Vikings Were Here

A longer ride today – in essence, up to Christmas Common, along the top, down to Hambleden, along to Henley and up over the hill to Caversham.

It’s a very different thing to plan a route for a ride as opposed to a drive, to think geographically. If you talk to a non-cyclist, it’s quickly apparent that it’s not something many of us do that often; it’s easy to become out of touch with the shape of the land. I know we don’t need to plan routes with the same considerations as ancient man – the Ridgeway for instance – but the consequences can still be significant – building on flood plain comes to mind (or buying somewhere built on flood plain, if you suspect developers know but just don’t care). The location of clay seams in the land is another one; frost pockets, old springs, old mines and similar: a lot’s been forgotten.

The ride along the ridge that Christmas Common sits on gives some good views, particularly to the north, today with a strong wind as the price to be paid.

The road crosses the massive cutting made by the M40 through the hills there and that always produces mixed feelings in me. I can see it’s incredibly destructive, but I can see we need to let people move around easily: the same amount of traffic on small rural roads would be far worse.

Of course, there’s the moot point of whether a ‘good’ road engenders more travel but given the realities of the way we seem to have organised ourselves, I suspect that only happens to a limited extent. At least, I suspect that’s the case now we’ve come this far with the approach we’ve adopted, of travelling several miles regularly being the norm.

And for all its negative aspects, I’m also very impressed by the cutting through the hills and the engineering that went in to making that happen. It’s an achievement. It’s a big deal. You suspect that if Victorians had done the work 150 years ago, we’d all be admiring it now. I don’t know if that’s just human nature.

The drop down to Hambleden takes you through Fingest and Skirmett. I’ve always thought they sounded vaguely Norse and I was pleased to discover they are just that: Scandinavian names. I guess the Vikings or their descendants were there once. There are several small roads in those hills between Henley and Marlow and lot of them afford views that are pretty close to the notion of idyllic English scenery. Mind you, pretty they may be, but there are tough climbs on those roads too.