Monday, 14 July 2008


Words of wisdom from an unlikely source (actually National Lampoon’s Animal House): sometimes the only solution is A ROADTRIP. So I headed off on my bike for a long weekend to the nearest we have in this country to the Great Plains – the Fenlands of East Anglia.

I’ve been meaning to visit Flag Fen for a long time – the Bronze Age site that’s really as big a mystery as Stonehenge: A half-mile long causeway of wooden stakes with a large platform. It goes from nowhere in particular to ... nowhere in particular. There don't seem to be any settlements there so the conclusion is that it must have been of ‘ritual’ significance. Of course we don’t really know what that means - but our ancestors did have something about the gods living in water and offered up their treasures by throwing them into the water. (Ever thrown coins in a fountain ? - the collective memory must run deep).

The site is the work of archaeologist Francis Pryor * – I’m a big fan of his books - they destroy much of our misconceptions about our early history. A lot of which comes from the Victorians and their views on the role of empire and ‘superior’ races as the forces of progress.

* His view is that the Bronze and Iron Age inhabitants of this country were doing quite nicely before the Romans came along and didn’t need civillising. These ‘Ancient Britons’ weren’t a distinct race of ‘Celts’ – that’s just new-age mumbo-jumbo and/or romantic nationalist wishful thinking. Once the Romans went, Britain didn’t descend into a Dark Age – life just carried on much as before, only with Christianity, wine and a few more villas. And when the Anglo-Saxons eventually came along they didn’t drive out and replace the Britons - they just emerged as the dominant group in a multi-cultural society.

I needed somewhere to camp so I’d put a message out on the Harley Riders' Club website to see if any locals could recommend a bike-friendly campsite. I didn’t fancy turning up in the middle of nowhere only to be turned away by the respectable caravan-types. That really does a happen; I think they’re afraid us bikers are going to bring our own version of the dark ages to their Middle-England on wheels. Not only was I put in touch with a pub with a campsite but I was told that the local branch of the club would be having their monthly meeting there that night and I was welcome to come along. So I did, and was greeted like an honoured guest. I don’t think there are many other sub-cultures where people are so unfailingly open and generous. And who would have thought that out of a dozen or so people there I would find two others who shared my slightly geeky interests and wanted to know about Flag Fen ?

The next day took me to the heart of the Fens where some friends of mine have moved from London. It’s a brave move – they’ve not only re-located their bike building business, they’re on their way to becoming self-sufficient and have turned their place into part workshop, part small-holding. Some of it might seem a bit eccentric to a townie like me – bartering with the locals for food and cooking up road-kill. But they’re pretty much debt-free and it looks like they’re not dependent upon anyone. They also know their neighbours much better than I do mine in London - despite theirs’ being a quarter of a mile away. And they can’t remember the last time they heard a police siren. Seems like they've got something right.

I took a long ride home on the B-Roads and got only slightly soaked. But happy. It’s true - sometimes the answer is a Roadtrip.

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