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Silchester Saunter

by Tim Russell-Smith

As Bernard cautioned in October’s Buzzing, the forecast promised “changeable”.  Which is what we got—in bucketfuls.  And the Little Chef en route gave little comfort (no change there), as early sunshine turned into sub-tropical downpour.  So what was the mood of the autocycle faithful gathered at The New Inn, Stratford Saye?  Drenched, sombre and defeatist?  Half a guess—the reverse, as wartime camaraderie and cyclemotor spirit just added to that feeling of adventure that precedes every run.

Friendly faces peered from the imaginary shelter of the car park’s only tree, chirruping a re-assuring welcome.  And what’s this, a couple of cheery Tommies in an Andersen shelter?  And—surely not here—gas capes?  But no, a simple mistake, just an upturned hatchback providing some respite, and prudent covers over precious machinery—no excuse for slipping drive belts.

And so we’re off, riders being Jim Pallett - New Hudson; Mike Crumpton - Tri-Cyclemaster; Derek Carter on JES, Lorraine Carter and Bernard Marlow on Cyclemasters; Tim and Margaret Bunting - both VéloSoleX; Alan Herbert - on James; John Lipscombe, Bob Goodwin, Tim Russell-Smith - all Mobylette; Tony Brown - cadmium powered (retired).

Tim Bunting leads Margaret downstream

A twist of the throttle, finding the balance, and pure joy, a scenic meander around twenty miles of the most picturesque Roman countryside.  Narrow lanes certainly, but straight not at all—very curious, history re-written?  Autumn hedgerows lush with with mellow fruitfulness, and so mild that the rain only refreshes.  Here’s a puzzle: grown men fishing, in the road!  An impromptu stop indicates the presence of a bridge, and the dismounted group concludes this may be a river.  In this weather who knows, and the blackberries so good, who cares?

And so swishing on, judicious pedalling on modest inclines, to the keenly anticipated “elevenses” halt.  Rounding a corner: a pleasing spectacle.  There in a leafy glade our very own Henley Regatta—only more so; marquee, hot drinks, home made cakes and marvellous flapjacks (thank you Lorraine) hit the spot, and everywhere Derek and Lorraine’s attention to detail.  Indeed some were so overcome, as partly dispensing with canvas seemed oblivious to the accumulated water torrenting down their necks.  Tony Brown, more concerned with electrocution from his machine—too modern?—folded it cautiously into his car boot.  And so, suitably refreshed and under brightening skies, most took the optional longer route back.  Sign 3 miles to Odiham—drat, missed that recent run.

Special accolades to Margaret Bunting, her first ride in four years, and Mike Crumpton, demonstrating a truly heroic performance on the two-wheel-out-front TriCyclemaster.  His deft ability in outwitting its tendency to twitchiness on the straights was equalled only by his fearsome technique in leaning into the bends for optimum momentum—at all costs.  So a popular choice, Mike won both the amusing trophies, namely, “Designer Ears”, cleverly crafted and inscribed by Colin: “Friends, Romans Cyclemotorists”...(geddit!) Mike’s wins, for the second year running, were for longest distance travelled (from Worcestershire), also Landlord’s choice, overheard saying later, “really didn’t know what to expect, but I quite like them”—whether machines or riders, remains unknown.  And your scribe further enjoyed Mike’s company autocycling afterwards towards Thatcham.

Thames Valley Section has good cause to be grateful to Derek and Lorraine, also Bernard, Colin, and everyone else involved, for their excellent groundwork and planning to make this year’s Silchester a saunter to remember.  And yes, the skies did clear for lunch in the New Inn garden—but it rained, so we paddled back inside.

First published - December 1999

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