To be in England in the summertime… It is a day of smells today. At the edge of Ashcylst forest, as I hunker down beneath an oak tree to escape the rain as thunder peals overhead, it is the stench of cow manure from the farm next door. My mum always said it was the healthy smell of the countryside, but this afternoon I beg to differ. At the Salcombe Regis Thorn it is the simultaneously sweet and bitter scent of freshly hewn wood drifting over from the enormous (and no doubt quite aged) tree that is in the process of being felled in the garden of ‘Sunnydale’. Finally there is the scent of Seaton: As I climb up out of town on the road to Beer there comes on the air the unmistakable aroma of Generic English Curry, wafting up gently on the south easterly breeze from the town below.
A quick blast this afternoon to loosen the legs, up again past the giant LOVE to glimpse the magical Raddon Tree in its solitary summit splendour. Such simple things that give us succour.
It’s interesting how quickly things that would once have seemed unexpected become normalised. As I ride through Feniton a white haired lady pauses at the junction of Church Lane and waves me on my way with an ‘after you’ flourish. Perhaps she is on her way to visit the village Post Office, or the Feniton Hairstylists that shares the same end cottage. As I acknowledge her greeting with a smile and a wave of my own, I think to myself that her black and white polka dot face mask really does look marvellously elegant.
It’s the first time in many months that I have ridden this far north, up along the edge of Exmoor and across the Brendon Hills. The views out to the Bristol Channel and over to Wales are are delicious as ever, but the wind is whipping in from the north west and making the day feel colder than the sun suggests it might. Heading south and home again I drop through Morebath and note that the terraced ground next to St George’s church, once home to enormous barns filled with hay, are now occupied by a trio of plush looking newly built homes. ‘Sold’ signs suggest there is no shortage of idle money around (I’m fairly certain these will not be Primary Residences), and I wonder idly what Sir Christopher Trychay might have had to say about that…
It feels like my entire ride has been spent following in the wake of the innumerable showers that have peppered the morning. I rarely feel the spatter of drops on my skin, but the road surfaces are mostly slick and clouds glower darkly overhead. This changes as I climb out of Bradninch and look over past Killerton to where I see rain sweeping across the valley towards me like a cloud of locusts destroying everything in its path.
Cameo – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from ‘Sideways to New Italy’ LP. Bandcamp)
Perfect Day – RVG (from ‘Feral’ LP. Bandcamp)
Muskrat Love (Captain & Tenille cover) – MJ Elston (from ‘Cruise Control: A Yacht Rock Cover Compilation’ Bandcamp)
Work Alone – Gary Daly (from ‘Gone From Here‘ LP)
Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder – Scritti Politti (from ‘Absolute’ retrospective LP)
Couch Surfer – The Academy of Sun (from ‘The Quiet Earth’ LP. Bandcamp)
Into Strangeness – FEAR OF MEN (digital single. Bandcamp)
Not Summer Not Winter Just Cold – Happy Refugees (from ‘Intermittent Motion’ EP. Bandcamp)
Dig In – I LIKE TRAINS (from ‘Kompromat’ LP. Bandcamp)
Your Summer Theme – Lisa Mychols & SUPER 8 (from ‘Lisa Mychols and SUPER 8‘ LP
Mother Earth – Merry Go Round (R.I.P. Emmitt Grogan. YouTube)
If I Had A Ribbon Bow – Fairport Convention (R.I.P. Judy Dyble. YouTube)
Goldenwing – Snowgoose (from ‘The Making of You’ LP. Bandcamp)
This Letter – Belle & Sebastian (from ‘The Days of The Bagnold Summer’ LP)
Unification – Bingo Harry (from ‘Bingo Harry’ LP. Bandcamp)
White Line – Neil Young (from ‘Homegrown’ LP)
March March – The Chicks (from ‘Gaslighter‘ LP)
Don’t Diss the Disco – International Teachers Of Pop (from ‘Pop Gossip‘ LP)
