Forest Row Bike Club
Mining in Kent: July
Quiet villages, uplands
A ride along quiet roads, through wayside villages, to Canterbury. Easy riding. A swoop down to the city, through wide landscapes, with the crops bounding the road. Recollections of similar landscapes during the recent tour in France, though the landscapes there were not marked by the occasional, characteristic oasthouse (now converted, of course).
The delayed return trip began with a climb from the city, along a quiet road, to the uplands The evening sunlight shone on the cornfields. From time to time, the road was bounded on both sides by woodland. We passed a hut with a semi-circular corrugated roof, a relic of wartime, still standing, still being used, over 60 years on. The villages though had changed. In one, what had been the school was now The Old School House. What had evidently been the public house is now a private one. No shop. New developments.
The ride continued; the sun continued to slip. We had had plenty of time at the beginning; we were running short of it now. The road along the top to the edge of the chalk had been longer than expected, or we had been slower. At the top of the slope, the land was flat to the distant sea. The ride down was swift. Along the bottom of the slope in what had become the twilight. Narrow roads, cars with their headlights on. A cheerful pub, people and lights. A climb, a tumble into nettles, a short stretch on a main road, a concluding ride along a dark, narrow road. The destination village.
An old industry, different villages
Another ride. Once again the sun was in the sky and the landscapes stretched to the left, ahead, and to the right. Recollections of France again, though the next time we tour in France perhaps the landscapes will be reminders of Kent. Narrow roads, high tree- and bush-lined banks. Again and again, the road led to villages, well-nigh hidden, secret villages. No people of course. No shops.
But one village, Eythorpe, was different because it was big, because there was a junction of main roads, a shop at the junction, an old railway close by. At one time the village had served the many who worked in the colliery just along the road. The colliery, Tilmanstone, was one of the four which were sited on the Kent coalfield. The railway had connected the colliery with another one and with the main system. Now what had been the colliery, one where a thousand or more miners had worked, is an industrial park. The biggest sign was to Tilmanstone Salads.
Close to Eythorpe is the village of Elvington, where the houses had been built for the miners. There was a line of shops: a tandoori shop, a Chinese takeaway, a hairdresser, and a village store, the door of which was enclosed by a metal grille. The Working Menís Club was open. Inside, one man at least was wearing a cap. At the boundary of the village was a memorial: a notice which advertised the Minersí Trail, a collection of paths which linked different features and relics of the industry which, in the 1920s, employed over 7,000 men.
From the village through the cornfields again, to a quiet village, a well-kept Brethrenís Meeting House, and a distraught woman who stood on scaffolding outside a bedroom from which black, acrid smoke poured. She called out for someone to ĎPut the hose oní. The fire service had been called; we cycled slowly to a collection of dilapidated, uncared for buildings. They were the remains of Snowdown colliery. Years ago men had mined coal there with picks and shovels. Now there was no notice, no recognition of what the dilapidated site had been. Thousands of men had worked there; some no doubt had died there; no memorial.
Just ahead was the Snowdown WMC at the entrance to the estate where the miners had lived. The improvements to some caught the eye. No public buildings. Whereas there was a primary school along the road between Eythorpe, the old village, and Elvington, the new settlement, at Snowdown there was no school. An estate in the middle of cornfields. We saw it in summer sunshine.
The ride continued to the road which runs along the Elham valley, a different Kent, more likely the Kent of the brochures. Old villages, good-looking public houses, cricket fields, a vineyard. At the end of the ride, there was the opportunity to watch the last half-hour of a cricket match, played on a manicured pitch, at the edge of an old village.
Not quite 30 miles in something close to six hours. A browsing, inquiring ride. A different ride. Different aspects of the one county.
If you took part in a ride, why not write a report? The more florid the language, the more inflated the hyperbole, the more tumescent the innuendo, the greater your chance of winning the FRBC Prize for Original Plagiarism.
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