Good to feel the warmth of the sun piercing the multiple layers of insulation……is this the real beginning of spring? The countryside has that air about it, pendant catkins and developing sticky buds tell their story, even the bird life is being lulled into a frantic bout of nest building.
Where does the truth lie?
The above in the village of Elton, famous for its baronial estate of Elton Hall, and its Loch Fyne restaurant. The cafe in the Walled Garden is worth a visit.
The following in the remote setting of Little Gidding, sparkling under the spring sunshine:
After the wettest winter on record, we are now promised a dry week. Three cheers for the meteorologists!
Well, no longer ‘bound’, but already there. After two long recovery sleeps (from the transatlantic night flight rather than the tour of Florida), my dear wife, Jenny, who was missing her role as trusty stoker, successfully read my mind, and popped the suggestion: “Why not go for a tandem ride?”.
Well, she always scores a bull with that kind of suggestion. She could sense I was going to head out on the bike anyway. After all, today has been the meteorological first day of Spring (note the use of upper case) and, quite surprisingly, the weather gods had heard somebody’s prayer, and given us a bright sunny day.
Of course, the first day of Spring also happens to coincide with the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David. The Welsh diaspora across the world will have celebrated the memory of this 5th century saint by eating a lamb and leek dish called Cawl, and will have raised a glass of St David’s ale (even though the man himself was teetotal). If you saw anyone sporting a leek or daffodil on their lapel…..yes you got it…….. they were Welsh……and proud of it.
So we turned a pedal or two in his honour, enjoyed a light lunch overlooking Grafham Water (wondering if it was cormorants we could see in the distance), passed dozens of cyclists grinding their way around the Wiggle ‘No Excuses’ Sportive, spied the wind turbines 15 miles away at Chelveston from every angle (these things do dominate the sky-line)………and covered a respectable 17 miles in the process.
This was the beginning of more rides to come in 2014……..
Most of us in the UK have taken this axiom as serious advice during this month of May. It has been cold,cold,cold……..and wet, wet, wet…….until the last few days, of course. Then all of a sudden, a sultry summer has descended upon us. Now we are ‘casting clouts’ every which way, because the sun is out, out, out!
My rides on Tuesday(72 miles/115kms) and Thursday(85 miles/137kms) this week have demanded arm and leg warmers on the outward leg, and ‘clouts’ off for the journey home. The unaccustomed heat has brought challenges of hydration. You may be carrying enough drink on the bike, but do you remember to re-hydrate regularly as the miles drift by? After prolonged spells of cold, wet weather (when re-hydration wasn’t such an issue), you have to re-establish the routine of re-hydration. If not, you will pay the price.
After a few weeks of snow and hard frosts, it was an absolute delight to set off on the bike, early in the morning, in temperatures that felt almost spring-like. Nature certainly is voting for spring. There is a frenzy of mating and nest-building amongst our avian friends, and the verges are littered with snowdrops, crocuses and even daffodils. And sad to say, the increasing amount of road-kill along the country lanes betrays nature’s awakening from the slumbers of winter, providing a feast for carrion-eaters like the red kite.
My 76 mile (122kms) route took me into the furthest reaches of north Northamptonshire, through villages glistening in the bright sunlight, snaking along narrow, traffic-free roads that descended precipitously into hidden valleys, only to demand a special effort to climb out, before descending again. Northamptonshire villages have some wonderful names: Orlingbury, Mawsley, Lamport, Draughton, Mears Ashby, Arthlingbury and Sywell. Many of them have a history steeped in the leather industry and in the making of shoes, though most of these enterprises have now migrated to the Far East.
The landscape, too, is littered with the remains of war-time airfields, and information boards remind us of the sacrifices made by our fellow countrymen and our American allies. One village in Bedfordshire, Yielden, remembers a ‘Black Thursday’ during the last war when sixteen B56 bombers left for a bombing raid over Germany, and only one made it back to base.
As much as I love cycling in pastures-new in distant places, I have to remind myself of ‘the diamonds in my own backyard’.
The weather has been so bad in southern Europe these last few days, we might expect the Spanish and Portuguese to start booking their holidays in the sun here in the UK! Everything here this spring is so early, so ‘bloomful’, so heady with perfume…………that words become inadequate and meaningless. So, enough of words……………….
“If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in May time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade
And the tombstone.”
T.S.Eliot “Little Gidding”
………..and on a bright Spring morning in April I went that way, along blossom-laden lanes and verges speckled with primroses and wild narcissi, with the scent of blackthorn weighing heavily on the wind, vying with the perfumed immaturity of rapeseed spreading its familiar yellow carpet across the landscape. Cycling the 12 miles to Little Gidding was an experience so eloquently described by Eliot, to a place that quietly guards its history, largely undiscovered by even those who live in surrounding communities. I tucked my bike inside the former pig-sty and made my way ‘to the dull façade’ of the church, ‘and the tombstone’ of Nicholas Ferrar, and joined the monthly gathering for a service of communion and convivial lunch.
Whenever I visit Little Gidding, I gain a deeper sense of its past, and understand a little more of its importance
and relevance today. It is a quiet place of recollection ‘at the end of the journey’, and ‘if you came as a broken king’ (as Charles I did after defeat in the Battle of Naseby during the Civil War) you would be certain to find a warm welcome in the persons of Paul & Wendy Skirrow, the wardens of Ferrar House. When I came this way for the first time more than 25 years ago, as Eliot described, ‘I came by day not knowing what I came for’. I just happened to be passing by, but I discovered that was reason enough. From being a quiet place to rest during a long cycle ride, it gradually became for me the quiet place to rest spiritually, far from the madding crowd. This time ‘I came this way in April time, to find the hedges white again, with the voluptuary sweetness’ of the blackthorn.