The action in Down from the Hill centers on Paul Morton’s two journeys through the beautiful West Midlands, first on a bicycle in the summer of 1945 at the age of seventeen, and then by car in the summer of 1983. As a young factory worker in the Cadets, about to become an air traffic control assistant, Paul starts on his bicycle trip with one thought in mind: to see Alice Sands, the girl he met in Stafford on a trip the year before and with whom he has maintained a correspondence. The novel begins with Paul’s sexual awakening, but any real intimacy between Alice and him is prevented by Alice’s friend Gwen, and Paul continues on his way with youthful optimism and a sense of freedom. The rest of his six-day cycling trip centers on the simple joys of touring the English countryside, meeting other cyclists, and finding lodgings and food.
Before leaving Stafford on the second day, Paul rides with Alice and Gwen to the ruins of Wishdale Abbey, where he climbs about the beams and feels “like a monkey over the abyss.” Though not given to romantic fantasizing, and as yet unaware of his artistic calling, Paul imagines himself a hero: “I pictured myself defending the Castle, then leading the attack from below, but didn’t know finally where I belonged.” When they all say goodbye, Alice promises to write Paul immediately. Paul, who thinks he loves Alice and is anxious to receive her letter, has to resist the urge to cut short his trip: “It had to go on, until it came back to where I was, in myself.” The sense of “something unfinished” compels him to “cover more ground, get further away, see other places.” It is apparent throughout these experiences that Paul is no ordinary youth; he is highly imaginative and sensitive to his surroundings and other people.
During the third, fourth, and part of the fifth day, Paul rides with a...
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