Sunday, June 12, 2011
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.