Sadly, today health and safety has put an end to that, as we found on the notice outside nearby Winsford, Britain’s oldest working mine, lying 600ft under the Cheshire countryside.
“Unfortunately, due to the Health and Safety Regulations that govern working mines, members of the public are unable to visit Winsford Rock Salt Mine.”
Dusting off the last of the salt, Clancy and Storey rode on to Chester, through a landscape of trim patchwork fields, toy lakes and tidy horses so idyllic that Clancy thought they had discovered Mother Goose land.
Finding the old Roman walled town of Chester so quaint and picturesque that they were surprised not be charged admission, they wandered in a daze through a town laden with history, photographing the heavy rings to which Roman and Venetian ships had been moored, sitting at the window where King Charles witness Cromwell’s defeat in the fields below, and standing solemnly in the vaulted crypt where De Quincy wrote Confessions of an Opium Eater.
At this stage in the book, I was deeply worried that Clancy was in severe danger of coming down with Stendhal’s syndrome, named after the writer who was so overwhelmed by the beauty of his first visit to Italy that he had to be revived regularly by copious draughts of the local brandy.
Still, we had to take our helmets off to him for letting his boyish enthusiasm remain untarnished by the cynical advice of the editor-in-chief of The Bicycling World and Motorcycle Review to him before he left: “Europe has been done to death – slide over it”.
You can almost see the green eyeshade, the cigar smoke, the striped shirt straining at a paunch and the sleeve bands behind those words, I thought as we rode between the frozen fields the next morning to stand in the exact spot where Clancy had a century before when he took a photograph looking up St Werburgh Street towards the cathedral.
It hadn’t changed in all that time, apart from the large Chrysler parked on the double yellow lines. And the double yellow lines, come to that. Still, at least Clancy would have been pleased that it was an American car.
We piled into a café for breakfast, watching perfect flakes creating a fairytale chiaroscuro as they drifted down past the black and white mock Tudor facades and Victorian gargoyles of a town which was built with no expense spared by rich Londoners who came here because of the balmy microclimate.
So much for global warming, I thought, as we dusted the snow off the bikes and retraced Clancy and Storey’s steps back to Northwich.