Tuesday, 25 May 2010

The Hog's Back

A few thousand years ago in Britain, there were two, distinct types of people occupying the southern areas we now call counties. One group came into the category of hunter/farmer, and these spent most of the time within close range of their homesteads and settlements, foraging in the dense woodland that enclosed their flimsy houses.

Then there were the high travelers, a much more exotic and educated lot who fell into the category of traders and merchants. The travelers would, wherever possible, move from high point to high point in the straightest possible lines, because the lower land was so densely wooded at the time, and - of course - you can see further, the higher you are. The more obscure 'leys' were often navigated by a crude form of triangulation, whereby the navigator carried two long poles with which to sight distant markers such as niches deliberately cut into a high ridge, or a tall clump of Scott's Pine which stayed a dark green no matter what the season. These were called 'Dodmen', and that is where we get the term 'doddery' when describing someone who staggers from side to side, as the original dodmen had to when using their sighting-sticks for triangulation. There are prehistoric, white figures cut into the chalk hills in the south of England depicting dodmen, and these characters carry the two long poles in either hand. These actual chalk pictures could well have been markers for ancient travelers too.

They traveled long distances - Cretan pottery has been found in the burial mounds of Northern Scotland and Iceland.

The Hog's Back is one of the most obvious pre-Roman high-roads stretching a few miles from the west of Guildford, to the east of Farnham, and the sides are so steep, that any surrounding villages are quite a distance away from the summit, and there are very few roads leading to it's sides - you get on at one end, then get off at the other. The 'Hog' in this case, is not the pink piggy beloved of all modern bacon producers, but the ridged-backed Wild Boar which has been extinct in Southern Britain for many hundreds of years.

Now the very fact that there are next to no entrances and exits from this 5 mile stretch of high road, and the ones that are there can be seen from about 2 miles away, means that this is as safe a place as reasonably possible to wind up my Triumph T110 until the speedometer - vibrating like crazy in it's thin, metal housing, until it is almost too blurred to read - hits the magic 100 miles per hour mark. The Holy Grail of the 'Ton-up' boys of the 40's and 50's. So this is what I do.

Compared to a modern motorcycle, reaching this speed takes a fair while, but don't worry - we'll get there, and there is no danger of lifting the front tyre off the tarmac. Scream if you want to go faster. What's that? I can't hear you above all the noise of the engine, and if I turn my head around, it's very difficult to turn it back again because of the wind-speed. (I laugh quietly to myself as I feel the grip of your whitened hands tighten around my waist).

About 30 seconds after we have hit the magic ton, a large and rambling hotel appears briefly to our right, then flashes backwards as I throttle down to the tight bend at the bottom of the hill, stamping my way down through the gears and flicking the revs to match the ratio. This is a first-gear bend - it's 90 degree - and I once saw a police motorcyclist take it too fast and go right through the hedge. He was riding a T110 too.

When we stop for a breather, I will check the wheel-nuts on this old bike. They have a tendency to vibrate loose at high speeds, and what we do not want is a wheel to come off on our return journey. No, we don't.

Tomorrow, we'll turn around and head up the A3 into London, passing the 'Devil's Punch-Bowl' on the way. We will go through the infamous stretch of road known as the 'Ace of Spades', named after the biker's cafe at it's side, where many 1950's bikers lost their lives in 100 mph races into London. We will stop off and take tea at the Hog's Back Hotel too - a WW2 secret communications centre, chosen for the clarity of radio communications because of it's position, right at the top of the Hog's Back.


  1. My thanks to Francis Frith for use of the vintage photo - well, if you insist on emailing me pictures of Surrey on a monthly basis, what do you expect?!

  2. The chalk figure with the two rods/poles, that you refer to, is The Long Man of Wilmington, near Lewes in Sussex. I've painted it several times.

    Ah, 'The Ace of Spades', I look forward to that one.

  3. I feel like I learned something here today...

  4. The Long Man of Wilmington - so it was. I have a beautiful, young girl/friend called Wilmington, who I spoke to tonight.... sorry, where was I? Oh yes, the Devil's Punchbowl.

  5. P.S. - the 'T' in T110 stands for 'Tiger'... Grrrr...