Our pilgrimage, or maybe our act of homage, was of course more about the journey than the destination. A celebration (we hoped), of the humble green lane and all that’s great about it. These uniquely British ancient roads, fortunately protected (to some extent) by our equally ancient and archaic system of law, are almost unheard of anywhere else.
The footings of the green lanes run deep into British history. Centuries deep in some cases. With origins as diverse as being part of the network of Roman roads that were built to help conquer these isles… through to more humble beginnings such as paths by which drovers guided livestock to market. For centuries they have been means of communication, of travel, of transport throughout the country. Only now less-used (for the most part by recreational users), in fact just how little some of these old green lanes are used we would soon find out.
And with so much doom and gloom about the recent savaging of the green lane network by way of the spiteful NERC Act and subsequent down-grading (to paths) for so many historic tracks, it seemed a good time to celebrate what we do have at our disposal. And to prove that what we have is, still, actually quite a lot.
The planning was for a long time very light… light on detail and light on commitment. And while a date in early June had been mooted very early on, naturally the final decision, the countdown, didn’t start until less than a week from the off. The ride had attracted fanciers and the merry band at one point had swelled to five, but reality, time and commitments, meant just John Vannuffel and myself made the start. You’ll read elsewhere in this magazine [probably next month - ed] about the mad rush to get the TBM Honda CRF ready in the final days before the off.
It’ll speak of the tense hours waiting for couriers (ahh, the wonders of mail order), then feverish hours stretching into the night fitting the kit. John meantime had been equally busy. He’d elected to ride his KTM 690R and this meant quite a few renewals to make sure it was fit for the ride. New tyres, new brakes, it even meant a new MoT. Busy evenings for both of us.
Like all big journeys the start actually comes as a relief. A release from the nagging anticipation and the stresses of preparation. You’ve arrived at the moment when you can do no more, nothing else can be fitted, adjusted or substituted; you simply have to go with what you’ve got.
That moment arrived at 7am on a Tuesday morning in June, only to be revisited ten minutes later after having to return home for - of all things - my wallet. A shame as the family had given me such a rousing send-off, and my reappearance amidst subsequent activities of breakfast and washing-up was nothing more than an inconvenience. Like one encore too many.
Another ten minutes later I was delayed again. The first minutes of big-ride reverie came to a splashing halt with the intrusion of a torrent of rain. Prompting that familiar roadside roundelay of waterproof donning. It was a two-hour ride - made slightly damp and uncomfortable by the weather - just to reach the agreed start point on the Kent coast.
Our start was on a slipway at Pett Level, near Rye - the slipway is actually a road and chosen deliberately so our journey could start on the very shoreline, touching the sea. We fussed about, taking the usual photos to mark the occasion while mid-morning dog walkers offered barely cursory interest. And then we were off. Impressively John had found his first byway not even half a mile from our start point so we were straight in with the action, even if the lane uncannily resembled an unmade garage driveway: all broken concrete and bricks.
The morning was set to see us ride along the glorious South Downs before heading north for a lunchtime drop-in at Freestyle Motorcycles. John had his route - as all the routes would be - pre-uploaded on his GPS. It sat on the KTM’s cross-bar next to a TomTom sat-nav with which John would cross-reference everything. The KTM certainly had something of a control room up-front and over the next four days the sight of John stopped with his neck craned downwards as he tried to decipher the directions, would be a common one, revisited a thousand times. During which interludes I would of course kick my heels like some bored teenager in the backseat of his dad’s car.