Friday evening and the sun is shining, the birds are singing and everything in the world is All Right.
Well – no actually, it isn’t: it’s been a really rubbish day mostly comprising me sending increasingly angry emails to people who are affecting my ability to leave on time thanks to being so ludicrously inept at their jobs that they make George W Bush look remarkably unlike a bag of spanners (NB: just incase this is not Universal Slang a “bag of spanners” is a phrase used here to denote something particularly useless. I have never understood entirely why, as one would assume a bag full of spanners to be quite useful in the right circumstances)
Anyway – and veering swiftly down the road of sensibility and clinging tightly to the corner of focus – I finally get out of work about fifteen minutes late: not too bad when you consider that I’ve spent the whole day feeling like I’ve been re-incarnated as a Dung Beetle (IE everywhere I look there’s a huge pile of shit to be devoured)
As it’s such a nice day I decide to take the long way home. Recently I’ve been Embarking On An Epic Journey Of Exploration on my journey home and whereas Stanley was quite willing to trek half way across the southern hemisphere just to ask the most bleeding obvious question of all time from Dr Johnson (the only other white-man for 3,000 miles, yet his opening gambit was “Dr Johnson, I presume?”) I have to settle for finding a safe country-road route that will lead to the bridge over the main road that lies between me and my house.
GoogleMaps have led me to believe that the only possible route is to go a very long way out of my way or to try and find a footpath that leads across the fields – but its sunny and my partner is away, so I have no particular rush to get home.
I set out: deliberately turning the wrong way up a road with the word “Hill” in the title. It turns out that the makers of this particular outlay of tarmacadam were not joking – but the views are lovely. Sadly it is at this point that I realise my camera phone is at home – so I can’t share the images with you on this occasion.
Turning back to my usual route through the country lanes I realise that my opportunity to do this is becoming increasingly limited: from November our offices are moving to a much more built up area and I will no longer have access to nearby countryside as an alternate way home.
Most of these roads I know pretty well – I used them for training back in 2000 when I was preparing for a charity bike ride – however, I have to stop and ask two horse riders for help with finding a way through. They recommend an old bridle path (IE path for horses) as a potential route, so I follow their directions, sure in my head that their words “If the horses can manage it then your bike should be fine” will turn out to be erroneous at best.
Sure enough I find myself on a bike-proof dirt road full of horse manure and bumps. I decide to walk – adding half an hour onto my journey as I follow the two mile route. The countryside here is wide and open, the fields full of the promise of the summer to come. A small group of trees overhang a pool in the middle of a clearing and I pause to wonder how many eyes have seen this view before.
Finally, and just when I think it never will, the path turns back into a road and I find myself on the bridge I was aiming for: feeling sad that the path is too unsuitable for regular travel.
Sunday morning and I’m up early. Again it’s a bright, bright, sunshiney day. Someone I work with (I wouldn’t go so far as to say “workmate” as that would imply some level of friendship) has been telling me about a path that is open to cycles not far from my house, so I am determined to find out where it goes to
Anyone outside of the UK may not be familiar with the name of Dr Beeching, but his name is infamous amongst British Train Spotters – as it was his decision to close many of the smaller train lines that existed through the country.
The rights or wrongs of that decision are still hotly debated amongst those that care, but either way it has resulted in a network of public paths that follow the routes where the trains used to run.
I cycle the four miles to where the route begins and turn onto it. It’s a long, straight route with few turns or variations: to be honest I don’t enjoy this kind of cycling as much as I do the twists and turns of the mountainous roads – the endless straight road is much harder mentally.
As I cycle down the route the first of a group of runners come in the opposite direction, followed shortly by a few more. It’s only after the third or fourth group that I begin to realise that they are all part of the same group.
My first clue is the small green booklet they carry in their right hands: four sheets of A4 paper folded in half with a green cover. A range of possibilities flashes through my head: it could be instructions for the route they are following, it could be a record of times and speeds.
My favourite explanation, however, is that they are all keen Amateur Poets who have decided that the best way to enjoy poetry is in the open countryside on a sunny day just after a brisk 10 mile run. The folio in their hands is clearly a collection of poems: perhaps self-penned, perhaps famous. As they push through the dirt and the stones some of the Running Poets seem unable to wait until they reach the other end and consult a quick iambic pentameter for inspiration to keep going.
Sometimes as I cycle I pass under a bridge; fashioned from fading iron. This is where the mud is usually at its most cloying – trying to hold my wheels back. Sometimes I have to swerve quite violently to avoid an unseen pot-hole. Above me I can hear the distant sounds of the traffic – it is the only noise that isn’t natural.
Finally I reach the other end: only to find myself with a conundrum. There is no obvious route ahead. The path ends in a dead end, with only an empty field to the left. At the edge of the field two other riders stand, equally bemused by events.
After a brief discussion I turn around and head back the way I have come, leaving the path at one of the bridges. The roads here are empty save for the cry of the birds, but already I can see the signs of civilisation ahead of me, calling me home.
This kind of navigation, following your nose, turning left or right on a whim or even following someone that looks like they know where they're headed, is something i've come to refer to as "Zen Navigation"
You might not always end up where you intended to - but the results are always pleasing