Jack Thurston’s new book Lost Lanes Wales is a guide to cycling the countryside and towns of the country. Photograph: Courtesy Jack Thurston
“Oh, I don’t know …” says my father, shaking his head and sucking his teeth, as if I’d asked him to make a much more serious decision than coming out for a ride with me on the only sunny day of the week.
“It’ll be fun!” I attempt to convince him. “We haven’t cycled together for – well, it’s got to be years, hasn’t it? And you’re always saying you want to spend more time on the bike.”
He frowns, and I begin to feel slightly guilty for making what appear to be unreasonable demands on his decision-making faculties.
“Well, yes, but – I’m not having a good month for cycling. My stats are right down. Have I shown you my spreadsheet? I’ve only done 60 miles since September.”
I pause, wondering how this can possibly constitute a reason not to go for a ride. But I’m reluctant to deconstruct such carefully constructed (and possibly defensive) logic. Instead I make him a cup of tea, and sit him down with Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes Wales, the latest offering from the author of the very popular Lost Lanes.
I was delighted when Thurston’s new book came out, not only because his first had been the inspiration for many a happy afternoon spinning around the countryside outside London, but also because I had recently moved from the capital to my childhood home of mid-Wales (following a similar trajectory to Thurston himself, who now lives in Abergavenny), my plan being, as I told all my friends, to “work less, cycle more”.
I quickly discovered that, although mid-Wales feels more familiar to me than anywhere else on Earth, I really don’t know it at all. I have fond memories of various forests and footpaths and hilltops, but absolutely no idea where they are, or how to get to them. And distance does funny things when distorted by childhood memories. Towns that to a 10-year-old seemed so far off that they talked funny over there turned out to be the kind of distance away that I’d ride in London without blinking an eyelid.
I had planned to explore my new/old kingdom by bicycle, but all too often I found myself on the same couple of routes I occasionally rode as a teenager, excited by all the yellow lines wriggling across the contours of my OS map, but reluctant to spend half my riding time standing in gateways trying to stop said map blowing away as I figured out where I was.
What I needed was either a guidebook or an experienced local cyclist. In Lost Lanes Wales I found one, and in my reluctant father I found the other.