One of the biggest thrills I have ever had mountain biking was making one of the red sock brigade look dumbfounded. No, I didn’t ride up behind him and shout obscenities. No, I didn’t kick him as I went past. No I didn’t leave a mantrap in wait for him on my favourite trail. I blinded him with archaeological knowledge.
This unsuspecting individual flagged me down as I rode one of my favourite trails in Kingly Vale near Chichester. “Your not supposed to by riding on this path son!” he ranted as I slowed to meet my adversary head on. I proceeded to produce my trusty OS map, and proved beyond doubt, even to his satisfaction, that I had every right to be riding on the path. Then he fell right into my trap “Well alright but I bet you’ve been riding all over those mounds on the top of the hill.” I replied calmly with a suitably condescending tone, “you mean the bronze age burial chambers, did you know that just off the side of the hill there is a long barrow which possibly dates back to the Neolithic period. In answer to your question though, no I have not been riding on them.” His face was a picture to behold; he had no smart reply this time. I bid him good day and rode the rest of the trail like a roman charioteer.
This knowledge was acquired through Sunday afternoon rides while at Uni. My mates and I would ride out for 3-4 hours get back, crash in front of the TV and watch whatever was on. Now it just so happened that on channel 4 an archaeological programme called Time Team always seemed to appear out of the hypoglycaemic mist. This became cult viewing in our house and for some reason we lapped up every scrap of info they threw at us.
What we found looking at the OS map as frequently as we did, was that many of our trails lead to really good archaeological sites on the South Downs. I began plotting entire routes to take in as many of these sites as possible. Before long we were riding down Roman roads, looking for Neolithic causeway camps, visiting Roman Villas, and searching for long and round barrows.
Burial barrows are perhaps the most common archaeological features that appear on our landscape. On OS maps they appear as a * and are called tumuli. As I understand it most date from the Neolithic or new stone age about 10,000 years ago. Most were mass graves for whole family groups, with long barrows appear before the later round versions.
This kind of riding takes you to another dimension, making you appreciate far more the journey that mankind has taken to be riding a titanium bike. The added bonus for me has to be the ability it gives you to make so called know it all’s look small. Go on give it a go if you’ve got any sense your out there riding anyway.