Tag Archives: England
I do love riding in England. Where else could you find yourself pedalling along a picturesque country lane, all hedgerows and sheep grazing in the meadows, then look up to see a mediaeval gate just sitting there, all on its own in the countryside, an evocative ruin brooding in the dampness of a cold grey winter’s afternoon, with those big old oaks growing up all around it. It is like something out of Narnia or Tolkien.
This particular ruin is just outside the ancient village of Winchelsea, once one of the richest seaports along the southern England coast – in fact one of the wealthiest towns in all of England – much of its wealth coming from the wine trade with France. No less a personage than Edward I had a couple of town houses here, and was apparently considering moving his court here in preference to London. But then along came the Great Storm of 1287 and a tidal surge that pretty much wiped the original Winchelsea off the map. Shortly afterwards a new Winchelsea was built on higher ground, part of its walled fortifications including this gate – the ‘New Gate’ – which today sits about half a mile from the village proper.
Alas the fickle sea, which had brought the village so much prosperity over the years, retreated over the coming centuries so today the village sits high and dry, dozing away the years, and the by-now very old ‘New’ gate, which once stood close to the water, sits overgrown and mouldering along this narrow country lane – a lane which happens also to be one of my favourite places to ride, although I seldom come here in winter. These winding sunken lanes are tricky enough at the best of times, being muddy and strewn with fallen branches; in the dark of winter, where ice can be added to the mix, they are no fun at all. And in the pre-dawn dark, there is little to see of the countryside and this magic old gate.
But prompted by my enjoyable evening ride the other day over to Eastbourne, I once again forwent my morning ride and instead set out, mid-afternoon, for a broad daylight spin through the English countryside, revelling in its storybook magic and feeling more eager than ever for spring to hurry up and arrive.
Being the sort of fellow who likes to have a little pomp with his circumstance, I’m stabling my bicycles for a couple of days and heading up to London with the wife and kids to see some of the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s not often an English monarch manages to log three score years on the job. In fact, it’s happened only once before, when Queen Victoria notched up her 60th in 1897, and so it seems a pity to miss out on all the pageantry and sense of occasion that goes with it. I like that stuff, and when it comes to pomp and circumstance nobody in all the world does it better – or even half as good – as the British. So I’m off to see the goings-on and will return home on Tuesday, back to Hastings where it all began in 1066.
There are days when I wonder why I ever moved to England – like when I step out of Sainsburys with two small bags of groceries in the crook of my finger and realise that I’ve just dropped thirty quid; or when I pause to consider the Orwellian implications of the 369 CCTV cameras that the average person in Britain is said to pass beneath each day; or pull my hair out at the neurotic ‘elf and safety regulations or the maddening political correctness; or find myself standing in the customs and immigration queue at Heathrow for three hours waiting to have my passport stamped by one of the (maybe) three officers on duty for the entire terminal, and praying to God one of them doesn’t go off on their tea break; days when I decide this is a crazy place to live: stressful, crowded, expensive, and mindlessly, exuberantly bureaucratic.
But then I slip away down the lanes on my bicycle on fine warm spring mornings such as this, with the last of the season’s bluebells still in flower along the roadside and honeyed sunshine dipping through the branches and suddenly I feel incredibly fortunate to be living here, pedalling through such storybook landscapes, and feeling as though I’d ridden into the pages of some cozy old novel. And then, as I spin along these pretty Sussex lanes, I find myself thinking what a splendid place England is and how I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.