Horizons

Rapeseed fields stretching off to the horizon near South Stoke. Clouds lined up to disappear over the horizon and away to who knows where. Today’s ride was mostly in the territory between Reading and Wallingford. When you stop to look, it’s surprising how big some of the views around these parts are.

Photo: clouds lined up and disappearing over the horizon

Clouds marching off to who knows where

I can remember as a youngster riding from Oxford to Reading and being daunted by being able to see the range of hills barring the way – the hills that Christmas Common sits on top of. They’re all too easy to see from when you’re not far out of Oxford. It’s often satisfying to be able to see the ground you’re going to cover – it reinforces a sense of achievement somehow. It can also make you feel awfully tired in anticipation. And I don’t mind admitting that sometimes it can make me feel very small somehow – there’s just me, perched on a bike, exposed and ultimately fairly vulnerable, with just my legs to get me home across all those miles lying ahead.

I don’t know if I’d like riding the really big open territories – parts of the USA for example. That would need a certain mindset which I’ve never had cause to test in myself.

This morning it was a strong north-westerly and I did cut the route short by a few miles – I was simply tired of plugging away in to a cold headwind. (I guess the day measures about a .2 on the Hengistbury Scale.*) However, happy coincidence: solely because of that decision I ended up riding a few miles with an old school friend who I’d barely seen or spoken to for, I don’t know, over 10 years. Fluke can be a wonderful thing.

Horizons, of a sort, loomed large in our conversation too – we’re both living where we grew up as teenagers, and we’re both hankering to move away, one day. There are no imperatives operating on either of us: we just want change – new horizons. Stopping us are the usual things – work and money, friends and family.

What we both have is a long way from being in any way bad. I’m not sure why I find it, I don’t know – reassuring perhaps, or pleasing or something – the fact that we both are very aware of how fortunate we are, but for me that’s a significant and positive thing. But for all that appreciation of what’s good about what we have, we both talked about how we wanted change. On the face of it that makes little sense. I don’t think it’s a case of the grass being greener. I hope it’s not something as base as boredom. I hope it’s not caused by being unable to properly appreciate the familiar.

*The Hengistbury Scale.

Care Counts

After all the exceptional warmth of the last few days, today was a shock to the system as it returned to a more-normal-for-the-time-of-year fairly cold and resolutely grey.

Riding a route that took in Chinnor, Watlington and across to Wallingford, I realised I’d forgotten how rural a lot of South Oxfordshire is. That’s somehow surprising. I guess I think of it as ‘home counties’ and thus over-crowded and over-developed. It wasn’t overly attractive in the dull light of the day but its potential appeal was obvious. Didcot power station on the horizon would always be hard to ignore but whether it merits ignoring is a moot point anyway.

Presumably because of its more rural nature, there wasn’t anywhere near the same amount of litter on the verges that you get on the roads I ride more often. That said, in a few places today, on roads closer to Reading, I saw there’d been a concerted litter-picking effort recently – whether by Councils or individuals I can’t say. It’s grim and depressing that it’s necessary; that it’s done is very much appreciated.

And no, that’s not just some selfish middle-aged, middle-class desire to have ‘nice scenery’ to ride through. There have been enough academic studies that demonstrate a visibly neglected environment will spiral downwards. A downward spiral benefits no-one, of any age, class, affluence, background, race, creed … Care counts.

It’s interesting that I feel I have to say that. I’m not quite sure why I do feel that caring for a locale has to be justified; it shouldn’t need to be. I’m not sure what vested interests would lie behind attacking that attitude. There would be some.

Another striking aspect of the route between Chinnor and Wallingford was that there were probably more cyclists about than cars. If not, it was a close-run thing. I guess, too, that I’d forgotten how big a ‘cycling city’ Oxford is, and the territory I was in is in easy reach for anyone looking for a decent route out of the city, and good to ride. Add in high petrol prices and a government / media inspired frenzy about potential fuel shortages combining to make motorists less inclined to take to the roads, and bike riding’s golden age continues.

For all the general lack of traffic, Wallingford looked busy enough, healthy enough, as I went through the centre. The market seemed busy and there were plenty of shoppers about. In recent years I’ve been to many market towns that have seemed to be faring a lot worse.