I have written before about the (guilty) pleasure to be had from a long flat ride and, although I generally throw in a good dollop of climbing when I go out for a spin, there are times when the peace, the quiet, and the unique atmosphere of coastal Lancashire’s salt-flat farmland hits the spot nicely.
These hidden lanes and quiet stretches are pan flat, and zig-zag their way across the landscape. Much of the tarmac is raised slightly, to lift it up above the saturated landscape, and give the cyclist a feeling of hovering up above the fields and their crops and animals
By car, the lanes which criss-cross the salt-flats can seem empty and featureless, but on a bike the senses are dominated by the smells of the farm, by geese honking overhead in V formation, or great black crows arguing in fields; the sheer open-ness of the land leaves you feeling small and inconsequential.
There are times, often evenings, when I seek out the quiet of these roads. Their uniform flatness makes for easy riding and a pleasant occasional change from the hills inland, but when you’re out there alone, anything which breaks the silent spell is a genuine, jolting, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck surprise.
There is a tiny settlement, barely a village, called Eagland Hill. The lane leading up to it is single track and lined by unruly hedges, and the tarmac beautifully smooth. The metronomic effect of pedalling on this pristine surface has me floating along effortlessly and always – ALWAYS – unprepared for the Border Collie dog lashed to the gatepost of one small farm.
The very moment you pass the gate the dog leaps out in to the road to the full extent of its tether, and barks in frenzied fashion; baring teeth and snapping at thin air. Every time I ride down this lane I forget about that dog: how I haven’t fallen off the bike with shock I will never know.
But if, just once, my canine friend didn’t jump out at me and push me a day closer to heart failure I would notice immediately and wonder what was wrong.
If I simply drove past by car, I would be none the wiser either way.
Interestingly, when you push on through Eagland Hill and emerge at the junction a couple of miles down the road the road sign reminds you of the name of the lane you’ve just ridden down: ‘Killcrash Lane’.
As road names go, it does focus the mind somewhat.
For those of a nervous disposition, a dog on a short rope is the least of your worries.
I think it was somewhere in Limburg when a large Belgian shepherd came dashing through the open gates of a farm house as I came along slowly round the bend on a wet and mucky stretch. If that big beast jumped on me whilst I was still pedalling, it would not have been pretty as I would not have been in a position to have a confrontatin. Therefore, I stopped and stared right into his eyes without saying a word. He immediately stopped barking, turned round and went back inside the property. I had no idea how it was going to unfold and how I might handle the situation, but I was not expecting him to turn right round. Pleasant surprise. Or perhaps more precisely, a big relief.
First of all we don’t have flat here so that experience would be a joy. Secondly we used to have a dog locally that hurled itself out of the farm gates and ran after cyclists down the road – definitely an incentive for max tempo cycling! Luckily it is now away.
A bit of flat, just now and again, is indeed a joy. Dogs and bikes are a dangerous combination. I have a friend with a border collie which tries to herd bikes like two-wheeled sheep.
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