i was momentarily obstructed by a touring cyclist crossing my path. reece (which turned out to be his name) asked if i was a local cyclist and whether involved with the local cycling club. with a loose agglomeration of four regulars, it's hard not to smile out loud when asked that particular question, and it is one that has been voiced on many an occasion. having disavowed him of his potential misapprehension, i made clear that the club would be off out on the prowl from that very same location at 10am the following morning if he would care to join us. we are nothing if not inclusive, though perhaps a tad short on numbers.
though arriving slightly late and requiring to divest his appropriately named croix de fer touring bike of its luggage, reece joined the sunday morning peloton and we showed him roads and scenery that he may well have missed on his questionable intent to visit as many distilleries as possible. i noted that he had in his possession, a copy of richard barrett's guide to cycling the hebrides, reviewed only a matter of days ago, and though a throroughly worthwhile publication, it cannot begin to encompass the utter nonsense we can propound over the course of a two hour bike ride in an islay breeze. i think that something of a shame when it comes to the composition of modern guidebooks, whether geared (did you see what i did there?) towards cyclists or not.
post war britain in the late 1940s was one of austerity. the war years had imposed a regime of rationing that restricted the availability of essentials such as food, clothes and fuel. at this point on britain's timeline only one in seven households had access to a car, vehicles that had very little in common with today's air-conditioned comfort. for most, the principal methods of mechanised transport were those of rail, bus or bicycle, the latter providing cheap and easy access to the country's more interesting corners, perhaps incorporating both the former alternatives. raleigh had establshed themselves as the nation's leading bicycle manufacturer, production peaking at over one million in 1951. with only 8% of homes in possession of a television at the time, and even those were provided with one channel, itv not having joined the bbc until 1955, there was little by way of affixation to keep folks indoors. broadcasting hours were still fairly limited and the radio or wireless provided the principal source of family entertainment. no xbox, no wii, no playstation.
life was bliss (maybe not).
a columnist with cycling weekly at the time, harold briercliffe, then in his late thirties embarked upon the monumental task of covering the entire nation by bicycle and a series of feature articles published in the comic of the day. these were eventually combined into a series of guides, the first published in 1947 covering northern england. over the subsequent few years, a further five were published, ending with the guide to southern england reviewed here and originally published in 1950.
it is highly unlikely that a guide written over sixty years ago would be of great use to anyone intent on covering similar routes today. much of the scenery of the time will have changed beyond recognition, and for those that have remained relatively untouched, there's a darned good chance that the roads providing access are now of a different hue. that, however, is to somewhat miss the point of their having been re-issued in both 'real' and e-book format.
it has been said that nostalgia isn't what it once was, but reading the words and descriptions of briercliffe's england of the late 1940s opens doors to not only the halcyon days of british cycling, but of a country now long disappeared.
'Burford is one of the best preserved old towns in England, and one of the most picturesque. The town was of great importance in coaching days, but now the main east-west road passes it by. There is a variety of architectural styles about the houses and inns at Burford, but all are clearly of the Cotswolds. There are several inns and tea-houses in Burford catering for tourists. They are open on Sundays and all the year round - a point worth remembering.'
there is, however, dual purpose in re-publishing these guides of harold briercliffe, though i'd be more than satisfied if it were purely for the exquisite lithographs that decorated the covers. though the roads and access to all that briercliffe surveyed may now be substantially altered, where possible the publishers have updated the guides to keep them at least modestly relevant. at the end of each chapter there are directions to current and recommended sustrans routes that will help the more active reader to re-visit many of the places on briercliffe's original sojourns. all the original illustrations have been faithfully retained, and there is great joy in perusing the advert for royal enfield bicycles that offer a ladies or gents model for a resounding £15 15 shillings plus £3 13 shillings and sixpence purchase tax.
not only the roads have changed.
purchased from apple's ibook store, each of the three currently available guides cost £3.99, readable on ipod, iphone and ipad (but not yet on a mac). the paperback edition retails for £9.99 with the kindle edition at £5.14. read one, or all three while absorbing the detail and phrasing of yesteryear, all the better to regale visiting cyclists to your area. it is tantamount to treason to let the ways of yesteryear fade into obscurity, and if for no other reason, the batsford division of anova publishing is to be congratulated on their substantial level of perspicacity on presenting us with briercliffe's writings. and most definitely for retaining the original covers.
sunday 15th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................