Chiltington Lane
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a collective noun for Cyclists in a quiet lane?

A resident's growing appreciation of hearing cyclists in a quiet lane from 2007 to the lockdowns and looking forward to after.

see also:- where inexactly is Chiltington Lane?
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cyclists emerging from  daffodils in Chiltington Lane March 27, 2021
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cyclists emerging from daffodils in Chiltington Lane
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a collective noun for Cyclists in a quiet lane?

by Zsolt Kerekes - Chiltington Lane - November 5, 2020

During the first UK wide covid lockdown in March, April and May...

Those are words I've had bouncing around in my head for about 5 months now - which I was going to use as the introduction to a lightweight piece about how traffic conditions had changed in Chiltington Lane during those sunny dark days.

But for various reasons I never got to write them down and post them here before.

One of the things which stopped me was the symbolically loaded nature of the word word - "first".

Should I use it - or not?

"First" implied or admitted the posibility of a "Second". As in WW1 was called the Great War until WW2. Better - in the intervening period - not to dwell on such a possibility.

I had adopted some peculiar habits of writing as a result of seeing 26 years of my commentaries about the computer market composting at various speeds from news into history - added to which a bad case of writer's block - prevented me from simply typing this:- "during the first UK wide covid lockdown in March, April and May the pattern of traffic in Chiltington Lane changed markedly."

Now it's - November 5, 2020. And I write this - here and now - we are indeed in that ancipated second lockdown.

In one sense I can feel relieved that it wasn't any bad magic or accidental invocation of that first sentence of mine which caused it. Because I didn't write those words before the second lockdown came to pass.

What I was going to write about - in that unwritten article (while I was writerly self blocking) were some comments based on my own very limited observations of external changes in the lane during the first lockdown.

Others have already done much better jobs of writing and talking about their external environments - in real-time. How they could hear birds more clearly. Their greater awareness of nature etc. So I won't waste too much more of your time by stretching this out. But these are some of the little things I noted while being safely tucked up in Chiltington Lane...

what were the changes in traffic during lockdown #1?

Car traffic went down. No surprise. There was little of it here before. And during lockdown #1 there was nowhere interesting you were allowed to go.

Oddly - horse traffic along the lane virtually disappeared for months too.

I missed the sound of steel shoes on the tarmac and the sight of tall riders passing like ships above the hedgeline.

A neighbour - Jayne - told me this was because the main horsey ORG in the UK - the BEF - had (in March 2020) advised riders and owners to cut down their riding to a minimum to avoid adding to the workload of the NHS caused by accidents - such as people falling off their horses. (Such things do happen. Even to experienced riders. A gust of wind blows some litter in the air and the horse you're following gets spooked and the horse you're on joins in the unscheduled race without bothering to tell you to duck under the branches of that tree which has just lept out of nowhere and knocked you out.)

The skies became more natural too.

As air traffic dropped down to levels I hadn't witnessed since the grim days immediately after 9/11 - the images I could see in the daytime sky were no longer dissected by the bleeding white lines made by the razor cuts of jet engine vapour trails.

Walker traffic picked up too.

I'd never seen so many people walking the lane. It was like all the people who you'd normally see at Christmas - except it was hot and sunny.

But residents had to choose the time of their walks carefully - because while motorized and horse drawn traffic had virtually disappeared - a bigger factor had mushroomed into shape.

The swishing scythes of cyclists streaming down the lane.

In 2006 when I first visited Chiltington Lane to look at a house here which was for sale I hadn't noticed cyclists as being a particular phenomenon.

My wife and I were deadly serious about the issue of road traffic because we had been living in a dead end road on a farm in North Hampshire and had gotten used to quiet roads.

In my house hunting visits covering a wide spanse of rural arcs which were not too far from Clayton and Hove (where I had family) but which were far enough away (so as not to be on the doorstep) I had found many prettier looking houses virtually online - whose attractions had been blown away in actual viewings by oppressive road noise which hit me as soon as I had switched off my own car engine.

"Is it quiet enough?" we asked. After the estate agent had shown us around Chiltington House on a damp late summer Sunday in 2006.

So we stayed parked in front of the house for another hour to count the passing traffic.

In that hour there were 2 cars (one of which was the estate agent leaving). And no bikes.

That was our scientific method. And in the 13 years we've lived in the lane - (so far, in 2 houses including downsizing along the lane) - speaking from the car traffic density point of view... I don't things have changed much in that part of the lane.

In 2006 - we didn't hear much of the trains either.

