Lost Lanes West
‘A road is for travelling between places, but a lane is a place in itself.’
The latest addition to my travel bookshelf is Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes West, a compendium of 36 ‘glorious bike rides’ in the west country. The success of Jack’s previous books, Lost Lanes and Lost Lanes Wales, has established him as an authority on the lesser-known routes that might once have been major roads but, as the network continues to be ever upgraded, are now largely forgotten. The beauty of these routes is that they are blissfully quiet of traffic, and though some might be in varying states of disrepair, Jack’s promise to the reader is that there are no horrible sections where you might have to grit your teeth to reach the next beautiful stretch.
Jack is a fellow GetOutside champion for Ordnance Survey, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at an OS retreat back in January, then hearing him speak at Stanfords Bristol earlier this month. His presentation there was authoritative, entertaining and confident (despite the dreaded technological problems), which is one indication of why Jack has gained such renown among the cycling community. Another is his excellent book.
At once beautiful and engaging, Lost Lanes West is overflowing with photographs, maps and elegant descriptions that instantly tempt more than just a cursory glance – to open it is to get stuck in. Jack is a fine photographer: the pictures are stunning, even those that illustrate the less-than-perfect British weather. His writing is charming, and sidesteps the travel-writer’s tendency to give perfunctory instructions or merely opine on the merits of each route. There is enough detail to facilitate the ride and enough background to feel invested in each route, and through it all is woven a sense that Jack enjoyed his research as much as he enjoys sharing his finds. It is simply a delight, a fascinating exploration of the routes that lie under our noses, presented with such creativity and authority that I thought, with each page turned, ‘I must find time to ride here.’
The routes take us from the sharp ups and downs of the Cornish peninsula to the eerie blankness of Salisbury Plain, in between exploring moors, river valleys, old railway trails, the fearsome hill at Porlock and some stunning coastal landscapes. Mostly between 30 and 60 miles, each ride would make a fairly comfortable day trip, with the opportunity to link the loops together for a more substantial challenge or a weekend away. With hints on how and where to camp, what to take and which ride best suits which scenario, this guide is as useful to the novice as it is to the seasoned tourer. There is even GPS information so the (substantial) book needn’t be carried on tour. Almost all of the ride locations can be reached without need for a car.
Jack’s passion for bicycle travel as a means of discovering the world is clear, as he states, ‘Only the bicycle combines speed, efficiency and freedom with a total immersion in the world around us.’ It’s a sentiment I share, and one that continues to grow with each new adventure.
If there is anything negative to be said about this latest offering from the Lost Lanes series, it is that it’s difficult to chose which ride to do first. I hope at some point to be able to explore them all.
Lost Lanes West is published by Wild Things Publishing and is available to buy now