Cycling with a poet to the Quantocks
Best known as a First World War poet, Edward Thomas here recounts a bike tour he made in the spring of 1913 from London to the Quantocks. He conveys the joy of the awakening season and his passage through the land, with its sights and smells and the marks of people who have lived in and shaped the landscape.
Like his hero Wiltshire writer Richard Jefferies, Thomas is impatient of conventional religion and its memorials to the conforming and the prosperous. He celebrates the small people and detail as he passes through on his way to the less tamed west and the sea.
He takes a meandering route, detouring to the houses of friends, and passing through many places familiar to me in the West Country. The 98 years since the ride was made act as an astigmatic lens. On the one hand we are not surprised that London has grown (though perhaps by how much - fields beyond Garrett Lane in Wandsworth). On the other, modern factories in the countryside like the Staverton Nestle Works and Shepton Mallet brewery were already standing, making the green fields a backdrop to bustling industry.
What is most striking is the absence of traffic, giving the cyclist space, time and quietness to take in the world he rides through: a range of sense appreciation opened to us by his pages, but in our car-dominated times only on our back roads.
In Pursuit of Spring website - photos along the route, links to the book
More of my quick reviews of cycling books:
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Coming soon: David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries and Josie Drew's The Wind in My Wheels