i have lived on islay for nigh on thirty years, during which there are few, if any, portions of road that remain untrammeled by at least one set of my bicycle wheels. i've even indulged in one or two sections of offroad, just to place all in perspective. however, most of the hebridean isles, particularly those clearly exposed to the worst of atlantic breezes, are largely bereft of trees, all but destroying the forlorn hope that we might somewhere harbour a few lost lanes of our own.
aside from the salient fact that islay is a land mass approximately 21 miles end to end and edge to edge, with a population of just above 3,000, its minimal road system leaves precious little scope for a fully-formed cycling guide book. you will perhaps be aware that i have composed a few internet pages on this very site regarding that very subject, pages that i well know are devoid of illustration; it's a situation i have oft promised to remedy. one day soon. but ultimately it exists as a means of preparation for those intending to visit.
you'd hardly refer to it as a travelogue.
i think it important to make the distinction between travel writing and travel guides. though there can be considerable crossover between the two, essentially the latter is concerned mostly with providing a series of directions, illustrated with details to be viewed along the way. some of these are considerably better than others, but survive at the hands of the author's particular predilection.
by this i refer to whether he or she is absorbed more with the acts of riding, walking or simply travelling, than they are with the process of writing. as mentioned above, there are those who excel at both and those who are considerably better at one than the other. how this affects you, the potential reader, depends on whether you're simply looking for someone to point you in the right direction, or hope to enjoy some quality writing along the way.
at the risk of offering more praise than is seemly in polite company, the bike show presenter jack thurston exceeds on both levels of expectation. i have previously brought his exemplary style to your attention via the first volume in what i fervently hope is a continuing series, where mr thurston described more than just a few lost lanes in southern england. the geography may have changed under wheel in this second volume, but the quality has remained at very much the same high standard.
travel writing, as a genre, offers up many different aspects, from the parochial to the international, most taking us to places we've only dreamed about visiting, or helping us realise just what was under our very noses; right on our doorstep so to speak. despite the professed nature of lost lanes, strip out the directional attributes and you are left with a quite superb narrative that transcends the very reason you'd probably have purchased the book in the first place.
though i always hope that my own writings might portray me as an intrepid fellow of derring-do (admit it, i had you fooled?), but in all honesty that is very far from the truth. i have already admitted to mr thurston that the likelihood of my ever visiting or riding any of his lost lanes is rather small. however, the likelihood of my reading his books from end to end, including any further publications is pretty much guaranteed.
there are those for whom the act of writing seems as simple as breathing, even if they may have spent many an anguished afternoon in front of the word processor. jack thurston is such a one.
"The route starts in Llanrwst, a gutsy market town that hasn't yet succumbed to the tourist hordes that have turned the likes of Betws-y-Coed and Beddgelert into year-round resort towns. Things immediately get off to a good start with the ride over Llanrwst's architectural glory: the 1636 stone bridge, allegedly designed by I|nigo Jones, that spans the Conwy in three exquisitely proportioned arches."
the book commences with a map of ride locations and a compilation of 'at a glance' information for each ride. this is followed by an overview of what we are about to receive.
"The old joke goes that if you flattened Wales out it would be bigger than England, and it's true that Wales is considerably hillier than its larger neighbour [...] By far the best way to see Wales and the Borders is to travel at the speed of the land. By riding a bicycle, you'll be following in the tyre tracks of Edward Elgar, who rode his fixed wheel machine around the Malvern Hills and Herefordshire, composing music as he went."
jack thurston also demonstrates an uncanny empathy with his readership by providing a thematic preface to the lost lane rides themselves. there are rides defined as more approachable for those intrigued by history, ups and downs, weekends away, gourmets, and the almost obligatory pubs, along with several other reasons to ride.
though there are maps and downloadable gps files to accompany each of the three dozen rides, the book's rather obvious secret weapon is that of thurston's photography. "I'm an amateur really and there's lots of flaws in my technique, both with the camera and the post processing. But spend enough time riding your bike and you'll get some good light and interesting scenery, so you just need to keep riding and keep looking." in fact, he is way too modest; his keen eye has seen fit to accompany a lucid and entertaining writing style with a series of photographs that makes lost lanes greater than the sum of its parts.
even if, like me, the lost lanes of wales are probably a sturmey archer gear change too far, grab yourself a copy of this book. it provided me with several hours of excellent reading and viewing that bear comparison with the writings of matt seaton, herbie sykes and bill strickland. don't let the simplicity of the title fool you.
"Mountain biking, so the story goes, was invented by a gang of hippies in 1970s Marin County, California. In plaid shirts, ripped jeans and sporting extravagant facial hair, they raced heavy beach cruisers with coaster brakes down steep, rough mountain tracks ...But off-road cycling actually goes back much further, to the very earliest days of the bicycle.
"In Britain this kind of riding has traditionally been known as 'rough stuff' and this ride (No. 8) includes a classic rough stuff route first popularised in an article in 'Cycling' magazine way back in 1919."
friday 26 february 2016..........................................................................................................................................................................................................