But that house is in a bendy loop of Chiltington Lane which is about as far away from the railway tracks as you can be - and there were more trees along the tracks in those days before Network Rail decided to improve the stability of the embankments by scalping them - and the trains are mostly electric - and here's another sampling bias in our noise survey - it was on a Sunday. (Less trains. Often buses. And the the buses don't come down the lane.)

Anyway back to the emergence of cyclists in Chiltington Lane.

At first 2007, 2008, 2009 or so - I wasn't aware of bikes down the lane as a thing.

OK I had noticed something.

It was odd. But sometimes when I was in my garden - which had a high wooden fence so I couldn't see what was on the road - I would hear snatches of loud conversation. Almost like shouting.

And thus spake Spokes-u-Lycra.

The voices which descended on my (quietly raking up the leaves from the lawn type of) leaf sweeping sounded very high minded and philosophical.

Just as few words. Maybe a phrase.

They weren't voices I recognized.

But at that time I didn't know many people in the lane. And surely I would have noticed people who talked so loudly. I had the feeling hadn't encountered these same voices before.

A few years later I discussed snippets of loud conversations from people unseen with a neighbour John A.

"It's cyclists" he said. He'd given the matter much thought already - and said it was fascinating to think about where some of these fragments of conversations might have begun and where they might end.

The fragments of cycle-speak - which we heard in those days were at a level of gravitas and philosophy which seemed loftier and more interesting than those of mere mortal shoe plodders like us. Perhaps if we could collect all their wisdom and join the pieces up it might make an interesting book.

My wife and I were driving back home one day - maybe 2010 / 2011 - when we noticed the arrows.

They were on signs along the way pointing towards Chiltington Lane.

"What do they mean?" - we asked each other.

"Is it that time of year? How come we missed it before? Could it be the London to Brighton cycle race or something?"

"It wouldn't come this way - would it."

Whatever it was. The arrows and the cyclists had discovered Chiltington Lane.

The same attributes which we had attracted us to buy the otherwise unattractive "plastic house" (we called it - because of the white clapperboard) - the quietness of the lane and its charming mixture of oak trees and wild flowers and views of the South Downs (if you stood in the right place in the garden) and the background hum of birdsong - had been noticed by others too.

The cyclists had arrived.

In the old days you might see one or two cyclists peddling valiantly towards prospects new. They weren't always going in the same direction. Sometimes they'd be going from left to right (Lewes to Plumpton). Or right to left (Plumpton to Lewes). And on any given day there wasn't any particular sense that there was a single preferred direction.

Those were free range cyclists going their own way.

The coming of the arrows were like the footprints in the sand seen by Robinson Crusoe and warned us Cassandra-like (if we had taken heed) that large invasions of bicyclists were in our futures.

Gone were the undiscovered days of our lane's cyclist exclusion when pioneering two wheelers were seldom seen and incompletely heard.

The direct cause of our lane's growing awareness in the maps of cycledom was the growing adoption of smartphones and internet based social media like Facebook.

In 2016 when I looked around the web for cycle groups and recommended routes for cyclists which mentioned Chiltington Lane - I easily found 5 or 6 without trying hard.

I was delighted to see that strangers I had never met - but who had coursed through these lanes balanced finely on their muscle-powered metal chargers - had been among the many invisible knights and spirits who had defended and upheld the unspoiled integrity of this lane in that strange battle which is narrated in wrongthingwrongplace.com

As a resident who didn't get out much - and was locked down here by choice long before covid (because I worked from home on the internet for over 20 years and like where I live) I've encountered a range of views about the coming of the cyclists.

I can't help but admire people - who I see making such a physical effort to pedal up the slope between the Chiltington House and Upper Burrells. I once tried pushing a car up this little slope which got stuck in the snow in 2009 and didn't succeed. It's only a short stretch - but it's hard work.

On the other hand - those going down the slope - whizz down faster than I would choose to go in my car - knowing - as I do - that if I encounter a car coming the other way at the bottom of the slope then the ditch one the left hand side makes passing another car quite risky and someone has to kick the cobwebs out of their reverse gear.

In 2018 Jayne B. invited me as a newbie to attend a small meeting with some neighbours I knew who unbeknownst to me were already seasoned campaigners on a subject dear to my heart to designate Chiltington Lane as a quiet lane.

The idea was to discuss new ways to petition to reduce the speed limit from the legally permissable but crazy 60mph to something safer for walkers and horses and dogs and cyclists and cats and ducks and hedgehogs too.

I didn't realize that so much work had already gone into this. They had done so much already.

I suggested tentatively that maybe in the future we (as residents) should try to recruit the voices of the cyclists that came through our lane.

