With it's 1930s style graphic cover, and beautiful golden-lit photos of rather fruity lovelies in flowery dresses on touring bikes, Lost Lanes initially seems like a particularly flashy guide to a few home county rides for glossy home county people - a sort of bike riding meets Boden.
However for those living in the South East this is a very helpful and serious clarion call to get out the bike and explore some of the quiet lanes that the Home Counties have to offer. Each of the 36 rides is described in loving detail. Not just the route and how it feels to crest each hill and glide each leafy lane - but the history and geology of the landscape you're travelling through; which iron age fort might be to your left, which manor house rest stop of Elizabeth the First will be to your right.
Lost Lanes is part travelogue and part guide book. Thurston quotes from Roger Deakin's 2002 book Waterlog - a celebration of wild swimming in the UK and Lost Lanes is written with the same ear for history and nature. On one page Thurston manages to discuss North Hertfordshire in relation to George Bernard Shaw's very poor bike skills, the poet Stevie Smith and Led Zeppelin. Thurston admits to a liking for ancient art and like Betjeman and Larkin before him will happily potter around ancient Pevsner churches looking at frescos rather than just ticking off the miles. Lost Lanes also owes a small debt to the books of Nick Cotton who in the early 1990s with the Ordnance Survey produced a couple of cycle route guides on Kent, Sussex, Hertfordshire and Essex that kept you firmly away from busy roads on big circular rides through empty lanes that could be joined here and there to make longer rides. I still have dog-eared copies in a drawer and to open them is to re-live glorious Sunday afternoons getting away from Hackney and riding through places like Thaxted, Helions Bumpstead, and Castle Camps.
Guide books can tend to be laid out with so much close type and colour coding that your eyes glaze over but Lost Lanes is a triumph of organisation and simplicity. Unlike the old OS guides you no longer have to lug Lost Lanes around in your back pocket. With full route descriptions and downloads on line you can plan the routes on your GPS device or print off a perfectly acceptable OS PDF to stick in your back pocket like a proper traveller.
Within the book itself the routes read as a set of stories by county - but with details and distances listed at the bottom of each leader page and an additional key entitled 'Best for.." which list the routes best for wild swimming, camping, history, villages, climbs, pubs etc. With a 68 mile coastal loop of the Isle of Wight, a tour of Windsor Great Park and plenty of coverage of organised rides such as the London to Brighton and the Midsummer Madness this isn't just a book for people who like a sedate 20 miles followed by a full roast dinner. The photographs are of the highest quality and seem to have been shot on that one week last summer when it wasn't lashing it down with a force nine hooley blowing. Everything looks just gorgeous.
Philip Larkin kept his bicycle clips close for most of his life and the last verse of Cut Grass perfectly sums up the spirit of Lost Lanes.
White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne's Lace,
And that high-builded cloud,
Moving at summer's pace
Lost Lanes is a reminder of country lanes we haven't quite lost but are still there to be rediscovered and enjoyed.
Useful and high quality guide to beautiful rides in the South East.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Wild Things Publishing Lost Lanes by Jack Thurston
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
With a full list of railway stations to to reach each route it's a useful guide for both experienced cyclists and beginners.
It's excellent value for money and with the routes online you really can lick your lips over a route description and get out and ride it yourself.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
I really cannot fault this book - both in execution and intent. It's pretty damn perfect and if I still lived in London I'd be very excited to get out and ride every one of the 36 routes listed. It's destined to become a classic and beloved by thousands of new cyclists.
About the tester
I usually ride: Dolan Prefissio - winter bike My best bike is: Condor Moda Ti - summer bike
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every week I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding,