for those who love the outdoors

31 March, 2024


Through the hedge - cycling in spring

This article from cyclist, Joanna details her use of cycling through the countryside to escpae from the hectic nature of life. Is this how you relax?

Cycling pic

At a time when there is so much cause for anxiety, sadness and anger, I’m using countryside rides as a means to escape - to breathe, to appreciate, and reset. I’m looking for joy in the hedges and fields, riding alongside the wildlife as it emerges from winter hardship. Does anyone else remember spending time in nature during lockdown? When our wild animals started feeling safer, braver, to infiltrate the man-made world and reclaim their space from humans. Tarmac, concrete and steel became vulnerable to the overwhelming power of nature; the fascinating eeriness of abandoned amusement parks just one example of nature overcoming the built environment. A tree’s roots bursting through tarmac. Tiny insects destroying woodwork from inside out. 

Water eroding concrete drip by drip. It feels so distant and unreal now, yet under the power of spring, there is a similar surge in the air. Green shoots squeezing through the cracks. Birds carrying discarded paper, packaging and cloth to fluff their nests. Deer wandering across fields churned by heavy machinery. Squirrels shrieking defensively at my wheels as I roll by.

While it’s still early spring the semi-clad hedges allow a peek through into fields and green spaces that will be out of sight in just a few weeks. Within them, dusky pink long-tailed tits, bright goldfinches and chaffinches chatter about their business. In the fields, pigeons, cawing crows, and regal pheasants peck over the ploughed earth. The drumming of a woodpecker punctuates the steady hum of my wheels. At dusk, very lucky riders might find a barn owl gliding silently alongside them, ghostly and ethereal. Encounters like these can really connect you with nature, and it feels important to find pleasure and meaning in these connections to keep us grounded and calm. For me, the ultimate treat in these moments is to spot a hare.

It is a remarkable animal. There is much about the hare that embodies the characteristics of the cyclist; she can be solitary and private, prefers the early morning and dusk, roams long distances in the countryside in search of food - and like us, she eats a lot! She is alert, curious but cautious of danger, and powered by astonishing legs. The hare is Britain’s fastest land mammal; she can reach 48mph in full flight - and I do mean ‘flight’, since her extraordinarily long leap sees her suspended in the air for so long with every stride that she may as well be flying. 

The engine for such incredible speed is an extra large heart and lungs in relation to her body mass - just like the best cyclists - which pumps more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles when she needs it. Her speed is both her protection and her allure. The fact she can disappear from sight so quickly makes me very excited to catch a glimpse of her at all.

I live in north Bedfordshire which sits at the edge of East Anglia’s vast acres of agricultural land - plenty for hares’ dinners! So I’m in a good position to spot one even while cycling quite close to home. Hares aren’t rare as such, but they are uncommon to see from the road, because they hide themselves well. Unlike rabbits, who scuttle and dive underground as soon as they sense danger, hares will crouch, freeze, and hope for invisibility. 

I look for that sudden crouch out of the corner of my eye; the flattening of the ears; the melting and blurring of a live creature into the land that sustains it. I stare down every clod of earth, tussock of grass, every discarded rag and shopping bag, in case it should suddenly mutate, raise its elegant long ears and turn to regard me with its beady eye. Mostly it’s nothing; sometimes, it’s something. And on those days I feel truly rewarded. Nature has won me over.

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