"There are more of them (cyclists) than there are of us (residents). And a lot more of them than the horsey people who tried this before."

I didn't do anything practical to follow this up however.

Because sadly after having some delightful companionable get togethers with tea and cakes in a pretty garden we soon concluded that the government was not at all likely to do anything about quiet lanes - because it had already declined a well supported parliamentary petition to do something like this not long before.

And - as we now know - the government in the following year struggled to get anything done at all because of the overwhelming complexity of boggy details which had to be wrangled in its pursuit of Brexit. Which with the benefit of hindsight was easy peasy compared to the existential challenges of coronavirus / covid 19 - which is closer in time to where I started writing this.

Let's get back to cyclists in the lane.

They like our lane as much as we do. So they are natural allies in any future efforts to calm down traffic speeds in rural lanes - when things get back to a healthier normal.

During the first lockdown the regular sweep of cyclists taking their legally allocated slots of outside exercise did have to be taken into consideration when taking a walk.

"How far have you come?" - I called to a lady cyclist when she was passing by at a moderate cycling pace along a level part of the lane with her son behind.

"20 miles" - she said.

Wow. That's how seriously fit some other people are.

OK - I know from online research that dedicated cyclists think nothing of going 30 or 40 miles. But those are the people who are too intense to talk to people they whizz past in their pursuit of the revs counter.

In the strange new times of lockndown #1 - cautious residents had to choose their times carefully to fit in with the new traffic patterns and avoid the new crowds of cyclists who suddenly discovered they were sharing the same tight space in crowds of other unscheduled arrowless cyclists going in the oppsoite direction at more or less the same random time - with no possibility of distancing more than than a couple of inches measured from the edges of their respective handlebars.

Those on foot felt obliged to hop into the nearest ditch to keep out of harm's way.

The safest times to go out for a walk and avoid the rush of cyclists passing by seemed to be very early in the morning or late at night.

This is just the way things were.

Now here's a surprise

One night I was putting out my wheelie bin when I saw a cyclist in the full gear but unmounted and pushing their bike up the slope towards my gate. I was going to say something polite like - good evening. But she said something first.

"Hello Scribbler!"

That confused me. How did a random cyclist know my name?

As she got closer I realized it was my next door neighbour. I hadn't recognized her because of the disguise. (The cycling gear.)

My own household also owns two pedal bikes which didn't see the light of day during lockdown #1. Partly because we really were locked down seriously hard - as in going nowhere. And partly because in 2019 - before these difficult times - we discovered that due to saddle shape, comfort factors and not sticking with it to get through the saddle sore barrier we can walk in comfort farther than we can pedal.

That doesn't mean to say we have given up however.

Having heard good tales of such things - and having reached a certain age - I can reveal we have an electric bike on a back order placed in August 2020 which sounds like it might arrive by next Easter. So that's something to look forward to.

OK - so what is a collective noun for a bunch of cyclists swishing down the lane?

A swooping? - of cyclists. When they come down the hill.

A scything? - When they mow the lanes clear and you have to leap into the long grass or the nearest ditch.

A rising? - When - like swans - they appear effortlessly to defy gravity and glide uphill.

A Socratic dialogue? - When you hear some words of wisdom flashing by and wish you could chase after them and instantly become their best friends and join in their conversation.

I'll leave that to you.

OMG - It's November 5th. And I haven't told you the story of how I discovered when I moved here that Lewes does traditionally take bonfire night seriously.

This year - sadly being different.

Maybe I'll get around to telling you before another year or decade have passed.

Take care.

Later:- I spoke to John A. on the phone after writing the above to ask if he remembered our 10 years ago conversation about cyclists in the lane and the mysterious nature of words - not quite a sentence - spoken loudly. He told me - there's more to it than that.

John said he'd discussed the phantom cyclist conversations with another neighbour Neville M - who lived at the end of the lane. John suggested that between the 3 of us we could almost sample more.

This could be:- a bit of the beginning, then a gap along the long straight, then a sample of the middle followed by no gaps at all (as they picked up speed going down the slope passing John's to mine) and amounting nearly a half a sentence.

It's not just the older inhabitants of the lane who have commented on this. John said the youngest inhabitant of the lane L... (who isn't disturbed at all by the regular sounds of passing trains) has her naps disturbed by these random loudly talking sounds. She wakes up and says "cyclists".


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ChiltingtonLane.com

Where inexactly is Chiltington Lane?

Other web sites which talk about Chiltington Lane

Final Spring in Novington Lane? - (Eton's new town zone)

Prickly neighbours you're likely to meet on a dark night in the lane

Have you read about the Saxon gold buried in nearby Underhill Lane?