A journey by bike reveals the secrets of Middle England

A new book published this week traces a very different “tour of Britain” on a bike.

Andrew Bibby, writer and cyclist, spent eight days pedalling 430 miles through “middle England” from the Dorset coast to the south shore of the Humber. This was his route that follows the line of Jurassic oolite limestone from Burton Bradstock to the village of Winteringham.

Fascinated by the history and geology of the “Jurassic” area Bibby devised a line which, as far as he knows, has not been tackled as a challenge, on a bike. What he saw along the way, and what he learned about the landscape and the land and the people who’ve worked on it, is now published in a fascinating new book, Back Roads through Middle England.

He had no idea what to expect, but his observations and detailed research offer an extended exploration of the state of rural England today.

“Middle England, you may feel, is a place out of touch with the artistic, intellectual and social buzz of metropolitan life. It’s probably a place of sleepy conformity, almost certainly of unthinking nimbyism and quite possibly of political prejudice,” he says.

“The notion is that Middle England is locked in the past, at a time when the country needs to engage with the present. But my Middle England turns out to be an altogether more complicated, and more contested, terrain. Middle England is not a place of homogeneity, it is where people live and work and argue, a place where things change and don’t change, where some are inspired with a hope to make their lives and their communities different.”

Bibby says: “I found that a bicycle is an ideal mode of transport if you’re not in a hurry and can choose the quiet roads. I enjoyed the way that, day by day, my bike and I began to work together as a team. I saw whole areas of England that I’d never before visited. I saw the landscape change. I’d seen the houses and churches built of oolite limestone stay more or less the same.”

Back Roads Through Middle England is published by Gritstone, £13.95

andrew and the bike

About the author

Andrew Bibby is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Observer, The Independent, The Guardian and other national papers. He has written widely on the countryside and the outdoors, including the well-reviewed Backbone of England on northern landscapes. This book offers his insights into southern and mid-counties English landscapes.

Towns and areas covered in this book

Dorset Jurassic coast; Yeovil, Frome and east Somerset; Bath; Malmesbury, Cirencester, Stow and the Cotswolds; Blenheim Palace and north Oxfordshire; Brackley; Wellingborough, Corby and Oundle; Stamford, Sleaford, Lincoln, north Lincolnshire.

 

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