Escape Routes, Matt Carroll (2011)
Short cycle rides in England, seved up hipster-stylee
Punk Publishing 9781906889104 21cm x 17cm 288pp £16.95
Riding across Clerkenwell today, I was taken aback by the gathering of cyclists who massed at each junction. There were more than 40 of us as we crossed St John’s Street. Most were in their 20s or 30s and nearly half were women. Many must be fairly recent converts to cycling, because at the same junctions a decade ago there were only a quarter of that number.
All those new cyclists will have family and friends who, at Christmas and birthdays wonder what gifts to buy them – and this title might well be one upon which they alight.
It is an attractive book, with photos and illustrations on every page, describing 60 rides – most between 10 and 15 miles in length – in locations all over England. There is a narrative account of riding each route, a hand-drawn map and a selection of cafes, attractions and bed and breakfasts along the way.
The routes are pretty good. Carroll’s claim to have spent three years researching them is borne out, both by the detail of his descriptions and by the very many pictures of himself in location (that’s him on the cover). At times his prose does verge on the purple: “(as) you glide effortlessly along the track, ears of golden corn growing in the fields on either side dip in a sweeping bow of regal acknowledgement”, he says in one breath. A paragraph later on, however, when a bit of descriptive detail would be welcome, he merely notes that the Church is “old and weathered”.
But the far more fundamental issue that I have with Escape Routes, is imagining to what useful purpose it might be put. You would be hard pressed to follow the routes, book in hand; they start from all over the regions into which they are organised; and, there is little sense of how you might get to the starting points – save to have driven.
Doubtless as copies of this book emerge from the wrapping paper, appreciative noises will be made. Recipients will devote ten or twenty minutes to leafing through its pages, enjoying the pictures and scanning the odd paragraph. Some will almost certainly be inspired to seek out the idylls that appear within. Then, they will get a map and work out some routes for themselves.
TD May 11