Sunday, June 12, 2011

Going widdershins

This spring I've been training for a ride across Britain, cycling the lanes of north Wiltshire to improve my fitness. In January I was struggling to manage an hour, now forty miles in less than three isn't a problem. So it's being going well; I ride a carefully planned route, taking  me through pleasant if not spectacular countryside. And over the weeks I've seen that landscape change: the hedgerows budding, the golden rapeseed, the finches and flocks of yellow hammer, the May blossom falling.

But after a while any route can become routine. Last Sunday was thick with clouds, the roads damp and a northerly wind threatening showers. 'Are you sure you want to go,' Jane asked, heading upstairs with her book and a cup of tea. As I togged up in waterproofs the prospect of a lie in seemed a lot more appealing than yet another circuit of the lanes.

So, as if in perverse delight, I decided to reverse my usual direction. Instead of riding clockwise I'd go north up the Fosse Way and meet the wind on that straightest of Roman Roads. It would make a change I thought, and if nothing else, would boost my fitness. As I rode from the drive I turned right instead of left, then paused at the next junction. It was one of those 'senior moment' when your memory fails you; I've travelled this route dozens of times and yet there I was reorienting myself after less than a mile.

The ride wasn't as tough as I feared. A heavy shower brought brighter skies and the wind never quite reached a gale. Indeed it felt easier this way round, the hills a little less steep, and I was soon passing the teashops of Tetbury. But I pressed on, turning left at the next village, right down a farm track, same again at the junction and straight on at the cross roads.

And maybe that's where I went wrong. I'm not sure, it could have been the previous crossing - but anyway I found myself riding past a lake and I was darn certain I'd not seen it before. Quite where the lake was I wasn't sure, or what direction I was heading - the water was bounded by trees so even the wind was unreliable. I pressed on, hoping for a road sign.

The evening before my ride I'd been to an event that was part of a literary festival. The writer Olivia Laing was talking about her book, To The River, a journey down the Ouse in Sussex; the place where Virginia Wold had drowned. My first question to her was, which way had you travelled, upsteam or down? Later we talked and I mentioned the different experience that kayaking brings - the closeness to the water, being part of the flow, at times in it - as opposed to looking from above.

After passing the lake I stopped at a gate, searching for clues to my whereabouts. There was a gradual fall to the land, the scarp of Lynham banks to the south, the last of the rapeseed turning in the breeze. I hadn't seen the fields this way before - or at least I hadn't noticed them. Gradually I pieced it together, and ironically it was a tower I've always regarded as out of place that put me back on track. If I reversed my route and turned left after the lake, with a little fiddling I'd soon be on familiar ground.

When I got home Jane remarked that I was late. I explained that I'd ridden an unintentional ten mile loop. It's odd I said, the difference a change in perspective can make. Habit too plays a part. I usually play my banjo with fingers a blur, yet if I reverse the roll pattern, suddenly I'm stuttering, taking one string at a time - pausing at each note.

And sometimes that's a good thing to do. For with banjos it's easy to lose the melody to speed, and I suppose with our routines, cycling or otherwise, there's an equivalent prospect. Whatever, I shall certainly ride anticlockwise again - and maybe I'll go visit that lake in the sunshine.


  1. I loved reading that.

    I take my dog for long walks, and I too try and break it up a bit by taking a different path or doing the route in reverse (haven't got lost yet). I love the experience of witnessing the change in seasons whilst walking, but sometimes if the walk is too routine I don't feel like I'm 'seeing' properly. I also like to stop and look upwards, particularly when I'm i woodland. Some of the best views are taken from a different perspective.

  2. Ah... the road less travelled and the longest way home. My two favourite journeys.

  3. A change of perspective.....always a good thing..!


  4. We dance "widdershins" at circle dancing. I asked why that was and I was told ladies follow the moon.
    Next time turn south on the Fosse way and come to Somerset and I will give you a cup of tea and a slice of Husbands home made cake, before you set back off home again :-)

  5. Oh I enjoyed the ride, thank you very much. Stopping at the lake for a swim would also give the muscles a good work out.

    Your training seems to be going very well and you are to be commended.

    Widdershins..must be one of 'ye ole English' words))new to me.

  6. always look at something differently eh?
    a metaphore for a good life

  7. I wish I could ride my mountain bike again. I don't think I would get far without oxygen and I can't imagine dragging that along. But I used to ride every day and always enjoyed the part coasting down the last section of our street to my house.

  8. beautifully put and a nice metaphor x

  9. ps i had heard that 'widdershins', being anti clockwise or to the left, is the way of the devil, and hence, when dancing, if you go widdershins you must always go 'sidewinds' (clockwise) back to your original spot! i'm not sure what that adds to your lovely post but thought i would share!

  10. Such a fabulous metaphor for changing perspectives in life's journey. Your descriptions are so vivid and succinct, not a word wasted. I love the reference to kayaking and "being in the flow" and this: "Gradually I pieced it together, and ironically it was a tower I've always regarded as out of place that put me back on track". The last time I heard/read the word Widdershins was about 20 years ago, it was the name of a lovely little cafe where we would go to hear live music. Thanks for reminding me of that and so much more.

  11. I suppose I should be getting the bike out sometime soon to prepare for our Dunbar to Newcastle bike ride in three weeks time, on the other hand it will be a nice surprise for my legs and bum.

  12. A 10 mile detour is not to be sniffed at! I love that you got such a different perspective.
    Personally, I think I'd have been distracted by the teashops in Tetbury...

  13. Gifts of perspective come when we least expect them, yes? I've just caught up on your posts and wanted you to know that I've posted a bit regarding your lovely cards for tomorrow. Safe riding and thanks again.