The Golden Wheels of Albert Winstanley, Albert Winstanley (1985)
A delicious collection of articles, mainly describing day rides in north Lancashire and the Lake District
Countryside Publications 0 86157 162 2 Octo 120 pp
Albert Winstanley’s obituary appears here.
Winstanley had been cycling for more than half a century at the time this collection of his writing was published (he died in March 2012 at the age of 95). In it, his evocation of pedalling joy, up and down the hilly lanes and byways of north west England, is enchanting.
Each of the 22 pieces – some of which appeared in the magazines Cycling and Cycling World – takes the form of a first-person account of a trip – often through his beloved Bowland, or the Lakes. Sometimes he rides with his head full of fairytales, on other occasions, poetry, but always, it is his fascination with history and topography, and his pleasure at passing through the landscape, that really infuses his writing.
Here he is pausing on a climb up through the Lakes:
“There was no mistaking the bridge just through the gate, with Rydal Beck rushing below, and I leaned the bike by its side. Now I should dream of yesterday, and Mr Wordsworth would be the principal character. Rydal Beck, a tributary of the River Rothay, courses and tumbles down from Rydal Fell in a thrilling display of leaps and bounds, forming on its way deep pools and rapids, and at times thundering through miniature ravines and canyons.”
He also has an infectiously boyish sense of fun. In Trollers Ghyll, in upper Wharfdale, for example, he imagines trolls are sabotaging his progress up a rough track – eventually causing him to fall in the beck.
“I chose a convenient rock to sit my wet seat on and peeled off my socks, then my shorts and underpants. Over my sandwiches and a flask of tea I sat in the October sunshine, musing and laughing at my adventures. Draped around me were my wet clothes, and I had my cape handy to throw over my state of undress should anyone choose to come this way.”
These pieces are worth revisiting simply for the pleasure or reading them. They would also make a useful primer for anyone planning to explore that part of the world. Indeed, reading them left me reaching for the map and trying to devise a cycling tour of these parts.
But they have a wider importance today. The type of touring that Winstanley champions gets little of no attention, despite booming interest in cycling. The CTC might have recorded its highest level of membership ever, but as anyone who has been on a run with a local CTC group recently will tell you – the vast majority of members are over 50, and many are a good deal older than that. Long may they all enjoy their cycling, but surely cycle touring is a recreation with wider appeal?
In an age of computer gaming, 24-hour telly and on-line amusements, escaping from artifice, with a saddlebag full of provisions and a heart full of hope, is a joy waiting to be discovered by young cyclists..
If any were looking for inspiration to climb on a bike and explore the country, simply for the joy of it, Winstanley provides it in spadefulls.
PS Oct 09, revised Mar 12
One of Winstanley’s articles appears in the launch edition of The Bicycle Reader, available to download here.