Road to Freedom for Girl on a Golden Rudge
Re-published by kind permission of Down Your Way from their issue of June 2012
One extremity-numbing Saturday morning in November 1953 a friend and I set off on our bicycles for a weekend at Aysgarth Youth Hostel, a YHA buzzword on the strength of the warden’s Labrador doing tricks for the hostellers on Saturday nights. Considering the excitement of paintballing and bungee jumping I wonder how many youngsters these days would be lured into riding the best part of 50 miles through icy thick fog to watch such a spectacle?
In the event the dog performed several tricks such as sticking out its paw for us to shake and making one or two fancy moves when instructed. But it was so not riveting that by nine o’clock several folk had tucked themselves into their bunks after a double cocoa.
For me one of the joys of cycling as a youth was escaping parental control. The freedom was as exhilarating as the breathtaking scenery and sense of adventure. We passed on the cocoa this particular night considering we were well enough away from home to fear discovery, and headed over the road to the Palmer Flatt pub to order a beer and experiment with a paper packet of five Woodbine cigarettes.
There was a deliciously warm glow from the fire, the beer was gradely, and it was with genuine pleasure that we relaxed on a bar stool apiece listening to the local Dales folk talking about yows and tups. (Yorkshire dialect for sheep – ewes and rams).. The duty that I would be given the following morning – and in my case this was always to clean up the entire self-cookers’ kitchen – was as far from my mind as the long drag back over Kidstones to Buckden. Right now we had just sucked the froth off the beer, and were coolly trying to blow smoke rings at the ceiling, when a voice from the doorway boomed “Well if it isn’t Maggie from Barrowford.” And to my absolute horror there stood Mrs Barrowclough who, with her family, had left our area the previous year.
“I never thought I’d see you again,” I coughed. “We’d no idea where you’d moved to.” Obviously and inconveniently for me it was to Aysgarth in a tied cottage near the river, next to where her husband worked (if memory serves me correctly) in a flour mill. She eyed the Woodbines and beer, and as her son and I had been through junior school together she didn’t need to ask my age, which was not commensurate with current activities. I’ll give Mrs Barrowclough her due, news of my misdemeanours never got back to base.
On our way to Aysgarth we had passed a place that was hugely popular with cyclists. I have fond memories of Long Ashes at Threshfield which had a wooden hut to the rear of the main building where they served pint pots of tea for 1/-d. A handbook published by the Cyclists’ Touring Club listed such havens where you were welcome to take your own food and merely purchase a drink. At Long Ashes more than anywhere else I longed for, but was never once able to afford, a plate of real home-made chips.
The place was also popular with caravaners and there were plenty of open spaces for games. One summer a large group of cyclists from the various clubs in our town organised a sports day there, the main highlight being to try and eat a chunk of bread coated in treacle, with our hands tied behind our back. On a scale of entertainment value it would currently score around three points.
But the first cycle run I ever took, at the age of 15, has remained the most lucid for the sheer physical effort it took to get back home from whence we went. I was riding a gold-coloured Rudge with Sturmy Archer gear when I turned up for the Sunday run with the Clarion Cycling Club in east Lancashire. After much tittering and pointing at my machine by youngsters with classy models we set off for Yorkshire. It was hardly any distance to the county border but I was well and truly left behind before we’d even reached it.
Everyone I asked for the whereabouts of Chevin End, the club’s intended destination, fell on stony ground but this only spurred me on with a real determination to find the place. Playing it by ear I headed into unknown territory over The Moss to Ickornshaw and Cowling. Once there my destination obviously had a familiar ring for I was pointed in the direction of Addingham and on to Otley.
A long steep hill led up from the town to the Clarion House on the Chevin where I almost fell off the bike. I literally staggered with exhaustion into the café and eagerly washed down my Spam sandwiches with a large pot of strong tea. As I did so I marvelled at the fervent participation in the sports day going on outside. I couldn’t understand where the folks’ energy had come from, but the real cruelty was that barely had I landed than it was time to climb back on the bikes and head home.
Despite being unbearably saddlesore the following day I’d got the bug for independent cheap travel. By the following year I’d earned enough extra money by cleaning a chapel three nights a week, after my day job, to buy a green curly Hetchins bike with Madison handlebars, a Carradice saddlebag, alloy wheels, and a Brooks racing saddle. It goes without saying that back in the fifties you also had to ride fixed gear if you wanted to clone with the rest of the gang.
On that glorious summer’s day how could I have known that 35 years later I should marry my second husband in Leeds, followed by a modest reception for ten, spread on a pasting table on top of the Chevin – the hill being framed by the window of our home on Weston Ridge, Otley. The view never failed to remind me of a naive young girl who trod life’s path with a new determination after that day at Chevin End.