Stop the Music – The Pipettes (from ‘Earth vs The Pipettes’ LP. YouTube)
On Me Not In Me – Earl Brutus (available on ‘Super Sonics – 40 Junkshop Britpop Greats‘ compilation)
Stop That Girl – Vic Godard (on ‘Singles Anthology’ Bandcamp)
dark angel – GospelbeacH (from ‘Once Upon a Time in London‘ live LP)
Brother – The Kinks (from ‘Sleepwalker’ LP. YouTube)
Dancer’s Green – HARESS (digital single. Bandcamp)
The Trembling Earth – Sairie (from ‘The Trembling Earth’ EP. Bandcamp)
Christs Hospital – Gilroy Mere (from ‘Adlestrop‘ LP)
Continental Balcony Twilight – gnac (from ‘Early Recordings vol 4’ Bandcamp)
Halo – Modern Nature (from ‘Annual’ LP Bandcamp)
Oiseau Rebelle – Clara Engel (from ‘Hatching Under The Stars’ LP. Bandcamp)
Cruel Summer – TJO (from ‘Songs for Peacock’ LP Bandcamp)
Chinese Satellite – Phoebe Bridgers (from ‘Punisher’ LP Bandcamp)
Upper Slaughter – Darren Hayman (from ‘Thankful Villages vol 2’ LP Bandcamp)
Wishing Well – Anne Briggs (from ‘The Time Has Come’ LP YouTube)
Tangled Man – Green Gartside (from 7″ single)
Of All The Things We’ve Made – Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (YouTube)
A Mystery To Me – Snails (digital single. Bandcamp)
The Way That She Laughed – Lavinia Blackwall (from ‘Mugginton Lane End’ LP. Bandcamp)
Faking Amnesia – Johanna Warren (from ‘Chaotic Good’ LP. Bandcamp)
Drinking During The Day – Emily Edrosa (digital single. Bandcamp)
Louis L’Amour – Scrawl (from ‘Travel On, Rider’ LP. YouTube)
Sympathy for the Baby Boo – Deerhoof (from ‘Future Teenage Cave Artists’ LP. Bandcamp)
… and Electric Music – The Wolfhounds (from ‘Electric Music’ LP. Bandcamp)
Seek to Hide – A Shoreline Dream (from ‘Melting’ LP. Bandcamp)
Full playlist at Mixcloud
My body feels on the verge of rebellion, the effects of eight hours spent at the wheel of a motor car sustained only by third rate espresso and chocolate still working their way through my system. These roads of Ayrshire are familiar, but only in so much as anything we spent time with as teenagers are familiar after thirty years away. I ride up over the hills outside Tarbolton and back again towards Galston, past innumerable little brown signposts with a portrait of Robert Burns to remind me whose country this is. I take the road for Craigie and forget that it brings me back down into the ragged road surfaces of Riccarton where a man wanders blindly in front of me. Later I emerge on the circuit we all rode with such alarming regularity in our youth and as I pass a row of cottages I notice this collection of homes now has the official settlement name of Earlston. The familiar subtly altered like memories that never fade but merely disfigure themselves with time.
A morning of unrelentingly grey skies and rain is broken at around 3pm by a burst of sunshine and I Take Advantage with a quick ride out to Allercombe and up Brickyard Lane. As I pause above the A30 to photograph the sky, rain drops are starting to spatter my legs and a horse whinnies loudly across the field, as if in anticipation of the storm that unleashes itself on me as I turn and head for home. As I gulp in lungfuls of air and mouthfuls of rain I reflect that there is nothing quite like a summer rain storm to focus your effort.
There has always been something utterly ludicrous about English schools having ‘summer’ holidays when they do. I am reminded of this peculiarity today when, riding out of Tipton St John towards the coast at Sidmouth, a horse-chestnut falls from an overhanging bough and clatters off my helmet. Later too, at the end of my ride passing Dane’s Wood, a tractor ploughs a recently harvested field, turning the earth back to the deep Devon red. Once again it feels like summer is departing just as ‘summer’ begins.
A quick ride up to Raddon in the afternoon sunshine. In Thorverton the village cricket team are out at last on the green, the sound of leather on willow floating towards me on the breeze. At the top of the hill the wheat has turned to gold.