Matt

Thoughts

Trees and sky reflecting in a puddle on a rural track bordered by lush green undergrowth.

As a cartophile, I love what maps tell us about our past and present worlds: trace a finger along a contour and you can almost feel the shape of the land; follow the disused railways snaking their way across the grid and the ghost trains steam back to life. But maps will never tell the full story. And part of that is because of how we define our personal landscapes from a young age, using what rural historian Jeremy Burchardt calls private names.

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A group of children in red, white, blue and brown tops run down a farm track away from the camera, red machinery visible to their right.

“When I suggest they park around the corner instead, they complain that their kids can’t walk that far,” says Mrs M, the crossing supervisor at my son’s school, reporting on what happens when she challenges parents who park illegally outside the gates.

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A small child, just visible, sleeps in a green tent against the green backdrop of Dartmoor.

The outcome last week of a wealthy landowner’s high court case was sadly predictable: he’s used his money to strip people of their legal right to camp on Dartmoor. As the fight to win back this right goes on, I’ll look back fondly on nights I’ve spent on the moor.

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A bike leans against a graffitied concrete wall in an underpass.

I’m no lover of cities, yet I'm drawn to edgelands – those transitional spaces that are neither urban nor rural. Seek them out and you’ll find, laid bare, the threads connecting our built and natural worlds.

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Around 92% of land in England is off-limits to the general public and where rights of way do exist, cyclists can only ride around 20% of them. We deserve better access to our own country.

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A map spread out on the table with Swindon marked at the bottom of the photo and the rest out of focus

Why should you always have to know where you are, and where you’re going?

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A bike leans on the bench at the top of the hill, its red rear and white front lights bright in the darkness.

Until recently I didn’t see the appeal of riding at night, but I’m increasingly drawn to venturing out after hours.

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We’ve just sold G’s old bike. It’s not the first bike he’s outgrown, and it certainly won’t be the last. Yet it marks a moment in the journey through his childhood.

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A gravel bike silhouetted against trees and hills at sunrise.

I stood on the edge of the lane and photographed the sunrise-silhouettes of the trees and the ridge line of the hills. A moment of stillness in a world of upheaval.

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A gravel bike on a rural canal bridge.

In the absence of proper infrastructure or access rights, UK cyclists who prefer to avoid traffic have to get creative with their route planning. Some of my favourite rides make use of canal towpaths – off-road arteries that can take you some seriously long distances and right into the centre of busy towns and cities by the back door.

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